Together, we serve
to know Christ
and to make Christ known
for the glory of God

20 July 2018

Ephesians 1

This is my favourite chapter in the Bible. It is packed with encouragement and spiritual truths. I could write a commentary on it and not just a blog post but will restrain myself and just comment on a few of the verses.

Verse 3* tells us that we have ‘every’ spiritual blessing we can have in Christ. These aren’t mystical blessings, and in order for us to understand that Paul goes on to mention a number of them in the rest of the chapter. He chose us (verse 4), He predestined us (verse 5), He has adopted us into His family (verse 5), we are redeemed (verse 7), we are forgiven (verse 7), He has shared His plans with us (verse 9-10), we have an inheritance (verse 11) and we have the Holy Spirit (verse 13).

This chapter is ‘scary’ to some people because of the words ‘chosen’ and ‘predestined’ but I take great encouragement from them as a believer. Firstly, given ‘we were dead in our trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:5), we could never have made ourselves alive and so God choosing to redeem me is a great mystery, but one I am profoundly thankful for. I did not deserve an eternal inheritance; I did not deserve to be a co-heir with Christ; I did not deserve to be part of God’s family. I deserved eternal punishment and separation from God, and so my response to these verses is always one of thankfulness for God choosing me (a wretched sinner) and giving me these Spiritual blessings.

It is hard to get around trying to explain any other meaning for the words ‘he chose us in him before the foundation of the world’ (verse 4) except for them to mean what they say, that God chose us, we never chose Him. Once we accept that (even though we might not understand why), it is much easier to see and accept that because He has chosen us, He must have chosen us for something. And that ‘for something’ is that He has ‘predestined us’ to be adopted into His family (verse 5). He chose us because He had predetermined (predestined) to make us part of His family. What should our response be to that? Paul tells us that He did all this so that we could glorify God (verse 11-12).

And finally, if you’re still looking for a reason to glorify God (as if that isn’t enough already), He has given us His Holy Spirit which is our guarantee that we will inherit eternal life (verse 13,14). WOW! Incredible! Ongelooflik! God has done all of this for me! Why? So that we could glorify Him. Surely these words of Ephesians 1 should drive us to do exactly that.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for choosing me. I don’t know why you picked me specifically but I am eternally grateful for what you have done for me through Christ. Help me to live to Your praise and glory in everything that I do. Amen.

*All quotations are from the ESV

19 July 2018

Galatians 6
Proverbs 26

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Galatians 6:3

These words should be challenging to each of us. How often have you thought yourself superior to someone else in one aspect or another? You probably haven’t said it aloud but you might have thought it. Thoughts like “I’m a better sportsman”, “I have a better grasp on the Scriptures”, “I work harder”, “I’m a better son/daughter”, “I’m a better parent”, “I’m a better teacher” and “I’m cleverer”. While those might not apply directly to you, I am sure you will be able to think of times when you have considered yourself superior to someone else in one aspect or another.

The Scriptures remind us in numerous places not to think highly of ourselves. Romans 12:3 says, ‘I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think’.* Galatians 6:4 says, ‘But let each one test his own work’. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize how all our works (even our best work) are as filthy rags as they are tainted with our sin.

The problem is we often think of ourselves too highly. We rate our works and our abilities much more than we ought. In Deuteronomy 8:17 the Israelites were warned, ‘Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.”’  It goes on to say in verse 18 ‘You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth’.  It is a reminder to us that even though we might work hard and do something good; it isn’t only because of what we have done. It is because God has given us the ability.

Are you a good sportsman? Are you a good parent? Are you a good child? Are you a good employee? Are you a good boss? Are you a good teacher?  Whatever you’re good at, whatever your works are – remember it is God who has given you that ability and remember to acknowledge Him.

Prayer: Lord, please help me to keep a right view of my works and myself and remember all my abilities come from you. Amen.

*All quotations are from the ESV

 

18 July 2018

Galatians 5
Psalm 78

Galatians 5. This chapter starts with the words ‘For freedom Christ has set us free’ (*). As believers we are set free. We are free from the bondage of sin. We are free from the demands of the law. We are free to serve God and worship Him. It seems some of the Galatians felt that because they were Christians they were now free to do anything they wished. Paul addressed a similar thing in his letters to the Romans when in chapter 6:1 he asks, ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?’  It seems people there were saying the more we sin, the greater God’s grace is displayed. Paul’s answer in Romans is an emphatic NO (‘by no means’ – Romans 6:2) and again in Romans 6:12 ‘Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body’.

In Galatians 5:16 Paul says a similar thing when he says, ‘walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh’. The answer is the same as what he said to the Romans. Freedom from sin does not give you a license to do as you wish. You are now free to ‘walk by the Spirit’.  And if we are wondering what that looks like in our lives, Paul goes on to lay out firstly what it doesn’t look like and then secondly what it does look like.

What we ought not to be doing are works of the flesh – sexual immorality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkness, orgies etc (verse 19-21). That is a list that covers how we live and how we behave towards others. It covers what we often consider ‘bad’ or ‘big’ sins (sexual sins) but it also covers items that, if you’re anything like me, we do as well – jealously, anger, fighting, dividing, being envious of others etc. It is a reminder that in God’s eyes, sin is sin – there is no grading scale.

Paul ends the chapter telling us how we ought to be living by showing the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (verse 22-23). If we are believers then these are the things that should be evident in our lives for all to see. They are contradictory to the works of the flesh. Are they evident in your life?

Prayer: Lord, help me to display the fruit of the Spirit in my life especially as I deal with other people. Help me to put off the works of the flesh and to fight against my sinful nature. I know I can only do this with the help of the Spirit. AMEN.

*All quotations are from the ESV

17 July 2018

Galatians 4
Psalm 77

Psalm 77. The Psalmist is in distress and says, ‘I cry aloud to God, aloud to God’ (verse 1*) and ‘In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord’ (verse 2). He recognizes that in his difficulties he needs the Lord. How many times are we not exactly like that? When things are going well we forget about the Lord and then when trouble strikes we call out to God in our distress. In our difficulties, we are drawn back to God.

The Psalmist says, ‘When I remember God’ (verse 3) which indicates that he knows God. Our strength in difficult times comes from our knowledge of who God is. Not just a mere acquaintance of God but an intimate knowledge of His nature and character. The Psalmist knows what God has done in history as he says; ‘I consider the days of old, the years long ago’ (verse 5).  But he also has personal knowledge and experience of God as he says, ‘I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.’ (verse 11)

Three times the Psalmist mentions ‘meditate’ (verse 3, 6, 12) when he considers God and His works. We tend to shy away from ‘meditation’ as we attach Eastern mystical connotations to it. That form of meditation requires you to empty your mind and focus on nothing. However, Christian meditation is totally the opposite. It is the filling our minds on God, His Word and His deeds. Donald Whitney covers how to meditate in his excellent book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life – it is definitely worth reading if you haven’t already. A quick summary of how to meditate from that book can be found in this helpful article as well: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/17-ways-to-meditate-on-scripture/

When we are in times of distress and difficulty, we need to be able to draw on our knowledge of God and remember (and meditate on) His faithfulness in the past. In order to do that we need to ensure we grow in our knowledge of God and His ways when we are not in distress. That is one reason why we ought to be reading the Scriptures daily (which I hope this daily blog is helping you to do); attending a Connect group; attending Sunday services (where God’s Word is taught each week) and meditating on God’s Word. Are you doing all these things?

*All quotations are from the ESV

16 July 2018

Galatians 3
Psalm 76

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:28-29

This is a clear reminder that there is no distinction in God’s eyes between people of different race, nationality, class, education or socio-economic group.  The reason is that we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27*). It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, black or white – we are all image bearers of God.

We also have another thing in common – we are all sinners. Romans 3 reminds us that there is ‘no one righteous, not even one‘. All of us have sinned and turned away from the truth. There is no difference in this regard as well between male or female, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, black or white – we are all sinners.

But the good news is that we are all saved in exactly the same way – ‘for in Christ you are all sons of God, through faith‘ (Galatians 3:26). One of the points Paul is making in this chapter is that we are saved in the same way that Abraham was saved – by faith. Verse 6 tells us that Abraham ‘believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness’. We too are saved when we believe in Jesus Christ and His work (verse 22).

The only differentiator in God’s eyes is therefore whether you believe and have faith in Jesus Christ or not. That is the only distinction that matters. Gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, education, socio-economic class – none of these matter in God’s eyes. The challenge to us at TCC (and as individuals) is whether we also display this same attitude or do we differentiate people based on their gender, race, nationality, education level or socio-economic status.  

Prayer: Lord help me to not differentiate people on anything else except their spiritual standing with you. Please help TCC to be welcoming to all people regardless of their backgrounds. Amen.

*All quotations are from the ESV

13 July 2018

Galatians 2

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

Paul’s description of his life as a believer is profound. We are in awe of the death to self that Paul so confidently states, and the New Testament gives proof that he lived this out. Yet I am so aware that although this is the true reality for every believer who trusts in Jesus Christ, I am not as capable or confident as Paul to state that I have died to self in my own life. I am so aware of the battles that go on in my heart and mind, grappling with my selfish desires, constantly checking my not-so-pure motives for the things I say and do. This I think is the reality of any Christian who is living in the flesh, this side of heaven, and yet who has the Holy Spirit at work in us. The grappling and battling is in that sense a good thing! I take such confidence in the fact that what Paul is describing is the objective reality for each believer. We are dead to self, although our daily experience may be better described as a dying to self (a difficult process) and we have Christ living in us. It’s His Spirit that is at work in us, making us able to start the process, and giving us the surety that we will one day be perfected in Christ in the end. As Paul has said elsewhere: ‘ 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.’ (Philippians 1:6).    

Knowing this, that Christ lives in us, should motivate us to keep dying to self, to keep seeking to live lives that reflect the reality that He is living in us. On those days where our experience seems far from the reality of our lives in Christ, we need to trust in our faithful God.

12 July 2018

Galatians 1
Proverbs 25

Galatians 1. As we read the letter to the Galatians, we see that Paul is addressing the Galatian churches. He challenges a heresy that was threatening the churches and the purity of the Gospel he had preached to them. Paul spends this first chapter of the letter warning the Galatian Christians that they are in great danger of abandoning the truth of the gospel as he had received it ‘by revelation from Jesus Christ’ (verse 12).  The passion we see here in Paul’s words shows how serious he saw this threat to them as churches in Christ.

I am struck at how often we take for granted the privilege we have, in that we have heard the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and that we are in a church that seeks to faithfully teach that gospel. ‘To know Christ and make Him known’, as our church mission states, is an awesome blessing and privilege. I think we would do well to remember that with that knowledge comes the responsibility to be faithful to that true gospel in our own thinking and our own speaking. How seriously do we work to understand and know the gospel better? How often do we check ourselves against scripture, our beliefs and behaviours? How seriously do we take potential threats to the grace we have received in the true gospel, when we are subtly tempted to add to it, to expect more from ourselves or the brothers and sisters around us? Or how often do we forget to extend grace in the disputable matters, which we learned from Romans 15 this past term? We can only discern and fight these temptations faithfully if we ourselves are sure of the gospel we have believed, the truth of how we can have any hope of salvation.

We have a responsibility to grow in our understanding of the true gospel and in turn, this keeps us personally, as well as guards our church, encouraging our brothers and sisters to do the same.

May we have the passion Paul has for our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His Gospel, His means to save us, and our dying world.

 

11 July 2018

2 Corinthians 13
Psalm 75

Psalm 75. Our God as the righteous judge is not often a trait of God that dominates our daily thinking, or matches our picture of our loving father in Heaven. I often feel I lose sight of the multiple facets of our God as He has revealed himself to us, especially the ones that are not as comfortable or ‘manageable’ as we would like. This Psalm brings back to the fore that the God I know and experience as my loving heavenly Father, is still the God who rightly judges evil and executes judgement. Yes, we are saved, redeemed and loved in Christ, but this is only because we have been washed by the blood of Jesus. Blood that had to be spilled to pay the penalty for my sin, blood from the sinless Saviour who had to endure the full wrath of His Father’s righteous judgement on our behalf.

I think we often forget the immensity of our guilt, and the immensity of the cost that was paid to bring us back to our God. This psalm should remind us to check ourselves, to ask whether we have let our view of our God shrink just a little, soften just a bit, making Him more of a gentle giant in our lives than the righteous judging God that He is. May we often be helpfully reminded of how big our God is and how small we really are. This humility brings us closer to the true reality and absolute wonder of being redeemed children of the Most High God, spared of the cross, and loved by a mighty God.

We praise you, God, we praise you, for your Name is near; people tell of your wonderful deeds.’ (Psalm 75:1)

10 July 2018

2 Corinthians 12
Psalm 74

Psalm 74.  This psalm is a lament from God’s people, as they describe the destruction of God’s Temple, His chosen dwelling place among His people. It describes how the enemies of God have desecrated and destroyed it, reviling His Name. We see here in this psalm how God’s people cry out, ‘how long O God…(take action and)…destroy them’ (verses 10-11).

How often have we felt this way when confronted with rampant evil, complete disdain of people for the almighty God and Creator?

Unlike Psalm 73, this lament does not resolve itself and ends with the same call it started with: ‘Rise up, O God, and defend your cause’ (verse 22). In one sense, it is right for God’s people to be angered when their God is reviled by evil men. We see the cry of this psalm is for God to act, not on their behalf, but because of His promises, His covenant. They call on him to remember these and to defend His cause.

The hope in this Psalm is not found at the end but in the middle, verses 12-17. Here the psalm remembers God’s deeds of old, the salvation He brought about in the Exodus. He is the God of creation who owns the day and the night (verse 16). Because He is the God who has acted in the past and has so faithfully remembered and fulfilled His promises, we can know that He will answer the cries of this psalm. We have the privilege of sitting on the other side of the Cross, to read this psalm in light of God’s ultimate salvation performed on the Cross, where Jesus decidedly defeated evil and death, once and for all. While we sit, here and now, waiting for His return, we may be tempted to lament the evil around us as this world rejects and reviles the God who created it. But we can rest in the knowledge that our God has remembered His promises and is defending His cause. He no longer needs a dwelling place on earth amongst His people, but now dwells in the hearts of His people. In the midst of the evil in our world, He is working all things for our good and His glory.

 

9 July 2018

2 Corinthians 11
Psalm 73

Psalm 73. One of the reasons we love the Psalms is that they so often ring true with our own human experience. We can relate to the emotions described, whether positive or negative, and they often articulate in words what we sometimes struggle to articulate ourselves. For me, Psalm 73 is one of these Psalms.

God’s enduring patience with us when we lose sight of Him and find ourselves unsettled and even indignant at what we see around us, is the encouragement of this Psalm. In our broken world, we do see and feel the unfairness and injustice, seeing the wicked succeed and the good fail. And let’s be honest, our motives are not always as noble as they may seem. We are often the most upset and angry when we are the ones on the receiving end of what we perceive as unjust and unfair. How often have we found ourselves angry at God or doubting His goodness in the face of difficulty or trial?  How often have we envied another person’s blessing and success, especially when they do not even acknowledge God’s existence? In Psalm 73 we see that this experience is certainly not unique and often can be the temptation for any of us this side of Heaven.

What we learn from this description of the psalmist’s experience, is the right way to respond when we see or experience doubt or anger at injustice. We are not to question our Father’s goodness or control, but to remember His faithfulness and our child-like dependence on Him. ‘You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel’ (verses 23 & 24);My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever’ (verse 26). Truly our God is good and will always hold our hand, even when we are doubting children, throwing our tantrums and falling apart in the face of life’s difficulties. He is the perfect Father. Just as a parent sees their toddler’s tantrums, with their array of varying emotions when they don’t get things their way, our Father takes our hand in the midst of our fear, doubt and anger and reminds us that truly He is good (verse 1) and is our refuge (verse 28).  

6 July 2018

2 Corinthians 10

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5b

We are in a battle—a spiritual battle (verse 3). This is not the internal, spiritual fight between our sinful nature and our new, spiritual self; this is the mission to win lost souls for God. The call to Christianity is a call to abandon the pursuits of the world and to follow Christ. Our world—and our natural, sinful selves are resistant to this call; we need weapons with divine power for this war (verse 4).

The divine power given to us by God has power to (verse 4–5):
1. ‘demolish strongholds’
2. ‘demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God’
3. ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’.

In other words, the power of the Holy Spirit:
1. breaks down all barriers to accepting the Gospel
2. overcomes the foolish, worldly thinking that is in opposition to God’s truth
3. transforms minds and brings every thought under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

This was the confidence that Paul had in his mission to the unbelievers in his time. This is the same confidence we can have in our evangelism today. It is only by the power of God that the light of His Word can replace the darkness of our world. Let us pray for these divine weapons as we take the Gospel out to our family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues.

Both #1 and #2 in the points above are once-off events which occur prior to our conversion; #3 is an ongoing process which begins with our conversion and continues until the end. To ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (verse 5) is the same idea as to ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind’ (Romans 12:2). Just as the world needs divine power to come to faith in the Gospel, we too need the Holy Spirit to keep us from falling for the temptations of the world.

May we soak ourselves in God’s Word, earnestly seek Him in prayer, and encourage one another in our fellowship together until we take captive every area of our lives and bring it to obedience under Christ.

5 July 2018

2 Corinthians 9
Proverbs 24

Do not fret because of evildoers
or be envious of the wicked,
for the evildoer has no future hope,
and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.
Proverbs 24:19-20

Proverbs seems to present a rather simplistic approach to life: those who live a wise and righteous life will prosper whereas the foolish and wicked will not. Here are just a few of the many proverbs throughout the book that point us towards this conclusion:

‘The house of the righteous contains great treasure,
but the income of the wicked brings ruin.’
(Proverbs 15:6)

‘Whoever pursues righteousness and love
finds life, prosperity and honour.’
(Proverbs 21:21)

‘The greedy stir up conflict,
but those who trust in the Lord will prosper.’
(Proverbs 28:25)

(See also 11:18, 12:11, 16:20, 19:3 & 21:5 for some more examples.)

Unfortunately, our experience of life tells us things are not quite so simple. But actually, even though it is not immediately apparent as we read through it, Proverbs is well aware of this reality. The verses 19-20 in today’s chapter put this otherwise simplistic analysis of life into perspective.

The author of this proverb recognises that there is something in the lives of the wicked that we might be tempted to envy. We can see that clearly in our world today. There is an advantage to be gained by unscrupulous living. Whether that is at the top levels of business and politics, or our colleagues and neighbours who live following a slightly different moral code, all around us people seem to be profiting despite their rejection of God.

Have you ever wondered whether your decision-making, career progression, or social life might just be a little easier if you were not a Christian trying to live obedient to God’s Word? God’s Word says “no!” to that kind of thinking! And for a good reason. Verse 20—as well as the constant message throughout all of Scripture—reminds us that the prosperity of the unrighteous will only be short-lived. There will be an end to all evil. And on that day, we certainly won’t envy those facing God’s just judgement.

‘For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the LORD of Armies, “not leaving them root or branches.’ (Malachai 4:1)

So, until then, continue to live the wise and righteous life that Proverbs advocates. Often that will result in a comfortable, happy, God-honouring life. And if not, ‘rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven’ (Matthew 5:12).

I want to close with the lyrics of a new song we learnt earlier this term. May these words be our comfort when the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.

Though the dark is overwhelming
And the brightest lights grow dim
Though the Word of God
Is trampled on by foolish men
Though the wicked never stumble
And abound in every place
We will all be humbled when we see Your face
When We See Your Face – Sovereign Grace

4 July 2018

2 Corinthians 8
Psalm 72

But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:7–9

Luke preached on this passage earlier this year in our series on the Church. If you missed that sermon, I’d encourage you to go and download it here for a challenging message on our giving. Today, I will just reflect on a few points from this passage that should shape our theology of giving:

  • Paul does not command the Corinthians (or us) to give, nevertheless, he does expect them (and no doubt us too) to give as an act of their love for their brothers and sisters in need (verse 8). Earlier this term in our morning sermon series, we saw that Paul says we have no obligation to one another except our ongoing debt of love (Romans 13:8). Our giving is the proof of our love (verse 24).
  • Paul’s second motivation for giving is that it is a response to the grace God has shown us in Jesus Christ (verse  9). Jesus sets us the greatest example of what it looks like to give of ourselves – even more than just our money. God has given us this immeasurable gift of grace, so, how can we possible withhold giving of ourselves in response: first to God and then to others in keeping with God’s will (verse 5). We will never get this until we get the immensity of God’s grace to us.
  • No wonder the Macedonians considered it a privilege to give, even pleading with Paul to be able to do so (verse 4)! I imagine there are very few pastors in the Church today who’ve experienced a member of their congregation pleading with them to give more; and no doubt many who’ve had to do the complete opposite: beg their congregation to give in order to continue gospel ministry.
  • Similarly, God desires willing hearts that give eagerly. Only then will our giving be an acceptable act of love and worship (verse 12). What is your attitude towards giving?
  • Though Paul is hoping that they (and us) will give generously, he does not expect this act to become a burden (verse 13). Rather, we should give in proportion to what we have (verse 12). What that will mean for each one of us is something we should thoughtfully and prayerfully consider.
  • Finally, we must hold our leaders – who are entrusted with the money we pass onto them – accountable to do what is right with it (verse 20–21). Sadly, our world is full of evil and selfish people who misuse and steal others’ money – even that which is intended for charitable works! We can give thanks to God for the faithful leaders of our church who have not followed the pattern of this world. We must pray for the leaders of our church that they will not fall into this temptation.

Although Paul in this passage is just speaking about giving financially, and particularly to support fellow Christians in need, these principles can be applied to our giving in all forms. Our giving need not be just financial (and perhaps, for some, that may not be possible at all), we can give of our time and our skills in many other ways as well.

May our giving be the proof of our love.

‘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. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.’ (1 John 3:16–18)

3 July 2018

2 Corinthians 7
Psalm 71

Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God… Now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

2 Corinthians 7:1, 9–11

Paul makes a distinction here between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is something we are all too familiar with, it is insincere and insignificant. Godly sorrow is something altogether different, a genuine conviction of our sin. Worldly sorrow is merely remorse over our past actions. Godly sorrow is true repentance of our sin. Worldly sorrow ultimately leads to death, Paul says, it is not the kind of ‘sorry’ God requires from us. Godly sorrow leads to salvation as we turn from our sin and instead turn to God.

This godly sorrow over our sin continues throughout our earthly lives and continually produces in us the kind of character Paul describes in verse 11, a godly character marked by earnestness and longing for God’s ways. This is part of the process of ‘purifying ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit’ and becoming holy (verse 1).

What sets off this response from the Corinthians is a letter which Paul wrote to them (verse 8). In other words, their genuine repentance is a result of reading the writing of an apostle of Jesus Christ and heeding his words.

Our response to reading Scripture should be no different from theirs. As we read in our own time and hear the preaching of the writings of the apostles and the words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, we should respond in godly sorrow and true repentance. We cannot remain unmoved by Scripture in relation to our sinfulness. And as we respond in this way we will be purified and made holy before God.

King David is a great example to us of a man who messed up and knew it and felt this godly sorrow. He was a man who loved God’s Word (Psalm 19) and when convicted of his sin by God’s prophet, turned to Him in true repentance (2 Samuel 12). We can read in the Psalms his attitude of godly sorrow over his sin (Psalms 6, 32, 51 & 130). And just as Paul rejoices over the godly character produced in the Corinthian Christians by their repentance, so too can David (in his old age) look back and rejoice at God’s hand and Word at work in his life.

May we too, at the end of our days, be able to look back at our lives and say with David:

Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
and comfort me once again.
I will praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
O Holy One of Israel.
My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to you—
I, whom you have redeemed.

Psalm 71:17, 20-23

2 July 2018

2 Corinthians 6
Psalm 70

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6:4–10

Throughout history, God has used many ordinary men and women to do extraordinary things for His purposes. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those people who have brought God’s Gospel to us – sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Despite what we might initially think, Paul is one of these ‘ordinary’ men. Paul himself describes his coming to the Corinthians as ‘in weakness and fear, and with much trembling’ (1 Corinthians 2:3). But, no one will doubt the extraordinary work he did for God’s Kingdom.

Paul gives us his own characterisation of his ministry in verses 4–10. On the one hand, his ministry is characterised by much persecution. He gives us a summary list of what he’s been through in verses 4–5 and we’ll see next week in 11:24–27 just how much he faced for the sake of the Gospel – not to mention his final arrest and death in Rome. And yet, despite all this, he can say that he is always rejoicing and that though he has nothing, he possesses everything (verse 10).

Paul’s description of his own ministry reminds us of the instructions Jesus gave His disciples in Mark 8:34–35 and 10:29–30:

‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.’

‘I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.’

Paul’s life and ministry fulfill these instructions of our Lord. He knows the work will be tough, but, he knows too that there is a great reward, both in this life and in the age to come. Do our lives reflect Jesus’ words? Can our ministries be characterised like Paul’s as ‘in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God’ (verse 6)? That may mean that we are asking for the same persecution that Paul faced. We can endure this, ‘always rejoicing’ because of the hope of eternal life to come. And yet, at the same time, we can pray like David in Psalm 70, that God will deliver us from our enemies.

May our lives and ministries be characterised like Paul’s, for now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation’!

29 June 2018

2 Corinthians 5

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20

Have you ever felt so desperate for someone to come to faith in Christ that you wanted to get on your knees and beg them to accept God’s gift of salvation? At the end of an evangelism course for teenagers, I remember very clearly wanting to shake the students out of their apathy. After weeks of sharing the gospel message with them and looking at Mark’s account of the life of Jesus, most of the group still seemed disinterested. It was disheartening and almost devastating to see that they would ignore God’s outstretched hand of reconciliation.

I felt a bit like Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:20. Having shared with the Corinthian believers that the physical body and this life are not the end for us, but that we await something far greater in Heaven, Paul now exhorts them to be ministers of reconciliation. As Paul Barnett points out in his commentary, Paul uses emotional language here: words like ‘appeal’, ‘compel’, and ‘be reconciled’. The price paid for this reconciliation was so great that Paul wants the Corinthian believers to see their privileged responsibility – to not bask in their status before God, but to take the message of reconciliation to others. Through no merit of their own, Christ became sin and took the fullness of their debt to God on Himself. How much more then should they (and we) take that good news to others! We are no longer objects of God’s wrath. We are the righteousness of God to a world whose sins are still counted against them (verse 19). We are fully redeemed, fully forgiven, and fully righteous in Christ. This news is too great to keep to ourselves!

Dear Lord,
Forgive us for our apathy when it comes to sharing the Good News of Jesus with others. Help us to not see others from a worldly point of view (vs.16), but to see them as You do: destined for Hell because their sins are still counted against them. Help us be faithful ambassadors of the message of reconciliation with You through Jesus Christ. 
Amen.  

28 June 2018

2 Corinthians 4
Proverbs 23

18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

While this world tells us to colour our hair, lose more weight, get rid of wrinkles, or get a tummy tuck to fight the effects of ageing, Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 4 that this body isn’t our home. Like a clay jar, this body will break. Paul could attest to that as over and over he was beaten, imprisoned, flogged, stoned and left for dead. Preservation of his physical body was not his goal. He did not recklessly pursue physical persecution, but neither did he shy away from sharing the gospel if it resulted in bodily harm.

But Paul is not unsympathetic to those who would also suffer for their faith. He encourages these believers that although they may feel like they are being pressed on all sides, God would not leave them to be crushed. They may die, but their real life in Christ was protected. Nothing could take away their salvation – they needn’t fear that their suffering meant God had rejected them or had given up on them. The physical torture and mental anguish they would most likely suffer was for eternal purposes and was not in vain. Paul assures the Corinthian believers and us that God is with us in the midst of our suffering in this world. He will never abandon us. Rather, we are encouraged to remember that this is not our home. Christ living in us is the true treasure we bear. We are exhorted to ‘fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (verse 18). This is not a flippant, casual response to real pain and anguish this side of Heaven, but a promise that those of us who believe in Christ have a far greater glory awaiting us.

Are you feeling crushed, full of despair, abandoned, or destroyed? Take heart, for you have not been cast aside by the Lord. Your suffering is not taken lightly by the Lord, but escape from it is not to be your, or my, focus. Praise the Lord that ‘our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all’! (verse 17).

Dear Lord,
Please help us to fix our eyes on You, whether we are suffering or rejoicing. Help us to rejoice in the privilege of proclaiming your gospel to the world. Amen.

27 June 2018

2 Corinthians 3
Psalm 69

11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

2 Corinthians 3:11

An old story tells of a little boy who saves his money so he can buy a ticket to go to the circus when it comes to town. He proudly clenches his ticket tightly in his hand and watches with glee as performers in the circus parade by on the street as they march into town. When the parade ends, the boy thanks the ringmaster and heads home, oblivious to the fact that the show hadn’t even begun.

Perhaps the Corinthian Jewish believers were tempted to do the same. The old covenant was more familiar ground, and this territory of the new covenant perhaps seemed like too good of a deal. False prophets had been luring them back to the old covenant of the law, but that covenant brought death, and not life. They had heard the stories of the glory of God on Moses’ face being too overwhelming to look at directly, so he wore a veil until it faded. Having seen that glory, they may have been happy to settle for what was familiar.

But settling for the old covenant and its fading glory would be like seeing the circus parade, but missing the full ‘glory’ of the show itself. Paul reminds these believers that when they turned to the Lord through the work of the Holy Spirit, the veil was taken away. Now the best is to come, as Paul urges the Corinthian believers, and us, to reflect Christ’s glory, being transformed into His likeness.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for removing the veil so that we have access to You through faith in Christ. Help us to enjoy the freedom of living in the Spirit, and to not revert to following the law that condemns us. Amen.

26 June 2018

2 Corinthians 2
Psalm 68

Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.

2 Corinthians 2:7

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to not only share in each other’s sufferings, but to also share comfort as we’ve been comforted by God. In chapter 2, Paul continues to urge the believers in Corinth, and even us, to unite as a community that disciplines in love, and then forgives those in our family who have sinned.

Paul had obviously encouraged the church in Corinth to discipline someone in their community who was sinning. Perhaps he is referring to the brother in 1 Corinthians 5 who was sinning with his mother-in-law. Now it seems that Paul fears the discipline has gone too far. He urges them to forgive their brother and to reaffirm their love for him, so he would not be ‘overwhelmed by excessive sorrow’ (verse 7). Whether the church was excessively harsh in their treatment of him or if believers in the body had cut him off from fellowship, Paul now tells them to welcome him back.

When someone in our church family commits a sin that is obvious to the body, and they are brought under discipline, it is easy for us to think we too have the right to bring judgement and to continue to hold their sin against them. But Paul here reminds us that just as we are called to suffer together, we are also called to comfort each other (2 Corinthians 1:7). The church in Corinth had suffered due to this sinner’s actions, but now its members are called to forgive the brother and welcome him back into community. Paul includes this in his letter to the church as a model of how they, and indeed all believers, are to live in community. Paul explains that he wanted to see the church ‘stand the test’ and ‘be obedient in everything’, thus urged them to discipline this man. But now he tells them to receive their brother back into fellowship, both for that man’s good, and to avoid Satan getting a foothold in the church by using this situation for his own ends (verse 11).

Is there someone in our church body that you struggle to forgive? Are you still holding someone’s sins against them? The Lord calls us to ‘forgive and comfort’ them, that Satan may not outwit you.

Dear Lord,
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Amen.

25 June 2018

2 Corinthians 1
Psalm 67

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

The body of Christ is unlike any sociological or religious group that exists. In no other organisation or association are members called to embrace suffering and use it for the good of others. 2 Corinthians 1 is testament to this reality. Instead of promoting the betterment of self or saying that strong faith results in the good life now, Paul calls the believers in Corinth to share in each other’s sufferings. Nowhere does Paul advise them to flee from trouble or suffering, or avoid association with those who suffer, lest they too are persecuted. Instead he points to Jesus Christ, who Himself experienced an inordinately cruel and torturous form of death (verse 5). He encourages them, and us, to comfort others with the comfort we have received from the ‘God of all comfort’.

As the believers in Corinth face arrest and even death for following the Lord, Paul reminds them that he too has faced death many times. He shares with them how he ‘despaired even of life’ and felt ‘the sentence of death’ (verse 8-9). But God brought good even from that, teaching Paul to ‘rely not on [ourselves] but on God’ (verse 9). This is a mark of true community in the body of Christ – sharing in each other’s sufferings and in each other’s comfort.

No one when they first go through trouble or pain, wants to be reminded that God will use it for good to help others going through the same kind of suffering. But having others in the Body of Christ hold our hand and walk our painful road with us is the mark of true Christian community. Maybe this time we are suffering, but later on we will be the comforter. Paul had been down the path of suffering many times. He now offers the Corinthian believers a hand as they face suffering, and encourages them to comfort each other with the love of Christ.

May we be a church marked by sharing in each other’s suffering so that we may then share in the comfort of Christ.

Dear Lord,
Thank you that you call us to share in each other’s sufferings. Help us to also share the comfort we’ve received in Christ as we live in community with each other. Amen.

22 June 2018

1 Corinthians 16

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

1 Corinthians 16:1-2

The chapter starts with a great guideline for tithing. Tithing should be planned, and be the first expense we budget for. Tithing should be proportional to our income and tithing should be set aside for the Lord’s work done through His people.

Paul then indicates a few requests and ends off with greetings from those within the church. In the middle of the chapter there are two verses that concisely sum up Paul’s message to the Christian church. In these verses he is very clear that living as a Christian is not plain sailing; we should not expect life to be easy once we become a Christian. Paul warns us to be on our guard and expect our faith to be tested. The exhortation to stand firm is also repeated in Ephesians where Paul urges us to put on the full armour of God so that we can fight the spiritual war that seeks to destroy our faith.

We as individuals in the church, and the church as a whole body should not waiver in the face of adversity and should show a strength that can only come from trusting in the Lord. We can stand firm when we build our lives on the Word of God, just as in Jesus’ parable of the wise man who builds his house upon the rock. When we seek to grow by spending time in God’s Word (the only offensive weapon referred to in Ephesians 6); we are able to withstand the devil’s schemes to distract us and lead us astray. We need to resolve to not only spend time in God’s Word this year as we read the blog together, but to desire to grow deeper every year. As we grow, we are able to love God more and to love our neighbour in a way that glorifies God.

Prayer

Dear Father God, we pray that you will help us to stand firm in our faith. Please buckle the belt of trust around our waists, put the breastplate of righteousness in place, and fit our feet with shoes so that we have the readiness given by the gospel of peace. Help us to take up the shield of faith and place the helmet of salvation on our heads so that our faith will remain secure. Finally, help us to make the best use of the sword of the Spirit that is your Word, to be able to grow in the likeness of Christ. Help us to be faithful in our prayers for your help, and live for your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

21 June 2018

1 Corinthians 15
Proverbs 22

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15: 3-6

Paul turns his focus now onto the importance of the resurrection, indicating that if Jesus was not resurrected then the Christian faith is a fake and is useless. Paul starts off the chapter with the evidence that the resurrection of Jesus was an historical event that can be investigated. It seems that even in the Corinthian church there were some who believed that there was no resurrection of the dead. Paul seems to say that it’s pointless being in the church if that is what they thought, and if they didn’t believe that Jesus was resurrected, to go and find out for themselves.

Paul’s evidence is pretty strong, in that he does not only refer to two witnesses that the Corinthians can engage with to prove the resurrection. He says if they doubted his testimony then they should go and speak to Peter or the other disciples, or even go and speak to James, the brother of Jesus who headed up the church in Jerusalem; and if that was not enough proof there were around five hundred others who could provide proof. Travelling to Jerusalem to test this evidence may not have been an easy thing to do; however Corinth was an important trade city that would have had many traders who would have gone to Jerusalem, who could have tested Paul’s claims.

Interestingly, today there are great testimonies of atheists who were looking to disprove the resurrection, who subsequently came to faith in Jesus. Lee Stroebel, who wrote the book ‘The Case for Christ’ that was depicted in film last year, is a good example of this. As Christians, there is more than enough evidence to support our faith. However, more importantly, we have the Spirit of Christ within us that testifies to the truth of the gospel, to the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. What an amazing God we serve, who blesses us with a faith that is certain.

Prayer based on Proverbs 22

Father God help us to pay attention to the wisdom of Paul and of those who teach Your word. Plant Your word deep within us, so that our trust may be completely in You. Guide us each day by your Holy Spirit to seek Your truth and to be honest and truthful to those who we interact with daily. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

20 June 2018

1 Corinthians 14
Psalm 66

12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

1 Corinthians 14:12

Paul continues looking at spiritual gifts in chapter 14. It seems as if he heads off on a completely different track though. After having given a great exposition on what it means to love, he turns to two specific gifts that seemingly are causing division in the church. The gifts of tongues and prophecy still today lead to heated debate and differing interpretations. Paul’s message is that these gifts should be used to build up the church. More importantly, verse 12 highlights that we should excel in gifts that build up the church.

This seems to be Paul’s focus over the three chapters on the spiritual gifts. We should use the gifts that God has given us to build up the church with love as the thread that runs through all that we think and do. Pride should have no place for Christians who serve in the church and true humility should be the way we live. The church’s role is to glorify God rather than itself or its members.

Linking this to the gift of tongues and prophecy, Paul emphasises the importance of what is said in church. What is said should help grow those within the church and draw outsiders into a relationship with God. Our mission as Tokai Community Church, ‘Together we serve to know Christ and to make Christ known to the glory of God’  fits perfectly with what Paul is getting at in the past three chapters. This mission should be our heartbeat to challenge and encourage one another.

Prayer based on Psalm 66

Father God, we praise You today for all the great things that you have done. We praise You for the amazing work of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection, that has delivered us from death to life; that has set us free from our bondage to sin. Help us to share the gospel in and through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that those around may come to know Jesus to the praise and glory of Your Name. Amen.

 

19 June 2018

1 Corinthians 13
Psalm 65

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

This is probably one of the most well known chapters in the Bible. It is a favourite for many who are looking for their reading at their wedding ceremony and more often than not used in the context of marriage. However Paul’s intent is much wider than weddings. Paul emphasises very strongly that this is the greatest gift that we should desire. If we use our gifts without the driving force being love there is a hollowness in what we do.

Love means many things to many people. Paul does a great job in giving a picture of what real love looks like. Love is other centred, love is intentional, and love challenges our natural sinful desires. We find it difficult to be patient, it is a challenge not to compare ourselves with others that leads us either to envy or pride. It seems impossible not to keep a record of how others have wronged us and we want to repay those who have offended us.

When we look at John’s gospel and probably the most famous verse in the Bible, ‘For God so loved the world’  (John 3:16), we see that Jesus on the cross fulfilled all the characteristics of love: Jesus’ patience with His accusers, crowd and soldiers, Jesus’ kindness to His mother, Jesus’ humility in dying as a criminal. He honoured the criminal next to Him who saw his own sinfulness with eternal life, Jesus did not get angry but forgave those who crucified him. Jesus defeated evil and fulfilled the truths of the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus protected our salvation; He trusted in God His father despite being forsaken. Jesus showed that love wins by dying for us to buy our eternal salvation.

We should love in the way that Jesus showed, and in the way that Paul defines love by dying to self and seeking the Holy Spirit’s strength and guidance to enable us to do so. What an incredible witness it would be if you and I would love like this.

Prayer based on Psalm 65

Father God, we come before you as we know you are the one who answers prayer. We thank you that we can come and confess our sins before you; we especially confess that we have not loved as we should. Not only have we not loved those in the world but we have not loved our brothers and sisters in Christ as we should. Please forgive us because we know that Jesus has atoned for our sins. Give us Lord, the gift of love to love in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.