Brotherly kindness

Brotherly kindness

Week 7 of a series examining Christian virtues.

Photo by Sandrachile . on Unsplash

This week we examine the virtue of brotherly kindness, in our walk through the Christian virtues identified by Peter, (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Brotherly kindness is a uniquely Christian concept, but what does it look like?

In a nutshell it is an attitude of warm affectionate devotion that can be shared by brothers and sisters in a close-knit family.  Scripture paints a picture of early church life that describes brotherly kindness.  Each local congregation was just like a close-knit family, where the members treated one another lovingly and warmly as if they had very close blood ties with each other.

So brotherly kindness is about treating Christians like they are “family”.

(1 Pet 3:8 – finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble;2:17 – show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

So before we can “love everyone” we’d better get a good handle on loving the brethren, and being kind to them.  This will mean at times we are to prefer one another over those of our friends who see the pub as their place of worship! 

(Rom 12:10 – Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Gal 6:10 – therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.)

This will involve working at overcoming our selfish wants, and pleasures.  Why..?

Because …

  • We have the same father now
  • We serve the same master – Jesus
  • We are all in the same family – the family of God
  • We are only “visiting this planet”
  • We are all heirs of the same inheritance

I don’t need to tell you that showing brotherly kindness is not easy.  It is one of the hardest challenges for the Christian.

Maybe you are able to get along with people in the fellowship, maybe you are able to like them, maybe you are even able to love some,  but to love all fervently… really God?

(1 Pet 1:22 – Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.)

This is why our attitude and approach towards other Bible believers must be worked on.

(Col 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.)

This step will be attacked – yet it must be maintained, through thick and thin.

(Heb 13:1 – Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.)

Jesus compared the Christian family with marriage.  The moment a couple are married someone new has entered your family – You’ve got to love them!  You’ve got to love them in good times, in bad times, in sickness and in health.  The proof that you are a Christian is how you love and care for other Christians.

This is so much more than just being “nice” because the way scripture teaches us to treat our brother and sister is not always soft and gentle, for if they wander from the path God has for them we are to call them back.  But whatever is done, it must be always done in love.

So brotherly kindness is to be kind, tender, sacrificial.

(1 John 3:16 – This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.)

Yet at the same time it is to be straight-up, direct, correcting, because you are looking out for a member of the family.  That’s God’s kind of kindness, illustrated by the following examples from scripture:

Gal 4:16 – Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

Eph 4:15 – Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Pr 27:6 – Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.)

Ps 141:5 – Let a righteous man strike me – that is a kindness; let him rebuke me – that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Isa 54:8,10 – In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the lord your redeemer.  10 though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the lord, who has compassion on you.)

If you are without this virtue, without brotherly kindness, what then? You will be alone, because without brotherly kindness in your words, and relationships, you will end up being an inactive part of the family God has placed you in.

(Eph 2:19 – Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household)

This can often lead to frustration and anger, for this is the natural replacement of kindness.

Such people could be knowledgeable of the Bible, but exhibit harsh, cruel, spiteful, vengeful attitudes.  It’s easy to lose sight that God commands us to treat each other with great care.

If this goes unchecked then they can end up working against the work of Christ in people’s lives, and in their own life.

And Joseph, of Amazing Technicolour Dream coat fame, is a wonderful example of biblical brotherly kindness.  (Gen 37-45).  His family can be traced back to Abraham via Isaac.  Jacob, his father, had twelve sons and he was favoured by his father.  The out working of this was that his brothers let jealousy ruin their home (Gen 37:18-20, 23-28, 36).

​As Cain had done, they thought about killing him, then decided to sell him – it’s worth noting that the 20 pieces of silver was a bargain for the normal price for a slave was 30 pieces of silver!

So for the next 13 years Joseph was a slave.  Then he spent three years  in prison before God raised him up to rule as prince of Egypt, (Gen 39:20)

But it was another eight years until he met his brothers (Gen 42:3-8)..  Through all of this, God was with Joseph – God didn’t abandon him – God had a plan He was working out.

How would you handle a family situation like Joseph’s?

Joseph handled it this way – ​he loved them – he never stayed angry at them, or got bitter – ever! He didn’t let the past shape his present and future – no revenge was sought.  He learnt from his experience – yes, he was “rough” with them “for a season” but in the background there was kindness.

He carefully worked things so they would care about Benjamin like they should have cared for him. He also made sure they cared about their father’s feelings.

Yes, he let them stew, but it gave them time to think things through.  In doing this he allowed God to fix the problems, for often there are no quick fixes – he just wanted a strong family.

He lent them a hand – took care of them and blessed them.  He loved them openly and was not ashamed to show them off as his family.

So how does this apply to a church, to the family of God?

We are a big family, with problems like all families. We suffer from envy, disappointments, misunderstandings etc.  How we react is far more important than how we are treated.

We need to nurture brotherly kindness by accepting it as a gift from God, for He is always very kind and gentle towards us.  Then we are to do things not just because someone is worthy, but because they are family. If we show kindness with fervency – it will grow on us!

In all this we need to ask God to help us take this step for He is “with us”, because He does have a plan for each of us, a plan that means we will be a blessing to others!

Ephesians 4:30-32 is still a direct command in the Bible:

30 And do not grieve the holy spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Conclusion

All this begins with Jesus, who went through all that Joseph experienced, but on a massive scale – and yet loves us still for He is kind to us still.

If Jesus is your Saviour, then as a child of God, believers deserve your loving kindness, not because they are worthy, but because they are family.

Godliness

Godliness

Week 6 of a series examining Christian virtues

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

This week we examine the virtue of Godliness, in our walk through the Christian virtues identified by Peter, (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Peter begins this brief letter to Christians by reminding us that we are fully equipped to lead the life to which God has called us.  However, we must work to add to our faith Christ’s goodness and His other powerful positive supernatural qualities to our lives. This requires effort, unlike eternal salvation which is not based on our work. If we lack these positive attributes of God, we will live as unproductive and ineffective servants of God.  Thus, we will be nearly as blind as unbelievers, and likely to forget that our confessed sins are forgiven.

This means that as Christians we have by faith become participants in God’s divine supernatural nature.  Therefore, as we see in verse 5, we must “make every effort” to add a list of Christ-like qualities to our faith. And these Christ-like qualities need to be taken together, for they fully describe the life of a Christian who is participating in God’s supernatural divine nature. I believe that there is a logical order to these characteristics, because each one is a necessary requirement for the quality which follows.  

First, since we have been equipped to live like Jesus, we must work to add goodness, (or “moral excellence”)to our faith. This means that we will work to do good, by God’s power, in the world now, as Jesus would if He were in our place. This goodness becomes the foundation for the rest of these qualities.

We are also to add knowledge. This is a deeper understanding of our God, through His Word, and prayer, which informs our goodness. Merely wanting to do good is not enough; we learn to know what good is by knowing God.

Next, we must add self–control. Without the ability to control ourselves, our knowledge of good, and the desire to do it, are both worthless. Self-control is the moment-by-moment restraint of our fleshly urges. This is the ability to make the right choice, in those moments when temptation strikes us.

Then we must add perseverance. Perseverance is the ability to practice self–control over time. Our sprints of doing good are to turn into marathons. Our moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, day-by-day choices are eventually to transform us to live supernatural divine lifestyles. Perseverance, therefore, is the ability to maintain self-control, even when the pressure of temptation continues to attack us.

Next, we add godliness. This keeps our goodness from being merely human goodness, for we are to chase after a moral excellence which reflects the supernatural divine nature of God Himself, and not the temporary, earth–bound “goodness” of the flesh. 

According to my Young’s concordance, the word “godliness” occurs 14 times in the New Testament, (in the Pastoral Letters of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and 2 Peter), with most occurring in 1 Timothy.  Like Peter, Paul sees that godliness is no static, stained-glass word. It is active.  It is a kinetic obedience that springs from a reverent awe of God. It is the Isaiah-like action that has a person, so awestruck by God that they rise from their face saying, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Awe — THEN action! So Godliness is not piety as is often thought — upturned eyes and folded hands. It cannot be cloistered in church buildings because the godly among us are those people whose reverent worship of God flows into obedience throughout the week as they complete the good works that God has prepared for them to walk in.  Remember, God only has good plans and purposes for us.

How do we know if we’re walking in these Godly plans and purposes?  One way is to look at what we believe God is calling us to do and to ask our self, “Do these things come into line with God’s truth?”, “Are these the sort of things Jesus would do if He were here now?”  If the answer is “No”, then it’s best not to do them and seek God’s counsel for clarification.  Often such counsel is best done in fellowship with other Christians through worship, bible study, discernment and most importantly prayer.

One thing that will increase our desire for godliness is our diet.  And I don’t mean eating our 5 portions of fruit and veg a day!  What I mean is our spiritual diet.  Paul in 1 Timothy 4:6-7 writes that to be a good servant of Christ Jesus you will have to be trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that comes from such words.  This means we are not to have anything to do with irreverent and distracting false ideologies that twist God’s Word, and so twist His character into something He is not in order to suit the ears of the listener.

As Paul encourages Timothy and us, and as Peter encourages us, we are to be continually fed with the content of the gospel and apostolic teaching, because nourishment in the Word is essential to us being “a good servant.” The most effective Disciples of Jesus Christ are those who persevere as students of the Word and in fellowship with other believers, for their whole life. All the Apostles were repeatedly adamant about this too.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

So to conclude:

Godliness has as its central meaning a life of active obedience through the individual’s faith in God through His Son, Jesus Christ.  (1 Tim. 3:16;  Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory). 

The secret, therefore, of the godly life is letting God reveal Himself to us through Jesus Christ.  Therefore, godliness is basically following Jesus in this life (Titus 2:12; It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age).

Scripture presents godliness as a Christian goal to be earnestly sought after (1 Tim. 2:2; that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Tim. 4:7-8; Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come), even if it leads to persecution, (2 Tim. 3:12; In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted).

And we need to understand that godliness and sound doctrine are closely related, so godliness is about knowing the truth of who God is as revealed to us through His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.  The blessing of this is that as we grow in godliness we will experience and know better the supernatural divine power of God in us, both individually and corporately, for in Christ we have all we need to live the life God calls us to live.

Perseverance

Perseverance

Week 5 of a series examining Christian virtues

We are continuing to look at the virtues of God described in 2 Peter 1:5-11. Today our focus is on perseverance; not a bad theme for Remembrance Sunday, for we are to persevere in working for peace in our life, in our home, in our communities, in our nation, and in the world.

But life has it challenges, my life can be messy, my behaviour is not always predictable, I do not always choose the most obvious path.  If I don’t guard my heart, I can quickly become cynical and despairing, ingesting the hopelessness that I see around me.  Isn’t that the same for all of us? 

This is where perseverance comes in.  I need to keep on going, focussing on God and His Son Jesus, yet… when we look around we see so much pain and suffering.  And it’s not just physical pain, there is much emotional and psychological pain too.  We cry over the brokenness of others that we know, as well as crying for strangers.  Our tears may be triggered by compassion, or a deep sense of sadness and disappointment at what we are hearing and seeing in our world.

Obviously, this is not God’s will for His children, because we are all called to be light in the darkness and carriers of His hope. The darkness of this world should not be engulfing us, but rather fleeing at our approach because of the indwelling light of Christ and His power in us. This is the biblical perspective and it is the perspective we should all choose to embrace and chase after. You see, God is always at work, whether we perceive it or not.

The Good News is that when we surrender our lives to God we immediately become more aware of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light.  As we grow in awareness of this for ourselves, by pursuing the God who pursues us because of His love for us, we become even more aware of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light.  Then we begin to show more and more of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light to those we engage with on a daily basis, whether it be spouse, partner, children, wider family, neighbours, work colleagues, those we socialise with, as well as strangers we meet day by day.

God’s desire is that through our surrendered lives to Him we allow Him to bring comfort, restoration, healing, life and light to others. Have you surrendered all of your life to God?  As you do this, perseverance will be needed if you are going to make it to the end.

The reading from the prophet Micah (Micah 4:1-5) is an appropriate one for Remembrance Sunday as he speaks against a background of armed conflicts. In 722 BC the Assyrians destroyed Samaria (the Northern part of the original nation of Israel) and 20 years later attacked Jerusalem, only for the city to escape by a miracle. Micah almost certainly lived through both of these events and appears to have been deeply affected by them. He decries the fallacy of human plans compared to the wisdom of God and His ways, and he rebukes the leaders and prophets who have led the people into this situation. He perseveres in all of this, because our reading speaks of the new hope that will be, when restoration and God’s rule comes, and God Himself will judge the disputes ‘for strong nations far and wide’.  It is then, and only then through persevering, that people will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Having witnessed the horrors of war, Micah is clear that true peace can only come to the world when God’s rule reigns supreme.  In a world where many deeply desire peace, we too need to remember that it is God alone who can bring true peace, for God alone is the author of true justice and peace. Micah explains that our role in this new world order is ‘to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8).  In other words, we are to work hand in hand with God to bring about the peace which He describes.   We cannot engineer or create peace purely through diplomatic, political or military means.  Politics, diplomacy and armed forces can be an important supporting element for peace, but true peace can only come when God is at the centre of all our efforts.  Persevere, then, with working for Godly peace.

There is another scripture that can help the world today:

‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded’ (Jeremiah 31:16).

The context of this is God speaking to Israel, through the prophet Jeremiah, and it was the restoration of their nation that he was proclaiming.  I believe that this verse is helpful for us today. Many feel broken by what they see going on here and in the rest of the world, and many our crying over this brokenness. 

To me this verse paints a picture of God stooping down to us with a box of tissues and telling us to wipe away our tears. He wants us to know, that despite all we see and hear, He is indeed at work in the lives of all people, and we will see a reward for our labour. Can we hold this promise close to our heart?

The apostle Paul relayed a similar message to the Corinthians. He said, ‘So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless’ (1 Corinthians 15:58). That must have been an ‘adrenaline shot’ for the Corinthian church.

He also encouraged the early Christians to continue sowing good deeds, wherever they had opportunity, as harvest time was coming (Galatians 6:9-10). They would only reap, though, if they persevered in sowing and refused to give up.

The teachings of Jesus on perseverance are very clear: He has conquered death and it no longer need hold any power over us. For Jesus gave real hope with His promise of a kingdom which was yet to come. Jesus spoke in pictures about a time when there would be feasting and laughter. This time to come would be different, the hungry would be filled and those who had been downtrodden would be freed.  This gives us hope as we entrust to God those who have died for our broken world.

However, in his teachings Jesus also made clear that real change must start to take place now in the hearts and minds of his followers. We therefore use Remembrance Sunday to remind ourselves of our part in seeking to bring about the desperate need for change.  For Christians this Remembrance Sunday is more than an act of remembrance, it is a promise that we will do our best to serve Christ by serving others in the cause of peace, and for the relief of want and suffering.

By His Holy Spirit may He give us wisdom, courage, and hope and keep us faithful now and always.  This will be hard, but it will be well worth persevering for.  So, despite all you hear about the world today don’t giving up!  …Persevere – for giving up is not on God’s agenda!

Don’t quit, for I sense God saying; “Don’t give up, don’t quit, persevere! Keep sowing! Harvest is coming!” I repeat, “Harvest is coming, for I am at work and your efforts will be rewarded. I pass you a box of tissues right now so you can wipe away those tears of brokenness and pain.”

Self-control and the power of Christ

Self-control and the power of Christ

Week 4 of a series examining Christian virtues

We are continuing our study of the virtues of God described in 2 Peter 1:5-11. This week it’s the turn of self-control to come under the spotlight.

What’s my favourite biscuit?  Custard creams!

I can buy a packet of custard creams and they will stay in the cupboard for weeks.  I’m showing self-control!  But then that all goes to pot – I open the packet and before I know it I’m ¾ of the way through them, and so I think, “Well, there’s only a few left, I might as well finish them” and woof, they’re all gone!  Oh, where did my self-control go?

It sounds so simple and straightforward, perhaps even commonplace to think that we are all good at self-control.   Why?  Because it’s not a flashy concept.  Surely it’s easy to say “No” to another Custard Cream, French fry, or milkshake — or another half hour on Netflix or Facebook — or another glass of wine, pint of beer.  You just say no!

But it’s not that easy. Why?  Because to exercise self-control in a fallen world is one of the most difficult things you and I can ever learn to do.

Some say self-control can be taught.  But can it?  What does Scripture say?

Well, Scripture clearly shows us that alongside love and godliness, self-control serves as a major summary term for Christian conduct (2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 2:6, 12; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6). It is the climactic “fruit of the Spirit” in Paul’s list (Galatians 5:22–23) and one of the first things that must be characteristic of leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). Proverbs 25:28 likens “a man without self-control” to “a city broken into and left without walls.” 

From these and other verses I think that scripture show us that true self-control is not about bringing ourselves under our own control, but under the power of Christ.

Biblically, self-control, or lack thereof, goes to the deepest part of us: the heart. It begins with control of our emotions, and then includes our minds as well. Self-control is often paired with “sober-mindedness” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Titus 2:2; 1 Peter 4:7), In several places the language of “self-control” applies especially to the mind. Mark 5:15 and Luke 8:35 characterise the healed demoniac as “clothed and in his right mind.” Paul uses similar language to speak of being in his right mind (2 Corinthians 5:13), as well as not being out of his mind (Acts 26:25). Romans 12:3 exhorts every Christian “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,” but to exercise a form of self-control: thinking “with sober judgment.”

Self-control is both bodily and external. The apostle disciplines his body to “keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:25–27). It can mean not being “slaves to much wine” (Titus 2:3–5). And in particular, the language of self-control often has sexual overtones. Paul instructs Christians to “abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5). In a charge to women in 1 Timothy 2:9, self-control relates to modesty. And 1 Corinthians 7 presumes that lack of self-control in married adults might give Satan some foothold were they to unnecessarily deprive their spouse sexually for an extended time (1 Corinthians 7:5). Also God has given some the calling of singleness and with it, “having his desire under control” (1 Corinthians 7:37); others “burn with passion” and find it better to marry (1 Corinthians 7:9).

So, the question for the Christian, then, is this: If self-control is so significant how do I go about pursuing it as a Christian?

One way could be to train yourself to turn your back on objects of desire.  You could pretend it is not what you see, so I could see a custard cream as a piece of wood!  If I can change how I think about it, its impact on what I feel and do changes.

This may be a good place to start, but the Bible has more to teach than raw renunciation because we need more than mere diversion tactics!

True self-control is a gift from above, produced in and through us by the Holy Spirit. Until we believe that it is received from outside ourselves, rather than whipped up from within, the effort we give to control our own selves will resound to our praise, rather than God’s.

Self-control therefore, is an active gift; we are not to receive it passively. We are to open the gift and live it so that we exercise it through God’s grace, because all we have is a result of God’s grace to us.

Seeing it as a gift of grace should mean that we want Jesus to get the glory when we exercise self-control because it is only through His power that we can do it.  We are to learn to say no, but we don’t just say no. We admit the inadequacy, and emptiness, of doing it on our own. We pray for Jesus’s help, and craft specific strategies. We trust God’s promises to supply the power for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8; Philippians 4:19) and then act in faith that He will do it in and through us (Philippians 2:12–13). And then we thank him for every Spirit-supplied strain and success and step forward in self-control.

When “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14), when we embrace the truth that He is our sovereign, and God has “left nothing outside his control” (Hebrews 2:8), we can bask in the freedom that we need not muster our own strength to exercise self-control, but we can find strength in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, “the grace of God has appeared . . . training us” — not just “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,” but “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). Christian self-control is not finally about bringing our bodily passions under our own control, but under the control of Christ by the power of his Spirit.

All his life he was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). He stayed the course even when sweat came like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He could have called twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53), but he had the wherewithal to not rebut the false charges (Matthew 27:14) or defend himself (Luke 23:9). When reviled, he did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). They spat in his face and struck him; some slapped him (Matthew 26:67). They scourged him (Matthew 27:26). In every trial and temptation, “He learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8), and at the pinnacle of his self-control He was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). And he is the one who strengthens us (1 Timothy 1:12; Philippians 4:13).

So in Jesus, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a source for true self-control far beyond that of our feeble selves.

Therefore, meditating, reflecting and studying these virtues of God as listed in 2 Peter 1 shows us what we are to strive towards in the Christian Life.

At the same time, it teaches us dependence on God; it teaches us our utter need for the Spirit of God to rule over and in our lives, and so it teaches us our desperate need to look to the Spirit, depend upon the spirit, ask the Spirit of God for help and strengthening.  As we do this we will grow in wisdom, revelation and the knowledge of God; thus we will be increasingly transformed into the likeness of God.  Then we will live out, “these qualities in increasing measure” and “they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8).

Knowledge

Knowledge

Week 3 of a series examining Christian virtues

Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

We are continuing with the virtues of God described in 2 Peter 1:5-11.  Today we’re looking at knowledge; the knowledge of God.

The knowledge of God is like a garment we put on that is way too big for us. We need to continue to grow into it.

I can remember my parents saying to me you’ll grow into that jumper, especially when I was having a “hand-me-down” from my older brother!

The picture Scripture gives about the knowledge of God is like clothing a child while they are growing up.

When our daughters were babies we never bought clothes that were just the right fit.  We knew that they would grow, so we bought the baby grow that little bit bigger, saying, “Oh, she is going to grow into it.” And she did – all too quickly!  This continued when we sent them to school. Blouses, skirts, jumpers, coats were all bought on the large side.  We turned up the sleeves because it was easier to let them down than buy another garment.

Adults grow as well, but not primarily physical growth – although that does happen, and often in ways we don’t desire! The growth of the adult should primarily in the areas of experience, knowledge, and maturity.

It is the same for us as believers. But the interesting thing is that the growing process never stops, because the knowledge of God is a garment that you and I could never possibly grow all the way into.  The knowledge of God is so vast, and deep, and wide, and high that you could spend a hundred lifetimes growing in your knowledge of God, and you would still have an incredible amount of growing yet to do.

The Bible clearly shows us that growing in the knowledge of God, and so of Jesus, is a process

It begins with the foundation of faith, that we trust God about Jesus, that we’re convicted about who Jesus is; the Son of God.  The next part of the process is to add goodness, which we looked at last week.  This is about striving to allow God to renew us so that we are ready to believe and then receive His goodness, because God is a GOOD God.

Now Peter is saying we are to add knowledge to faith and goodness (2 Peter 1:5).  This makes sense for what good is it to have faith and the desire to do good (virtue) unless we know where to focus our faith and channel our goodness?

Knowledge, therefore, is an essential element in growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Knowledge can be defined as “to become thoroughly acquainted with, to know thoroughly, to know accurately, know well” (Thayer). (The word epignosis {ep-ig’-no-sis}). It can also be defined as “seeking to know, an inquiry, investigation” (Vine).  (The word gnosis {gno’-sis})

So for the Christian, knowledge pertains to understanding the will of God and that the way of salvation is found only through His Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 1:77; Philippeans 3:8).  God wants us to seek His knowledge so that we truly know that we’re thoroughly acquainted with Jesus Christ.

In Scripture we find that God demands his people to have knowledge… Deuteronomy 6:6-9 tells us that God expected it of Israel:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.

The Lord also declared to Jeremiah that the Knowledge of God would be a characteristic of the New Covenant.

‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.

33 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord.  ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.   I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord.  ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’ (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Paul in his letter to the Colossians says for us to be pleasing to the Lord, we must have a knowledge of His will –

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. (Col 1:9-10).

If it is God’s demand for us to have knowledge, then it goes without saying that when we display a lack of knowledge He is displeased with us. Hosea 4 & 6 tells us that Israel was destroyed because of their lack of knowledge…

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: ‘There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.  (Hosea 4:1,6)

‘What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.  5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth – then my judgments go forth like the sun.  6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:4-6)

In 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 we read how Jesus will come in judgement against those who do not know God…

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

So without knowledge, all the sincerity and zeal in the world is in vain!

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:1-3)

Since knowledge of God and His will is so important, how do we “add” knowledge?

The development of knowledge

Well, we have to acknowledge that the source for knowledge is Jesus.

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col 2:1-3)

So the New Testament is essential as we pursue Godly knowledge, for it contains the only reliable source of information concerning Jesus’ teachings while on earth and later through His apostles.

The Old Testament is also to be a source of knowledge (2 Timothy 3:14-17), and this not only for the prophetic information about Christ and His salvation, but also sheds light on the nature of God, and what makes the Godly person complete. Therefore, in our search for knowledge, certain attitudes are necessary:

  • A heart that longs and searches for knowledge (Pr 2:3-6; cf. 1 Pe 2:2)
  • A mind that values knowledge more highly than gold (Pr 8: 10-11)
  • A love for instruction (Pr 12:1)

A person with these attitudes will:

  • Make daily Bible reading a priority in their life
  • Utilise every opportunity to study the Word of God alone, and with others
  • Not take such opportunities for granted

So, do we demonstrate to others that acquiring knowledge of God and His Word is a priority? If we are diligent in our study of God’s Word, progress will be evident to others, as we read in 1 Tim 4:

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:15-16)

Of course, the reverse is just as true, sadly.  We also need to be cautious with the knowledge we have, for like all things, knowledge can be dangerous.

The danger of knowledge

Knowledge has the potential to produce arrogance, because it can “puff up” rather than “build up” (edify).  It has been said that “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” (Alexander Pope)

Now about food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.  (1 Co 8: 1-2)

For this reason, we must temper knowledge with love and meekness, for love edifies, and does not puff itself up, (See 1 Cor 8:1; 13:4).

So, to check if our perceived knowledge or wisdom is being used wisely we need to see if it is manifesting itself in a spirit of meekness.  If it’s hard, abrupt, bullying or intimidating then we need to go back to God and seek His forgiveness and let Him temper our knowledge and His perfect wisdom.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13,17)

The truth is this:

there is no virtue in knowledge if it leads to arrogance.

If used incorrectly, KNOWLEDGE CAN DESTROY a fellow Christian when it is misused.

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but one.’ 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling-block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  (see 1 Co 8:4-11)

How do we know when we’re operating out of arrogance?

  • When we despise the lack of knowledge in others,
  • when we run roughshod over the weak conscience of others.

Such abuse of knowledge produces sin in our lives (see 1 Cor 8:12-13) which can lead us to sin against Christ! Therefore, humility, compassion, grace, mercy and love must properly restrain our use of knowledge (see Romans 14:14-21), for like a sharp knife, knowledge can be dangerous when used improperly.

Conclusion

With the proper application of knowledge:

  • We can build up our faith, as faith comes from God’s Word
  • We provide direction in which to channel our striving for excellence

So a question worth asking on a regular basis is “am I growing in knowledge?” If the answer is “no”, we are setting ourselves up for destruction for Scripture warns;

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”  Hosea 4:6

If we are growing, then we are on the right track for Scripture promises;

“…you will never stumble or fall.”  (2 Peter 1:10)

However, we must take care that our knowledge of God does not lead us away from God by making us arrogant and unloving towards others. There is no virtue in knowledge if it leads to arrogance.

To our faith and goodness, therefore, let us be sure to add knowledge, that we might truly grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Goodness

Goodness

Week 2 of a series examining Christian Virtues

Tasting the goodness of God

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Our God is a good God!

If you know Him and love Him, you’ll likely respond with a hearty, Amen to that!  Yesterday, today, forever; God is good. On our best days, on our worst days; God is good. He desires to bless us, heal us, deliver us and prosper us every day. Psalm 34:8 says taste and see that the Lord is good.

When Barbara and I were away in France recently, our hotel had its own patisserie.  We could see lots of wonderful pastries, and oh they looked good.  I knew they existed because I could see them. People were coming in and enjoying them.  But I didn’t know how good they were until I’d tasted one myself. We know the truth about something through first-hand experience.

You see, Jesus teaches that we have to press into God’s goodness, and the best way to start this is to accept that you still have something to learn about God and His goodness.  Paul says in Romans 12:2 Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Therefore, don’t let religious traditions rob you of the goodness of God. Don’t let a sense of unworthiness rob you of the goodness of God.

Dig into your Bible and discover for yourself the passages that speak of God’s mercy (Psalm 86:5), of His loving-kindness (Jeremiah 9:24), and His compassion (Psalm 145:8), for He is good to all. We will see the goodness of God in our lives by the renewing of our minds.

We read in James, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

God is not holding back any good thing from anyone. God has things in store for you that you’ve never even dared to imagine. That should be exciting to think about, (1 Corinthians 2:9-10), but you need to believe this.

When we begin to understand God’s goodness, we find it easier to trust Him. That trust then enables us to open our hearts to new level of His power in our lives, as our belief grows.  You see it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you His Kingdom, (Luke 12:32).  He does not want to withhold anything from those who push deeper into Him (Psalm 84:11).

If you doubt that God is good and that He is going to manifest His goodness in your life, you will lose heart and quit, move into unbelief and close the door on what He wants to give you.  But if you were to take a deeper step in believing in the goodness of God where will you be this time next year?  Where will we as a church be this time next year?   Things will be better in your life, and in the life of Christ’s Church here.  We will be better equipped to overcome the forces of evil, for the devil works by stealing, killing and destroying what is good in our lives.  “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11). Once you renew your mind and believe you will see the goodness of God, all that is left for you to do is receive the goodness of God.

Do you feel that there are things missing in your life today?  Are there things that you long for, pray for, dream about?

If the missing things align with God’s Word, He wants you to have it.  Now that doesn’t mean He will hand it to you on a plate, very often you have a part to play. The biggest part will be obedience and receiving by faith. Sometimes there is a preparation period between the “Amen” and “There it is.” But don’t doubt for a moment that He wants to give it to you.

Why do some people have trouble receiving from God?  Because they haven’t fully understood the goodness of God. Yet, it’s a foundation of our faith in Him.

I know many of you have tasted the goodness of the Lord in many areas of your life. Praise God for that! But wouldn’t you like to go further in your walk with Him? Wouldn’t you like to be bolder and more daring in your faith?

Think of the times when you sensed the Lord calling you to do something new, to make a change in your life. Like Peter, you heard the voice of the Master calling you to cross the water of life to new levels in Him. You heard Him say, “Come!” You wanted to step out of your little comfort zone and walk on the water…but you didn’t. Fear stopped you. You saw the wind and the waves in the circumstances around you. You grew timid and shrank back. You didn’t reach out and receive.

But don’t feel condemned. Instead, let the truth strengthen your faith. Let it inspire you to search the Word, and so let it show you more about the goodness of God.

Renewing your mind, believing and receiving are all part of the journey to taste the goodness of God in every single part of your life. Put a piece of God’s goodness on your plate, pick up a fork and dig in! Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Based on Psalm 145:1-13; Matthew 7:7-12

Faith

Faith

Week 1 of a series examining Christian virtues

There is much we could say about faith. This is an on-going journey for all of us. Today let’s move forwards on this journey by considering the words of Peter in his first letter; 1 Peter 1:3–12.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.

Peter was writing this letter to Christians facing persecution.  His aim was to comfort them with the truth of who they are in Christ—children of God who have every reason to rejoice in their salvation and future glory in eternity. He urges them to live like the holy ones of God that they already are by obeying God now, by loving each other earnestly, and by placing all of their hope in the endless life to come.

Our passage from 1 Peter 1:3–12 is one of the most loved passages in all of Scripture. It begins as a blessing to God, but also describes how incredibly He has blessed us in Christ. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, our hope is not a wish—it is as alive as He is. Our inheritance as God’s children is eternal, full of glory, and secured forever. Even in our suffering, (not if we suffer, but when we suffer) we have every reason to rejoice. So the mystery of God’s plan has been revealed to us in Christ. We are being saved!

In verses 3 and 4, Peter revealed that God has caused us to be born again into a living hope and a forever inheritance of unlimited worth. Now he writes that the merciful God who gives us those great gifts is also actively guarding us, right in this very moment.

Guarding us from what, suffering? No, as Peter will soon say, we will suffer. Instead God is guarding our inheritance. He is guarding us from anything that might cause our inheritance—our eternal life with Him forever—to be lost.

So, we are shielded by God’s power.  This is a military term – Peter, therefore, means that God has His spiritual shield around us, protecting us, and so keeping us safe from all the schemes of the enemy.

We are being assured that we are being guarded by God’s power. And how powerful is God? How able is He?

  • He is the God who created the universe.
  • He is the God who raised Christ from the dead.
  • He is the God of all.

He is able.

We are being guarded by God’s power through our faith, (1 Peter 1:5).  We must understand that our faith is not powerful. It is God alone who is powerful. Our faith is in the fact that we trusted Him to save us, and we are to continue to trust that God will do everything necessary to keep us saved.

What is God saving us from? We are being saved from the power of sin.  As we grow more and more like Jesus we will one day be forever and completely saved from the presence of sin. Until then, God guards us so that nothing can take our salvation away.  This guarding of the refiner’s fire shows us that our spirit has been saved, for this is what makes us alive with Christ. And through this refining fire our soul is also being saved and is being transformed, day by day, into the image of Christ.

Jesus speaks on many occasions about faith.  When He spoke about “faith”, He meant a belief based on the reality of His deity and the One prophesised by Moses and the Old Testament prophets. To Jesus “faith” is not a hypothetical abstraction.  While sailing across the Sea of Galilee, a sudden storm alarms the disciples who, fearful of drowning, awaken Jesus for help. Jesus rebukes them with the words “You of little faith” and calms the sea.  Despite demonstrating His power over both the natural world through physical healing and the demonic world by exorcism, the disciples did not fully realise who Jesus was.

What Jesus did in stilling the storm was to assume the authority exercised only by God in the Old Testament (Ps 89:8-9; 106:8-9; 107:23-32); no wonder the disciples question, “Who is this?” (Matt 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25).

Jesus again uses this phrase “You of little faith” in Matt 16:5-12 & Mark 8:16-21. On this occasion, after leaving the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus warned the disciples about their teaching figuratively as “yeast.” However, the disciples failed to understand this and thought He was referring to food which they had forgotten.

Despite experiencing the previous two miraculous feedings (Matt 14:13-21; 15:29-38; Mark 6:35-44; 8:1-9), the disciples failed to understand that Jesus was God. Jesus says to them….

  • “Do you not see or understand?
  • Do you have a hardened heart?
  • Having eyes, do you not see?
  • And having ears, do you not hear?”
  • “Do you not yet understand?”

Jesus clearly spoke of “faith” as a belief in the reality of His deity. Miraculous events that were witnessed and experienced by the disciples corresponded to the truth that Jesus was God.  On many occasions Jesus came across people of great faith.  And because of their faith He was able to perform great healing miracles.  The amazing thing with this is that both Jew and Gentile expressed great faith.  Some believed he could heal by simply saying so.  The Centurion in Matt 8:5-13; Luke 7:2-10.  Some knew healing would come by knowing that Jesus could and would forgive them their sin. Healing of the Paralytic in Matt 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:17-25.  Some were healed simply by knowing that Jesus was the Messiah, and of the line of David. The woman who bled for 12 years in Matt 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48. The two blind men in Matt 9:27-30.  And I can go on with other examples where Jesus taught about the importance of faith.

When Jesus speaks of “faith,” it is a belief based on the fact that He is the Messiah and human beings recognise the truth about themselves.  For Jesus recognised genuine faith when He observed people who understood the true nature of sin, who recognised their unworthiness before God and sought His grace in forgiveness, because He was God.

Our faith, therefore, must go beyond what we believe; it must become a dynamic part of all we do, resulting in good fruit and spiritual maturity.  The bottom line is this, Salvation does not depend on good deeds, but it results in good deeds!

Genuine faith in God will be visible to others.  Is your faith visible to those who live around you?  If your life is not having a positive impact on those around you perhaps you need to look again at your understanding of faith and at what God has done for you, and remind yourself that if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Peter 1:8).

Based on a sermon from 13th October 2019

Christian Virtues – a weekly series

Christian Virtues – a weekly series

Over the next few weeks we’re going to be looking at the Christian virtues or qualities listed by Peter, the Apostle of Jesus, in his second letter (2 Peter 1:5-7) .  He encourages us to add to our faith the following qualities:

  • Goodness
  • Knowledge,
  • Self-control,
  • Perseverance,
  • Godliness,
  • Brotherly kindness
  • Love

Reading on to verse 8;

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What Peter teaches, and he is only teaching us what Jesus taught him, is that these qualities do not always come automatically; they require effort on our part.  He also teaches that they are not optional; all of them have to be a continual part of our daily Christian life.

Before you feel this is all too much, know this good news: God empowers and enables us to achieve this. As He does this, He graciously gives us the responsibility to learn and to grow, because this is a process we are called to go through as a Christian.  We should not be surprised that we have to put in some effort, and we certainly should not be resentful at having to do it.

How can we be resentful if when we possess these qualities in increasing measure, we will be kept from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I invite you to join me on this weekly journey of exploration into the Christian virtues, starting with our first installation, faith itself.

From death to life

From death to life

John 11:32-44 & 12:1

This is one of the most amazing passages in the entire Bible in which we see the glory, power and majesty of Christ’s power in a dazzling display.  A man named Lazarus was brought back from death to life.  In this passage we can see what Jesus did for Lazarus, but, we can also see what He can do for all sinners, and that includes you and me!

You see, Jesus took Lazarus from his deathbed to eat at His table.  Jesus has taken us from our deathbed to His table, because He has saved us by His grace.

For Lazarus, death had overtaken his sickness.  He had no idea who was mourning him, so he was unable to respond to his surroundings.   Even when Jesus showed up at his grave, he was unaware of his Holy presence.  In this condition, he is a picture of every person who does not know the Lord Jesus.

Ephesians 2:1 says that the sinner is lost in trespasses and sins. In this lost condition, no sinner can sense the presence of the Lord.  So, we can’t respond to the things of God. We cannot enjoy fellowship with God. Such a condition is pitiful, (v. 32, 39).

We know that Lazarus has been dead long enough for decay to set in. Yet, Jesus raised him, but… it was resuscitation, because he had to die again.  You see it’s only at the resurrection that we are alive for evermore.  Jesus was dead, but when He rose He was resurrected because He lives for evermore!  But to Martha, Mary and the crowd Lazarus was doomed.  He was dead and gone and nothing more could be done about it.

But this is where it gets interesting; Jesus was there. Those there were ready to leave Lazarus in the grave, but Jesus wasn’t.  So Jesus makes all the difference!  It is only Jesus who can make a difference in any person’s life who is dead to sin, lost in trespasses.

I believe this shows that we have to let Jesus bring life to our dead soul, for without Him, like Lazarus, we are doomed.  The truth is Jesus, and Jesus alone, makes the difference in the life of the dead and lost sinner, (Acts 4:12; John 14:6).

Note, Jesus’ call to Lazarus was a personal call.  In calling him by name Jesus was only calling him, no one else.

So, God calls us individually.  He won’t call you through your mum or dad, your husband or wife, close friend or neighbour. No, Jesus comes for you personally, because He came to save individuals, (Luke 19:10).

And this call was a precise call “COME OUT!”  Jesus told Lazarus exactly what he was supposed to do.  Likewise, when Jesus comes calling us there will be no doubt as to what He wants us to do. He is calling us to come to Him and to believe in Him by faith. This call involves us acknowledging our sins, repenting of them, accepting His gracious gift of forgiveness because Jesus is the only way for our soul and spirit to find salvation, (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9; Matt. 11:28; John 6:47). It is a powerful call for it brings us out of death and into His light and life.

This call changed Lazarus – where there was once death and decay there was now life.  Lazarus could now have fellowship with his loved ones again, including fellowship with Jesus.

When a sinner comes to Jesus for salvation, that sinner is brought out of death and is made alive, (Eph. 2:5).  Now we are able to have fellowship with God. Now, we are equipped to worship and glorify the God of Heaven, (John 4:24).  Everything has changed and now we are alive to the things that we were dead to before. In fact, we now have an appetite for these things.

You see, Jesus breaks the power of sin on our life and allows us to go free, (Rom. 6:14), because His liberation and redemption saves us, (1 Pet. 1:18-19) and brings us into His wonderful light (John 8:12).  This is the light Lazarus experienced when the covers were removed: light flooded into both his eyes and life!

The same is for us, every time we, as a sinner confess our sins, the light of Christ floods back into our lives breaking and expelling the darkness of that sin that has covered our lives.  We are resuscitated by, and reinstated with Jesus.   Now that we are alive again we can sit at the table with the Lord in fellowship with Him and our heavenly Father.  Everything for us has now changed. Not only do we fellowship with God and Jesus here on earth we will also have fellowship with them in Jesus’ home on high, (John 14:1-3; Rev. 19).

Jesus willingly takes people like Lazarus, like you and me, who are dead in sin, and washes us in His own blood, thus saving us by His grace. all for the purpose of us spending eternity in fellowship with us. 

If we are honest about our frailty and failings this is truly a blessing too large for us to get our mind around. Yet paradoxically what luxury is ours when we know the Lord, for when we respond to His call and let Him turn on the light in our soul and spirit He brings us life, and life in all its fullness.

May we listen to Jesus’ call on our life, for our relationship with Him needs work, regardless of how long we have known Him.  Are you prepared to let Him work with you? When we allow Him, we will see the glory, power and majesty of God in Christ’s dazzling power being displayed in our lives, leading us from death to eating again at our Master’s table.

Based on a sermon from Second Sunday of Lent, 17th March 2019

Fasting and prayer

Fasting and prayer

Photo by Joseph Greve on Unsplash

In a nutshell, fasting is defined as voluntarily going without food in order to focus on prayer and fellowship with God.   But… you can pray without fasting, and fast without prayer.  Yet when these two activities are combined and dedicated to God’s glory they reach a fuller effectiveness.

One thing to make clear at the outset; prayer and fasting is not a time of manipulating God into doing what you desire.  No, it is simply forcing yourself to focus and rely on God for the strength, provision, and wisdom you need, by being open to His prompting, guiding, and His voice.

History is filled with stories of those who have fasted. Martin Luther, John Wesley and Charles Finney all saw the Lord impact their generations and they were all men of fasting and prayer.  It was Smith Wigglesworth who said, “If the Spirit of God is not moving, I will move the Spirit of God.”

So fasting and praying is about losing “the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free…” (Isaiah 58:6).

Fasting and prayer: what the Bible says…

The Old Testament law specifically required prayer and fasting for only one occasion, the Day of Atonement, known as “the day of fasting” (Jeremiah 36:6) or “the Fast” (Acts 27:9).  Moses fasted during the 40 days and 40 nights he was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God (Exodus 34:28). King Jehoshaphat called for a fast in all Israel when they were about to be attacked by the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chronicles 20:3).  In response to Jonah’s preaching, the men of Nineveh fasted and put on sackcloth (Jonah 3:5). Prayer and fasting were responses in times of distress or trouble, as we heard in our first reading from Joel (Joel 2:1-2 & 12-17).

There are also other occasions recorded in Scripture.  For instance: David fasted when he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed (2 Samuel 1:12).  Nehemiah had a time of prayer and fasting upon learning that Jerusalem was still in ruins (Nehemiah 1:4).  Darius, the king of Persia, fasted all night after he was forced to put Daniel in the den of lions (Daniel 6:18).

Prayer and fasting also occurs in the New Testament.  Anna “worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” at the Temple (Luke 2:37).  John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast (Mark 2:18).  Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before His temptation by Satan (Matthew 4:2).  The church of Antioch fasted (Acts 13:2) and sent Paul and Barnabas off on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:3).  Paul and Barnabas spent time in prayer and fasting for the appointment of elders in the churches (Acts 14:23).

Fasting and prayer: Required or Recommended?

As you read the Word of God you’ll find that it does not specifically command believers to spend time in prayer and fasting.  Yet, at the same time, prayer and fasting is definitely something we should be doing, because Scripture shows us that when we take our eyes off the things of this world through prayer and fasting and focus our thoughts on God things begin to change miraculously.

Fasting should always be limited to a set time because: not eating for extended periods will be damaging to the body.  Scripture also shows us that fasting is not a method of punishing our bodies and it is not be used as a “dieting method” either, for we are to spend time in prayer and fasting to gain a deeper fellowship and discipleship with God.   Simply put, by taking our eyes off the things of this world through prayer and biblical fasting, we can focus better on Christ.

As we heard in or Gospel reading (Matthew 6:16-18) Jesus declares:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Did you notice that Jesus said twice “When you fast”, not “If you fast”!  This implies that there is an expectation for followers of Jesus to fast.

Prayer and Fasting – What Does It Accomplish?

I need to be clear here that spending time in prayer and fasting is not automatically effective in accomplishing the desires of those who fast.  Fasting or no fasting, God only promises to answer our prayers when we ask according to His will.  1 John 5:14-15 tells us,

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”

In the prophet Isaiah’s time, the people grumbled that they had fasted, yet God did not answer in the way they wanted (Isaiah 58:3-4).  Isaiah responded by proclaiming that the external show of fasting and prayer, without the proper heart attitude, was futile (Isaiah 58:5-9).

So I believe that fasting and prayer are key components for turning the tide of anything we face, because it helps to bring us back into line with God’s plumb line truth, for when we walk in His truth we are going to be asking in accordance with His will.

Think what happened to Jesus in the wilderness after His baptism.  After 40 days He was tempted.  We may be surprised at this, after all Jesus had just spent 40 days focusing on God, His heavenly Father.  Why was He tempted then?

I think this shows us that temptation may come as a surprise but sin is not an accident.  The devil was coming to tempt Jesus, but He was ready for Him.   He was prepared with the Word of God, His sword and with 40 days of fasting and prayer (Matthew 4).  

Is there a temptation you are facing right now?

  • Feeling sorry for yourself, and self-pity?
  • feeling anxious and worrying?
  • The lust of the eyes?
  • Being offended and holding grudges?
  • The pride of life?

Most temptation falls into these categories. But whatever it is, there is a pathway to victory through fasting and prayer.

We cannot stop temptation from coming, but when it does come, we can walk in God’s supernatural power to overcome it through a lifestyle of fasting and prayer.

To me an important thing about praying and fasting is that we are to only do it to bring honour and glory to God. If we are asking for something that is not honouring to God or not God’s will for our lives, God will not give what we ask for, whether we fast or not. You see, we learn God’s will for us when we grow in His wisdom, and God promises to give us wisdom when we ask.  James 1:5 tells 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.”

As we journey through Lent together may we use the Lent sessions to help us grow in understanding and wisdom about the spiritual discipline of prayer and fasting, so that we all grow in God’s wisdom and all the benefits that will bring us.

Ash Wednesday, 6th March 2019

Readings: Joel 2:1-2 & 12-17 and Matthew 6:1-6 & 16-21