1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

 

My last weeks at SBD 

my 2 favourite chapters in the bible 1 Thess 2 and 3 


On this armisitice day we’re reminded that life is war. The christian life. Life in Christ. The life we are all made to live. Is a war. It’s a fight to overcome. To mature, to grow to remain 


It’s a war and it’s a race 

Like a marathon. They say that somewhere after the 12th mile into the 26 and a bit miles of the Marathon. Most runners hit ‘the wall’  

Pain starts - Brain starts to tell you to stop running. ‘This is no fun, give up, this isn’t what you were led to expect. You begin to get angry with the people who encouraged you to run the race – they conned you, they just wanted your charity money. They’re using you.  Give up – you’ve run far enough, you’ve done really well. Have a rest now..

Of course the thing is, if you drop out you cannot say ‘I have run the London Marathon…’ You haven’t – you may have been selected to run the Marathon, you may have stood around at the start and crossed the start line with thousands of others, you may have got your face on TV running the Marathon, but it’s all irrelevant, it doesn’t matter whether you ran 5 miles or 25 miles – if you didn’t finish the race…. It means nothing unless you finish.  

And Marathon runners who know that, train their brains to fight the attacks so that they will endure to the finish line. 


The Christian Life is a race. Christian faith is not like taking out a life insurance policy – you know, put it in a drawer, forget about it until you need it. No, it is life long, day by day, hour by hour faithfulness to Jesus and his words. It’s a marathon to be run right up to the finishing tape of our lives, never giving up, never denying Jesus..

If you drop out you cannot say, I have run the race of the Christian life. You haven’t - you may have started, you may have been baptised, you may have led a homegroup, you might have led a church – but if you don’t finish the race – it means nothing. It’s Life long. 

Of course people do drop out of the Christian race – because any race of endurance is painful. The Christian way is a narrow path of Suffering. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. 

Trouble and Persecution says Jesus. Christianity mocked ridiculed, discriminated against, physical suffering – prison. You will be distracted, Jesus says, the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth – and when the pain starts the brain starts to tell you to stop running – this is no fun, this isn’t what you were led to expect. You begin to get angry with the people who encouraged you to run the race – they conned you. They’re using you.  Give up – you’ve run far enough, you’ve done really well. Have a rest now..

These temptations to give up on the Christians life are orchestrated says Paul in chapter 3v5 by the devil himself. He is behind all the opposition, all the lies and deceptions. Hating Christians – he wants us to disown Christ. Give up…Go on. You’ve done enough. 

But No. The race is only run when it is finished. 

Christian Marathon runners must train their brains to withstand pain to fight the attacks so they will endure to the finish line. 


This is what Paul, i believe, is doing with the young Thessalonian Christians here in chapter 2 of his letter to them. Keep On he says to this fledgling church plant who are in the furnace of a culture hostile to the Christian gospel – just as ours is increasingly. He gives to the Thessalonians 3 points of reference to look back to that will help them to fight the lies that are assaulting them and look forward and endure: 


1. Remember God’s Gospel 

2. Remember Deep relationships 

3. Remember changed lives


These are crucial pointers for endurance for the Thessalonians may they be so to us.


1. Remember. God’s Gospel. v1-6a

The first wave of attack, and this is always the case is an attack against the gospel the message of Christianity that the apostle Paul preached. Paul’s answer is: Remember it’s God’s gospel. What you’ve heard, it’s from God – don’t give up on it. 

Have a look at v1 You know brothers that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. 

Remember – it’s God’s gospel. 


Acts 17 tells us that in Thessalonica Paul had preached Jesus, in the Jewish synagogue – appealing from the scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah – Saviour and Lord. Some Jews became Christians, some prominent women and loads of God fearing Greeks. All left the synagogue to start a church. And Luke tells us the Jews were jealous – they started a riot and Paul and Silas had to be smuggled away out of the city. Leaving this church of baby Christians behind! 

And now it’s obvious that these Jealous Jews – fuelled remember by God’s enemy the devil – are attacking the young church. Firstly by attacking the message of Christianity that Paul had taught. 


Look at V3 the appeal we make, writes Paul  does not spring from error or impure motives nor are we trying to trick you.

3 attacks it seems were being made on Paul’s teaching. Error, impure motives, deception 


It’s error! Who is this Paul and his teaching - he’s just made this stuff up out of his head. He’s just an ordinary bloke! 


It’s an attack still being made today. Theologians rubbishing Paul seeps into our churches and Christians say ‘I’ll listen to Jesus but why should I listen to Paul?’ 


The other 2 accusation are attacks on Paul himself – impure motives, and deception – ‘He’s tricked you, and now he’s disappeared – you’ve been conned. Brainwashed. Face it and give up.’

And again, The devil still uses this trick today, when the Christian life is hurting we start thinking, ‘what am I doing in this? How did I just become a Christian so fast? Did they just tell me what I needed to hear? Have I been conned?’


Well what answer does Paul give to these confusing attacks? 

He says to the Thessalonians, he says to us. 

Remember. It’s God’s Gospel. 

It’s God’s Gospel. I didn’t make it up. 

It’s God’s Gospel. I didn’t flatter you or wear a mask or try to please you. The reason you became a Christian so fast is because this is God’s gospel. God speaking - it’s powerful.


Have a look at Paul saying these things. V3-6a

The Apostles who wrote the NT are so important - men approved by God to be entrusted with the teaching of God’s gospel. The NT affirms their credentials again and again – particularly those of Paul. Paul speaks here of the weightiness of his task before God, who tests our hearts. 


Notice that preaching God’s gospel and pleasing or flattering people are completely opposed. Sometimes preachers avoid the true Christian message because it is not that pleasant and flattering rather it challenges human pride. They think if I preach that no-one will want to become a Christian. But the evidence that Paul’s message is God’s gospel is that with no frills, no special offers it brings people to radical life changing relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ.   


Remember the Christian message you’ve heard. It’s God’s Gospel. Next time NT Christianity is getting bad mouthed. And you’re under attack thinking perhaps they’re right why do I believe this outdated stuff and maybe I would be better off without the burden of…

STOP – are you about to drop out of the race? Never drop out of the race. Remember. It’s God’s gospel.  


2. Remember Deep Relationships 

The second wave of attack. And it’s a familiar ploy of the evil one. Is an attack on Christian relationships. Our relationships, particularly those between a church leader and their church are crucial and are often attacked to make churches give up. So Paul says Remember. Deep relationships. Remember. 

The Jews had attacked Paul’s teaching as human lies. Now it seems they were saying he didn’t care for the Thessalonian Christians. 

Paul begins the chapter with the words you know brothers that our visit to you was not a failure.  

Look at v6b As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 


Paul and Silas had been in Thessalonica only a matter of weeks before opposition meant they had to leave in a hurry and they hadn’t been back. It seems that the Jealous Jews are using Paul’s sharp exit and continued absence as evidence that Paul just doesn’t care about his so called Christian brothers and sisters. He was just here for what he could get out of you. Now he’s abandoned you. It’s all Bible bash and bye bye. Give up this Christian rubbish!

Again I wonder if you recognise this attack? Why you getting involved in that Church? They’re just after your money. They’re weird. Normally easy to ignore but when the Christian life starts hurting, you find yourself asking – yeah, what am I doing here?? They’re making all these demands on me, I just want to be my own person. 

If Satan can sow distrust, can prise Christians away from each other, and from church leaders, then he can get Christians to give up – drop out of the race. 


Well what’s Paul’s answer to this attack? 

He says to Thessalonians Remember Deep relationships. 


You get the impression that Paul is kind of beside himself here with this accusation that he doesn’t care. Nothing hurts a church leader more than that accusation. Later in v17 he says don’t ever think we just walked away. We were torn away from you he says and ever since we have wanted to get back to you. 

Look at v6b As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 

Surely you remember brothers our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses and so is God of how holy righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with you as a Father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God who calls you into his Kingdom. 


How does a new mother care for her new born child? With gentleness – with real care. How is a Father with his children? – brimming with pride – encouraging and urging. How is a friend with her closest companions - it’s just a delight to share her life with them. 


This is the depth of relationship. These are the bonds of love that God puts in his church. Aren’t they? Don’t you know this?

No matter how imperfectly I have managed to express it. I have felt this maternal and paternal care for you Saint Barnabas Dalston. I care for you. 

When you do things, sometimes just being who you are – my heart bursts. I’m so proud of you. I want to see you grow. This has never been a job to me. It’s been hard but it’s been a delight to share my life with you – because you are such a wonderful church – so dear to me.  


Many of you will understand this. Because you receive this love and you give it within the church family. This is what church is. Deep relationships. Of course those relationships make us vulnerable to pain, when we are torn away from one another, but God will have it no other way. 


And here’s the point Remember - Deep relationships assure us of the truth of the gospel. 

You know says Paul..

Next time Christianity is being discredited because the church is full of hypocrites and Bible bashers and weirdos, and you’re under attack thinking yeah I’d be better off without the burden of…

STOP – are you about to drop out of the race? Never drop out of the race. Remember. Deep relationships..


Finally 

Remember Changed lives..verses 13-16 

The final attack is an attack on the Thessalonians themselves. Call yourselves Christians – you’re no different. Nothings changed! 

Recognise this one – ever have this lie buzzing round your head? 

You’re not a Christian anyway, nothings happened. Give up. Give up. 

Paul says – rubbish Remember changed lives. 

V13 we also thank God continually because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is the word of God which is at work in you who believe. For you brothers became imitators of the churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews. 

Paul says You are different people. You may not always feel it. But you are. You definitely received the gospel and that word of God is at work in you. And do you know what the evidence is that you are going on as Christians? The evidence is that you are enduring in the face of suffering. You’re still here in church – even though you’re suffering. That’s evidence enough that you’re running the race. Enduring. Your life has changed. You are running the race Well keep going. 

    

My sister Helen running the Marathon> her husband Dave ran the last 15 miles with her.

5v23-24


Philippians 4:10-23

When the issue of money and giving is raised in the context of the Christian Faith a particular picture often comes to mind. Perhaps of the money grabbing TV evangelists. I heard of one such who had wires connected to the seats in his church. ‘Stand up if you’re willing to give $100 to God, he shouted’ as he said this, he pressed a button and electricity surged through the seats. There was a tremendous response, but later the sidesman found three dead Scotsmen clinging to their pews! 


The picture Saint Paul paints here is quite different from this. He writes to thank this group of Christians at Philippi that who have generously sent him money via Epaphroditus. In A purple passage which includes two of the most wonderful promises in the Bible he outlines the threefold blessing of generous giving. He doesn’t have to bully us or guilt trip us to give generously. Giving, he says is a blessing! It’s such a great thing ..get involved. The first part of the threefold blessing: 



1. Generous giving brings blessing to others. 


Paul  thanks the Philiipians for making him so happy. He writes 10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.’ 


Then, In the next verses he, Paul, reveals his attitude to money.

On the one hand, he writes, that in some ways he does not need the money. ’11 I am not saying this because I am in need’


why has he no need? Because, he tells us, he has learned something very important. Before he was a Christian Paul tells us in Ro 7:8 that he used to be envious of others and to covet others wealth and possesions. Now he has v11 ‘learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ 

Look at what he says: v12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’ 

Martin luther, the craft beer drinking german monk and architect of the protestant reformation once said, ‘contentment is a rare bird, but it sings sweetly in the breast.’ Who doesn’t want to be deeply content?


What is the secret of contentment? Many think that the secret is to have everything they want. They say to themselves if only I had a better house, a bigger car, more money then I would be content.’ Others think the secret lies in human relationships or in looking beautiful.  


But experience tells us that these thing do not bring contentment, in fact on the contrary they can make us more unsettled and thirsty, we tend to need more amd more of the same. John D rockerfeller, founder of the standard oil company, who made 100s of millions of dollar's was once asked, ‘how much money does it take to make a man happy? To which He answered ‘just a little bit more.’  


Paul has learned to be content in any and every situation. He’s not saying there is anything wrong with having food  and posessions, but these cannot be the primary source of our contentment. that is to make these things idols, gods - to look to them, uncertain, fragile created things for our life. That’s very foolish. We’re destined to be disappointed to remain discontented.


For Paul the secret of real contentment is the transforming friendship of Jesus Christ. He writes, ‘13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’ See, He’s learned to live not on his outer resources, but on his inner resources. Knowing Jesus. Trusting Jesus. The person who has learned this secret is truly rich. Jeremiah Burrows. The rare jewel of Christian contentment. Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman, once said, ‘content makes poor men rich; discontent makes Rich men poor.’ Paul was always rich because, in Christ, he had found the secret of contentment. For this reason he was able to write to the Philippians that in some ways he just did not need their money. 


However, in some ways he did need the money. He writes: 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me(NB) in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 


Paul had ‘troubles’ v14 and had been ‘in need’ v16. The Philippians had shared in his troubles and had generously sent him money again and again. The word used for ‘share’ is a word derived from the Greek word koinonia which means fellowship, communion close relationship,. Its a favourite expression for the marital relationship as the most intimate between human beings. Sharing is a vital part of life with those with whom we have a close relationship. 


In the NT the church is likened to a family. a close family. Christians are brothers and sisters. Amd In the church, sharing should take place spontaneously or in planned ways in order to meet all its needs. Everyone’s involved so that the entire burden does not fall on a few, and so that the needs of the less well off can be met. This is the way of bringing blessing to individuals who, like Paul, are in need, and blessing to the church which has its needs met also.


Very expensive city. Pressure of housing pushes some of our members out from being to live here. How do we act as a sharing fellowship? Are there ways in which we as a church can bear each other’s burdens? bless and provide for one another? 


Generous giving brings blessing to others.


2. Generous giving brings blessing to the lives of those who give


Paul does not want the Philippians to think that he's only asking them for money. In fact, he's more concerned that they should be blessed. 

All through the passage, Paul uses technical banking and accounting terms. In verse 15 where he speaks about this matter of giving and receiving literally he’s speaking about credit and debit, income and outgoings, the two sides of an accountants ledger. In v17 he writes about profit and interest. The word ‘credited’ was a word used in banking for financial growth. Finally, in v18 when he says, ‘I have received full payment’ he uses another commercial term, apparently meaning to ‘receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it’


Put in commercial terms, Paul is saying that giving is an investment of Capital. Elsewhere (2 cor 9) to speak about generous giving Paul uses the picture of a farmer sowing seed: ‘remember this who ever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and who ever sows generously  will also reap generously.’. Giving is planting seed. The farmer knows he is investing for the future, for he knows that he will reap far more than he has sown.


Generous giving brings blessing to the lives of those who give


Hudson Taylor founded the china inland mission in the 19th C. Thousands became christians through him and it’s said that the he laid the foundations for the current revival of christian faith in china where millions are turning to Jesus. At the age of 27 he was preparing for one of his earliest trips to china he was working v hard and living a very frugal life. He ate a bowl of porridge in the morning and a bowl of gruel on alternate nights. He was asked to go and pray for a very poor family where the mother was dying. He was appalled by their poverty. the only money he had was his weeks wages of half a crown. as he prayed for them he agonised about how much he could spare to give them. Every proprtion he settled on felt too little. In the end he gave all he had. and returned home penniless but joyful. that night he reminded God of proverbs 19v17 ‘he that gives to the poor lends to the lord’ he asked the lord to not let the loan be a long one and he slept soundly. The following day an unexpected letter arrived - a pair of gloves and half a sovereign! a 400% return on his loan in the space of 12 hours! The incident was a turning point in his life. he came back to it again and again. Learning to trust God in small things prepares us for the serious trials of life.


Now God doesn’t promise to make us financially rich when we give. He absolutely doesn’t. But this spiritual principle applies to everything in life. Whatever we give to God, he multiplies, Whether it is our time, home, gifts, ambitions, or money. The return on our investment is not usually financial, (though we can trust God to provide for our needs as we will see). Rather, as we invest in people  we receive the blessing of seeing lives changed, people coming into the kingdom of God, the hungry being fed, and naked clothed, drug addicts set free, marriages restored and the sick healed. Everytime we hear a report back from a work in which we have invested, we are reaping the reward for our investment. For the most part we will have to wait til heaven to see the harvest, but we get occasional glimpses of It here and now, as a foretaste. 


The NT principle is that if we want treasure in heaven, we have to send it on in advance. What will the reward in heaven be for using our wealth generously? I don't know, but I suspect we will see the faces of those we have unknowingly helped. we will hear them, say I became a xian as a result of your gift, or my marriage was restored, or, I was healed. Not only will we see their faces, but we will see the face of Jesus. We get a foretaste of this now,which is why in giving generously it is not only the recipients who are blessed: we also are blessed. In fact it’s more blessed to give than to receive.




3. Generous giving brings blessing to God


Paul now turns from the commercial world of banking to the language of the Temple. He writes that such a mundane matter as a material gift is first of all v18 a fragrant offering. This language is borrowed from the old Testament offerings of incense in worship in the temple. It means literally the odour of a sweet smell. It's also the expression used for Christ's offering of himself for us on the cross (eph 5:2) speaks of something very beautiful, an act of great love. That’s what our giving is before God. (the perfume on his feet, the widows mite) 


Secondly, generous giving is v18 ‘an acceptable sacrifice.’ Now we don’t bring sacrifices to God in order to appease him or earn his favour. No, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was ‘a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice.’ We cannot add to something which is already full perfect and sufficient. no, our sacrifice is a repsone, it’s about Thanksgiving and praise, and part of that should be a generosity in our giving. Sacrifices are not easy to give. There is a cost: it is hard to give; It goes against the grain, we go without something else when we give away and Yet again there is blessing here because it is an act which, more than anything else, liberates us from the hold money might otherwise have on our lives. 


Thirdly, Paul says that generous giving is ‘pleasing to God.’ It is an extraordinary and wonderful assertion of the new Testament generally - and in particular of Paul in this passage - that what we do here can please God. If we give Generously, God is pleased.


We were praying this last wednesday for the plight of christians and other religious minorities in iraq and syria. sometimes we feel powerless in such complex situations but we can pray, we can put pressure on our government to respond with compassion and generosrity and we do can give. (CofE website) 


Throughout the new Testament we're encouraged to give generously 

1 co 16v2 giving should be planned and regular and proportionate to our income 

‘on the first day of the week each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income’.

Many Christians believe it is right to give a tenth of their income away to their church to those in need on the basis of matthew 23:23). I don;t know …These are guidelines, generosity is the only rule in the new testament. As we give generously, Paul says v19 ‘My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’ 


My God - see how personal God is. He’s our God. You can trust him. He will meet your needs. Many Christians who give, say, 10% of their income, have found the 90 % left more than covers what the hundred percent did before they started giving. God promises to meet all your needs. Which must include our material needs (though not necessarily all our material wants). Our needs will be met ‘according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’ Not merely from his wealth, but in a manner that befits his wealth. We cannot out give God. 



which brings me to the last thing to say.. 

our generosity stems from god’s generosity to us. it is no coincidence that the book of philippians ends as it began with grace. That’s the theme of this letter. Grace is one of the most important words in the NT. It summarises the essence of Christianity. It describes all the riches of God’s freely given, undeserved love for us made possible through the sacrificial gift of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God makes us his own, gifts us everything that is Jesus’ - eternal life, adoption, the security of his love. In Christ you are given more than you could ever have wanted and therfore out of that abundance of riches we are to generously give.  

Philippians 3:1-12

aged 13 art exam. the party. roast chicken and a lot of carpet. Help! 

didn’t need just help, didn’t need good advice .. i needed salvation. i needed her to sit down and do the exam in my place. I needed a saviour!]


What is life really all about: is it about a stairway or is it about a saviour?

Is life a stairway TO heaven and you’ve got to climb?

Or is it about a Saviour FROM heaven and how He has come down?


Every human religion is about a stairway and you have to climb it. Karma in Hinduism, the Eightfold Path in Buddhism, the 5 Pillars of Islam – it’s all about US making a journey towards spiritual improvement.

And even if you’re not at all religious, life is still about getting ahead, getting on top, climbing the greasy pole. being all you can be, proving yourself.


Whether religious or completely non-religious, the whole world is looking for a stamp of approval that says “YOU’RE ALRIGHT. YOU CAN HOLD YOUR HEAD UP HIGH.” To put it in Bible terms, we all want to be declared “RIGHTEOUS” – to be declared “IN THE RIGHT” with those that matter.

And the whole world thinks it knows HOW you get that verdict: You climb the staircase. YOU pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do it yourself.


But there’s one significant exception to the rule. Christians are different – or at least we should be. Christians are the one group of people on the face of the planet who believe in a Saviour. No-one else believes in a Saviour the way Christians do. We believe that Jesus Christ – the Perfect Son of God – He ALONE deserves to be called Righteous. He has always thrilled the heart of His Father God even before the world began and when He came to live a life in our world, He lived the Righteous Life so exceptionally. Compared to Jesus none of us measure up. We fall far short of Jesus and His matchless glory. BUT, this is the thing: Jesus is not a STANDARD who we have to now LIVE UP to.  NO – He is our Saviour who has COME DOWN to SHARE His righteousness WITH US! 

The whole direction of travel is different for the Christian. We don’t work up to righteousness.  Righteousness has come down to us because Jesus: the Righteous One, is heaven’s Gift.

Look at the last 10 words of verse 9. Paul writes that in Jesus, there is:

a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Here is everything the world tries to live up to. And Paul says, it’s come DOWN, as a Gift.  


Baptism pictures the giving of this gift to us. By faith, simple trust, in Christ Jesus My Lord we are joined to Jesus who died for our sin and went down into the watery grave - our sins are crucified with Christ. And then just as Jesus the righteous was raised - we have been raised to life and are clothed in his righteousness. He comes down to give every drop of his blood to lift  us UP. 

See how Paul puts it in verse 9. Now that you have gained Christ, you are...

found in him, not having a righteousness of [your] own that comes from [obeying] the law, but [a righteousness] which is through faith in Christ


It’s not about a staircase it’s ALL about our Saviour, Jesus. It’s not about climbing, it’s about receiving. 


BUT 

all of us, even Christians, even though we’re meant to believe in a Saviour, we slip into Staircase Religion. It’s our pride you see. We desperately want to do it ourselves. But that’s death. We were made to depend on God, that’s what makes us truly human. Truly strong. full of life.  THIS passage will call us out of the death of Staircase Religion and back to Security in our Saviour. And when we refocus on HIM, EVERYTHING changes. Let’s see in our passage the 3 things it changes according to Paul. 


Firstly, it changes our mood. Verse 1:

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! 

In this short letter, Paul talks about joy or rejoicing 14 times. This is often called the letter of joy. And repeatedly Paul commands us to rejoice. 

How do you feel about being commanded to change your mood?

We actually do it all the time when you think about it. 

“Have a nice day.” And what if I don’t? 

“Enjoy your meal.” Well, I’ll eat it, but whether I ENJOY it is largely up to your chef.  

Actually we know what we mean by those ones the one that really grates is: “Cheer up. It might never happen” Dont’ you hate that becuase maybe whatever mihght never happen is happening..


But you know, when Paul commands - rejoice! He’s not being like the idiot who says Cheer up. It might never happen. Because it’s happening for him. He writes from a hell hole prison in Rome knowing that at any moment he might be executed. Paul doesn’t say cheer up. Praise the Lord anyway. Rejoice in your circumstances. He says rejoice in the lord. 

There’s nothing joyful about his circumstances. There may well be nothing joyful about yours. But Paul rejoices IN THE LORD. Paul knows Jesus and he knows the Jesus who COMES DOWN INTO OUR PIT to be with us, to be for us, and one day soon to bring us out.  He rejoices because, first and foremost, he doesn’t think of himself as in prison. First and foremost he thinks of himself as IN the LORD – In Jesus. And in JESUS he can rejoice.

Ca you? Can you rejoice? Can i? Even in terrible circumstances? We will never be able to rejoice if we’re climbing the staircase. If you think life is about getting ahead, then suffering comes and knocks you off course, it takes you down a peg or two, it’s a dead loss. If you’re on the staircase you can only rejoice when you’re on top, never when you’re suffering. But if you have a Saviour – who meets you IN the pit – then it doesn’t matter how low suffering brings you, Jesus is there. His love goes deeper still.

If we know nothing of rejoicing in suffering, maybe it’s because we’ve started to buy into the staircase vision of life. Look again to Jesus: With our Saviour, even a dungeon can be a place of praise.


So with Jesus as Saviour, it changes our MOOD. Secondly, it changes our MESSAGE.


From verse 2, Paul starts talking about false teaching that was threatening the Philippian church. Essentially the message of these false teachers was Staircase Religion. They held the Bible in their hands but their message is basically self-help, self-improvement, self-realisation – “You’ve got Jesus but there’s stuff that you need to DO TOO. 


And Paul can’t STAND this message because it is the opposite of the message of the SAVIOUR. It downgrades Jesus’ total glory. So from verse 2 he uses the strongest language against these false teachers:

 “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

It seems these preachers called themselves “The Circumcision” strange name… But they called themselves the Circumcision dudes because they preached that the gateway to ‘TRUE CHRISTIANITY’ was to come to Jesus and then obey the Old Testament Law.  which included being circumcised. 

You know if you heard these guys preach you would probably be impressed by their religious seriousness, by their commitment to holiness. But it’s Staircase Religion – it’s ANTI our Saviour Christ. So Paul is so harsh with them in verse 2. He calls them dogs. It’s a brutal accusation, because these Jewish/Christian preachers would have thought of non-Jewish people as unclean dogs. Paul says, No the circumcision sect – they are the unclean ones, they are outside of the true people of God. What’s more, they lift up “goodness” in their preaching but really – by distracting people from their Saviour – they are ‘evildoers’ says Paul v2.  And while they preach circumcision, all they end up doing is mutilating the flesh.!! Eww 


No, says Paul v3 to these ordinary Christians, it is WE who are the circumcision. 

Simply by trusting in Jesus ALONE, we are the true children of Abraham, the true people of God…

we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.

That’s the heart of it you see? The big question is always, Where are you putting your confidence in life?  Are we trusting our own powers and performances: that’s what “flesh” means here.  Are we putting our hope in ourselves?

When you listen to any ‘Christian’ message, hear a sermon online, or read a christian book, that’s the question to ask. Is this message telling you to put confidence in yourself? Or to put confidence in Jesus? Is this message pointing you to your own righteousness or to Christ’s righteousness GIVEN to you? Christ the saviour changes your mood, your message and finally your …


MOTIVATIONS 

From verse 4, Paul tells us about his past experiences of Staircase Religion and boy oh boy - he was the stair master. 

4 … I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: [let me list off 7 steps I ascended in my day, says Paul] 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

You could not get more spiritually successful than Paul. He had everything: right nation, culture, religion, pedigree, upbringing. And he doesn’t just rely on his circumstances, he lives right too. He had joined the “Pharisees” – an ultra-conservative religious grouping. Their name means “Those who keep themselves separate.” That was Paul, a cut above. But he wasn’t just morally pure, he was also zealous (v6). He was consumed by religious devotion. And  if you tried to dig for dirt on Paul you would not find any. According to outward legal requirements, Paul had been 100% faultless.

And back in the day Paul would have taken immense pride in his many spiritual credentials. 

And we can be tempted to do the same. 


My baptism, my church, as for zeal, i never missed a prayer gathering as for righteousness, i’m reading the bible in a year don’t you know. 

Look praying is good, reading the bible is good, caring for your churches theology is good but you don’t want to be doing things for you and to be seen by others as a means of self justification, of stair climbing! That can’t be your motivation! 


What does Paul think of all that stair climbing that once motivated him so? 

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Here Paul weighs up everything he’s ever been proud of in his life on one side of the scales. And then on the other side of the scales he puts Christ. And when he puts Christ into the equation, everything else he had ever trusted is seen as a dead loss. He had tried to climb higher and higher. But now he looks back and he says to himself: I wasn’t standing on anything solid. I was standing on a dung heap (that’s what the word ‘rubbish’ means in verse 8). i was standing on Crap. All those things might have been fine in themselves but I trusted in them as steps to climb – and that makes them dung.


But CHRIST. He is so different. You see CHRIST is not one more step up towards heaven. He’s not a helper who gets you up the staircase.  Christ is the abolition of the staircase. Because Christ comes down and joins us in the pit. And He embraces ANYONE who is honest enough to say “I’m helpless, I need rescue.” Anyone who gives up on the stair-climbing and says “Jesus, I know I can’t do it, I want YOU” – instantly that person GAINS CHRIST. And HE is what really matters.


Do you see how obsessed Paul is with CHRIST in these verses?

Verse 7 – Paul loses everything for the sake of Christ

Verse 8 – he describes the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. 

End of verse 8 – he wants to gain Christ

Verse 9 – we wants to be found IN Christ.

Also verse 9 – he has faith in Christ.

And verse 10 – he wants to know Christ.

He is Christ obsessed. When you’re climbing the staircase, you don’t really love Jesus. Even if you’re a Christian, if you’re on the staircase, Jesus isn’t EVERYTHING to you. He’s a Helper on your way to heaven. If you’re on the Staircase, the Christian life is about abstract duties to perform and doctrines to believe. Is that how our Christianity feels sometimes? Is that our MOTVIATION? Things to do, things to believe but it’s not personal?

Do we KNOW Jesus?  Is our motivation, verse 10: I want to KNOW CHRIST?


Cos Christianity is not a lifestyle, a regime, a hobby, a philosophy, it’s not a staircase to climb – it’s JESUS, the Saviour who has come DOWN. And He’s come down in Person.

And you are meant to know Him? Maybe you’re not a Christian, but you realise your whole life you’ve wanted to know whether you’re ok. Right in the eyes of those that matter. you’ve wanted to know whether ‘God’ might ever accept you. Let me assure you – if you’re trying to lift yourself up towards Him it will never work. JESUS has come DOWN.  But He’s come down as a pure Gift. If you want to leave off, climbing the stairs your way. If you want to admit, “Jesus, I’m in the pit and I can’t get out. Jesus I want you.” You know what?  He’s yours. On the cross He gave Himself for you with every drop of His blood. And right now I’m extending that offer – God gives you Jesus, will you have Him? To know Him, to Know His surpassing greatness, His worth, His love. Call out now and say Jesus “I want to know you.”

And maybe you’re a Christian and you realise that – like all of us, your mood is less than joyful, the messages you like to hear are all about confidence in the flesh, your motivation is all about raising yourself up. Maybe you’ve gotten sucked into the Stairclimbing Religion. Maybe the person of Jesus HIMSELF has been stripped out of your Christianity, and it’s all become very abstract. Do you want to forget that rubbish and know Jesus?

Again, let me declare you you to myself: He’s yours. With every drop of His blood, He is yours. And the whole of your life, and the whole of eternity is not about lifting yourself up towards Him, but knowing the depths of His love towards YOU.


John 9:1-12

John 9:1-41 Part I


Introduction: how can I see?

I don’t know if you remember those 3-D posters that were popular some time ago.  They were just paper with a pattern on it – but if you squinted and looked at it in a certain way you saw – well to be honest I never found out what you saw, because I couldn’t do it. People told me you saw a dinosaur or something. For me – it was never more than expensive wrapping paper. Some people could see it – some couldn’t.  And it seemed a bit arbitrary who could and couldn’t. 


I wonder if you ever felt like that about Christianity. Some people can see Jesus – they look at the Bible and they are convinced and believe.  But others look at Jesus – but they don’t get it - they don’t believe.  


Now why is that? Why do we – or don’t we believe? How does someone come to believe? Or not believe?


Well John 9 gives us some answers to those sorts of questions. We’re going to spend two weeks in this chapter and tonight we’re thinking – how do we come to believe in Jesus? Next week we’ll think about the opposite - why people don’t believe – for now – how do we come to believe? 


Let’s start with what I’ve called the sign, the sign that Jesus is the light of the world. 


  1. The Sign: Jesus is the light of the world, 9v1-7

V1-2 READ.  


This isn’t the main point here, but it’s worth pausing on this. The disciples assume the reason we suffer is because we do things wrong – and God punishes us for that. So when they meet this man who was born blind – the question is – is he blind because of his parent’s sin – or his own sin?  


However, Jesus says – v3 READ.  


So Jesus is clear that your suffering is not caused by your particular wrong doing. 


The Bible does link our sin and suffering but only in a general way. Suffering has come because humanity as a whole have rejected God. That has led to this world going wrong and suffering is part of that. But that is only a general connection – Jesus says here we don’t individually suffer in direct proportion to our individual sin. If you want to sum it up we can say suffering comes from sin in general – not from sin in particular.  


Now let’s get back to the main flow here - why is this man born blind?  Well v3-5 READ.  


Now when Jesus says - I am the light of the world - he is making an enormous claim because in the Bible light and darkness are big metaphors - full of meaning. 


Darkness is a picture of God’s anger or punishment. Being in darkness means being cut off from God – having him against you and suffering his judgement. 


Light on the other hand means the opposite – light means – knowing God and living with God and enjoying God. 


And the Bible & Jesus himself, are clear that because of how we have treated God – left to ourselves, we are in the dark – we face God’s punishment.  


But through the Bible God promises an answer - he promises to send a rescuer to help us. And he describes this rescuer as – the light. At Christmas we’ll have a reading from Isaiah 9 ‘the people walking in darkness have seen a great light’. It’s a promise of one who will rescue us.


So when Jesus says – I am the light of the world – he’s saying – I’m that rescuer God promised. I’m the one who can take you from darkness and bring you to know God. 


So it’s a huge claim. But he doesn’t just talk big, he then acts big as well. He backs up his claim with action. 


V6-7 READ.


It’s put very quickly – but this is an amazing miracle. He was born blind. Blind all his life. And with a simple mud recipe Jesus makes him see.  


John calls miracles like these – signs – because they are signs, pointers, to who Jesus is. 


It’s not hard to get the significance of this sign - he heals someone physically in the dark – to demonstrate he can rescue people in the dark with God. He brings someone into the light to show he’s the light of the world. 


We’ll come back to that – lets now go onto what I’m going to call - the reality. We’ve looked at the sign – that Jesus is the light of the world. Next we get the reality of that sign – as Jesus brings this man into the light with God. 


  1. The Reality: Jesus can bring us into the light, 9v8-39

After this miracle we get a series of conversations with the blind man.  


I’m sorry to call him the blind man – I realise he can now see – and so it’s rather perverse to call him blind. But you know who I mean.  


I want us to see in these conversations how the blind man gradually comes to see who Jesus is. Let’s walk through it. 


“The man they call Jesus”, v11

First of all the crowd say v10 – how were your eyes opened?  V11 READ. 


At this stage that’s what he thinks of Jesus – he is the man they call Jesus.


“He is a prophet”, v17

Then they take him to the Pharisees – they ask how he can see – he repeats the story. Now they aren’t happy because technically Jesus has worked on the Sabbath by making mud. But they can’t deny the miracle. They ask - v17 READ.  He’s making progress.


The Pharisees doubt whether he was ever really blind – so they get his parents to check and v20 READ. 


“This man is from God”, v33

But the Pharisees still aren’t happy so v26 – they ask again - what did he do?


Well at this point the blind man starts to get cheeky – v27 READ. 


The Pharisees insist – v29 READ.


That makes the man come to this conclusion v30-33 READ.


Man – prophet – from God. 


“Lord, I believe”, v38

Then we read v35-38 READ.


This is like someone standing in front our 3-D posters and saying – hold on – I can see a vague shape – it’s an animal, ah – it’s a dinosaur.  


He goes from man, to prophet, to ‘from God’, to I believe, and worships. 


In other words, he comes to see who Jesus is – spiritually he comes into the light. 


Our question is – how does it happen? How does he come to see?  


I think we can see two things going on. First of all, there is a,


  • Rational, logical, evidential argument

We saw these conversations get the evidence clear. They check his identity, confirm with his parents - this man was definitely born blind.


And it’s obvious he can definitely now see – no one is disputing that.  


So the evidence is clear – this man was definitely blind – and now definitely sees.  


And then from that – flows a logical argument. We see it most when the Pharisees say they don’t know where Jesus comes from…so the blind man replies – v30-33 READ.


You can hear the blind man thinking out loud? As the Pharisees keep saying Jesus is a nobody –that makes him think about it. Hold on – if he opened my eyes – he can’t be a nobody. Only the creator – God - can do this sort of thing – so he must be from God…


A while ago I was with my book group - some friends who aren’t Christians and we were talking about the novel “The Life of Pi”.  Don’t know if you’ve come across it. In many ways it’s a good read. But – it also annoyed me – because it suggests that every religion is equally true, so choose the one you like the most.  


Now that’s a big topic we’re not getting into – but what really annoyed me was that it didn’t allow for the fact that there might be evidence for a religion. That possibility just wasn’t entertained.  


And so at one point, I said this – and then a little nervously said, “I’m a Christian because the evidence has convinced me it’s true.”


One bloke looked at me and frowned and said – ‘what evidence?’ And everyone laughed – at such a ridiculous idea. 


But there is evidence. Like this healing. Now, it’s not absolute proof Jesus is God – but as the blind man reasons – it’s at least a sign that Jesus has the power of a creator – the power of God.


I know there are other questions to ask - is this a reliable account? Can we trust John to write the truth? That sort of thing. And that’s not for now. But there are answers to those questions – and it all builds up to evidence to believe. 


Often people think becoming a Christian is a leap in the dark. Like my friends in my book group laughed at the idea of evidence. Sometimes faith is defined as believing something you know isn’t true. It’s blind faith. 


For this man, it was very the opposite of that – he dwells on the evidence and is kind of compelled – to realise Jesus must be from God. For him it is logic and rational thought and evidence that brings him to believe. 


However, there is a second comment we’ve got to make. How did this man come to believe? At one level it was rational evidence. At another level it was, 


  • Miraculous, Jesus-given sight, 9v39

In v39 - Jesus gives us a comment on what has happened, READ. 


That is Jesus’ explanation on what has happened to the blind man. It’s that he has come into the world to bring the blind to see. 


So how did this man come to believe in Jesus – Jesus’ answer is – I brought him to see. Just like Jesus did the miracle of physically opening his eyes – he did the miracle of spiritually opening his eyes and bringing him to believe.  


Now at this point you might want to say – but Nigel, you’ve just said it’s a rational process. Now you are saying it’s a miracle. How can it be both? 


Well let me try and illustrate it. Do you remember having to go for an eye test at school? After you’ve had the letters getting smaller and smaller, you’re shown a card a bit like this - with a circle of red dots on it. But in the middle – is a number 5 in green dots.  


And you are asked – what number do you see? Most people say – 5. 


But some people look and say - I can’t see a number. Just dots. 


Because that is how it is if you’re colour blind. You can’t distinguish red from green.


The number is there – but they can’t see it. 


Now imagine we could wave a wand and take away that person’s colour blindness. And they then said – it’s obvious, it’s 5.


Would we then say – well that’s irrational? What a lucky stab in the dark?  


Not at all – in fact – we’d say the opposite - they can now see properly – and they can see what was there all the time. 


And it’s the same with us and Jesus. The evidence for him is there – but we have a problem with our sight. We are Jesus-blind. As I said at the start Bible describes us in the dark - blind to God and Jesus.


And so we need him to work a miracle in us – to take away our Jesus-blindness. And so then we can look at him and say – oh it’s obvious – Jesus is God.


But the fact we need a miracle doesn’t make this illogical – or a blind guess. In fact it’s the opposite – this miracle brings us to see clearly. It brings us to think more clearly and logically than we ever have before. So as Jesus enables us – we can look at the evidence and say – of course – Jesus is the rescuer I need.


And that is the miracle Jesus has come to do. He says – I am the light of the world. I have come to bring the blind to see.


How do we come to believe? Two answers here - rational reflection on the evidence. But that only works as Jesus enables us to see what that all means and see who he is.


Let’s finish by thinking what this means for us in practice. I want to suggest two things. 


First of all – if tonight we can see who Jesus is – if we believe in him – to some extent anyway. We should have a delighted, amazed, gratitude. 


How do you think the blind man felt each morning when woke up and opened his eyes? Blind all your life – then you wake up and see your parent’s faces. Sees his home, friends – the sun, a bird, a tree. He must have been – wow – this is amazing. There is a whole world I was missing - now I can live. 


Well if we can see Jesus – I think we should feel something of that. I know it feels different to the blind man – it’s not a physical thing - we might have grown up as Christians so feels like we’ve always seen Jesus and that sort of thing. But at some point, we were blind to Jesus. He meant nothing to us. Life was about us or whatever we choose to live for. But now – we see who he is – he’s our God and rescuer – and we can live now with him – life making sense with him at the centre. That’s amazing – we should have delight, amazed gratitude.


But as I say that we might be thinking – it often doesn’t feel like that. I’m not that amazed. Or to be honest – I struggle to believe in Jesus – if you like, I don’t see very well. Or maybe we simply don’t believe in Jesus so of course we don’t feel this. 


Well for all of us – wherever we are on that spectrum - we need to both look at Jesus – and pray we see Jesus. They must go together. 


We need to look at Jesus. Read the Bible, listen to talks from the Bible, be exposed to Jesus, think about him, learn, talk, use your mind, engage, think. We look. 


But at the same time we must pray to see. Lord I’m blind – please open my eyes to Jesus, and who he is. 


And it’s both. Both look at Jesus and pray we see Jesus. 


It’s not – I’ll just look and investigate and think, and work Jesus out on my own. We’re blind. So on our own we won’t see him. 


But equally we don’t just pray - open my eyes – and then do nothing. Expecting God to zap us into stronger belief. We have to look – Jesus has given us the Bible, given us signs pointing to him, so we can look at him, and learn and think and know. 


We must do both – look at Jesus, pray to see Jesus.


If we’re not a Christian I know this is a big ask. I’m saying look at Jesus in the Bible and as you do that – pray God will open your eyes. That’s asking a lot. If you’re up for that - you can start your prayer – God, if you’re there – apparently I need your help to see – so would you do that. 


If we do believe in Jesus to whatever degree - we do the same. Sundays, splinter group, on our own – we look at Jesus in the Bible, give ourselves to that. And as we look we pray – please open my eyes – that I would see how wonderful Jesus is, how gracious, how trustworthy, how patient, how serving, how powerful, how just and right and good. How valuable, how important, how worth it he is. Please help me truly see him. 


How do we come to believe in Jesus? How do we grow in Jesus? 


Look at Jesus – and pray to see Jesus. 

Philippians 2:19-30

Welcome 

Philippians. 

Letter of encouragement to the church plant in Philippi.  if you’re off on holiday to Northern Greece you can see the city’s extensive ancient ruins.  At the time of Paul’s writing of this letter from prison in Rome (1:7), Philippi was a bustling, strategic, cosmopolitan centre - the fledgling church was a very diverse but tiny minority. Pressure from an unbelieveing society was causing a little bit of discouragement and disagreement within. They needed encouragement. The church always needs encouragement. 


And here in 2:19-30. Paul updates the Philippians on some plans he has to send a couple of his co-workers to them to encourage them and bring them news and teach them. But what this little section does is it gives us a lovely insight into two of Paul’s friendships. The Apostle Paul often gets bad press. He is seen, wrongly, as overly intellectutal and dry, sometimes harsh and judgemental. But little insights, like these into the real Paul correct that wrong impression showing us a warm, vibrant, deeply loving man. A great friend who made great friendships.  

That’s something that we don’t always find easy to do. Sometimes we can have many ‘friends’ but only the beginnings of friendships. So, We’re given a vision here, i believe, for something that God wants to enable for us.  Friendship


The two friends of Paul who we meet here are Timothy and Epaphroditus 


Timothy is well known in the NT. He was one of Paul’s closest co-workers. Two of the letters in the NT  are addressed to him! Many of the letters of Paul were co authored by Timothy. Timothy was from Lystra a market town in the Roman province of Lycaonia in south central modern-day Turkey. His mum and grandmother were Jewish, his Dad was Greek and he was raised as a Greek even though his mum and granny, we’re told, instructed him in the Jewish faith. Tim had become a Christian through Paul and they had become very close friends. Paul recognised Timothy’s gifts and brought him onto his church planting team. Paul was older than Timothy and he describes their friendship doesn’t he v22 as being like that of a father and a son. 


Epaphroditus is the other friend here. They must have shortened his name surely? Paph; Ep; Ditus? I”d definitely have called him Paph so let’s stick with that. 

We don’t know so much about Paph. He doesn’t feature in the rest of the NT. He was from Philippi, part of the church there and was sent to Paul in prison in Rome with stuff to care for Paul’s needs. Cash basically. But Paul clearly used Paph on his team too. in 2:25, he calls him "my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier.”

It seems he got seriously ill when he was with Paul and nearly died. We’ll come back to that. 


So this little section speaks  to us about friendship. That’s our theme.  3 things 



  1. The importance of friendship 

  2. The heart of friendship 

  3. The power for friendship







The importance of friendship 


Friendship is at the heart of Christianity; 

Friendship is at the heart of what it means to be human. 

Friendship is so important.. 


Why? 


Genesis 1 and 2 God creates the world, animals, people. There’s this cadence; repeated refrain, “It was good, It was good, It was good. And then you get to chapter 2:18 and suddenly the cadence is broken. “It is not good…” Something in paradise is not good? 


And we’re told what it is..

It is not good… for man to be alone …

In paradise man had all things, a perfect relationship with God and yet this was not enough. it was not all food, there was an absence, a further need. the need for deep loving human relationships. 


Now the solution to loneliness in Genesis is a marriage. But human friendship which is also vital in marriage is the bigger solution. Jesus, himself never married but he chose disciples - friends to be with him. 3 of the 12 became particularly close friends. And Jesus had a best friend - John.  Jesus demonstates that marriage is not the heart of the solution to aloneness friendship is. Interestingly there will be no marriage in the New Creation - marriage is a temporary sign. But there will be the continued development of friendship eternally.. including friendship between people who were married!


So in eden God answers human aloneness with friendship. But there’s a question. 

Was there then a flaw in paradise, 

could we eveb say was there a flaw (heaven forbid) in God (!)  

if humanity is needy in this way? 


Not at all. 


God was always going to make lots of human beings. 

always going to create friendship..

Always going to create this human need for the other. 

Because …. this human need comes from our being made in the image of God who is in himself a community of friendship. 


when God makes human beings for the first time Ge 1v28 he makes this strange declaration.

God says ‘Let us make man in our own image.” 

Let us? Our Image? What is this?

It’s an early indication.. that the rest of the Bible backs up and reveals …That God himself is not alone.  A Monad. He is not a lonely God. He is.., Triune. Three in One.  Three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit = One God.  God is a Tri-unity. God is Trinity. And therefore God is relational, God is loving IN HIMSELF. Which means that Friendship is part of the very essence of God. Friendship is at the heart of the universe. The eternal friendship of the divine persons , loving one another, taking joy in one another, serving one another, Laughing with one another.


If human beings are made in the image of God then it is never as we are alone that we bear his image.  It is as we love, take joy in, serve others that we reflect the image of Our creator. Friendship is fundamental to who we are.


So here’s a warning and a comfort. 


Warning. This is Dalston

In a transient place where people are busily pursuing their thing - their art ,their business, their career, family. Friendships … can get trampled on, can get neglected. 

Romantic intimacy. Sex, Marriage gets elevated. Friendship which is eternally gets forrgotten And friendships can become something you use to get on… contacts and networks. intimacy can be lost. 


Here’s the warning. You could gain everything. You could build your own garden of eden. But even if you had paradise it won’t be enough without friends. It is not good to be alone. 

You cannot escape your design. 

Never sacrifice relationships for status, achievement, wealth. That’s the warning. 


Now the Comfort. 

If you are someone who feels lonely, needy,  weak, dependent, you feel you need friends. If you’re like that… It’s because you’re like God. It’s not a sign of weakness, not a sign of your imperfection but of your perfection. If you’re self sufficient you don’t need others - you’re not like God.

This is your design. 


The importance of friendship 



2. The heart of friendship 

3 things we see here that make friendship 


covenant love 

common passion  

courageous endeavour  



covenant love. 

look at what Paul says about Tim and Paph and their gift of friendship 

First Tim 

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 


Tim takes genuine interest in others, he doesn’t look out for his own interests.. and that leads to commitment, loyalty and active service. Committed love 


Paph is similar in this selfless attitude.. 



25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.


Don’t you love that? He was ill… he almost died. And what distressed him most was not that he was dying but that others were worried and distressed about him!!


Covenant friendship. Constant, loyal, Committed to the other


Sometimes our hearts stop us from entering into these kinds of friendships. This kind of closeness. We’ve been hurt and our hearts are closed. We struggle to receive love and to trust and if that’s the case. Expect God to pursue to heal your heart and your relationships with him, with others. Because he is determined to restore his image in your true humanity to you. 


And sometimes our modern culture stands in the way of these kinds of relationships.  


Throughout history in all cultures. You’ve had consumer relationships - the marketplace, business, give and take.  And you’ve had covenantal relationships or commitment - marriage, the family, the church, the local community. 


But every commentator you read agrees that something has happened in western culture in the last 50 years and that is that the model of the marketplace, consumer relationships has spread out… and has become the basis for conducting all relationships

marriage relationships, religious relationships, civic relationships, friendship relationships.. 

They’re all done now on a market basis. All done on a cost benefit analysis. If I’m getting my needs met I’m happy to stay in the relationship. If I’m not.. I want to get out of the relationship (actually or psychologically). 


This is our culture. Don’t you feel it? 

The idolization of the self. the exaltation of My rights, My happiness means relationships are Consumer items. And so we know more people than ever before. linked in with networks and contacts, hundreds of facebook buddies, and the invitation of internet relations with virtual strangers. all feeding our ego.  

The problem is of course … that consumer relationships are not really relationships at all. Not friends. 

And while we are all being transformed into the image of our culture we are emptier than ever. We long for friends, for constancy. It’s what we’re designed for. We need friends. real friends. 


Covenant friendship stands in stark contrast to the values of our present culture. 

Yet we desperately need it. 



How can we become covenant friends? 


Let’s just look at the other 2 things at the heart of friendship and we’ll get to that - the power for friendship.. 


We’ve seen that at the heart of friendship is covenant love 


but also common passion


you know the literal original meaning of the word - sympathy.. is not care or temderness as we use it - but common passion - sim - patico.. similar pathos - common passion. CS Lewis - 4 loves says the essence of friendship is the exclamation  ‘you too?!’ It might be a shared love of industrial techno, a shared concern for a cause. Common passion is the essence, the heartbeat of a friendship. ‘We picture lovers face to face” says Lewis, “But Friends.. side by side: Their eyes look ahead.”


And of course there is no greater sympathy, common passion than a love for God and a longing for his honour. 


See this with Paul and Timothy and Paph and the Philippian Christians.. 


22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.


25 …Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 



Find ways to serve Jesus alongside one another and friendship will deepen..



covenant love 

common passion 


courageous endeavour 


This is where Paph gets the spotlight 

brother…. co-worker and fellow soldier..


27 … he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.

You know Paph’s long name suggests that his parents devoted him to the service of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and also the patron of gambling. Plutarch tells us that the highest cast of the dice is called ‘Epaphroditus’. His name may mean ‘one blessed with gambling luck.’

Well Paph certainly had brought the reckless courage of a gambler to the only person who is worth staking your life on - Jesus christ. The expression used in v30 could be literally translated ‘He gambled his life’. He almost died for the work of Christ.. Courageous endeavour 

Friendship involves this



How? 

How can you and I be a friend like this? 

Covenant love.. Common Passion.. Courageous endeavour 

Friendship is so important - what we were made for. But it’s difficult …costly.. because it’s worth so much. 

how do you become that kind of a friend? 

What’s the power for friendship?


Here’s the thing. 


You can only become that kind of friend if you are befriended with that kind of friendship by the greatest friend of all. 


If you are loved with a constancy and commitment and costliness by one who comes alongside.. 

As you encounter that love, experience that friendship  .. it fills you up with everything you need to not have to go out consuming from others .. you’re full, you’re freed up to love and serve others.. 


where do you receive that kind of friendship? where did Timothy and Paph get it?

Well you don’t have to look very far.. 


Timothy looked to the interests of others before his own, Paph did the same - covenant love..

But we’ve already heard that expression earlier in the passage..

Timothy and Paph stood alongside Paul in the work of the gospel - common passion 

But we read ealrlier about a friend who came to stand alongside all humanity who took our burdens as his own 

Timothy and Paph almost died for the sake of others 

But we read earlier of a friend who did die for us 


2v3-8 READ 


Jesus Christ is many things: Glorious Creator,  Awesome Lord but he is also your friend. 


A friend who sticks closer than a brother. The best friend you could ever have. 


John 15 

Jesus says to his disciples i no longer call you servants. because servants don’t know their master’s business. You are my friends says Jesus.. And greater love has no man than this than he lay down his life for his friends. 


This week - silent retreat - meditating on the Bible, spending time with Jesus and it’s his friendship that struck me afresh. i was helped by some medieval art depicting Jesus as the friend alongside us. I don’t know what you think about depictions of God in art - of course there are dangers - but these images helped me. (look at them afterwards). 2 of them are stone carvings from Chartres cathedral depicting God creating Adam, the third is an icon of a French Abbot with Jesus standing next to him. In each image, Jesus has his hands on the shoulder of his friend and they look outwards together. Except in the icon the Abbot is looking out but with the eye closest to Jesus he’s just having a half glance - he cannot not. He looks to his friend.. 


And that’s what we need to do. Jesus is always alongside us. By his Spirit. His hand on your shoulder. You look out together. He’s not going anywhere. He loves you so much. He delights in you. Rest in his presence, hear his words. Pray and listen to his voice. And filled with his love - go and make friends.. 



Philippians 2:12-18

 

Welcome 

Philippians. 

Letter of encouragement to the church plant in Philippi. You can see the city’s ancient ruins in modern Greece. At the time of Paul’s writing of this letter from prison in Rome (1:7), Philippi was a bustling, strategic, cosmopolitan centre - the fledgling church (you can read about its founder members in Acts 16) was a very diverse but tiny minority. Pressure from an unbelieveing society was causing a little bit of discouragement and disagreement within. They needed encouragement. The church always needs encouragement. 

And in our passage this week, Paul encourages the church to, despite everything, BE OUTGOING. 


Would you see yourself as an outgoing person?  Paul says that the Christian church is always outgoing. No matter what the range of personalities within all of whuch are vital. If you become a Christian you become part of a people, the church. And that people are an outgoing people! 


See it in the text. 

Paul says in v12 that we are to WORK OUT our salvation

in v15, that we are to SHINE OUT like stars in the night sky 

as we v16 HOLD OUT the word of life 

finally in v17 we’re to follow Paul who’s life was being POURED OUT for others 


do you see this OUTGOINGness? 

WORK OUT 

SHINE OUT
HOLD OUT
POUR OUT 


Now, if they’re our action points we’ll come back to them in more detail. 

But this idea of moving out towards others as examples - stars shining out; as messengers - holding out the word of life, the message of the bible; as servants - pouring out yourself for others…

this idea of being commissioned by God to be OUTGOING for the sake of others raises a whole host of immediate questions and, frankly, immediate fears. 

  • consider for a start the sheer level of need in our world, the tragedies this week. the sheer level of need  in our local area. UPA with some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country. even a stones throw circumference from this building. the gaping level of need in people’s lives is enormous. what are the boundaries and limits? if we are to pour out our lives for these people - how long before we’re all completely empty?

  • or consider the sheer numbers of people who have no knowledge of Jesus Christ. We’re told that our city is more secular than it has ever been. Census stats, Hackney  - 50%+ no religion. Hordes on London Fields on a hot weekend. How do we hold out the word of life to them? And If we don’t hold out the word of life to them - does it mean death for them? That feels like an enormous burden to bear. We can be paralysed by the sheer overwhelming size of the responsibility. We’re out of our depth.. 


How are we to do this? Our reaction could to be - What’s practical? Shouldn’t we just huddle together for energy and then on a few considered occasions - a social project, a mission week.. be outgoing? BE OUTGOING for a few hours a week or a few weeks a year?


And what about God? 

Why does God place such heavy burdens upon us? 

Why does he sit in heaven unmoved while we are the ones who are told to be outgoing? 

 

Well this is where the encouragement comes in..

See, there are reasons why we are to be an outgoing people - constantly outgoing, not just occasionally, a MISSIONAL people, people on mission. There’s a reason why… that is also the means for how we are to be that people. 

Notice the therefore in v12 

Paul tells us in vv12-18 to be an OUTGOING PEOPLE 

because in vv1-11 he has told us about our OUTGOING GOD 



here’s the vital truth to learn: we are to be and we can be OUTGOING because Jesus has moved out towards us!  we become outgoing because God is originally and eternally the outgoing one.  


we’ve looked at vv1-11 recently but let’s remind ourselves. It’s one of the greatest sections in the whole Bible. Look at verse 6.  Here we see the eternal nature of God on show.  This is about Jesus Christ, the son of God, the eternal Creator making a decision in eternity. Notice how Jesus makes a decision before He was born.  Jesus decided to get born.  You and I don’t decide to get born do we, that’s not our decision, Jesus did.  And if you could choose to be born, would you have chosen what Jesus chose?  I don’t think so.  Read with me from verse 6:

6 Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself …nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!


What does it mean to be outgoing?

Space exploration. Crossing the great divide in search of life on other planets. To boldly go where no man has gone before. 

Or the King who longs to commune with his subjectes before a great war and so disguises himself as a commoner in order to walk among his people 

Or the servant to the poor, who gives up her life to serve the suffering 

What does it mean to be outgoing? 


From eternity, Jesus Christ wills to pour Himself out.  It is His eternal glory to GO OUT from Himself.  First, crossing the great divide from heaven to earth.  From the Divine to the human - He, the eternal God, becomes a single cell in Mary’s womb and is born as a wriggling helpless baby, laid in a feeding trough.  Grows up, but not to be a King but a servant.  He humbles Himself further and dies.  God the Son dies!  And not any old death – a godforsaken death on a cross.  The eternal God pours Himself out.  That’s what He’s like.

And do you notice in verse 10 that wonderful word again “Therefore.”  Therefore – because He poured Himself out so completely, He is crowned as King.  Because He is the greatest servant, so He is declared LORD.

Here is the deepest truth.  I don’t know anything as profound or mind-blowing as this:  When Jesus came and stooped and served and suffered and was shamed and bled and died that was NOT a departure from His divine glory.  He wasn’t taking a day off from being God.  THAT WAS THE EXPRESSION of His glory. The cross is the MOST GOD-LIKE THING IMAGINABLE.  Because GOD’s life is a life of OUTGOING, OUTPOURING, SACRIFICIAL, LIFE-GIVING LOVE.



The Father sees Christ poured out to death… and Therefore (v9) God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

a name that one day ALL the world will confess.. vv10-11 

One day when Jesus returns ALL will see him. and we will see His SCARS, the wounds of His crucifixion, the marks of his outgoing love and THAT will make every mouth spontaneously cry “You are Lord, You are Lord,”

Jesus will be worshipped by the whole world, not just because He is big but because He made Himself small. 



Here’s the encouragement to be an OUTGOING, serving, missional people. 

We don’t do mission because normally we’re inward looking and once in a while we turn our hand to being outgoing.  And we don’t do mission because we have to do God’s job for Him.  It’s not like He stays in heaven and we have to go out.  NO!

Mission IS our ongoing life because mission is God’s outgoing life.

As Jesus says in John 20:21: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  We stand in a torrent of sending love – from the Father to the Son, from the Son to us and out on into the world.  We don’t become outgoing because every now and again we feel we ought to.  We ARE an outgoing people because Christ has adopted us into HIS kind of outgoing life.


Jesus is the great missionary.  And even though he has ascended to heaven Jesus continues to be outgoing! Jesus is ever going out, going out, going out.

The book of Acts in the NT tells the story of the explosion of Christianity, the growth of the early church after Jesus returned to heaven.  The acts of the apostles. BUt the book is not really about the acts of the apostles, or the early church. Luke, having written his gospel begins this book by saying Acts 1v1 in my former book i wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach before he was taken up into heaven’ Hear that - the gospels is just the beginning - implication = the book of Acts is the continuing acts of Jesus by his Holy Spirit who is in the world. the Spirit goes ahead of us. the outgoing God. If you want to be where Jesus is if you want fellowship with him, if you want to know Him who loved you to death..  go out and be with Him.  We know Christ best as we join Him in HIS outgoing Life. So mission is our ongoing life because mission is God’s outgoing life.


Let’s look at the ways we work out, shine out, hold out and pour out.

First – work out.  That’s verses 12 and 13:

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Now a lot of rubbish gets talked about verse 12.  People sometimes read it as though Paul says “work FOR your salvation.”  But of course if Paul said we need to work “FOR” our salvation it would be a contradiction of everything he’s ever written.  Paul’s doesn’t say work FOR your salvation, he says work OUT your salvation.  Because, v13, God has worked it IN you.  Do you see that?  In v12 we work OUT, because in v13 God works IN.  The Father has given us Christ.  He’s said “Here have my Son, in Him is life and forgiveness and peace and a cosmic inheritance – have Him.”  And we say thank you and are given the life of Christ.  But what kind of life does Christ have?  An outgoing life.  A life of obedience, of suffering servant-hearted love.  And you can’t have Christ worked into you without His life working out of you.  Your salvation is an outgoing thing and it will out. 

If you say “I am saved but I keep my salvation to myself” what do you say about verse 12?  Because v12 says your salvation is to be worked OUT.  Salvation IS a secure possession to be enjoyed forever.  But it is NOT a private possession to be enjoyed by individuals.  It’s designed to be worked out of you which is a fearful and trembling thing, but it’s also a divinely helped thing.  God will help you to will and to act in this outgoing way. WORK OUT ..

The thing is it will make you stick out a mile.  Look from v14 SHINE OUT:

14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.

Stars attract the gaze only because they are different to the blackness of space around them.  No-one goes space-gazing, we go star-gazing, because the light is what’s attractive not the darkness.  And Paul says the Christian is to stick out.  Not like a sore thumb, but like a star shining in the darkness. 

And what is it that’s going to really stand out about Christians?  They don’t complain or argue. Do you want to stick out in a godless crooked and depraved generation? – don’t complain, don’t argue.  We never think of ourselves as complaining – we always think our grievances are legitimate.  We never think of ourselves as argumentative – we’re just standing for the truth.  Paul says, Please, please, please, think again.  Are you complaining?  Are you argumentative?  If so …  The lights go out when you complain or argue. All the distinctiveness is lost and you’ll be as dark as the surrounding world.  Stand out, shine out.  


And, v16, HOLD OUT 

16 as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour for nothing.

What would someone else say about your words?  How would they describe the kind of words you use?  Always griping?  Always moaning?  Always making light of everything?  Always talking about yourself?  No, says Paul, hold out the word… of life!

Notice he doesn’t say “hold to certain values”. Or “hold up a certain world view.”  He says hold out the word of life.  We do need to put words to our Christian hope.  The mission of the church is a word-y mission.  It’s about delivering a message to a world that will meet Jesus.  Social and creation care and political action and justice all encapsulate the gospel hope and yet spiritual life comes through hearing the word of Christ. The word of life. Look at who he is we say - the servant Lord of glory, trust him now, love him, bow the knee of your heart to him, live for him. And God grants life through that word.  That’s our mission holding out the word of life. [find that difficult - open to question. amazed at the power of the word of life]


And then finally, POUR OUT 

here’s how we do it – we do it like Paul, v17:

17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Poured out like a drink offering.  Every day, morning and evening at the temple, the priests would pour out a drink offering before the Lord.  It was a grateful response to the Lord’s salvation.  And Paul says “I AM a drink offering, poured out.”

Let me close with this... How do you think of life?  Many people think of life like it’s a cup where we need to hold on to every drop we can.  And we’re nervous in case we spill any of it.  We might lose money, or comfort, or reputation, or personal space, or whatever.  And so we move through life very carefully lest we spill a drop.  Paul says “I pour it all out.  It hasn’t been poured into me for me to hold onto it.  It’s been worked into me so I can work it out, so I can shine it out, hold it out, pour it out.”  Which means he’s free.  He’s not scared of spilling any – he considers it all to be expended in Christ’s service.  And while we tip-toe around, nervous and furtive Paul walks boldly through life pouring himself out.






Philippians 2v1-11

The crucial importance of Unity. 


What are you pursuing to make yourself happy? Career trajectory? Dream of a family? 

Look at the apostle Paul. We know from reading the letter that he is in prison in Rome, he is chained up and facing possible execution. But incredibly he says (v..) that his joy is almost complete. He is almost full of joy. How wonderful. And, there is someting, he says, that would make his joy complete.. this is his immediate priority, his main prayer, this is what will give him happiness, satisfaction, peace. Not release from prison, Not relief of his circumstances.. that’s not what will complete his joy. The thing Paul longs for is deep unity in the church.. in Philipi and presumably everywhere. That’s Paul’s passion. 


When you read the whole letter it doesn’t seem like there were huge fall outs, factions or warfare in the Philippian church plant. A bit of grumbling and arguing 2v14 A few disagreements 4v1, But Paul isn’t just looking to merely stop negative behaviour he’s longing to see deep authentic comm-unity. 

Look at what he says in v2 ‘make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.’ There’s a depth of relationship here that goes way beyond being part of the same club, or recognising a familiar face or knowing someone’s name. Paul is talking about a unity of minds and emotions and wills. Thinking together, loving one another deeply, pursuing a common purpose together.. 


We’ve been saying that this book Philippians constantly challenges us with the Question what is the life worth living? what’s primary? what’s best? what really counts? Well this is Paul’s absolute priority. His happiness hangs on this. It’s more important than his freedom. 

What about you and I? If you are a christian. Is the deep relational unity of the church your supreme goal? 


Why is it so important? Here’s why ..


[70th anniversary of DDay] Our daily news is scarred with the disunity of our world. At very scale, environmental, global, national, local, personal we encounter broken relationships. 

But the message of Christianity is that through Jesus Christ God has put a plan in motion that will one day heal the disunity of the world completely. In his death on the cross, Jesus Christ bore the consequences of all our brokenness. Jesus resurrection is the absolute proof of a future hope for the entire world and the church is the beginnings of that future reality. The church - people who’ve been brought back into friendship with God. Imperfect as we are, we are the sign to the world of that future reality, unity. We are the advert, the sign post! 


Look at how Paul seeks to persuade the Philippian church to be who they are. 

v1 Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit  then make my joy complete by being ONE 


it’s wonderful to share common interest or common history with friends - shared love of a particular kind of music or sport; shared memories. But these things do not come close to what it means to be part of the church - if you are united with Christ and so am I, If you’ve experienced his love and so have I, If his Holy Spirit dwells in you as he does in me. The you and I are inextricably bound up with one another. We are brothers and sisters. 


God has a good plan for this world. One day he will put it right. He will bring harmony, peace, life. Now we may question God’s wisdom on this but the church is the foretaste of that future.

It’s the show home for the estate that is yet to be built. This is why Paul is so concerned that the church lives up to her calling. 


Well how are we doing here in Dalston? 

Do we love each other deeply? Do we even know each other deeply?


We need help to do this don’t we? 

God knows that. Paul knows it. And that’s why for the rest of the passage he will talk about the pride that stands in the way and the humility that comes from Jesus. 


3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves, 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.

It’s worth being aware at this point that our current cultural ethos of ‘expressive individualism’ is very negative about concepts of humility. low self esteem is the cause of all our social ills.

here is a place where the bible flys in the face of our culture by talking about the prison of pride and the freedom of humility.. 

The prison of Pride

let’s think first about pride. and we could talk for hours but we’ll limit ourselves to just a few ideas that arise out of the text.. rivalry, emptiness and self centredness.  

Paul says ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition.’ The word carries the idea of rivalry or competitiveness and shows us how pride robs us of life. It is summed up in the brutal honesty of the american writer Gore Vidal who once said, 

‘It is not enough to succeed, others must fail. 

Whenever a friend succeeds a little something in me dies.’ 

Here’s CS Lewis: ‘Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person.’ 

Many of you know that I used to be an actor. And people sometimes ask me  ‘oh so do you enjoy going to the theatre?’ and I sometimes say, I don’t really because i find it too painful because I’d love to be doing what they’re doing. It’s struck me.. Isn’t that sad? - that pride robs me of that pleasure! - Rivalry 

what about emptiness?

Paul’s second phrase, ‘vain conceit’.. alludes perhaps to the source of our prideful strivings. In the greek its a conflation of two words keno (from kenosis: to empty) and doxia meaning glory. So in the KJV this is translated ‘vain-glory’ - it could mean bringing glory to yourself - that’s pride. But it actually points to our human condition. We are glory empty. We’re hungry.. for honour, respect, assurance because we sense deeply that we are people of importance and yet we don’t feel it. We feel lost. We’re hungry but we’re empty and so we’re striving..

We’re like this, the Bible says because we were made to live forever but we have turned away from God and therefore we’re fading. We were made never to be forgotten, to stand in the presence of God and to get his favour. We were made to last. But turned away from God we know we’re, fading, dying, we’re going to be forgotten. And so we desperately look to everyone we can to get them to say ‘you’re good, you’re worthwhile, you’re important, you’re significant.’  There’s emptiness so We use people to bolster our fragile sense of self. 

and that’s the last of our threefold characteristics - self centredness

The essence of pride is the self. self absorption, self importance even self pity. It’s a crucial insight that the pride that stands in the way of community can manifest itself in inferiority as much as superiority in low self esteem, fear and self pity as much as in arrogance and haughtiness. Because at the heart of pride is love of self. And the fearful person is just as absorbed in themselves as the self righteous person!

You know when you’re going about your daily life you’re not constantly aware of your body are you..? You don’t keep thinking - hey my elbow is so cool. or hey check out my knees the way they bend like that! You only become conscious of your body when something’s broken; not right. When you’ve broken your toe - you’re suddenly regularly aware, in a way that you were not before, of your toe. You’re painfully aware of it. That’s how it is with our bodies. The parts of our bodies only draw attention to themselves when there is something is wrong. What about our egos? Our sense of self? I’m constantly thinking about myself. Aren’t you? ‘How am i doing? How am i looking? I really like myself.. I really hate myself.. what does he think of me? I really wish I had that. why did she say that.? She hurt my feelings.’ The ego is constanly drawing attention to itself because there is something unbelievably wrong with it! the prison of pride

rivalry, emptiness, self importance

what’s the cure? 


the freedom of humility 

v3 in humility consider others better than yourselves, 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.

what is humility according to the Bible? 

and how do you get it?

Well here’s what it isn’t? 

Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself.. -‘everyone’s better than me.’ that’s not humility that’s just another form of pride.. self concern, self pity. 

No -  Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is  thinking of yourself less.. Humility is the freedom of self forgetfulness. 

[wouldn’t you want to know the freedom of humility? pp34-5 keller] 

Wouldn’t you want to be a person who considered others better than yourself, looked to the interests of others, with honour and love?

How do you get that? How do you get Humility?

Here’s Paul’s answer. vv5-11 

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. And then Paul breaks into song. It’s a hymn - a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ..

Here’s what I think Paul is not doing here: 

He’s not just telling us to follow Jesus example of humility. He’s not telling us to work on our humility. Because … You can’t! You can’t work on humility directly. If true humility is self forgetfulness as soon as you start thinking.. ‘now am i humble? i’d really like to be humble. Was i humble just then. yeah i think i was.. Doh!’ Humility is the shyest of virtues. You can’t talk to humility without it going away.. 

No, You can’t work on humility. It has to be a bi-product of something else. 

The answer is you look away from yourself at another: Jesus Christ. And not to analyse and compare. This is not a list of Jesus’ qualities to imitate. Paul gives us a hymn of Jesus’ love to sing to our souls. It’s music to capture your heart. See that’s what we need - to have the emptiness of our hearts filled with true glory. The glory of Jesus Christ. We need to see him!


And there’s a word in v7 that captures Jesus glory. It’s that little phrase ‘he made himself nothing’ for us! You know what that word is? Kenosis. Sounds familiar “He emptied himself.’ That you and I might be filled. 

I don’t know the tune - and i’d feel a bit embarassed singing a solo anyway so i’ll read it: Notice the into 3 great movements 

Movement 1 vv6-7 The incarnation Jesus the eternal glorious God chose to become human 

Movement 2 The atonenment v8 Jesus came to serve by suffering and dying on a cross 

Movement 3 The exaltation vv9-11 In response to this glorious act of loving service God the father raised Jesus and exalted him to the highest place! 

“read…’’

 

Here is the glory of Jesus you see. The glory of God - is in humility.  

He emptied himself so we could be full. 

He did this because incredibly in humility he considers us more important than himself. 

He says of us ‘you to me are more valuable than all the jewells in the earth.’ 


When his love fills our hearts. We are set free from the desperate self centred search to fill our own emptiness. We are able to discover the freedom of humilty  

the way up is down 

the way to be truly rich is to become pure. 

the way to become inflintely happy is to pursue the happiness of others 



Philippians 1:1-11

Philippians 1:11 and Acts 16:11-40


Welcome 

Beginning a series in the NT book of Philippians 

A letter written about 60AD by Paul (the great apostle to the Gentiles) and Timothy, ‘servants of Christ Jesus.’ To the fledgling christian church in Philippi which Paul had planted in the city 10 years earlier.. 


Paul’s church planting strategy always had an urban focus - Cities were and remain places of openness and influence. (the womb of culture). Philippi, though it is now a ruin in North Eastern Greece, in the ancient world was just such a stragegic city.

Its gold and silver mines - exhausted by the time of the Christian era, and it’s situation on the Egnatian way - the great highway which connected Rome with the East had made Philippi an important cultural and economic centre.  

The city’s name came from the father of Alexander the Great, Philip II of Macedon who founded the city in 356BC. 200 years later the whole region had come under the rule of the Roman empire. And in 42BC, following military victories of Caesar Augustus close by, the city became a Roman colony endowing it’s populace with Roman citizenship. Roman war veterans settled in Philippi. It was an outpost of Rome and Empire in Northern Greece. 


Philippians is a wonderful little letter. Many people’s favourite NT book. It is primarily a letter of Christ-centred encouragement. I encourage you to read it in one sitting this week. It’s so short but it includes some of the greatest lines in the Bible: ‘For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.’; ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.’; Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation ..present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’


—- 

At heart the letter begs a question: 

Is there anything really worth living for? (and dying for?) 

What really counts in life? What’s the best way to live? The most worthwhile?


Scientists tell us that it might be possible to prolong average life expectancy to 115 years old but will it be a life worth living?


What are you giving your life, your time and energy to?



——

Now, Read between the lines and you get the sense that this 10 year old church plant to whom Paul writes - they’re feeling pressure. The hard work of building a church community has taken it’s toll. There’s pressure within and without. From the outside there’s opposition (1:28) they live as a christian minority in an unbelieving city… and on the inside there’s unrest (4:2):complaint and hurts and disagreements. It feels like it’s just costing too much - this church lark.


But Paul writes to encourage. 

To encourage them and any who would listen in that this IS the life worth living and rather than pulling away from God’s ways and God’s church .. to discover joy and to live for what really counts, the Philippians and we should press in to God’s ways and his church..



  1. vv3-6 Be confident in the power of God


I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

Partnership in the gospel doesn’t refer to a shared love of a certain kind of music. The gospel is one of those rich bible expressions. It refers to the whole story of what God, in love, has done and is doing to repair this world and us through his son Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again. Paul and the Philippians and all Christians are partners in the gospel in the sense that we are called to share this story with others but also in the sense that we are recipients together of its blessings. We have come to know God through hearing the gospel, seeing its reality - the power of God. 

The church at Philippi (like any church) was founded by an extraordinary display of God’s power. You can read all about it in Acts 16. There we read that Paul and his companion Silas had arrived in Philippi in AD52 following the prompting of a vision. On the first saturday they were there they went down to the river where there was a group or women praying. (They were probably gathered there because there were not the necessary ten Jewish men in Philippi to form a synagogue (lack of committed men in the church was a problem even then!)) As Paul shared the gospel, someone called Lydia, a rich merchant woman, an Asian from Thyatira, a spiritual seeker, became a christian and persuaded Paul to come and stay in her home. While he was staying there, he was followed around town by a girl. a greek, a native of the town, she’s a slave, spiritually she is out of control - lit. it says she is a pythonist, she is possessed with some kind of spirit through her involvement in the occult - she can tell fortunes (for real, not horroscopes). She follows Paul and Silas around mocking and Paul finally has enough and in an encounter of spiritual power he commands the spirit to come out of her. This young girl set free by Jesus is added to the fledgling church. The problem is that this young girl was a slave and her owners were furious that she had lost her supernatural powers. They seized Paul and Silas start a riot and Paul and Silas are flogged and thrown into prison. 

In prison with their feet in stocks - which means they were being tortured - Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God. Tortured and singing! Some of us have trouble singing because we’re still trying to digest lunch. Tortured but singing? Because they had seen God’s power to change the direction of Lydia’s life and bring her whole family to faith. They had seen God’s power to set free a girl afflicted by an evil spirit. Now they saw God’s power at work in another miraculous way: an earthquake shook the prison and every door flew open. The prison officer in charge. He’s a Roman, ex-military, working class, spiritually he’s probably disinterested and hardened, he’s killed people, he tortures people. - he’s about to kill himself, thinking all the prisoners have escaped, knowing he will face court martial for this. But Paul shouts out ‘wait! nobody’s going anywhere!’ And through this whole experience, this rough military guy’s heart is won for Christ and later his whole family are baptised. 

This is how the church in Philipi was founded. It’s easy to forget the power of God so Paul reminds the Philippians.

It’s easy for us to forget God’s gracious power in the founding of our church - SBD.  We started out with 40 adults and a dozen kids. In 8 years over 200 adults and 50 children have been part of the SBD story. a dozen people have  come to faith one through the earthquake of terminal cancer one through a power encounter with Jesus; others through hearing the powerful message of the gospel week by week. It’s easy to forget the sacrificial generosity that has made this church possible. Remain and Be confident in the power of God. 

Paul writes 

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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. 

If God’s power can start a church in Philippi or Dalston, can kickstart faith in the souls of men and women then with Paul we can have confidence that what God has begun … he will complete.. 

‘The day of Christ Jesus’ refers to the day when Jesus will return. That’s the part of the story that is still to come: ’Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ Not this time as a baby come to save but as a King come to bring his eternal kingdom. The work God has begun in you, if you’re a Christian, is eternal life and He promises to complete that work. He will raise us to life, he will make all things well; We’re going to live forever.. Let it sink in. How then should we live? What counts? What’s worth living for? Live in the light of that day. In the light of an eternal future. Give yourself to the work of God’s gospel - God’s transforming power. 

Of course, It’s not always easy to just do that. It’s an act of faith. In a moment we’ll see what is fundamental to helping us live in the light of the day of Christ.. But there’s a hint in the text.. God will bring to completion the work he has begun in you… Be confident in the power of God. 

Second thing - if you want to give your life to what really matters..

2. Be joyful in Christian friendship

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Paul writes this letter from prison in Rome. The imminent threat of execution hangs over him 1:20, 2:17. Paul is in chains… but his heart roams free. The apostle had probably only spent a matter of weeks or months establishing the church in Philippi, many of the newer Christians there he hasn’t even met - he knows them through others but the letter demonstrates this wonderful network of loving christian friendships..

Throughout the letter you have Paul praying for the Philippians, articulating his affection, They’re his joy and crown, he longs to see him. And we learn that the Philippians pray for Paul and have provided for his needs. Just turn to chapter 2 v19 and you see others who are part of this network of Christian friendship. 2:19 Paul wants to send Timothy to them soon so he, Paul, can get concrete news about them. v20 ‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine care for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” See all these relationships? Read on v25 here’s another guy: “I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger whom you sent to care for my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill and almost died but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then welcome him in the Lord with great joy…” 

Be joyful in Christian friendship. 

Our shared faith - as Paul says ‘all of you share God’s grace with me’                                             and our shared mission - defending and confirming the gospel can bring about the most profound love and friendship. Many of you tell me about dear Christian friends. These are friendships that are not known in other spheres of life.. 

Christian friendships can be profound but they are not not straightforward; they are not a given. All relationships need work. In part, Paul is having to write to the Philippians to remind them to think right about and work at their Christian friendships 1:27, 2:2 Be united - ‘Be of one mind’  Don’t let bad feeling, or disagreement or bitterness get in the way.. 

You know the church is a bit like a human family in many respects - we are brothers and sisters - we are brought together by something more than just shared interests something that unites very different people. they say don’t they: ’you can choose your friends you can’t choose your family.’ This means that just as in families you can take one another for granted and make more effort with people outside the family than within. So it is with God’s church. It’s more effort - so we don’t bother. But then we miss out on the joy that could be ours. 

Paul will urge us in this letter to put on our gospel glasses. Have a gospel perspective. sense the people sitting around you. That person you’re sitting next to is a child of God, their life purchased with the blood of Christ. There is no imagining what one day they will be. Honour one another. Give thanks for one another. Look to the interests of others before your own. 

Paul will urge us into gospel partnership. you philippians might be a roman colony an outpost of Rome in the city of Philippi. But the church of JC - are citizens of heaven; an outpost of heaven in the earthly city. Have you forgotten your missionary call that is at the heart of christian friendship?                                                    do hard things together. pray for healing, pray for holiness, pray for your friends and then go out and be good news together. 

But how?

brings us to third point..

how are we to be confident in God’s power? live for the day of Christ?                                             how are we to be joyful in Christian friendships? look to the interests of others before ourselves?


3. Be prayerful in pursuing what really counts 

Paul prays. So often we do not have because we do not ask. We find it hard to pray. 


What does Paul pray for the Philippians? We should pray it for ourselves and one another.. 

First verse x he prays that our love would abound more and more. That our love for God and for one another and for everyone would grow. Good thing to pray. But notice that it’s not any kind of love it’s a love that is shaped by the knowledge and moral insight that comes from the gospel. It’s a wise love that comes about through reading the bible and through wise counsel with one another. Because this love isn’t just a feeling it needs to show itself forth in action, in the best way of living and using our gifts - which is why Paul says v10 that we need to be brought to a place where we can ‘discern or ‘approve of’ what is best..’ That is - brought to a place where we can see what counts, what’s the best way for me to live .. and have the will to put that into practice.. 

Notice that Paul refuses to give blanket commands for what the best kind of Christian life looks like. How many hours should you give to church, care of your neighbour, sharing the gospel with your friends. No, life is far more complex than that. We have different lives and commitments and time and situation gifts and capacities and personalities and so Paul simply prays that your love would abound in knowledge and depth of insight so that you will be able to approve and pursue what is best. The life worth living. 


Do you see what this is saying? 

Do you want to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ? They’re words that refer to an inner consistency and and an outward goodness of life. Do you want that? Do you want to be v11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God? 

Do you want your life to be lived to the glory of God? 

If we want these things for ourselves, for one another, for our church then we have only to ask. 


Be prayerful in pursuing what really counts..

We don’t know what a life worth living is? But God does. We should ask him. 

We can’t manufacture love, wisdom, righteousness in our lives. But God can. We should ask him. 


he will change our hearts..


why not pray this prayer this week?






The Parable of the Ten Minas Luke 19v11-27

Hello, my name is David and I’m a member of the congregation here at Saint Barnabas. A big welcome if you are new here. Today we are looking at the last of Jesus’ parables in the Gospel of Luke.

We have a lodger staying in our house at the moment. He’s called Nick. He’s Greek, 27 years old and works at RoofEast - a rooftop bar near the Olympic park in Stratford. I really like Nick. He high fives my boys Ben and Frank every morning. He’s kind and respectful and after each long shift into the early hours he’s careful not to wake us up as he creeps up the stairs.

Nick is waiting. Waiting for the paperwork on his visa to be sorted. His girlfriend is in America. His friends and business partners are in Texas – they are setting up a chain of Juice Bars there. And Nick is stuck here. Largely alone. Working long, long hours.

What keeps him going is the thought that soon, very soon, his visa will arrive and he will join his girlfriend and friends in Texas where they can start their new business. In the light of this his long hours, his loneliness has a purpose – the more he can earn now, the more he can finance his new business. He has a future hope and that transforms and gives a kind of grittiness to how he lives now.

The parable of the Ten Minas speaks of a future hope. A future reunion that can transform and give meaning to the way we live our lives now. 
JESUS waits for us all – you, me, everyone in Hackney, all the people of the world – either at the end of our lives or when he returns as King.
 What will he say to you? 
Because really it (life!) boils down to that. What will Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world say to me David James Cawston? Will the things I value be valued by Christ? Will the things I ignored and left undone prove to be the very things that Jesus most treasures?

The parable presents a surprisingly hard-nosed picture of judgement. It is clear that our lives will be assessed and I’d like to suggest this judgement operates on two levels. That is going to form the structure for this short talk. 
First, we are going to look at Jesus’ Judgement of his SUBJECTS – that is Everyone, and 
Secondly, Jesus’ Judgement of his SERVANTS, that is Christians.

1. JESUS’ JUDGEMENT OF HIS SUBJECTS
It is probably natural when reading this parable to focus on the central portion, verses 15-26, which speaks of the three servants, their relative success in multiplying their masters’ money, and his subsequent judgement of their work.
However this narrative is bookended (at the start in verses 11-14 and at the end in verse 27) by more problematic and obscure but equally important information. And in order to understand this we need to quickly look at a couple of contextual points:
First;
Jesus is nearing Jerusalem when he tells this parable and his followers are expecting the kingdom of God to appear when he gets there. Verse 11 says ‘…he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.’ Jesus’s followers thought that his arrival in Jerusalem would herald a great reckoning when the Roman oppressors would be defeated and the Jewish people’s freedom restored. Jesus told them this parable to indicate that the Kingdom would not come for some time and that he would be going away and returning in judgement, just like the King in the parable.
Second;
This narrative of a man of noble birth travelling to a distant country to be appointed king initially seems strange. When our Queen dies will Charles get the Eurostar to France to be crowned king? It seems ridiculous to us but it would have been normal to Jesus’ listeners as they lived in a country occupied by foreign rulers. Indeed just a few years before this parable was told King Herod’s successor Archilayus travelled to Rome to be crowned governor of Palestine.
 Verse 14 tells us that ‘his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’ and the exact same thing happened with Archilayus. He was so reviled that the Jewish people lobbied against him in Rome.

These opening verses present us with an absent King who is rejected by a large number of his subjects and that of course is a picture of Christ who, as he tells this parable, is on his way to the cross. On his way to being crucified by his subjects. 
The Bible tells us that all of us say in our hearts along with the subjects in verse 14 ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’. We reject God’s rightful rule over our lives and we fall short of his holy standards. And the result? Well it is there, starkly, in verse 27: ‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be a king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me’.
That is the Judgement of Jesus. That if we reject him we face eternal separation from him. It’s a hard truth.

I don’t know if you noticed the first few words of our passage? Verse 11 reads ‘while they were listening to this…’ That is it seems Jesus told the Parable of the Ten Minas whilst he was in the house of Zacchaeus. And that for me is helpful because the story of Zacchaeus is one that needs to be held in tension with the judgement in our parable.
Zacchaeus, a man who betrayed his countrymen to work for the Romans as their chief tax collector and then betrayed them again by taking more from them than he should. He got richer as they got poorer. This is the man, reviled and full of sin, that Jesus sought out. He accepted him and ate with him. 
It’s a picture of grace and Christ’s offer to all. He says to you, me…everyone ‘I must stay at your house today’. Through my death for you on the cross I accept you, with all your sin which I have paid for. Our choice is to accept this free offer or reject it. 

You’ll notice that Zacchaeus’ change of behaviour – see there in verse 8 of chapter 19 he gives half his possessions to the poor and pays back those he has cheated four times the amount – comes in response to Christ’s saving love and grace. 
Some of you will know that we have a youth group here on Thursday evenings. TRU – The Room Upstairs. We have a short talk time and a few weeks ago one of the boys said this about life: ‘It’s like this’ he said ‘you have like a big chequebook and every good thing you do in your life gives you a little tick in a box on the chequebook and when you get to heaven you show this to Jesus and if you have enough ticks he will be pleased and let you into heaven’. It’s actually a very perceptive comment. I believed the same thing at his age but wouldn’t have been able to articulate it. Something in our hearts thinks we can earn our way into God’s good books. 
And there is the danger that a reading of the Parable of the Ten Minas perpetuates this myth. The first two servants win Christ’s approval but the third fails. The Bible is clear that no amount of good works can meet God’s holy and just standards. Each of us is fully and wholly dependent on God’s grace in Christ – so that no-one can boast.

That is then the Judgement of Jesus. He holds out his offer of grace to all the Zacchaeus’s, all the sinners. Verse 27 of our parable makes the consequences of rejecting that offer clear.


So we’ve looked together at Jesus’ judgement of his subjects. Now let’s turn to JESUS’ JUDGEMENT OF HIS SERVANTS

Here in the form of the three servants we have Jesus’ judgement of Christians. We can broadly see the first two as one group – the ‘good’ servants and the third servant as the other - the ‘wicked’ servant. 
Let’s look at the ‘good’ servants first. What can we learn from them? 

You’ll remember my lodger Nick who I mentioned earlier. Nick who has a future hope (in Texas) that gives him meaning and hope and grit and determination in the present. Obviously his goal, whilst good, is not ultimate in the sense we are dealing with here. But I have to admit, my Christian life is not like that at present. As a follower of Jesus I know, deep down here, what is important to Christ, and what is not. I know what is of eternal worth and what is of the world. And yet so often the temporary things of this life crowd out Jesus’ voice. Prayer, worship, building up others, loving others, giving money, giving time, witness get replaced with ‘stuff’: TV, drink, ambition, laziness, lack of love, to name a few. I think this passage points to a few attributes and qualities that can help us be ‘good and faithful’ servants of Jesus.

First, there is a sense that what Jesus requires of us is to follow him in the small things. He says to the servant in verse 17 ‘…Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ It reminded me of Jesus’ miracle the feeding of the 5,000 (see Luke 9) where he takes the meagre offering of a small child and turns it into a feast for thousands. Jesus is able to take our small offerings and turn them into great things. Things with eternal significance. A prayer, a kind word, dragging yourself to church, telling someone about your faith, singing a song of worship, giving money to someone in need, forgiving someone, bearing a friend’s burden. These are small things, not recognised as ‘great acts’ by the world but infinitely important to our Saviour Jesus.

Secondly, be thankful. Perhaps months or years after the master leaving the first servant was doing very well. She had invested here money in a field, established a farm, which had produced crops, sold for profit which funded the purchase of a further portion of land and so on. Three years down the line she was a wealthy farmer respected by her competititors who she began to realise were overcharging and cutting corners to up their profit. When the temptation came to follow suit she was brought to her senses by the distant memory of her master counting out his coins into her hand before he left. What would he think of her when he returned? Would he approve of her cheating and lying and stealing in order to maximise his money? 
So often we forget that our money, our talents, our possessions, our friends, our family, our time, even our faith are all counted out into our hands by our Heavenly Father. Everything we have is a gift from him and that realisation should, could transform the way we live. That is why turning to God in prayer each day and THANKING him for things is healthy. Grace before a meal reminds us that ultimately our food comes from Him. Turning to him in prayer amidst our personal successes and failures acknowledges that these things are in his control and come from him, not us. Jesus counts out into our open hands our time and talent and all that we have. We can live lives of thankful service in response.

One final point before we finish with the third servant. You will notice that he wrapped his mina in a piece of cloth and buried it. A safe option! 
In contrast the other two servants invest their mina. And as anyone knows any kind of business involves risk. Generally the greater the risk the greater the reward or loss.
Is there something of that in the Christian life? In Luke 9:24 Jesus says: ‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it’. 
Serving God involves an element of risk. 
When we tell people that we are a Christian we risk our reputation.
When we give our money back to God via the church or a charity or someone in need we risk our financial security.
When we chose to invest everything in have in following Christ, if it turns out to be untrue we risk wating our life. Jesus calls us to risky living. 
Just like Noah building a great carcass of a boat on a plain that hadn’t seen water in decades sometimes our faith can seem a step too far. The parable assures us that it will not be in vain.


So, finally, what of the third servant? There are two quick questions I want to examine together: 1. Who does the servant represent? And 2. What is the servant’s motivation? How can we understand him?
Let’s return to the text from verse 20:
‘Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ 
His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow?’ Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas’.


There is some debate amongst Bible scholars as to the status of the third servant. Who does he represent?
Is he like those, in the Parable of the Sower in Luke chapter 8, who are found among the path or rock or thorns? Those who hear and accept the Jesus’ message but for different reasons fall away and are not saved?
Or alternatively is the third servant a Christian who is left with nothing as a result of her fruitless life but still saved by grace?
I would tend towards the second view. It seems clear from a reading of verses 26 and verse 27 that the judgement and fate of the third servant is different from the subjects in verse 27. The servant has his mina taken from him. The subjects have their very lives taken from them. The servant is left with nothing but the implication is that he is still saved by grace.
I was reminded of a passage in 1 Corinthians which speaks along similar lines.
1 Corinthians 3: 9-15:

‘If anyone builds on this foundation (Jesus Christ) using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up the builder will suffer loss, but yet will be saved – even though only as one escaping through the flames.’


And finally what is the servant’s motivation? Is the master overly harsh with him? What leads the servant to view his master as a hard man? 
Imagine you are this third servant. You are called into your master – ‘here is a portion of my wealth’ he tells you ‘invest it until I return’. You return home and ponder. Why would I spend my time and effort earning an absent boss money? Just bury it. And if he ever does come back – he probably won’t, most people hate him round here – I can return his money. In the meantime I can get on with my life. Making my own money. Keeping my own money. Spending and enjoying my own money.

Is it this which is behind the servant’s complaint that the master is ‘a hard man, taking out what he does not put in, reaping what he does not sow’? The third servant expects that if his master does return he will take back his money leaving him with nothing. All that time and effort wasted just to make someone else richer. 
In fact the master’s return reveals him to be kind, encouraging and extremely generous. The first and second servants are rewarded for their small acts of service with exponentially greater gifts of position, privilege and responsibility – the rule of ten and five whole cities respectively.
The fate of the third servants is a stern warning to us to invest all that God has given us in his service. It won’t be wasted it will be rewarded. If we channel our time into our own agendas at the expense of God’s we will be left with nothing. 



Jesus Christ is not a hard, severe judge but a kind gentle Saviour, waiting for us, ready to greet you and me with the words ‘well done, my good servant!’. Our small acts of service will be rewarded with such generosity that our breath will be taken away. This parable pleads with us not to waste our lives and regret it. 
CS Lewis in his book the Weight of Glory says: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Invest your life in following Jesus and you will be richly rewarded!
Let’s pray

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager Luke 16:1-13

I moved to London in 1996 to start university, and after my first year in halls of residence I moved to rent somewhere with some friends in the east end. One of my other friends at the same time, aged 19, bought a house in Bow, ex-council house, not lovely but quite big and a good location, and he lived there for a few years with friends. I remember thinking ‘wow, that seems a bit of a headache, having to be a landlord’, boilers breaking, medical students spilling beer or vomiting on the carpets. 3 years later when he qualified as a doctor, he bought another house, this time a Victorian terrace. The first one had cost him 70k, and the second 140k. He held onto them for 10yrs or so, and made an absolute fortune when he sold them. Both of them had gone up 7-8x in value – he was a millionaire, aged 25. It had been a very shrewd investment. At that point, I was wishing I’d done the same.

 

Well, in this parable called the ‘shrewd manager’, Jesus looks at what is a shrewd investment.

 

So in this parable we’ve got this dishonest manager who works for a very rich man. His role would have been to manage all his affairs, to invest his money, make positive returns, to run his household, to organise his staff, to sort out his pension – a bit like a Carson from Downton Abbey or an Alfred to Bruce Wayne (Batman)… But it transpires that this man has been lazy and wasteful (v.1 – he was ‘accused of wasting his possessions’) and the master finds out about this. 

 

So v.2 the master calls him in, asks him to explain himself and gives him his marching orders, but with a 3-mth notice period ‘you cannot be my manager any longer’.

 

This is a very big deal in those days; it is likely that he would have lived with his master, so losing his job would also have made him homeless. There would have been no job seekers allowance, no benefits system. So the manager is clearly very anxious, v3. He says to himself 'what shall I do now?' I am in my 50s - I am not going to be able to dig for a living, I’ve got a bad back, and I certainly don’t want to start begging – that’d be way too humiliating, imagine my friends walking past – how awkward.

 

So he comes up with a cunning plan v.4 ‘I know what I’ll do so that when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses’. 

In Black Adder, Baldrick, would often say these words ‘I have a cunning plan’, which was always entertaining as the cunning plan was usually so stupid…

 

And similarly what this manager decides to do is so outrageous, he calls in some of the people who owe his master money.

The first man comes in – you can picture how they are feeling, queueing up outside the managers office, perhaps fearful that they’ll be demanded to pay the debt in full, maybe thrown in prison if they can’t do it.

 

The first man owes 800 gallons of olive oil - that makes a lot of salad dressing, and that amount is thought to have cost around 3y wages for an average man – but to his surprise, the manager slashes the debt by 50% v.6 ‘take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it 400’. You can imagine him stifling a shriek of delight, as he quickly gets his chequebook out before the offer is withdrawn.

 

The second man comes in, he owes even more: a thousand bushels of wheat, that would have cost the equivalent of 9y salary. And again this man is given a huge discount – this time 20% off.

 

But as each of these men leave, the manager hands them his business card, ‘by the way, I’m looking for a job…’

 

Can you see what the manager is doing? He is following through with his plan in v.4, he is acting to make friends for himself: so that ‘people will welcome me into their houses’.

 

Now perhaps the thing that makes this parable slightly quirky and hard to relate to is the rather unexpected response of the Master in v.8 'the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly’ – really, commended him? We would have expected the Master to be outraged. His dishonest lazy manager in the last few days of his work for him has ripped him off and lost him a lot more money.

 

I recently been watching the American drama The House of Cards, and it’s about a politician named Francis Underwood rise to power. His strategies to make it to the top are not very commendable – they include bribery, corruption, murder, blackmail… He is successful and his methods are effective, but as you watch, he’s so unpleasant, you’re unsure if you want him to succeed or not.

 

Similarly here, the hero of the story, the person we are called to emulate and copy in some way, is also not likeable… so why is Jesus telling this parable, what are we to learn from it?

 

I have 3 points that I think Jesus makes in the passage: a better perspective, better stewards, a better master.

 

The first point: ‘A better perspective’ v.8-9

 

But what is he commended for? 

v.8: ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly’ - what he is doing is using money in the present to secure his future after this job is finished. The parallel for us is to use our money and resources in this life to invest in our future; our eternal futures.

 

We get this from v.9 ‘I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings’

 

What he is commended for is that he puts money into something more valuable – friendships.

There are no investments, bonds, ISAs or money from property that will really last, Jesus spells this out in v.9: ‘when it is gone’, the only thing we can take with us into the new creation is people. Jesus is encouraging us to put our money towards things that will last forever, things might result in people coming to heaven. 

 

One man who did this was John Laing. He was in the construction industry and when he died in 1978, his firm was one of the largest in the country – you’ve probably seen the signs on new buildings: Laing O’Rourke (it merged after his death). His firm built the M1 motorway and Sizewell nuclear power station. 

 

When he was in his 20s, he made a vow that as his personal income increased, his standard of living would stay the same and it would be his giving which would increase.

He never talked about his giving but we know now that he helped to bankroll what we now call UCCF (a charity that works to make Jesus known in universities).  

He also built churches, theological colleges, pastors homes - all for free.

He would drop into the UCCF offices each week, asking the same question:

'How many students have become Christians this week?'

When John Laing died in 1978 his firm was worth millions and millions

But his own estate was worth a paltry £381

He was investing in something far more worthwhile – he was investing his money to help secure people many people’s eternal homes. 

 

So how are we to use our money and resources? Jesus is encouraging us to use them for things that will really last – that means using our money, our resources and our homes towards things that will develop relationships where we can share the good news of the gospel, maybe that involves opening up our homes to our friends, or eating out with people, being generous and kind with what we have, showing that we value them and time with them is important to us and worth investing in. It might also involve giving our money to organisations and charities that are working to make Jesus known in this country and around the world.

 

v.9: ‘use your worldly wealth to gain friends, so that when it is gone, you may be welcomed into eternal dwellings’

 

Can you imagine the welcome that John Laing received into heaven from all those he helped to bring to Christ through his generous giving. You probably wouldn’t hear many people talking about this sort of investment as ‘shrewd’ in today’s society, would you. 

 

Jim Elliott, was an American missionary to South America, and he was killed by a tribe there that he was working with, he said: ‘He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’ rpt

 

The Cambridge dictionary’s definition of shrewdness is ‘the ability to judge people and situations well and make good decisions’. Surely this is shrewd business, to use our resources to invest in the eternal futures of those around us. 

 

Have you ever tried to imagine the concept of eternity? I find it quite hard to get my head around – it will never end, everything we know here in this life is temporary and will come to an end. But imagine the new creation, eternity in paradise, a world of perfect friendships, love, never any sadness, crying or pain and we’ll be with our Lord, and this will continue for ever – would we consider this to be shrewd. When we are there, we will never for one moment regret giving generously of our time, resources and money to the eternal futures of other people.

 

What is the reason that we have this better perspective

 

Well, it is the Lord Jesus Christ -he embodies the message of verse 9

Here is the author of Creation, the eternal Son of God

All riches are his, all power belongs to him

And yet he gave up his home in heaven and lived and died among us. He clothed his power with weakness.

All so that we might become friends with God

And enjoy an eternal home with him

 

So that’s the first point, a better perspective – that’s the longest one.

 

-the second point, I’ve titled Better stewards v.10-12

So in this parable, the Master clearly represents God, and the manager represents people entrusted with God’s possessions. 

 

The word for manager here is the Greek word: oikanamos, which means manager or steward. So the point Jesus makes is a reminder that we are stewards of God’s possessions. 

 

I wonder whether we really believe this- if we really believe that everything we have is God’s, not ours.

If I’m honest, when there’s a sermon on money & giving, some of the emotions evoked would be those of guilt and discomfort, as I think about what more I can spare from my meagre bank balance?

 

I say to myself: ‘I earned this money, I worked very hard for it’ 

we need to remember…

Who gave us our jobs? Who gave us health so we can do our work? Who gave us our skills/intelligence? Who placed us in these circumstances? - you can be sure that you if we were born in S.Sudan, that we wouldn’t have the same level of wealth.

 

No, the point Jesus is making in this parable is that we are stewards of God’s possessions - everything we have belongs to god, and that he is entrusting these things to us for a time to see if we can be trustworthy and responsible with them.

see v.10 ‘whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, whoever is dishonest with little will be dishonest with much’

 

It’s almost as if this life is a test – can we be trusted to use well the things God has loaned us in the 70-80yrs that we have in this life (maybe less) – v.11 ‘if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches’ – true riches again is speaking about eternity in paradise.

 

So what does being trustworthy mean? 

Well I think this covers our use of money both in terms of honesty and also using it responsibly:

- our honesty – we are to pay people what we owe them, not to swindle people, to be honest with our tax returns – this is a good witness, remember we are managing our masters goods here – we want to give him a good name.

 

A couple of years ago I was paid a consultancy fee for a day’s work in a private firm who were developing gastroenterology services, and I received a small fee for my work. A few months later I was paid large lump sums on 2 consecutive months – each time I informed them and paid it back – it transpired that they had another R Palmer working there (she had also been paid). Then it happened again two months later… now they were a very big firm, very successful, I don’t think they’d have missed the money, it would have been a drop in the ocean for them, it was very tempting just to see if they noticed… a big test on my honesty. I did pay it back – of course, I was secretly hoping that they’d be so impressed with my integrity, that they’d tell me to keep the cash – they didn’t!

 

So trustworthiness involves honesty, but also our responsible use of money – we are not to be wasteful – in some circles Christians view money as something evil just to get rid of (asceticism) – well, that’s not right (the manager in the parable was fired for being wasteful)

 

We are to be wise with money.

It is ok for us to try to earn as much as we can (through honest means), so that we can use it well – money is hugely important for church work.

When this church began we fundraised and raised >100k to develop the church hall, which can be used to serve our local community and to make Jesus known. 

Many of you will know that this church is a second generation church plant from St Helens Bishopsgate, which is in the city of London, and has a number of very wealthy bankers in their congregation. Through their generosity, St Helens have planted 13 churches since 2001 to create vibrant bible-teaching churches all around London. 

Gospel work is hugely expensive, spending on building and staff and wouldn’t be possible without Christians earning money and using it for eternal purposes.

 

That’s our second point, we are called to be better stewards, but we do need to beware – always the danger is that money can become our Master, our god, and this brings us onto our final point – ‘A better Master’

 

Look at v.13: ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.’

 

Jesus speaks a lot about money in the NT, as it has such potential to tip over from being a good thing God gives us to use well, to something that controls and masters us. This is called idolatry.

 

Maybe you can recognise times when money can begin to master us.

 

Tim Keller writes about this in his book Counterfeit Gods:

He talks about there being ‘deep idols’ within our hearts, such as power, approval, comfort or control, which sit beneath the more concrete and visible ‘surface idols’, such as money, spouses, children, careers. He says ‘Some people want lots of money as a way to control their world and life. Such people usually don’t spend much money and live very modestly. They keep it all safely saved and invested, so they can feel completely secure in the world. Others want money for access to social circles and to make themselves beautiful and attractive. These people do spend money on themselves in lavish ways. Other people want money as it gives them so much power over others. In every case, money functions as an idol and yet, because of various deep idols, it results in very different patterns of behaviour’

 

Can you identify yourself in any of these patterns? I imagine all of us are prone to money becoming our idol at times.

 

Money is a terrible master – it dictates our status, our significance and our security.

It tells us our status is tied to our job

It tells us our significance is in our pay grade

It tells us our security is in our savings

- and we’ll for ever feel anxious as there will always be others in a better place than us

 

Steve Jobs was the CEO of Apple - one of the greatest innovators and businessmen of this age – he died in 2011 and some of his final words are quite striking:

“I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success.

However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to.

At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death. 

In the darkness, I look at the green lights from the life supporting machines and hear the humming mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of death drawing closer…

Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth…

Should be something that is more important:

Perhaps relationships, perhaps art, perhaps a dream from younger days

Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me.

God gave us the senses to let us feel the love in everyone’s heart, not the illusions brought about by wealth.

The wealth I have won in my life I cannot bring with me. 

 

Money is a terrible master.

 

But God is a good master. For those who are forgiven in Christ, he freely gives to us:

A status in his family: being loved children of God

A significance in his kingdom, being in relationship with our Maker and with one another

A security in heaven, which can never be lost

 

 

Prayer

Lord, we thank you that through the death of your son that you have made us your children and secured for us a wonderful eternal future. We ask for your help, that for the years that you give us here in this world, that we’d be responsible and faithful stewards with the money and resources that you’ve entrusted to us, and keep us from ever allowing it become our master. Help us to be free to give generously in order to help bring others with us to our eternal home with you.

Amen

 

Weekend Away 4. Hosea 2:14-23. The True Marriage

Introduction: the promise of happiness

A while ago I went to a wedding of a good friend. It was a lovely day – very musical day – he is musical and he sang a song at the reception – “Happiness, is just around corner.”  

 

Perhaps a little idealistic we might say. But – what we all want isn’t it – to be happy. To be fulfilled, secure, content. We’ve mentioned through our talks that lots of things around us offer that to us. It’s how most adverts work – you get a picture of a happy, fulfilled, contented life in some form – or a bit of it. If you only you get the right perfume, car, holiday. Same can go with jobs or possessions or pleasures.

 

But probably the most common place we look for that happiness and fulfilment are relationships. Marriage perhaps – or children – family – friends. 

 

God is making a similar promise to us in Hosea – he’s promising us something that will give us what we want – something will satisfy, fulfil and bring true happiness. And our instinct is right – it is about relationships – he is offering us a relationship that will give what we’re searching for. 

 

As we come to finish Hosea, the question for all of us – is who will we believe? Which promise will we trust, who will we be faithful to?

 

We saw earlier that despite Israel’s adultery, God still loved her, and in his love he promised to marry her again.  

 

Now we might think – but why marry her again, surely she’s going to do the same thing? What’s going to be different time?  

 

The point of this last talk is that as God remarries Israel – he acts to make it different. God changes things so it’s a true marriage – everything a marriage should be. First of all,

 

1) God will make his new bride faithful in relationship, Hosea 2v16-20, 14v4

2v16 READ – the day of the new marriage.  Look at footnote – ‘my Baal’. As Israel committed adultery – as she gave her trust and worship to Baal – she was still worshipping her God, Yahweh, as well. But she sometimes got them mixed up – and called Yahweh Baal. 

 

It’s a terrible thought – calling your spouse by the wrong name. Imagine an unfaithful husband saying to his wife - Do you want to go out Saturday night, Alison? I mean Susan. 

 

But that terrible state is going to change, v16 she’ll no longer call me baal. Why? What makes the difference? 

 

V17 READ – or no longer will their names be remembered. So God is going to act - and take away the name of Baal from Israel’s lips. He’ll even wipe their memory – so that they won’t remember his name. And then as a devoted lover, Israel will only have eyes for, or a name for, one God – her true husband. 

 

In other words God is going to make his bride faithful to him. 

 

We see the same thing in v19-20 READ. 

 

There are the qualities in perfect marriage – full of faithfulness and love. Now God has always been like that – but he’s going to act to make his marriage like this – Israel is faithful too. 

 

One last reference, 14:4 – having invited them to repent, God then says, READ. 

 

This is the heart of Israel’s problem in the old marriage – she has the disease of waywardness, of turning away from God. Another verse in Hosea says, “A spirit of prostitution is in their hearts” – Israel is ill in her spirit. She is addicted to adultery. It’s a habit she can’t kick.

 

But in the new marriage God says, I will heal her - I will make her whole and healthy with faithfulness.

 

A while ago I read a book describing the current developments in biotechnology. Popular explanation of some of the amazing things that might become possible.  

 

How we might discover the cancer gene, the heart disease genes - and how we will have enormous power and ability to cure ourselves and put ourselves right. 

 

However the book had a real concern about all this as well – because in the history of humanity we have always abused that sort of power. Commercial exploitation, social inequality, ethical misdemeanours. 

 

Interesting conjunction – this enormous power to put ourselves right physically – yet at the same time a complete inability to do the right thing. We have if you like a spiritual gene – we have a spirit of prostitution. We treat other things as god and so do things wrong. And we are unable to eradicate or replace that gene.  

 

But God says, in this new marriage, I’m going to heal you. I’m going to do spiritual surgery on my new bride – I’m going to remove this addiction to adultery. I’m going to act in you so that you are faithful to me, and will only have my name on your lips.

 

God will make his new bride faithful in relationship.

 

2) God will give his new bride fabulous riches, Hosea 2v21-23, 14v5-8

Second difference is that in this new marriage, God will give his new bride fabulous riches.  

 

2v21-22 READ. 

 

The word ‘respond’ here means acting in response to a need. And Israel – as they face God’s judgement, are in great need. 

 

There is no rain, no food. They have been defeated by Assyria, people been killed and deported. The land, the nation, is dead. You could sum that up with the word Jezreel – that was the valley where Assyria defeated Israel – so is symbolic of this death.  

 

But God will respond to this need – first to the skies, sky will respond to the need of the earth for water by sending rain. Earth will respond to the need for grain and wine and oil, by producing crops.  

 

All this will respond to the need of Jezreel – because it will bring the nation back to life. God will plant Israel in the land – and she will grow – in crops, in wine, in oil, as a nation, she will grow and become all she was meant to be.

 

See similar thing back in chp 14v5-8 READ.

 

I don’t know if we’re a bit too urban to get this imagery.

 

V5 Israel will blossom like the lily – a beautiful nation.

 

V5 she will be like a cedar sending down roots. Idea is that she will be secure and strong.

 

V6 Splendour like an olive tree – she will be majestic, awesome as a nation.

 

V6 ‘fragrance like a cedar’ – Israel will be attractive and desirable.  

 

God is promising to make Israel – secure, strong, fruitful and prosperous, majestic and wonderful.  

 

Of course that what Israel wanted. She longed for good crops and wine and the rest of it – but she went to Baal and Assyria for them. 

 

But the truth is, all these riches belong to God – and as he makes her faithful to him – he then showers these riches on her. 

 

It’s like Indecent Proposal – last time – my adapted version. Demi Moore married to Robert Redford who is fabulously wealthy. The affair with Woody has been exposed – Redford has left her to Woody and she’s seen he has nothing to offer – and then he takes he back – she’s faithful to him – she can’t even remember Woody’s name – and so he showers her with riches. All she wanted before – all that Woody use to promise her – she is has from her true husband.

 

So too God will make his bride faithful – and then pour out all these fabulous riches on her – crops, oil, wine, people. He is going to lavish wedding gifts on her, and make her life so rich and abundant, she couldn’t even ask for more.  

 

Of course the most wonderful thing, at the heart of all this – is simply that this new bride will know God.

 

2v23 READ. These are lovers talking to each other – saying, you are mine, and I am yours. We belong to each other – we know each other – we are united in relationship together.

 

We said earlier – this return – this remarriage – happens through Jesus. He comes as a bridegroom to love us – to win us back – to die for us – and bring us into a relationship with God – which is the true marriage. Number 3, 

 

3) God makes us his new bride in Christ, Ephesians 5:25-27

Let’s look at Ephesians 5. Here Paul talks about marriage and how Christ is a model to follow – for instance v25 READ. V28 READ. 

 

Then he goes on to say v31 READ. Now that is a quote from Genesis 2 – and in Genesis 2 it describing Adam and Eve and their human marriage. 

 

Then Paul says v32 READ.

 

Paul is saying that this quote from Genesis 2 – that describes human marriage – what it’s really talking about is the divine marriage between Christ and his church.  

 

Now you may be familiar with this – I don’t know – but the Bible says human marriage is actually a picture of the true marriage – ultimate marriage. That is the relationship between Christ and his church. 

 

Here is the fulfilment of Hosea – God promises to come to marry his people again – God promises to act to make his bride faithful and to pour out his riches on her. That happens through Jesus. 

 

That happens in part now. 

 

V25-27 READ. We have been made faithful by Christ’s death. Not faithful in how we behave we still do things wrong, but he has taken away all our wrong and our sin in his death. So we are now holy, perfect – faithful. God can look at us and see us as a faithful, perfect bride. And he’s changing us to be more faithful – by his Spirit. He’s doing that spiritual surgery in us – taking out that spiritual gene of adultery – so we are faithful to him. 

 

And we see that Christ gives us fabulous riches too - v29 READ. Hosea said God would care for his bride – now we see Christ feeds and cares for us as his own body. And he does that as he feeds us spiritually and helps us to grow in knowledge of him and being like him. 

 

Yet of course, we are well aware, our marriage with Christ is far from perfect. In many ways we are still waiting for Hosea to be fulfilled – we’re still waiting for the wedding day God promises. And the Bible says it’s coming. 

 

4) God makes us fully his bride in the new creation, Revelation 21&22

21v1,2 READ. Christ will return and God will bring about a new creation, a whole new world. But it’s described as a wedding. God’s people are the bride. Christ is the groom. And they are going to married – it’s like now we’re just engaged. Here is the wedding day when we are united. And Hosea is completely fulfilled. So,

 

God’s bride is now completely faithful – 21v9-10 READ. The imagery changes a little – the bride is the city, which is the people of God. But v11 READ.  

 

This is a transformed bride – now perfectly pure, shining with God’s glory – reflecting his character and faithfulness. Later in 22v3 we read that the people of God serve him in the city – don’t serve anyone else, because they’ve been made perfectly faithful to him.

 

And so God gives his bride fabulous riches. First of all every that spoils has been banished from this city. 21v4 READ.

 

We can also see it positively – this city is everything a city could possibly be. V12 says it has a great high wall showing its security. It is made of every kind of precious stone – just look at v18, or v21 READ.  

 

The language is being stretched to try and describe just how majestic, how desirable, how fabulous this city is. 

 

You know this language of precious stones is also used of the prostitute in Revelation, the anti-God world – who seem to have all the riches of the world. But now we see – what the world wanted, and tried to get – actually comes from God. He is the source of all riches. And now he showers them on his bride.

 

Most of all – the heart of all this – is that we will know God. 21v3 READ. 22v4 READ. It’s the wedding day – the bride is finally with her husband, and they are united in intimate, profound, union with each other. It’s the perfect relationship – it’s what we always wanted. 

 

A while ago I read about a TV programme in the States called, who wants to marry a millionaire? A millionaire selected his bride from about 50 contestants – then they were married on TV.  

 

However, before all that happened – there was a prenuptial contract signed – stating that if the marriage broke up the bride wouldn’t be able to claim any of his money. 

 

That sums up the low point we can reach in our relationships – not really trusting each other.  Not really giving ourselves to each other – not really loving each other.  

 

Human marriage, at its best, points to this divine marriage. At its worst – makes us long for this divine marriage – because we are fed up with the disappointment, loneliness, the hurt and the pain of life here. We long for a perfect relationship – which gives us all we really want.  

 

On this wedding day, there will be no prenuptial contract – because this marriage will never end.  There will be no going off with other partners – because this marriage will be utterly faithful.  There will be no holding back – of possessions, or love – because Christ will give us all his riches – all of himself.

 

There will nothing left to do – but to enjoy the relationship. To enter an eternal honeymoon of perfect relationship. 

 

Application

 

I said at the start we all want happiness, fulfilment, meaning and security. 

 

And lots of things around us offer us something of that. Jobs, fashion, beauty, possessions, homes, pleasures and entertainment. 

 

They aren’t wrong things – just won’t give us all you want. Because they are not god. Not enough.

 

Our instinct is often that we will get it in relationships - friends, family, a partner. Because the heart of what we want is to love and be loved isn’t it. To know and be known. To be valued and enjoyed. And to have some to love and enjoy and know. 

 

 

 

 

But again while relationships are good - they only give us a taste of that fulfilment we want. And sometimes much less as we hurt and disappoint each other. 

 

But God – being married and united to God. Being loved by him – to death. Being made rich by him. Knowing him. Being known by him. See his face. That is it. That is what we want. That is what we were made for. That is what life is about. As we see that – as we believe that - we give ourselves to him – to knowing him and growing in him and serving him – and being faithful to him now. 

 

 

 

Sometimes people get married – and then for various reasons - down the track they renew their marriage vows. They remind themselves, and then recommit and reinforce their vows. 

 

In a few minutes we’re going to have the Lord’s supper. And this is a bit like renewing our marriage vows with Jesus. 

 

As we eat and drink it’s as though Jesus says to us:

 

All that I am I give to you – all that I have I share with you. 

 

He has given himself for us – that’s how much he loves us. And he shares with us all of his riches – his forgiveness, his righteousness, most of all he shares himself. 

 

And as we eat and drink it’s as though we say to him:

 

I receive your love – I receive you. And I give myself to you. All that I am is yours. Forsaking all others – all other gods, all other idols that promise so much - I’ll be faithful to you as long as I live. 

 

Let’s use communion to renew our vows with Jesus. 

The True Marriage

 

SBD Weekend July 2018

Hosea 2:14-23

 

Introduction: the promise of happiness

A while ago I went to a wedding of a good friend. It was a lovely day – very musical day – he is musical and he sang a song at the reception – “Happiness, is just around corner.”  

 

Perhaps a little idealistic we might say. But – what we all want isn’t it – to be happy. To be fulfilled, secure, content. We’ve mentioned through our talks that lots of things around us offer that to us. It’s how most adverts work – you get a picture of a happy, fulfilled, contented life in some form – or a bit of it. If you only you get the right perfume, car, holiday. Same can go with jobs or possessions or pleasures.

 

But probably the most common place we look for that happiness and fulfilment are relationships. Marriage perhaps – or children – family – friends. 

 

God is making a similar promise to us in Hosea – he’s promising us something that will give us what we want – something will satisfy, fulfil and bring true happiness. And our instinct is right – it is about relationships – he is offering us a relationship that will give what we’re searching for. 

 

As we come to finish Hosea, the question for all of us – is who will we believe? Which promise will we trust, who will we be faithful to?

 

We saw earlier that despite Israel’s adultery, God still loved her, and in his love he promised to marry her again.  

 

Now we might think – but why marry her again, surely she’s going to do the same thing? What’s going to be different time?  

 

The point of this last talk is that as God remarries Israel – he acts to make it different. God changes things so it’s a true marriage – everything a marriage should be. First of all,

 

1) God will make his new bride faithful in relationship, Hosea 2v16-20, 14v4

2v16 READ – the day of the new marriage.  Look at footnote – ‘my Baal’. As Israel committed adultery – as she gave her trust and worship to Baal – she was still worshipping her God, Yahweh, as well. But she sometimes got them mixed up – and called Yahweh Baal. 

 

It’s a terrible thought – calling your spouse by the wrong name. Imagine an unfaithful husband saying to his wife - Do you want to go out Saturday night, Alison? I mean Susan. 

 

But that terrible state is going to change, v16 she’ll no longer call me baal. Why? What makes the difference? 

 

V17 READ – or no longer will their names be remembered. So God is going to act - and take away the name of Baal from Israel’s lips. He’ll even wipe their memory – so that they won’t remember his name. And then as a devoted lover, Israel will only have eyes for, or a name for, one God – her true husband. 

 

In other words God is going to make his bride faithful to him. 

 

We see the same thing in v19-20 READ. 

 

There are the qualities in perfect marriage – full of faithfulness and love. Now God has always been like that – but he’s going to act to make his marriage like this – Israel is faithful too. 

 

One last reference, 14:4 – having invited them to repent, God then says, READ. 

 

This is the heart of Israel’s problem in the old marriage – she has the disease of waywardness, of turning away from God. Another verse in Hosea says, “A spirit of prostitution is in their hearts” – Israel is ill in her spirit. She is addicted to adultery. It’s a habit she can’t kick.

 

But in the new marriage God says, I will heal her - I will make her whole and healthy with faithfulness.

 

A while ago I read a book describing the current developments in biotechnology. Popular explanation of some of the amazing things that might become possible.  

 

How we might discover the cancer gene, the heart disease genes - and how we will have enormous power and ability to cure ourselves and put ourselves right. 

 

However the book had a real concern about all this as well – because in the history of humanity we have always abused that sort of power. Commercial exploitation, social inequality, ethical misdemeanours. 

 

Interesting conjunction – this enormous power to put ourselves right physically – yet at the same time a complete inability to do the right thing. We have if you like a spiritual gene – we have a spirit of prostitution. We treat other things as god and so do things wrong. And we are unable to eradicate or replace that gene.  

 

But God says, in this new marriage, I’m going to heal you. I’m going to do spiritual surgery on my new bride – I’m going to remove this addiction to adultery. I’m going to act in you so that you are faithful to me, and will only have my name on your lips.

 

God will make his new bride faithful in relationship.

 

2) God will give his new bride fabulous riches, Hosea 2v21-23, 14v5-8

Second difference is that in this new marriage, God will give his new bride fabulous riches.  

 

2v21-22 READ. 

 

The word ‘respond’ here means acting in response to a need. And Israel – as they face God’s judgement, are in great need. 

 

There is no rain, no food. They have been defeated by Assyria, people been killed and deported. The land, the nation, is dead. You could sum that up with the word Jezreel – that was the valley where Assyria defeated Israel – so is symbolic of this death.  

 

But God will respond to this need – first to the skies, sky will respond to the need of the earth for water by sending rain. Earth will respond to the need for grain and wine and oil, by producing crops.  

 

All this will respond to the need of Jezreel – because it will bring the nation back to life. God will plant Israel in the land – and she will grow – in crops, in wine, in oil, as a nation, she will grow and become all she was meant to be.

 

See similar thing back in chp 14v5-8 READ.

 

I don’t know if we’re a bit too urban to get this imagery.

 

V5 Israel will blossom like the lily – a beautiful nation.

 

V5 she will be like a cedar sending down roots. Idea is that she will be secure and strong.

 

V6 Splendour like an olive tree – she will be majestic, awesome as a nation.

 

V6 ‘fragrance like a cedar’ – Israel will be attractive and desirable.  

 

God is promising to make Israel – secure, strong, fruitful and prosperous, majestic and wonderful.  

 

Of course that what Israel wanted. She longed for good crops and wine and the rest of it – but she went to Baal and Assyria for them. 

 

But the truth is, all these riches belong to God – and as he makes her faithful to him – he then showers these riches on her. 

 

It’s like Indecent Proposal – last time – my adapted version. Demi Moore married to Robert Redford who is fabulously wealthy. The affair with Woody has been exposed – Redford has left her to Woody and she’s seen he has nothing to offer – and then he takes he back – she’s faithful to him – she can’t even remember Woody’s name – and so he showers her with riches. All she wanted before – all that Woody use to promise her – she is has from her true husband.

 

So too God will make his bride faithful – and then pour out all these fabulous riches on her – crops, oil, wine, people. He is going to lavish wedding gifts on her, and make her life so rich and abundant, she couldn’t even ask for more.  

 

Of course the most wonderful thing, at the heart of all this – is simply that this new bride will know God.

 

2v23 READ. These are lovers talking to each other – saying, you are mine, and I am yours. We belong to each other – we know each other – we are united in relationship together.

 

We said earlier – this return – this remarriage – happens through Jesus. He comes as a bridegroom to love us – to win us back – to die for us – and bring us into a relationship with God – which is the true marriage. Number 3, 

 

3) God makes us his new bride in Christ, Ephesians 5:25-27

Let’s look at Ephesians 5. Here Paul talks about marriage and how Christ is a model to follow – for instance v25 READ. V28 READ. 

 

Then he goes on to say v31 READ. Now that is a quote from Genesis 2 – and in Genesis 2 it describing Adam and Eve and their human marriage. 

 

Then Paul says v32 READ.

 

Paul is saying that this quote from Genesis 2 – that describes human marriage – what it’s really talking about is the divine marriage between Christ and his church.  

 

Now you may be familiar with this – I don’t know – but the Bible says human marriage is actually a picture of the true marriage – ultimate marriage. That is the relationship between Christ and his church. 

 

Here is the fulfilment of Hosea – God promises to come to marry his people again – God promises to act to make his bride faithful and to pour out his riches on her. That happens through Jesus. 

 

That happens in part now. 

 

V25-27 READ. We have been made faithful by Christ’s death. Not faithful in how we behave we still do things wrong, but he has taken away all our wrong and our sin in his death. So we are now holy, perfect – faithful. God can look at us and see us as a faithful, perfect bride. And he’s changing us to be more faithful – by his Spirit. He’s doing that spiritual surgery in us – taking out that spiritual gene of adultery – so we are faithful to him. 

 

And we see that Christ gives us fabulous riches too - v29 READ. Hosea said God would care for his bride – now we see Christ feeds and cares for us as his own body. And he does that as he feeds us spiritually and helps us to grow in knowledge of him and being like him. 

 

Yet of course, we are well aware, our marriage with Christ is far from perfect. In many ways we are still waiting for Hosea to be fulfilled – we’re still waiting for the wedding day God promises. And the Bible says it’s coming. 

 

4) God makes us fully his bride in the new creation, Revelation 21&22

21v1,2 READ. Christ will return and God will bring about a new creation, a whole new world. But it’s described as a wedding. God’s people are the bride. Christ is the groom. And they are going to married – it’s like now we’re just engaged. Here is the wedding day when we are united. And Hosea is completely fulfilled. So,

 

God’s bride is now completely faithful – 21v9-10 READ. The imagery changes a little – the bride is the city, which is the people of God. But v11 READ.  

 

This is a transformed bride – now perfectly pure, shining with God’s glory – reflecting his character and faithfulness. Later in 22v3 we read that the people of God serve him in the city – don’t serve anyone else, because they’ve been made perfectly faithful to him.

 

And so God gives his bride fabulous riches. First of all every that spoils has been banished from this city. 21v4 READ.

 

We can also see it positively – this city is everything a city could possibly be. V12 says it has a great high wall showing its security. It is made of every kind of precious stone – just look at v18, or v21 READ.  

 

The language is being stretched to try and describe just how majestic, how desirable, how fabulous this city is. 

 

You know this language of precious stones is also used of the prostitute in Revelation, the anti-God world – who seem to have all the riches of the world. But now we see – what the world wanted, and tried to get – actually comes from God. He is the source of all riches. And now he showers them on his bride.

 

Most of all – the heart of all this – is that we will know God. 21v3 READ. 22v4 READ. It’s the wedding day – the bride is finally with her husband, and they are united in intimate, profound, union with each other. It’s the perfect relationship – it’s what we always wanted. 

 

A while ago I read about a TV programme in the States called, who wants to marry a millionaire? A millionaire selected his bride from about 50 contestants – then they were married on TV.  

 

However, before all that happened – there was a prenuptial contract signed – stating that if the marriage broke up the bride wouldn’t be able to claim any of his money. 

 

That sums up the low point we can reach in our relationships – not really trusting each other.  Not really giving ourselves to each other – not really loving each other.  

 

Human marriage, at its best, points to this divine marriage. At its worst – makes us long for this divine marriage – because we are fed up with the disappointment, loneliness, the hurt and the pain of life here. We long for a perfect relationship – which gives us all we really want.  

 

On this wedding day, there will be no prenuptial contract – because this marriage will never end.  There will be no going off with other partners – because this marriage will be utterly faithful.  There will be no holding back – of possessions, or love – because Christ will give us all his riches – all of himself.

 

There will nothing left to do – but to enjoy the relationship. To enter an eternal honeymoon of perfect relationship. 

 

Application

 

I said at the start we all want happiness, fulfilment, meaning and security. 

 

And lots of things around us offer us something of that. Jobs, fashion, beauty, possessions, homes, pleasures and entertainment. 

 

They aren’t wrong things – just won’t give us all you want. Because they are not god. Not enough.

 

Our instinct is often that we will get it in relationships - friends, family, a partner. Because the heart of what we want is to love and be loved isn’t it. To know and be known. To be valued and enjoyed. And to have some to love and enjoy and know. 

 

 

 

 

But again while relationships are good - they only give us a taste of that fulfilment we want. And sometimes much less as we hurt and disappoint each other. 

 

But God – being married and united to God. Being loved by him – to death. Being made rich by him. Knowing him. Being known by him. See his face. That is it. That is what we want. That is what we were made for. That is what life is about. As we see that – as we believe that - we give ourselves to him – to knowing him and growing in him and serving him – and being faithful to him now. 

 

 

 

Sometimes people get married – and then for various reasons - down the track they renew their marriage vows. They remind themselves, and then recommit and reinforce their vows. 

 

In a few minutes we’re going to have the Lord’s supper. And this is a bit like renewing our marriage vows with Jesus. 

 

As we eat and drink it’s as though Jesus says to us:

 

All that I am I give to you – all that I have I share with you. 

 

He has given himself for us – that’s how much he loves us. And he shares with us all of his riches – his forgiveness, his righteousness, most of all he shares himself. 

 

And as we eat and drink it’s as though we say to him:

 

I receive your love – I receive you. And I give myself to you. All that I am is yours. Forsaking all others – all other gods, all other idols that promise so much - I’ll be faithful to you as long as I live. 

 

Let’s use communion to renew our vows with Jesus. 

 

Weekend Away 3. Hosea 11:8-11. The Lover

Introduction

I want us to see that God loves you with the most amazing, extraordinary, mad, counter intuitive, beyond belief, out of this world sort of love.

 

Let me tell you about another film – The Elephant man. It’s about a man called John Merrick. He was terribly deformed – had an enormous skull and facial disfigurement – hence called the elephant man. He was in a Victorian freak show – people paid money to see how horrible he was. 

 

The film is about how a doctor, Frederick Treves, befriends him, tries to help him. But at the same time when people see him they often find him horrible. At one point in the film he loses his covering over his face, and he gets chased by a crowd and cornered and he cries out, 

 

 "I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I ... am ... a ... man!"

 

  • We need love

He exemplifies two things. First – how we need to be loved. He receives very little love – he says he was such a disappointment to his mother. He’s constantly laughed at or abused. And consequently he barely functions as a human – he’s so scared and withdrawn – because he’s never been loved. When Treves and his wife are kind to him - we discover he’s actually a lovely person. Through knowing them he starts to come out of himself - and grow and flourish. 

 

He shows us how we need to be loved. We were made for loving relationships. And so to be secure in ourselves, to be happy with ourselves, to be fully ourselves – we need to be loved from outside ourselves. We need love.

 

  • We love what we find lovely

Secondly he highlights the rule that we love what we find lovely. He obviously gives us a negative example - he is far from lovely so he gets no love. But that’s the rule we work to – we love what is lovely. Often we love those who are physically lovely – a quick look at magazine covers shows how much we value appearance and beauty today. But it’s not just appearance, we love those who are interesting, or funny, successful, intelligent. We love what we find lovely.

 

That leads to a difficult place. We need love – but the way it works is – we love what we find lovely. So what if you’re not lovely? What if parts of your character are deformed and ugly? What happens then?

 

Like I said, I want us to see that God loves you with the most amazing, extraordinary, mad, counter intuitive, beyond belief, out of this world sort of love.

 

1) God loves the adulterous, Hosea 3v1-5, 11v8-11

We saw yesterday that Israel aren’t lovely in God’s sight. 11v1-2 READ. God had saved Israel from Egypt, made her his bride – but she sold her faith and trust to Baal. 

 

And consequently – God will punish them – 11v5-7 READ. 

 

It sounds like God is like us – he loves what he finds lovely. And Israel are horrible – monstrous in their love of other gods – and so he’s going to reject them. 

 

Then out of nowhere we get v8.

 

God says, I’m definitely going to reject you, end of v7 READ. 11:8 READ.  

 

He’s in the middle of rejecting them, when it’s as though his heart breaks, and his voice cracks – “that’s it, it’s over, and don’t bother coming back – oh, Israel, oh my people - how can I do that? How can I reject you?”

 

He says v8 - my heart is changed with me – literally it’s more, my heart is in turmoil – I’m in a complete state – because, end of v8, my compassion is aroused. I’m in the middle of rejecting you, but as I do that - my love is welling up in me – and so my heart is breaking at the thought of it. 

 

And so he says, v9 READ. My love is too great – I can’t do it – I can’t reject you as my people. 

 

He is like a parent – who says to a rebellious teenager, that’s it, I’m throwing you out – oh come here – you’re not going anywhere. He’s like a wife – who says to her promiscuous husband – it’s over, I’m divorcing you, get out – the next moment, breaks into tears and says ‘I want you to stay’.

 

It is an amazing revelation of God’s heart. To see - the thought of rejecting us, breaks God’s heart – because he loves us so.

 

  • Once again acted out by Hosea and Gomer: Hosea 3v1-2

Hosea himself has to embody and act out this truth about God’s love. We saw how Hosea had to marry an adulterous women – to illustrate how Israel have treated God. But in chp 3:1-2 READ.  

 

It seems Hosea’s wife is owned by someone else – she has gone off with her lover, even become someone’s slave. Hosea has been betrayed, spurned, hurt.  

 

But now God says to him – love her again. I want you to love that adulterous, unfaithful wife who has hurt you so terribly.  

 

It doesn’t take much to imagine what Hosea must have felt. But God, she’s really hurt me. She has abused my love. She’s made my marriage like a sick joke. God sometimes I hate her, for what she’s done to me. To love the adulterer – that is crazy. That is almost inhuman. 

 

Of course that is just what everyone else would think as well - Hosea’s friends, his family – “Hosea – what are you playing at – letting her back into your life. We told you not to start with her – but you wouldn’t listen – but to have her back, after all she’s done to you. You’re mad to have anything to do with her. 

 

Once again though, Hosea does it – and he does it to embody God’s message to Israel. 3v1b READ. Hosea is to reply to his friends – you’re right - it is unbelievable, it is mad, crazy – to love the adulterous. But I’m doing it because that is how God feels about you – that is the sort of love in God’s heart – he loves you, with this mad, almost in-human love. 

 

In fact God says the reason he does love Israel is because of exactly that – because he isn’t human – back in chapter 11 - 11:9 READ.  

 

God being holy – means fundamentally that he is separate from us – in a different league from us. He is God, not man. That is true in many different ways – in his power, his purity - but in particular here – he is different from us in his love. Because he loves the adulterous. 

 

That’s not to say that humans can’t love someone unfaithful to us – but we rarely do it. Our love easily runs out, easily changes in the face of persistent, gross unfaithfulness.

 

But God isn’t human – he loves with a crazy, in-human love – he loves the adulterous.

 

2) God loves faithfully, Hosea 11v11

Secondly, we can add a little bit to this – God loves faithfully.

 

In 11v11 we read that God’s love will lead him to settle his children in their homes – back in the land.  

 

That is what God had promised to Abraham, I will be your God, and your descendants will be my people. I will give you the land of Canaan.

 

Now hundreds of years later – when Israel have been unfaithful to him and deserve his punishment – God says, I will give you the land - I will be faithful to you and will be faithful my promise.

 

Now, it’s not that this faithfulness is separate from his love. It’s not as though God is saying, “I really want to reject them but I did promise, so I suppose I’ll have to keep my word.” 

 

He chose to enter into relationship with Abraham and his descendants – in love. The promise was made in love. So when we say God is faithful to his promise, we are saying God is faithful in loving his partner, and giving her what he promised. He doesn’t stop loving – he is loves faithfully.

 

I read an interesting statistic a while ago - 50% of wives wouldn’t marry their husband again, if they had a second chance. You can just hear it, “If I had known it was going to be like this – if I had know you were going to be like this – I’d have never got into this. I don’t want to try and love you anymore, I don’t love you anymore”.  

 

That must have been said or thought so many times. Marriage reveals what we are really like. And faced with what we are really like, our love runs out. As we discover each other’s unloveliness, we so easily stop loving. 

 

But God is the Holy One, he is God and not man. He knows exactly what we are like, he sees all we do wrong – but he doesn’t stop loving. He doesn’t give up. He loves – faithfully. 

 

 

 

However – all this does raise a big question – what did God mean when he says – he can’t give up Israel? Because a few years after this Assyria do invade, and Israel is destroyed. His judgement does come. So – what is God promising not to do here? 

 

I think the places mentioned in v8 can help us. How can I make you like Admah or Zeboiim?  They were the sister cities of Sodom and Gomorrah - and like them were destroyed completely.  They were a byword for complete destruction.  

 

So God is saying – I won’t make you like them, I won’t destroy you completely. 

 

He will give them a taste of his punishment in the exile, but in his love he won’t give them all of it – he won’t pour out this ‘complete destruction’.

 

Or to put it another way – there will be a future for Israel. That is what v10, 11 describe READ – after exile – after the taste of punishment – God will bring his people back to himself.  

 

3) God loves us in Christ, Hosea 2v14

Another place this is described in Hosea is chapter 2 – let me read 2v14 READ.

 

Literally he says, “I’m going to seduce her” and ‘I will gently romance her’.  

 

And he goes on to describe how he will love her and marry her again. So God is depicting himself as a bridegroom, coming to win Israel back. There is going to be judgement – but beyond that – he will come love her again, and seduce her, and win her back. 

 

  • John 3v29 – Christ is the bridegroom come to win his bride

Well, the exile happens, Israel come back to the land, the years go by, and then we hear John the Baptist saying “the friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” Complete because Jesus the bridegroom - he has now come. Come to an adulterous people – to love them and so win his bride. 

 

And so we read, 

 

  • Romans 5v8 – God loves us while we were adulterous sinners

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners – adulterous - Christ died for us.”  

 

  • 1John 4v10 - God loved us when we didn’t love him

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” We didn’t love God, we weren’t faithful to him. But in Christ, God loved us, and dealt with our sin.  

 

  • Ephesians 5v25 - Christ loved us to make us his bride

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy … to present her to himself as a radiant church.” Christ loved us – to make us holy so we could be his bride.

 

In other words, this love of God described in Hosea – that love for the adulterous - we see that fulfilled in Christ. We see this love of God - as Christ comes as a bridegroom to make us his bride by dying for us. 

 

I don’t mean Christ’s death is nothing more than an expression of God’s love. His death deals with our sin. His death deals with that ‘complete destruction’ that we all deserve. And so means we can return to God.

 

But while Christ’s death achieves all that what Hosea really highlights is God’s love. This all happens because God loves the adulterous. 

 

And Christ’s death is the proof of that. Christ’s death is proof - that God’s heart does breaks over us, his voice does crack. 

 

Christ’s death is the demonstration – the thought of giving us up puts God in a complete state – because he loves us so. 

 

Christ’s death is the rock solid guarantee, undeniable evidence, immovable certainty – that God loves us. 

 

 

As I said at the start – we need to be loved. To be secure in ourselves, to be happy with ourselves, to be fully ourselves – we need to be loved from outside ourselves. We need love.

 

And yet we easily think – only the lovely get loved – but we’re not lovely. 

 

Might think that because of how others have treated us. Parents, siblings, teachers, friends, boss, colleagues. 

 

Might think we’re unlovely because of what we’ve done. Haven’t done. Feel guilty about that. 

 

Might feel we’re unlovely because we’re just little us. Not significant or important. 

 

Hosea says - God loves you. He’s God and not man, he’s not like those who haven’t loved us, or mistreated us. He loves faithfully. He doesn’t love those who deserve it – he loves the adulterous – the unlovely. He loves little you. 

 

The film “A Beautiful Mind” – is about a mathematician – John Nash – played by Russel Crowe. He’s a pretty quirky bloke – definitely on the spectrum. He really isn’t bothered about relationships – he’s doesn’t care what people think about him. Someone asks him once, you don’t care about people do you, he smiles and says ‘no’. He cared about numbers and theories and maths. 

 

The film goes on – he makes some great maths discoveries, he gets married – then you discover he’s schizophrenic – much of what you’ve watched has been him hallucinating. The film is really about his battle with mental illness. The enormous pressure and strain his wife is put under, the pain and grief she goes through. All she has to deal with and absorb. But she stays with him and keeps loving him. 

 

Towards the end of his life he received a Nobel Prize – and in the film he makes a speech – everyone is there in black tie – his wife. He says this,

 

“I’ve always believed in numbers. In the equations and logics that lead to reason. But after a lifetime of such pursuits I ask what truly is logic? Who decides reason? My quest has taken me to the physical, metaphysical, the delusional and back. I have made the most important discovery of my career. The most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reasons can be found.  

 

Then he looks at his wife and says, “I’m only here tonight because of you. You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons.”

 

Now – it’s a bit Hollywood I know. But he has discovered love – is what really matters. And that is something beyond logic and reason. There is no reason for his wife to love him – not after what he put her through – but she does. Beyond reason.  

 

And yet it is every reason – it’s what he needs, it’s what has held him together, given him a life. Love – you are all my reasons.

 

Jesus’ love is like that.

 

Love beyond reason. Love for the adulterous – there’s not reason for that - it’s crazy, mad, unbelievable love. 

 

And yet Jesus’ love is all our reasons. I mean his love is the love we need for life. The reason for life. Knowing he loves us with this kind of love - gives us security and stability. His love allows us to be fully ourselves. His love allows us to be truly us because we’re secure, we’re free – we’re loved. A love that is all our reasons. 

 

So, as I finish I’ve just got one question for each of us – if we had time I’d ask you individually – look you in the eye – and ask, do you know God loves you? 

 

I don’t mean, have we heard God loves us. Or do we know abstractly that it is true God loves us. I don’t mean have we told other people God loves them. Or talked about how amazing God’s love is. I mean, do we know, for ourselves, deeply and personally, so that it’s a foundation for our lives, that God loves us? 

 

Because he does you know. 

 

Look at Christ and you see God loves you with the most amazing, extraordinary, mad, counter intuitive, beyond belief, out of this world sort of love.

 

 

Questions

 

Group discussion

Do I know and feel God loves me? 

 

“Love beyond reason” – why would God love me? How can I be sure that God loves me?

 

“Love that are all my reasons” – how does God’s love give you a foundation for life? Can you give examples of how God’s love makes a difference to you day to day?

 

Time by ourselves

 

Weekend Away 2. Hosea 2:2-13. The separation

Introduction: how does God respond to our spiritual adultery?

Years ago I met up with a bloke called Steve to talk about Christianity. One of the things he objected to was the idea that God would punish people for what they have done wrong.  

 

He put it like this – “when I was a kid I did things wrong, and my dad told me off. But now, if I meet up with dad, we go out for a beer and he says, do you remember the time you did this and that wrong – we’d look back and laugh.”

 

“Surely”, he said, “That’s how it will be with God when we meet him? Sure we’ve get things wrong now – but one day we’ll sit down and look back and laugh at how silly we were.”

 

Well he’s right that we’ve done things wrong – Hosea says we have committed spiritual adultery. By selling our trust to other gods.

 

Our question now is - how will God respond to that? How should he respond to spiritual adultery?  

 

I’ve got three answers that Hosea gives us – going to spend all our time on the first two, mention the last one at the end.  First of all Hosea tells us, 

 

1) Spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of riches, 2v5-13

By riches I mean all of the good things in life that Israel enjoyed - her food and wine, her families and children, her land and security. Those riches – are going to be taken away – and reversed into famine and barrenness and poverty and oppression.  

 

This comes throughout the book – listen to some verses, to get a sense of it. 

 

  • Food & family – 8v7; 9v2

8:7 “the stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up.” 

 

9:2 “Threshing floors and winepresses will not feed the people; the new wine will fail them.” 

 

9:11,12 “Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird – no birth, no pregnancy, no conception. Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of everyone.”   

 

  • Protection & security, 10v5,6; 8v13,14; 9v3

And it’s not just food and family – the riches of protection and security as a nation, will be reversed into defeat and exile. 

 

So for instance 10:5,6 READ.  

 

Sometimes Hosea describes this metaphorically as going to Egypt – because for Israel Egypt was the supreme place of captivity. 

 

So for instance 8:13,14 READ.  Or 9:3 READ.

 

You get the picture. God is angry and he is going to punish Israel. The riches of prosperity and protection are going to be reversed into poverty and captivity. 

 

Now the idea of punishment isn’t popular today. I’m going to say some more a bit later about how we might think about this. For now I want us to see this isn’t an arbitrary punishment – there is a logic to it. Personally I’ve found it helpful to see this logic, it helps me understand what’s going on – what God is doing.

 

  • The logic of judgement – revealing the true God, 2v8-13

2v8-9 READ. Israel doesn’t acknowledge all these good things come from God, therefore he will take it away. 

 

More than that, 2v12-13 READ.  

 

We sad earlier on that Israel worshipped Baal thinking he paid her – that’s what was so appealing – he gave her the vines and fig trees – prosperity. So she thought. 

 

Actually they came from God. But Israel wouldn’t acknowledge that – so what was happening was - as God sent rain and made the grain ripen and the crops grow – Israel kept thanking Baal – kept saying, isn’t it good we worship Baal – look how he blesses us.  

 

Do you see what a terrible position this puts God in –– the more he provides for them, the more they thank Baal. It’s like he’s feeding their habit – he blesses them and they think worshipping Baal is working. 

 

So God says, they won’t acknowledge I give these things to her – so v9 - therefore – I will take it away. They say this prosperity comes from her lover - so I’m going to show them who it comes from – by taking it away and reversing these riches into poverty and captivity.

 

Earlier I mentioned the film Indecent Proposal, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson – as a poor married couple – Demi sells herself to Robert Redford, a billionaire, for one million dollars.  

 

Let me rewrite that plot line – so that it actually gives a more accurate picture of Israel. Imagine if actually Demi was married to Robert Redford and his millions. He buys her a mansion and gives her everything she wants.  

 

But then Woody, who hasn’t got a penny, turns up, and says – come to bed with me and I’ll lavish my riches on you.  

 

And Demi falls for it - she goes off and sleeps with him. Then she comes back to the mansion, and sips some champagne, enjoys the caviar, gets into her luxurious bed – and she thinks to herself – my – that bloke Woody is certainly looking after me.  

 

After a while Redford catches on and confronts her – you’re sleeping around. But Demi pleads – I have to because he provides for me, he looks after me. No he doesn’t – I do – this is all from me. But Demi is in denial - says no, Woody gives me my allowance, my food, my home.  

 

What will Robert Redford do? The more he gives to her, the more she thinks Woody has come up trumps.  

 

Well in the end he’ll say, alright, I’ll take away what I give you. No allowance, no mansion, no champagne. If you want what Woody gives you – you can have it – you’ll discover too late he hasn’t got anything – it was all from me. 

 

Sounds ridiculous – I don’t suppose it would make a very good film. But that is the situation with Israel – she keeps going to Baal and Assyria – thanking them for everything that God has given her.  

 

So in the end God says, alright – I’ll take away what I give you – if want what Baal and Assyria give you – you can have it - but you will discover too late – they haven’t got anything give. And you will end up in poverty and captivity.  And you will realise – it all came from me. 

 

That’s the logic, the reasoning that lies behind judgement. 

 

2) Spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of relationship, 1v4-9

However, there is a more going on than just reversal of riches. Even worse – is that spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of relationship.  

 

Let’s turn back to chapter 1 – where Hosea has three children – and each time God tells him to give the child a particular name – which symbolises what is going to happen to his people.  

 

Lets start with the second child, v6 READ. Lo Ruhamah means not loved. Out of all the nations God had set his love on Israel – but now – they are not loved.

 

Third name is even worse. V8,9a READ – and Lo-Ammi means ‘not mine’.

 

Can you imagine the church notices that week – congratulations to Hosea and Gomer on the arrival of their third child – he weighed in at 7lb3oz, and Hosea – what do you want to call him. “Not mine”. Great - he’ll make a lovely brother for ‘Not loved’.  

 

You can imagine people saying, “Why have you called your baby such a terrible name?” Hosea would reply “I’ve called it not mine, because that is what God calls you”. v9 – READ. Or literally – you are not my people and I am not I am to you. 

 

If you know the OT – those words send a chill down your spine. When God was brought Israel out of Egypt, Moses asked his name. God said, I am who I am – which in Hebrew sounds like Yahweh.  

 

That was his personal name that he shared with Israel. It’s as though he said, I am God Almighty, but you can call me, I am, Yahweh, because I am your God and you are my people. 

 

But now God reverses that statement - you are not my people, and I am, not I am to you. 

 

Some years ago I knew a couple where the wife called her husband - bear. We all called him David. But she called him bear. That was her name for him. Imagine she is unfaithful – he is terribly hurt – says it’s over – we’re splitting up – she says – oh bear – no – don’t call me that. I’m not your bear. 

 

That is what God is saying – to Israel he was ‘I am’. Now he says - I’m not I am to you anymore. The relationship is over.

 

What that means in practice is not simply that they’re not talking to each other – but they are now against each other – they are now enemies. 

 

Let’s see some examples.

 

5:11,12 READ.  Literally I am like pus, or decay. 

 

5:14 READ.  Literally he says, “It is I like a lion”, “I, yes I, will tear them to pieces”. God used to be their provider and protector – but now he has become their predator, who will tear them apart.  

 

The point is – the relationship has been reversed – they have moved from God’s people, to God’s enemies, from having God as their provider and protector – to God being the one who will destroy them.  

 

This is no abstract idea – this happened – in 722BC Assyria defeated, destroyed and deported Israel – God came as a lion - and it was awful.  

 

Spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of riches and a reversal of relationship. 

 

  • If we persist in spiritual adultery and we face a reversal of riches and relationship, Revelation 18:1-22

Now what does this mean today? To put it simply – what we see here with Israel is a picture of God’s future judgement. It’s a warning – if anyone persists in spiritual adultery – if they reject God and make something else their god – then one day they will face a reversal of riches and relationship with God.

 

There are some ways in which this happens in this life – so someone who isn’t a Christian – doesn’t have a relationship with God now. But as I say – this is really a picture of future judgement on those who reject God and Jesus – and ultimately this happens at the end of life. 

 

So let’s turn to Revelation - where we hear the same sort of language. 

 

Rev 18:1-3 READ.

 

Babylon stands for rejecting God and treating other things as god. And the world has committed adultery with her – gone to her to get rich.

 

But God will judge her – and those who belong to her - listen to how it is described

 

Babylon is destroyed and - 18v11. 

 

18v14. 

 

8v21-22. READ.

 

In this life people who aren’t Christians can have many good things – that varies of course but to some degree they can enjoy the riches of food, family, relationships, education, homes, peace.  

 

But Revelation says one day there will be a judgement – and it means the reversal of riches – health and life reversed into death and mourning. Food into famine. Gold and precious stones, music and craft reversed into ruin and destruction. 

 

More than that – they will have no relationship with God. Elsewhere in the Bible we read, “God will punish those who do not know God. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord”. Being shut out from God, will be hell.

 

That is what adultery leads to – the reversal of all we made for – the riches of life – relationship with God. 

 

Embarrassed by the idea of judgement? 

Now as I said earlier this talk of punishment is far from popular today. We’re easily embarrassed about it – want to avoid it and not think about it. I certainly find that. 

 

So I thought I’d make a few comments on that – in the box. 

 

a) Judgement is integral to the whole Bible

By that I mean – if you take the idea that God punishes or judges out of the Bible the whole thing falls apart and makes no sense. What is the problem in the Bible if not our sin and God’s reaction to it? Why did Jesus die – if not to take our punishment in our place? What does forgiveness mean – if not – not being punished? 

 

To put it another way – the things I find it easier to believe and rejoice in – Jesus’ death, forgiveness, God’s love – they only make sense if God judges. And Jesus dies to rescue me from that, and forgiveness is freedom from that.

 

So it helps me to see that - if we take judgement out of Christianity – we haven’t got anything left.

 

b) Judgement vindicates God as God

Remember the logic we looked at earlier - God gives gifts and Israel thank Baal. And so what is he to do? More he gives, the more they thank Baal. Same today – people think their health, family, food and money and holidays – comes from themselves or their job, their abilities whatever. They are actually come from God – but they say, well done me, or thank their job or spouse or whatever.

 

And so God will judge – take away those riches – and when he does people will see who God really is. He will be vindicated – seen to be who he is – the provider of all. So judgement is about bringing reality and truth to someone. 

 

As someone is judged they will recognise - there is a God who made me, who I owe everything to, who I should worship and love. I see that now. 

 

c) Judgement is just and so is good and right.

God being angry and punishing isn’t like us being angry. When we get angry we get things out of perspective, we’re defensive, want to prove ourselves right, then can be vindictive, overreact. 

 

But God being angry and judging is an expression of his justice – of doing things rightly. 

 

And justice is something we want – we want things to get what they deserve. We want things to be right and just. Well that is God’s judgement. There is something terrible about it – but it is good and right. 

 

I think Hosea shows us this through the imagery of adultery. If we think of adultery – and brings feelings of hurt and pain and anger. That is right. We’re right to be angry at the adulterer – they should pay for how they abused someone’s love. 

 

Well if we rightly feel angry – how much more is God – the one who made us, gave us everything – right to be angry. Not out of control anger. Not vindictive anger. But just anger – that is right for how he has been treated. 

 

I started by mentioning my friend Steve - his idea that, like with his Dad, one day we’d laugh with God about what we’ve done wrong. Well that just doesn’t take what we’ve done seriously. Doesn’t take God seriously. 

 

Can you imagine a betrayed husband or wife sitting down and laughing with their errant partner and saying – do you remember how you use to sleep around – what a laugh.

 

Well that is just sick isn’t it? We don’t laugh at adultery. And God won’t laugh at spiritual adultery – he is right to be angry – right to punish.

 

3) The reversal leads to a reversal, 1v10-2v1

Let me read one more verse to finish. Having named Hosea’s three children, God then says this, 1v10-2v1 READ. 

 

God is saying there will be a reversal of the reversal. Those who were not God’s people, will become God’s people. Those who were not loved – will be loved.  

 

This judgement is real – but there is hope. There is a way back to knowing God again – being loved by him again. 

 

In a way I hope we’re thinking – how is that possible? We’ve had a story of marriage – then terrible adultery – right separation and it’s over. How do you recover from that? 

 

That is what we’ll look at tomorrow. Going to discover the most amazing love in the world. Which means we can become God’s people again. A reversal of the reversal.

 

I know this has been a bit dark and negative this morning. I hope it’s been helpful – we need to think about these things. But it has been dark – let me assure you the sun will shine tomorrow – we look at the lover and the true marriage. Good news is coming – wonderful news. But to hear it – and to see how good it is – to really get it - we need to hear this first. 

 

Pray

 

 

Questions and discussion together

 

Group questions

  • Am I embarrassed about God’s judgement? 
  • How does Hosea help me with that?
  • What is good about God’s judgement? 

 

Hymn – Rock of Ages – asked for us to sing this because it reflects what we deserve on our own – only hope is Jesus. 

 

 

Weekend Away 1. Hosea 1v2. The adultery

Introduction: taking the lid off adultery

A newspaper article a few years ago had the headline, 

 

Adultery is good for your marriage – if you don’t get caught, says infidelity website boss

 

That boss was Noel Biderman the founder of Ashley Madison – a website that will help you have an affair – he goes on in the article to claim that having an affair can actually help save your marriage. 

 

It’s a surprisingly common theme - relational experts, psychologists, maybe we see it most in Hollywood films – they suggest an affair can bring you good. Reviving your marriage, leading you to true love, enabling you to be the real you. It will be good for you in some way.

 

And yet, I think of a couple I knew at a previous church some years ago – the husband had an affair. I think the wife would say it’s the worst thing that has ever happened to her - destroyed her and her family. And her husband thought – it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done - I would give anything to turn the clock back and not have done it.

 

If you get behind the website to real people – if you lift the lid on the film and move to real lives - it’s a very different story. A story of the pain of broken trust and the hurt of betrayal and anger at unfaithfulness. 

 

Adultery might pretend to be acceptable – take the lid off and you find it is truly awful. 

 

Take other things - like working hard in your job. Being kind to friends. Enjoying a new home. Things which look normal and completely acceptable parts of life. 

 

What if we took the lid of those? What would we find underneath? 

 

That is what Hosea does – he takes the lid off things we can think are normal - and opens our eyes to what is really going on. He shows us the true nature of our behaviour and the true nature of our God. That’s where we’re going to start in this session.  

 

Layout of Hosea

Chapters 1-3: whole message portrayed in Hosea’s life (chapter 1&3), and a poem (chapter 2)

 

Chapters 4-14: the same message given detail and explanation.

 

Before we get into it let me say something about the layout of Hosea. In chapters 1-3 we get the whole message of Hosea stated – first of all acted out in Hosea’s own life, and then in chapter 2 in a poem. And that really tells us the whole story. Then rest of the book, chps 4-14, fills out that same message with some specifics – with detail and examples. 

 

Because of that in each talk we’re going to take a part of Hosea’s message we find in chap 1-3 – a theme or topic - then explore how it is filled out in the rest of book. That means we’re going to dot around quite a lot – probably easier to just listen as I read various verses out. Sometimes I’ll say – let’s turn to this bit – because it’s worth seeing it. 

 

The starting point of Hosea’s message – and the topic we’re going to explore in this talk is adultery. 1v2. READ.  

 

It’s a terrible thing to say isn’t it - Hosea I want you to marry an adulterer. I want your wife to be someone who will sleep around and be unfaithful to you. 

 

Can you image what Hosea would have felt when we heard that? But, God, I want a wife to love me and stay with me? Why do I have to do that, why put me though that? 

 

Because v2 – READ. Hosea I want you to do it, because I want your marriage to act out my relationship with my people. My people have been adulterous – they have been unfaithful to me.  

 

And I want you to bring that truth to them in the most vivid way. I want people to come and ask you, “Hosea why have you married her – why have you married a harlot, like that?” You will reply – because that is what you’ve been like with God. In your relationship with God you have committed adultery. 

 

Well, it’s a pretty full on way to start a book and to start our weekend. It feels like we’ve walked in on a couple having an argument. And you think - whoa - what’s happening here? What is this adultery – who is Israel’s lover – what’s been going on? That’s what we’re going to explore. 

 

Adultery language

Just before we get into that let me make a couple of comments about this adultery language because it raises some issues. 

 

  • If we’ve experience something of the pain of adultery

First of all – some of us may have experienced something of adultery – first or second hand. We might find talking in these terms hard – because it brings up strong feelings and hurts – and that could stop us hearing what God is saying.

 

Now if we’ve experienced something of the pain of adultery then that is an awful thing – and I’m not minimising that. However, it could be - in God’s grace he uses your experience for good. In his grace he could use that pain you rightly feel – to lead you to see something of the pain he feels at his people’s adultery. I know it’s a high price to pay – it was for Hosea – I know we’d prefer it to be otherwise, but you may be able to know God’s heart in a strangely special way.  

 

  • Remember adultery is only a picture – the real issue is spiritual unfaithfulness

Second comment – it would be easy to mishear what Hosea is saying and think that adultery is the big sin – and that’s what this is all about. But it’s not – physical adultery or human adultery is being used as a metaphor to talk about our relationship with God and how we behave towards him. So what he’s really talking about is what we could call spiritual adultery – being unfaithful to God. That is something true of all of us – so let’s not be distracted by physical adultery – that’s only the picture – the reality is how we’ve been unfaithful to God. 

    

  • Gomer gets no back story, nor particular condemnation

Last comment – I’m aware we are given no back story to Gomer, Hosea’s wife. We don’t know why or how she became adulterous – or a prostitute. Typically with prostitution there would be a story of abuse, of financial desperation, or sex trafficking. I just want to acknowledge we don’t get any personal narrative for her, she is simply presented as a symbol of the nation. 

 

Now we might object to a woman, a fallen woman, being chosen to symbolise Israel. Why can’t it be a man? Is this sexist? Well I think it could have been a man. But throughout the Bible God is presented as bridegroom and God’s people as his bride so the roles are consistent with that. And I’d also comment that Gomer isn’t actually condemned for being adulterous. It’s just stated she’s adulterous – but there is no judgement given on her. It’s the nation – men and women – who are condemned. If we think this feels sexist or misogynistic - I hope that helps.

 

1) Spiritual adultery, 1v2

Having said that, let’s get back to what God is saying. Through Hosea marrying Gomer God is saying to his people – you’ve been spiritually adulterous. Now what does that mean? How has that happened? 

 

Well it’s got two sides – first of all - on your sheet - it means spurning your true husband – God. 

 

  • Israel spurned her true husband, God. Exodus 20v1-3, Hosea 1v2

You can only commit adultery of course - if you are already married to someone.

 

And that was true for Israel and God. Hundreds of years before this God rescued Israel from Egypt, brought them to Mt. Sinai and entered a relationship with them – he basically married them. 

 

God said to them - “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, you shall have no other gods besides me”. In other words – I’ve rescued you – so you now belong to me – in an exclusive relationship as my bride and I’m your husband.

 

But Hosea 1v2, Israel has departed from the Lord. She has spurned, she has left her husband, gone outside that exclusive relationship.

 

How has she done that? Well secondly on the sheet – 

 

  • By selling herself to other gods/idols

The second half of this book, chapters 4-14, describes how Israel has worshipped idols. So she’s been unfaithful to her God – by treating other things as god. 

 

In fact Israel had two other lovers. 

 

First of all there was Baal. Baal was one of the Canaanite gods – the god of nature, or fertility. Let me read some examples:   

 

  • Baal: 4v12-14; 13v1-2

4:12-14 READ. Wooden idols and sacrifices on the mountaintops is talking about worshipping Baal. 

 

Or 13:1,2 READ.  

 

They were meant to worship God - Yahweh – but they had a god on the side – Baal. 

 

  • Assyria & Egypt: 7v11; 12v1

However, it wasn’t just Baal in the area of nature and fertility. Israel had also been unfaithful in the world of politics. She’d got into bed with Assyria and Egypt. 

 

Assyria was the superpower in the area, and Israel was scared of being invaded. So to protect herself Israel formed an alliance with Egypt – so Egypt would protect her. At the same time she paid tributes to Assyria so she wouldn’t invade.  

 

For instance; 7:11 READ.  12:1 READ.  

 

  • This adultery is actually prostitution, 8v9; 9v1; 2v5

However there is more going on here than just adultery. Let me read 8:9 READ.

 

Now selling yourself to a lover – isn’t just adultery – that’s prostitution. 

 

Even more explicit is 9:1 READ.  

 

The threshing floor is where they sorted the harvest. And Israel thought she got paid there in some way. 

 

Have a look at chapter 2:5 – this makes it clearer. READ. 

 

I said Baal was a fertility God – he was an early version of the health and wealth gospel. Come to Baal and he’ll make you rich and prosperous – large family, good crops, glowing health. That’s what he promised. And so that’s why Israel worshipped him – she wanted prosperity – so went to Baal. 

 

But God says that makes you like a prostitute. You’re selling your worship to Baal – because you think he pays you in grain and wine and oil. 

 

Similarly give Egypt some gifts – sell yourself to her – and she’ll pay you in protection and security. 

 

That is what made these lovers so attractive. It wasn’t that Baal was a really impressive god, or that Egypt was a great nation – and they couldn’t resist falling for them. They were attractive because they offered something – they offered to pay you. And Israel found what they offered irresistible.  

 

I don’t know if you’ve seen the film “Indecent Proposal”. Pretty old – early 90s. It stars Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson. They are a young couple, rich in love but short of cash when recession hits. So they head for Las Vegas to gamble their last $5000.  

 

There they meet Robert Redford – he’s enormously wealthy, throwing around his millions, but looking for love. And so he makes a proposal – one million dollars, for one night with Demi Moore.  

 

Now they refuse of course. But as money gets shorter and shorter, they begin to think – it’s only one night. It won’t affect our marriage. It’s only my body, she says, he’ll never have my soul. And one million dollars – just think what we could do with that. And in the end they agree – and she leaves to spend the night with him.  

 

As soon as she goes Woody knows it was a mistake, he runs after her but it’s too late, the helicopter has just taken off. She returns the next morning, but it’s not the same. They carry on together for a while but in the end his jealousy explodes – they argue – they split up.

 

It was an indecent proposal – obviously wrong – but in the end it was just too attractive – because of what he offered to pay.

 

Israel find Egypt and Baal just too tempting because of what they offer to pay. The promise of prosperity from Baal, and protection from Egypt - just too attractive to resist. 

 

Just to complete the picture – how did Israel sell herself to these lovers? Demi Moore gave her body – what did Israel give to Baal, or Egypt?  

 

What they actually did was to bow down in front of an idol, or to sign a treaty – but the point is they did that believing Baal or Egypt would give them what they wanted. In other words they put their trust in Baal – to provide for them. They put their confidence in Egypt – to protect them. That’s how they made love to them – that was the unfaithfulness – they sold them their faith. 

 

The faith that belonged to God. 

 

He had promised to provide for them and to protect them. 

 

But instead of trusting him Israel thought, food, crops, international politics. They aren’t really God’s thing. You need a specialist god to help you with that. Look what Baal offers – look what Egypt could do for us. 

 

So they sold their faith – they gave what belonged to their God to another – for what they thought they would be paid.

 

In that film ‘Indecent Proposal’, Demi Moore and Woody – they convince themselves this one night won’t really matter. It will be harmless. But then as soon as they’ve done it – it’s like their eyes have been opened – see the true nature of what they have done – see it wasn’t harmless or normal – but that it was prostitution. It was giving what belongs to your husband – to another – and it is horrific. It is painful, damaging betrayal.  

 

Israel thought what she did – didn’t really matter. Worshipping Baal, going to Egypt – it was harmless. It was easy for them to think that – because all they were doing was copying the people around them, just did what everyone else was doing. It looked normal. 

 

And so the start of Hosea’s message is to take the lid of their actions – to take the lid of their hearts – and open their eyes to what they are really doing. Show them that what looked so normal – was actually horrible unfaithfulness. They are spurning their true husband. Prostituting themselves – to another god. 

 

Let’s finish by thinking about us today. 

 

We could talk about all people today. The Bible talks about everyone being made for an exclusive relationship with God – where they worship him alone. And yet everyone treats other things as God. So you could say everyone is spiritually adulterous – unfaithful to the God who made them. 

 

But this language of adultery is used particularly of Christians. 

 

Christians can be adulterous, James 4v4-5

Because as Christians – we’ve come back into relationship with God through Jesus. And the Bible describes that as a marriage relationship. We’ll think about this more tomorrow – but that means as Christians, we can be adulterous.

 

So for instance James 4:4,5 READ. 

 

By ‘the world’ he means all of life with God excluded. Could be money, career, possessions, relationships, popularity, pleasures. Things that aren’t wrong in themselves. But, if we exclude God, they are ‘the world’. 

 

When he says friendship with the world he’s talking about putting our faith in those things for what they will pay. 

 

The promotion – promises success. The relationship – promises fulfilment. Money promises security. The new home or possessions promises happiness. 

 

We should trust God for those things. Yes we can enjoy things in the world that he gives us, he can use those gifts as the way he gives us pleasures and fulfilments. But ultimately he is the one who gives security and meaning and fulfilment. 

 

James is talking about putting our trust in the world – things without God - putting our faith in them – instead of God. Because of what they seem to offer – what they will pay us. 

 

It’s easy to do. It looks normal. Everyone around us does it. To get your meaning from your job. To seek identity in your relationships. To look for fulfilment in your comforts and holidays. Everyone does that – so it looks normal. But like with Israel God is taking the lid of our lives and showing what is really going on. 

 

Trust those things in the world – instead of God – make them your god – and you are being unfaithful, adulterous to God.

 

That’s the big picture – but to give a bit more detail – we need to see the true nature of sin, and the true nature of God. 

 

  • True nature of sin

I think it’s easy to think that sin – doing something wrong – is a matter of breaking the rules. Or disobeying God’s law. But if you keep the rules – if you do things right – then you haven’t sinned. That misses the true nature of sin. 

 

God is saying sin is profoundly personal. It’s about unfaithfulness to him. 

 

Let’s say you do break a rule - you tell a lie – exaggerate the truth. You do it to look good. That isn’t just breaking a rule. That is worshipping the god of popularity. You’re giving that your trust to that god thinking it will pay you with stronger friends and a better reputation. And that will fulfil you. Rather than trusting God for fulfilment and the friendships he gives me. So it’s much more than breaking a rule – the heart of it is unfaithfulness to our God. 

 

And even if you keep the rules you can still sin. Say you work hard at your job – doesn’t look like you’re doing anything wrong – not breaking any rules. Only you do it because you find your security and significance in your career. That is where you identity lies. So you give your faith to your job to provide you with meaning. The faith that should be in God. 

 

Hosea is showing us the heart of sin is about faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God. 

 

  • True nature of God

Secondly we should see the true nature of God. It’s easy to think that God isn’t really affected by our sin. I do something wrong – God is so big, awesome – it’s easy to think he’s immune to what I do.

 

But God is showing us here how our sin affects him. We tell a lie to be more popular – that is worshipping another god - and that breaks his heart. He is showing here, our unfaithfulness makes him a wounded lover. He is great and awesome. But he’s also personal – and loves – and so is wounded by us. 

 

That is what Hosea is brought to experience in his own marriage. As his wife betrays him, he is brought to feel how God feels for his people – the wounded, broken heart, of a spurned husband. 

 

That is how God feels about what we do wrong. We’re in relationship with him, so sin is personal, it wounds him and breaks his heart. 

 

Now we’re going to go on from this to see how God reacts to this – see what answers there are – so this is just the start. But we need to start by seeing true nature of sin and God. 

 

Groups

What are the most common ‘rival lovers’ to God that are around today? What do they offer to pay for our worship? Which lovers do we find most tempting?

 

How does Hosea change how you think and feel about sin? 

 

How does Hosea change your view of God and what he thinks of what we do wrong? 

 

How is that a helpful way of thinking and feeling?

 

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Joshua 10

This is our last outing into the book of Joshua. And i’m going to speak on this chapter for 15-20 mins and then give some time at the end for any of your questions or observations about the book as a whole - what has most struck you. So have a think as i’m speaking.  

My real hope is that we’ll each return to these great stories to meditate on them from time to time because this is a vital and essential biblical book modelling for us as christians our discipleship; our taking hold of the eternal life and relationship with God that we both already have and await the full realisation of. 

As we watch Israel struggle to overcome, by faith in God, their obstacles and opposition and enemies … as they step out in faith to take possession of their promised land … so we have a model for how we are to fight in our christian lives. the christian life is not a walk in the park, a holiday on the beach or mountaintop bliss…it’s a battle, a journey, a marathon, a war. Trusting in Jesus’ all sufficiency we grow up to be like him, we move forward to take hold of that which is ours. 

 

In our passage this week, we encounter again the Gibeonites. We saw these guys last week - they were Canaanites, they were the enemy, and by deception BUT also because they had come to believe in and revere the God of Israel - they managed to broker a covenant with Israel - whereby Israel would protect them. This whole people group - the gibeonites- have been grafted by a covenant pledge and promise into the people of God. The King of Jerusalams that the Gibeonites have made peace with Israel - that’s actually a really good description actually of what it means to become a christian. It is to make peace with God and his people. Make peace by Repentance and Faith. Faith means you come to believe that you’re loved by God - that you were his enemy and destined to be crushed but Jesus came and was crushed for you. Faith in God’s love. But also repentance: turning around - you lay down your arms and permanently change your allegiance, you live your life now in obedience and worship of God. You make peace! 

 

That’s what the Gibeonites had done. They are new christians brought in by God’s grace under the shadow of his wings but now here’s the thing … immediately they face persecution

immediately they must cry out to God 

inorder to receive his help 

 

Let’s look at those 3 things 

  1. you will face persecution

 

The Gibeonites have been Christians a matter of days and immediately they learn the reality of Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 15v18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

 

you will face persecution. 

 

Let’s look at what happened. 

v1 Adoni Zedek, Canaanite King of Jerusalem is rattled. The conquests of Jericho and Ai and now the treaty with Gibeon which more than a great city was in fact - 9v17 - a confederation of cities - 4 cities - all of this means that a whole swathe of Canaan - a band through the middle separating North from South - has now come under the control of Israel. And so the Canaaan King of Jerusalem feared greatly v2

But this is not a godly fear that leads to repentance and peace. This is a rebellious fear that leads to persecution. v3 he seeks to build a coalition. 4 other Kings to strike not Israel but Gibeon because they’ve made peace with Israel and Israel’s God. Then v5 the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.

 

[Manchester Univ CU – week of events – present the gospel. One of the halls – tiny group of Christians – we decided we put up some posters to publicise the events – torn down. We did a rather naff piece of theatre in the canteen to advertise the events. Most people looked quite disinterested. But after we’d done it one young man came storming after us – his face was bright red, absolutely furious. ‘Who was responsible for that?” Me? I asked him what had offended him. He found it difficult to articulate. He ranted at me. He hated what we were doing. All I remember was his anger.. Turned out to be from the Church of England Chaplaincy.] 

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that. Perhaps in the past you’ve experienced it in yourself? It’s not nice to be disliked, sidelined, looked upon with disdain, dealt with unjustly. I reckon we’d do anything to avoid it.  maybe it might make us think we’ve done something wrong - and certainly there’s no merit in being persecuted for being judgemental or rude. more likely we are tempted to keep quiet about our faith because we don’t want to suffer the heat. But anyone who lives a godly life will be persecuted. 

 

opposition towards Christians is often – inordinate – i mean they weren’t tearing down the posters of the chess club or the Islamic society. 

Opposition towards Christians is often irrational – modern people often say Christianity it’s disproved and outdated. We now know such and such. And so we can ignore Christianity. But in practice opposition to Christians is far more heated and aggressive, scornful and in many many places around the globe it is violent. Being a christian can cost you your livelihood and in some circumstances your life. 

 

If Christianity is so irrelevant – why oppose it so violently? Why bother? 

 

And what is at the root of persecution and opposition to faith in our God?The answer I think that our text hints at is that faith in God is a threat that needs to be crushed because it itself is an assault on human pride. Pride is the reason that we hate Christ and his gospel. 

 

Look again at the enemies of the Gibeonites. 

They are their near neighbours, fellow canaanites, wider family. ready to kill them now they’ve become believers in God.

They were, v6 tells us the King’s of the hills, the mountains - a subtle reference not just to geography but also to character. Their elevated position. Kings of the high ground. Their made up names speak volumes about their self perception: Adoni zedek means Lord of Righteousness. Hoham - the God who protects; Piram - wild, fierce; Japhia - high and elevated; Debir - Speech, The speaker. 

Near neighbours, Puffed up pride 

It’s very sad to say that it is often those who have come to hold elevated positions in religious realms - our near neighbours - who are least friendly to God’s little ones. (My friend in the Manchester Univ chaplaincy) Desiring to have the pre-eminence religious people within our own christian wider community can be merciless towards any who refuse to be subject to them. Remember how Jesus’ greatest opponents were the religious authorities. They hounded him to death and they sought to silence his ambassdors, the apostles because he and they threatened their authority - their pride 

Puffed up pride hates the gospel of God because the gospel is all about GRACE and grace completely undermines all human pride and human power. 

 

Every religion and philosophy, apart from Christianity, says that getting  to God is something You can do. You have problems but there are things you can do to sort it out. 

Christianity says. You can never make it. Without help You are lost. Christianity says All you deserve, all you can achieve is God’s eternal rejection. Because of your sin. And there’s nothing you can do to save yourself. 

So it is has to be done for you. Jesus Christ came down. He stood in your shoes and suffered for you the rejection of God which you deserve. So that you could step into his shoes and enjoy the welcome with God that he deserves. He does it all. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all done by him. Grace. There’s nothing you or I can do except receive it, trust him. 

 

And of course that is an offence to our pride. 

If you’re proud of your performance - the idea that grace is the only way is utterly offensive. Our whole way of life, based around ourselves, is threatened by Grace. That’s the reason for hostility. We either fight against God or we are given the humility to lay down our pride and receive the grace of his love. 

 

You will face persecution. 

 

2. You must cry for help 

We’ve learnt much about prayer from the book of Joshua. God wants us to know the joy, peace, security of knowing him. he wants to draw us into a life of relationship, a life of prayer. 

We’ve said from this book, that when the sun is shining in our lives we don’t tend to pray. We are proud people. We like to cope on our own. Do it ourselves. We miss out on the grace and joy that could be ours.  And so God allows the rain. God allows hardships. God uses the opposition of the world and our struggles to cause us to have to turn to him.Often he has to bring us to the end of ourselves inorder that we might finally look to him and cry out to him. 

God shapes the difficulties of life to fall upon our lives inorder that we might prove our faith, find our faith to be genuine. How do i know that i am really God’s child? i know because when the trouble really hits i don’t turn from him i do turn to him and  he shows himself to be present and real. 

See the Gibeonites - we might have thought that they were just chancers. They’d seen the threat of Israel and so they’d sought a treaty with them. Now the big threat was the combined forces of the 5 hill top Kings. Might  you not expect Gibeon to just bow the knee apologise to Adoni - Zedek and turn coat again, throw in their lot with the strongest team still in thr tournament? Perhaps that’s what Adoni - Zedek assumed Gibeon would do. 

 

But Gibeon does not change allegiance. Gibeon does not crumble in the face of violent pressure. Gibeon remains faithful to her new God. 

Gibeon cries out for help v6 “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”

One of the greatest evidences for myself that i really do love God, that he has me. Is that when under serious pressure to buckle and walk away from God to another place that is very attractive - i choose God, i choose God. Don’t you. Because deep down you believe. Your faith is proved. You cry for help. 

 

Notice also that Gibeon which was a strong coalition in itself, with mighty warriors does not trust in her own strength. Gibeon does not get proud and think that they can do this alone. We can be so like that. Do everything but pray. Try everything else first. Our pride. 

But this battle is not one that we can fight. We must cry out for help always. Quickly.  

Cry for help. honestly, openly. God hears. And he knows exactly the timing of the response that is needed. 

In this case with his Gibeonite children the response is immediate and dramatic. 

 

Joshua takes the entire army v7 

Joshua is reassured by God v8 

Joshua marches through the entire night and immediately enters the battle v9 

There’s no reservations. There’s no, oh this is just the Gibeonites, the new boys, why bother with them, they’re not the real deal, they deceived us into helping them, and here they are are again asking for help. 

Ever feel you’re a Gibeonite? Just a slightly annoying Christian, not a very good Christian, not very deserving of help, not the real deal, perhaps i’m not a christian. Perhaps i can’t ask for help. God’s not interested in me. 

Look at this. Look at this. Look at what Gibeonites get 

Immediately. Joshua takes the whole army, commissioned by God, marches through the night, straight into your battle. This is Jesus towards you. 

You must cry out for help

 

3. Surely the Lord himself fights for us! 

God is our refuge and our strength. A very present help in times of trouble. Therefore we shall not fear. Psalm 46.   

Look at how it is God who miraculously fights for us. fights our battles. The Lord our warrior. 

 10 The Lord threw [his enemies]  into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,

    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

13 So the sun stood still,

    and the moon stopped,

    till the nation avenged itself on[b] its enemies,

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

 

I think this is hugely reassuring. God doesn’t hear our prayers and then out source his response to other agencies. He doesn’t commission G4S to organise his people’s security. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel. Surely the Lord is fighting for Gabriel. Surely The Lord himself fights for us. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever been persecuted for being a Christian? What form did it take? How did it feel? What did it make you think? 

 

Would it be a good thing if you had never been persecuted for your fath? 

 

Why according to Joshua 10 might it be that God’s people are persecuted?

 

What might stop you crying out for help to God? 

 

Why must you cry for help immediately?

 

Where do you need the Lord to fight your battles for you at the moment?

 

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Joshua 9

Joshua 9

 

Intro

I read a link on social media recently which asked the question....

 

Which scenes do you always fast forward through when rewatching a movie?

  • First 10 minutes and the last 5 of taken. Tight gritty dramas sandwiched between family schmudtz 
  • Knife fight scene from Saving Private Ryan.
  • The Scene in Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug where they're tripping balls in the woods until the spiders show up
  • Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker talks to Leah about the Force...
  • More recently for me it would be the tube scene in the darkest hour when winston churchil goes rogue and chats to everyone on the underground – nice and all but a bit eye rolling.

 

And let me be honest, if a film were made of Joshua,, chapter 9 may be those same scenes you would fast forward through when rewatching.

 

Context of Joshua – God had promised to give them the land, they needed to clear the land of their enemies and start again. They were given God's promises, the assurance of His presence and 'I will not leave you, I will not give up on you.  I have given you this land, you will inherit all the promises I swore to your forefathers. Don't be frightened, don't be dismayed, don't let the word of God depart from your mouth, meditate on it night and day.  The Lord your God is with you wherever you go. 

 

Up until now, great battles, great victories, some dramatic tension of purging a thief from their number – some with war waged, others with marches, but it's been an action packed warring narrative. It's super adventure filled, God with them, action action.

 

And then we get to this chapter.  Does it not feel to you like 'really? We've got a whole chapter on a weird deception? Like, old school copies of this book were made, scribes have painstakingly hand carve this chapter, word for word, handed down all to tell us, what?' Did it not seem weird or random or a bit of a non-event?

 

Do you not think, I'd fast forward through that another time round? I do

 

The story in a nutshell is that after Israel's victory, surrounding nations get twitchy and plan to counter attack. One nation, the Gibeonites, decide that they'll trick the Israelites into making peace with them by pretending to come from a far off land and therefore not pose a threat.

It works. But then the Gibeonites get found out, the people are annoyed with the leaders but a covenant was a serious thing in those days, which couldn't be broken. So the Gibeonites come before Joshua, hold their hands up saying 'yup, our bad' and they get to stay but have jobs as household servants in the temple.

 

I know, right, you'd definitely fast forward it when you read it again. Since this is God's word and since he has the remote and I don't, let have a look.

 

As we look at this chapter I think it tells us a couple of things – firstly about the lack of Faith in God's people, the presence of faith of the outsider and the Joshua who protects the faithful.

 

  1. The Faithlessness of God's people – don't be complacent 

 

The chapter opens with a whole group of nations conspiring to come together to wage war on the people of God.  

But in their number were the Gibeonites – they saw the situation, heard what God had done through Joshua in Jericho and Ai and didn't want to fight, as we'll see.  So, a very simple deception was planned.  Nothing hugely complicated, just a simple sleight of hand, an ego massage and a plea for peace. They come to Israel pretending to be from a far off, insignificant land wanting to make peace because they've heard great things. And initially, Israel was suspicious v7, guessed it by accident saying “ But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?’”

 

And the people replied not with a denial, not with a surrender, but with flattering plea

    'We are your servants'

 

The reply of the Gibeonites was classic distraction through answering a different question.  Verbal games.  They were crafty – a sleight of hand followed by an ego massage.

 

Have you've ever noticed how much a compliment can throw you off guard?  How flattery can be pretty intoxicating and bewitching? Don't know if you've waited to see friend or family member to have it out with them and they start the conversation with a 'you look great' or 'look it's my favourite person' – compliments have a way of ultimately distracting us – even and perhaps especially when the compliment is spiritual. 

Listen to what the Gibeonites said

'We've heard of the fame of your God, we know of all he's done for you in all of your many incredible victories and we've made huge efforts to come to you, to make a covenant with you

They quoted what every Israelite would have wanted to here....

We love your church, we've heard about your community, we see that God is with you, it's obvious to us.  We have come to make peace.

 

We'll come to whether this was genuine or not in a moment, but the point being that it seemed to distract them.  It seemed to put them off pursuing their original enquiry, seemed to embolden them somehow.

Until finally they made peace.

 

Yet the narrator gives us the real reason.  You see, in hindsight they may have concluded that it was a simple ruse and they should set up systems in place so this would never happen again.  You could imagine all sorts of new policies of covenant making, a think tank group set aside to develop better ways of avoiding deceit, better ways to spot old sandals/bread/wineskins, lie detecting machinery....all of it. In retrospect that could've been the resolution – the moral of the story.

 

Yet the narrator wants it to be very clear what the real mistake was.  

Do you see it, v 14 – 'they did not enquire of the Lord' 

That was it – they did not enquire of the Lord.

They didn't seek him, they didn't talk to Him, they didn't ask Him, nothing. 

 

When I was little I remember playing in my Nana's house in Birmingham. I learned later that it was on the market and she was in the process of selling it, so you can imagine the pristine nature of a house with frequent viewings.  Anyway, me and my older bother were in the front room doing a jigsaw before children's tv was scheduled to come on at 3.30pm.  And it got a bit cold, so we went over to the old gas fire and saw there was only one panel in the middle lit, so we tried to the get the other two panels to fire.  In our 4 & 6 year old way, we reasoned, we had ideas and the best we came up with was that we roll up a piece of paper and light it through the grate and then put it against the panels that weren't lit in the hope they'd ignite.  And to add extra protection to our hands, since we were getting near the fire, we wrapped them in paper towels.  The inevitable happened and both pieces of paper and the towels set alight and me and my brother ran with a flaming torch on our hands through the living room to get help.  You can imagine we were in big trouble.  But once the burns were treated and we were sat down for the telling off, my Nana just said 'if you were cold,  why didn't you ask me to turn the fire up?'  – I remember sitting there, utterly floored by the question.  We literally had no answer.  The common sense of a small child prevailed. But Why didn't we just ask?

 

And Joshua in his narration is saying the same thing, almost as if the LORD is asking the same question – why didn't you just ask me? Now we don't know the answer but it could be  they  just thought they had this, it seemed reasonable thing, just common sense.  We showed due diligence, we checked the food & it was mouldy, we examined the wine skins and they were battered, their shoes and saw the holes.  Maybe it just wasn't a big thing – maybe they just thought 'we've got this'.

 

It wasn't a big, weighty, spiritual question, right? – it wasn't 'who shall I marry, what job shall I do, where shall I live, should I take this promotion, where shall we send our kids to school' –  these are the biggies  that we know we should enquire of the Lord– but the Gibeonites, well - it just didn't seem to need prayer. It didn't seem to need asking the LORD.  

 

Now I don't think the point here is that we have to enquire of the LORD which flavour crips we buy when we're in the shops and can't choose.  But somewhere between 'what flavour crisps' and 'what shall I do with my life' lies a vast array of decisions. And God's people must enquire of Him.  He longs for us to.  Like my Nana, she was confused that we didn't just ask, she felt hurt that we didn't, she was annoyed that it led to burn marks on the carpet, she was deeply upset that it led to burns on our hands.  

 

And so we see the faithlessness of God's people exposed, making peace with the very people God had told them to drive out.  Why? They were deceived, they had their ego's massaged, but

They did not enquire of the Lord

 

Secondly we see the 'faith of the unbeliever which gives us reason for humility'

  1. The Faith of the Outsider – be humbled

 

Now hear me out on this one, because I admit I'm drawing conclusions on things that we don't know for sure.  

The chapter opens with all the kings of West of the Jordan hearing of the victories of God's people in battle.  Naturally they decide on a counter attack, on vengeance, on war.

 

But not the Gibeonites. The last thing they wanted to do was go to war.  Why? Well, maybe because the things they spoke about were true - 

‘Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God v9

v24:

‘Your servants were clearly told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. 25 We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.’

 

It sounds a bit like Rahab – do you remember her? She was the one who hid the spies in Jericho at the risk to her own life. She said this to the spies in chapter 2

 ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord ….

 

I've heard about Him and I want in. 

The Gibeonites had heard what God had done, they believed His word.  They sought peace rather than war, they appealed to the Word of the Lord – and even though they were deceitful, they sought covenant. They even went adrift from all their other kings and sought peace rather than war.  Had they been found out, this could have been seen as treacherous. And we read in chapter 10 that Gibeon was a great city, of men who were amazing fighters, so it wasn't like they couldn't have really wounded Israel or put up a decent fight. 

 

And did you notice that when Joshua confronted them and they were 'cursed' and assigned to be woodcutters and servants – basically manual labourers for the temple – they didn't object, they accepted what was deemed to be a right punishment – simply repeating 'we are your servants v.25 – 'now we are in your hands, do whatever is good and right to you'

 

You see, who can say what the genuine response of their hearts was, but I think they're supposed to really contrast with the faithlessness of Israel by showing a faithfulness of the Gibeonites.  

 

Whilst Israel was enjoying the spoils of the victory, basking in the special privilege of knowing God, here comes a group of people devoted to, yes, trickery and deception, but with the desire to be under God's shelter too.  And In the LORD's peculiar sovereignty, their deception worked, the oath was sworn and upheld.  

 

It is humbling to see faith in the God we think we know by those we don't know about.

It is humbling when others take our faith more seriously than we do.

It is humbling when people hear the word of God and act on it – when we live in the spoils of His blessing and go it alone in our walk with Him.

 

So the faithlessness of God's People,  The faithfulness of the Gibeonites

And 

  1. The Joshua who protects the faithful

So as we've seen in reading through the book of Joshua, Joshua – who's name, like Jesus, means 'One who Saves' lays down the pattern of what the champion of God's people looks like. Now, Joshua being human, also shows us what being human is like but we pay careful attention to the role Joshua plays that's distinct from the people. Let's have a look at v.26 - 

But do you see what happens when the Gibeonites are found out?

v.26 So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. 27 That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water-carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.

 

The oath was made, the people grumbled wishing for it to be reversed, but it was upheld. For despite their not enquiring of the Lord, they knew the binding nature of an oath before him. And so strongly did they feel about this that when Joshua affirms the oath of protection to the Gibeonites, he's  described as v. 26 – as saving them from being killed by Israel.... - killed in battle, or killed from anger at their deception....either or both!

He saved their lives, he spared them. Ironically here, he spares the lives of the outsider from death & hatred of the insider! 

 

I mean, can you imagine what church was like the following week?  There's the people of Israel, widows perhaps who've lost their husbands in battle, then the  warriors who fought against Ai, leaders of the people, maybe looking bashful for having been tricked so easily. And then there's the Gibeonites, the ones ministering in the house of God!  The 'curse' is an interesting one – your punishment is to be close to God, to serve him, to be employed in the altar of the Lord at the place the lord would choose.   Joshua has saved your life and now you're completely in.

 

It's like playing for one country in the world cup one week, then bribing your way with false passports to convince another country to sign you and find yourself in the dressing room of the new country by the weekend!

 

It's outrageous grace.  It's ridiculous grace, It's risky grace. But It's the only kind of grace there is.  Well might the people of Israel grumble – sitting there saying 'but my family are descendants of Abraham, I've grown up in the church, I've given a lot of money to the work of the gospel, and there they are – they just lied and here's how they get rewarded. 

 

There's no reward for good behaviour as a christian – grace gets us in and grace leads us home.  We're no more worthy now that when God first saved us.  I love the line in the hymn – grace has brought us safe thus far and GRACE will lead us home.  THE WAY IN IS THE WAY HOME.

 

So as we conclude on what may have felt like the chapter you'd fast forward, we have two groups of people that we may identify with

 

There's the group of God's people who, being flattered and independent, did not enquire of the LORD.  Perhaps we identify with them, perhaps we feel the independence from Him that has been a struggle and decisions we've made proven to be the wrong ones.  Don't lose heart, do not fear, Jesus has got you – Jesus, the One who Saves – is able to make good on them, able to rescue in the big and the small.

 

But perhaps we feel more like the Gibeonites – feeling like as we sit here, we're only just in by the skin of our teeth, our moral reputation nothing to be proud of, our track record feels a bit dog-eared, our emotions frayed and we sit looking around us wondering how we manage to be here.

It's the same Jesus who meets you, who saves your life and welcomes you in.  You're all good.

 

Let's take time before we sing to praise our Jesus

    The one who longs for us to talk to him

    The one who is able to redeem our past mistakes

    The one who saves our lives and brings us to himself

 

  

 

 

 

 

Joshua 8

Joshua 8 

 

We’re over half way through our series of sermons in the OT book of Joshua and it’s a chance for us to recap again the way that this ancient book, this ancient story operates for us here in 21st C London. 

 

Does this seemingly distant primitive story have anything to say to me about my life and my God? 

Well we’ve said that the OT is not as distant as we might think. 

 

Jesus tells us in the gospel of Luke 24:27 what the OT Scriptures are really all about.. The are are about Him, Every story; Institutions in the OT - like the temple and sacrifices - they teach us about Jesus. People in the OT particularly prophets, priests, leaders and Kings in so far as they are good, they point us to Jesus, in so far as they are bad- they point us to our need for Jesus the perfect prophet, priest and king. So Joshua the man foreshadows Jesus  we really see that in Today’s passage. Remeber Joshua and Jeshua Jesus are the same name. So this ancient book is all about Jesus. 

 

And this ancient story is also all about us. The apostle Paul says in a  couple of places in the NT - Romans 15, 1 Corinthians 10 - that the history of Israel occured and was written down to teach, warn and encourage us, Christians. I remember a few years ago when we were making plans to renovate our church hall - leaky roof, rotten windows, no heating, poxy kitchen and the worst toilets in England - and Pete and Dave drew up architects plans for developing the kitchen with a mezzanine and new toilets and they built this little scale model of the hall as it would be in the future complete with little people inside. It wasn’t the reality, it was a model. But it helped us to understand for the future, the ultimate fulfiment of the plans for the hall. That’s the OT.  The OT story of a nation, Israel rescued through sacrifice (the exodus) from slavery for a promised land. That story is the prototype, the model in miniature, in anticipation of the fulfilment of the ultimate plan of God which is A world rescued through sacrifice from sin and death for a promised eternal rest.

 

So the ancient book of Joshua is about Jesus - he is there foreshadowed Our Jeshua. And it’s about us. Israel’s entry into and claiming of, conquering, the promised land pictures for us OUR entering into eternal life with God which has both now and not yet aspects to it. We both have eternal life with God now AND we await the full consumation of that life beyond our death or when Jesus returns to establish a new creation. In the meantime, in the now and the not yet, just as Israel, entering their promised land needed to claim it, conquer their enemies. So we, having entered life with God need to take hold of that which is already ours. We need to fight our enemies to enjoy the life and rest God has for us. And our struggle to quote Ephesians 5:12  is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Spiritual war. against sin, temptation, godlessness. Are you aware that you’re in a warzone? If you’re oblivious you’re very vulnerable. you’re a sitting duck. Perhaps you’re weary, afraid and hiding from the conflict. Or perhaps you’re surrendering, throwing in the towel? you’ve given up and there’s not getting back in as far as you can see.. 

 

I hope this passage will give you encouragement and hope to not be naive, to not give up, to not be afraid but to keep fighting with the help that God provides. 

 

Israel in Joshua 8 were not in a good place. They’d just lost a battle, chapter 7, taken by surprise by a seemingky weak enemy - the tiny stronghold of Ai - means ruin! 3000 soldiers would be more than enough they’d thought. Wrong they got their buts whipped, there are casualties, 36 dead, presumably many wounded and worst of all morale is completely lost. If we can’t defeat little Ai we’re doomed - what hope do we have surrounded by enemies?

It’s often happens in life that it’s the small things that trip us up and ruin us. We make great strides and then fall to the most innocuous temptation. One small problem that breaks us having withstood so much difficulty and that failure can lead to great discouragement and despair. How am i ever gonna do this?

 

But don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Hope is coming…

 

I said last week that Israel’s defeat at Ai wasn’t because of their prayelessness - they hadn’t prayed beforehand. And it wasn’t becuase of their pride. They only thiught they needed a small force to win this battle and so they left the majority of the army behind. I said that because the passge Joshua 7 makes plain that God withheld victory from Israel because there is sin in the camp. Achan’s disobedience. 

 

But reading chapter 8, it does seem that Achan’s sin - his self centredness in taking for himself things that God had said should not be taken. His self inflated view that he could get away with it. Achan’s sin is perhaps characteristic of all Israelits hearts after the crossing of the Jordan and the victory at Jericho. They had it seems  become complacent, self dependent and proud because God, in chapter 7 and her in chapter 8 gets Joshua back on his knees, back to prayerful dependence. AND. They had it seems become over confident and proud because God, here in chapter sends the whole army with a detailed stragegy to attack little Ai. 

 

so 3 things we’re going to consider

  1. Our prayerfulness 
  2. Our obedience 
  3. Our Jeshua - Our joshua, Our Jesus 

 

 

  1. Our prayerfulness 

At the beginning of chapter 8 Joshua has been on his face again in prayer. When things are going well - as they had been so far from Israel crossing the Jordan, defeating Jericho - when things are going swimmingly we pray less. Ai looked easy - well within their grasp, so you don’t pray, you just act…

 

If Joshua had prayed, had sought the Lord would be not have received God’s revelation about Achan’s sin BEFORE having to learn of it the hard way - the failure of Ai, the loss of 36 lives. The discouragement and despair. Wasn’t prayerlessness in part to blame? 

When things are going well we begin not to pray. We revert to independence, self confidence and a fall and failure is inevitable. 

One of my favourite songs at the moment, I have made mistakes by Texan brother sister, rock folk duo The Oh Hellos - has these words. 

The sun it does not cause us.. The sun is does not cause us to grow

It is the rain that will strengthen… The rain that will strengthen your soul. It will make your whole. 

 

After the failure of Ai, Joshua is on his face. And he waits for God. On his face til evening. Having poured out his heart to God - his pain, his confession, his complaint, his cries for help. He waits for God. He waits for God’s response. 

Because prayer is not a one way thing. It’s not submitting a complaint form or shopping list to some impersonal faceless beauracracy. Prayer is a child coming to her heavenly Father. Prayer is expectation. Prayer is the beginning of a conversation.  

Prayer cannot be just us speaking. It must involve listening because God is a speaking God. he has things to say! AND His words, unlike ours are Wisdom and Truth and Life. 

 

We’re always told that the way God speaks to us is through the words of Scripture and that is entirely true. But we moderns we have a problem with reading and listening. In the ancient world you read for wisdom, you read slowly. With the founding of universities in the 13th C and the consequent age of enlightenment the purpose of reading changed from the learning of wisdom to the speedy acquisition of information. Reading became the very functional activity that it is today. 

 

We’re in danger of not hearing God in prayer. 

We need to rediscover a prayerful waiting before God that holds before him and ourselves the truths of Scripture in such a way that we can receive his particular word to us and wisdom for us deep into our hearts and minds. God speaks in our prayers but are we really listening? 

i love and am challenged by this quote from James Ussher - the Puritan Archbishop of Armagh who said that: “Every sermon is but a preparation for meditation,” and, one hour spent in meditation is “worth more than a thousand sermons.” 

 

God’s direct words to you, to you - that is your food, that is a the feast for your soul - says Isaiah 55 where God invites us to come and listen to him to come feast. Here is joshua hungry and waiting on God. And he receives food 

After the earthquake of Achan’s sin. God restores a troubled and shaken heart with strengthening word and renewed promise, a generous gift, and a wise strategy.

v1 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. an unmistakeable, strengthening word from God.. God proving his presence and involvement. We need that when we’re in trouble, we need to know God is with us and he is for us. Wait upon the Lord Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For listen to the promise renewed I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. God is going to do this. In fact it’s already as good as done. It doesn’t depend on you. Listen to the generous gift 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that this time you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Wow, if only Achan had waited. God is not a spoilsport he doesn’t withold gifts from us. Then finally there’s wise strategy for the way forward Set an ambush behind the city.”

 

How different Joshua must have been when he finally arose from waiting on God’s living word in prayer. The work of prayer is totally where it’s at. Wait on God. Allow him to truly speak to you. You will be transformed. Our prayerfulness 

 

2. Our obedience 

God’s strategy for Ai is almost the polar opposite to Israel’s original failed strategy.

 

Israel had thought that Ai could be handled with just a small force of men, give the rest of the army the day off. 

But God sends the whole army into battle v3. All God’s people are required. That’s instructive for us - whether it’s the global church or the local church - the battles of God are not won by just one subsection or group. Everyone is needed. 

 

Israel had thought that they could just march up to the gates of Ai and walk straight in - how wrong they were as the nutters of Ai came running out straight at them causing them to leg it in the opposite direction. 

God’s strategy is not boastful and proud - marching up to the city. 

God’s strategy is humble and seemingly weak. Part of the army hides behind the city! The rest of the army with Joshua march towards the city gates and the thugs of Ai can’t believe Israel’s stupidity. They’re back for another kick in. They rush out from the city and true to form Israel turn and run away! At which point the Israelite forces hidden behind the city slip into an empty stronghold set everything on fire and then march out to surround the men of Ai and defeat them. 

 

God has a strategy that Israel are required to follow to the letter> God is the commander of the army. He wins the victory. 

Obedience can seem like a dirty word in our self obsessed culture. Obedience to another is considered weak and weird. Be your own person, actualise your freedom, don’t be constrained. But freedom to live as you please is not freedom if you don’t have the wisdom to know how to live well! 

True freedom, True life is found in focussed obedience to God  who is the source of all life. 

When it comes to the battles we face. God instructs us in Ephesians chapter 6v10 

be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…. 14 with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 …take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

 

God’s instructions for our obedience 

be strong IN the Lord 

 

brings us to our final point because left to oursleves we won’t pray, left to ourselves we won’t obey but we are no left to ourselves. We have one who prays for us and with us, we have one who who obeyed for us - 

 

3. Our Jeshua

All of the Scriptures are about Jesus 

and i was looking at this passage and thinking where’s Jesus here and of course he’s staring you in the face because Joshua in this passage is foreshadowing Jesus - our perfect leader, our captain, our Lord, our substitute - where we had not prayed, he prays on our behalf, where we had not obeyed he obeys, where we deserved death he died, where we needed life he rose to victory 

 

Look at Joshua’s journey in the story

Following his prayers - he enters into obedience to this humble, seemingly weak plan of God. 

he sets the ambush and end of v9  he spent that night with the people. Literally he dwelt with the people. 

There are only 2 places in the gospels where Jesus is said to have dwelt with his people. One is speaking the incarnation. God becoming a human being. He came down, became what we are inorder that we might become what he is. He comes to our humaity to the heights of his throne. The second place that it talks about Jesus lodging with his people as opposed to sleeping rough which seems to have been his usual practice - was on the night before the night before he died. when he lodged with his friends in bethany. The night before the night before his great battle. 

 

The next day Joshua takes his troops to camp as a lure in front of the city of Ai. but that night v13 Joshua went [alone] into the valley. 

Jesus too entered the city. And on the night before he died he went into the valley - the darkness of gethsemane, the trials before his opponents, the abandonment of his friends. 

 

Joshua’s battle is one of seeming weakness. The Israelites flee in the face of the hooligans of Ai. But the tables will be turned when the ambush is sprung. Jesus’s battle on the cross is one of seeming weakness. All seems to be lost as Jesus hangs on a wooden cross. But the ambush on evil is sprung. By killing him they are killing sin and Jesus rises from the dead victorious. 

 

Joshua stands with his spear aloft until the victory is finally won. 

Jesus, raised and exalted stands at his Father’s right hand praying for us. Victory is won and shall be won.   

 

Our Jeshua. 

How incredible he is. He has done it all. All of our prayers and all of our obedience are a privileged entering into his prayers and his obedience. We don’t pray and obey because we have to. becaus we have to ingratiate ourselves to God, earn our way. No it’s all been done for us. Jesus has already walked that road on our behalf and secured our eternal life - so that we can now pray and obey ..

 

Let’s pray together..