God’s Kingdom, not Talk but Power.

I am singing,”This is My Grace” and in my mind’s eye I see the figure on the cross – arms stretched wide – crown of thorns on His head – behind Him is a growing light – becoming more and more intense, almost blindingly bright – the crown is turning to burnished gold.

“ This is my Grace, represented by my open arms – ready to give and ready to receive you with no merit required. My Grace starts with an attitude I have towards you all. An attitude of giving all without expecting any merit from you. That attitude however, turns to power which was released on the cross – the power to forgive all sin, the power to restore you and make you whole. The power to change lives – making you productive, filling you with joy, enabling you to experience love, My love which I gift to you by My grace. It is a miracle. It starts as a miracle and goes on as a daily miracle till you come home to experience the glory of My presence.

Talk has power? Yes? Words can build up and cause one to want to fly. They can also be used to destroy, faith, self respect, hope and much else. Some words may stay with us our whole lives. Yet Paul ends this whole section in which he has been speaking about divisions in the church with the statement in 4:20 “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but power”.

So the one thread has been about the power of the gospel to save and transform lives. A power, different to ordinary knowledge, but a power which is released by God’s Spirit when the gospel is explained. Paul has been discussing the causes of the divisions in the Church. In summary he he centers on the phrase, “Some are inflated with pride” 4:18.

So what He is saying is that they are all talk. They have plenty to say. However their lives do not demonstrate the changing power of the gospel. True gospel believers, mature gospel believers are characterized by humility and an attitude of service towards others, like the Master.

Their various leaders are saying plenty in an effort to draw attention. From 4:5 Paul reminds them of the Apostle’s example. Their attitude of humility comes from recognizing, 4:7 “What do you have that you did not receive?”

If we see and understand this apostolic lesson that any attribute, any gift, any talent, any opportunity to serve is a pure gift from God, which should be accepted and used for the benefit of building the kingdom, without attracting attention to oneself. If we can grasp that in our innermost being, then we will have a start to prevent us from becoming inflated by our own opinion.

Hard to do? That is why the power of the gospel is so important. It is so easy to slip into the position of enjoying any attention and becoming “puffed up”.

Each one of us is different. We each have a different temperament and character. Different gifts and abilities. Different ways of expressing ourselves and our circumstances are equally different. So when I say that we all have one thing in common, it will manifest itself in different ways for each of us. So we each have one central problem; that is our own ego and self-interest. Sometimes I feel I am winning against this evil, then I come crashing down again. That is why we must take Paul’s words very seriously. Each one must beware of this in ourselves and go the Lord in confession to receive gospel forgiveness and the real power to overcome.

So the Lord is saying again to me, this week, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, serve as if you are serving me and enjoy it as a gift I have given you. Remember My power in you and available to you to serve

The Mystery of Wisdom vs Knowledge.

“Each One of you has times and seasons. There are times of great joy and triumph, of hope and deep worship – of belonging and having a deep sense of my love surrounding you. Then there are times when I may appear to have withdrawn, to have become distant. Often this happens when you have setbacks of any kind. You find yourself calling out, “How long oh lord how long?”Then the answer comes, “At just the right time”. I have made you like that, an emotional being, with an imagination and an inner voice as you build scenarios and stories. I made you like that so you could have a vision to plan a future and understand the past. Just know this – no matter how you feel, I am the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. My bond of love for you cannot be broken – no matter what you feel, I am working for your good and the good of my church. So face the facts of my word and don’t rely on your feelings.”

Now we come to the mystery, as we proceed from 1Cor 2:6. Paul speaks of “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God predestined for our glory before time began”. In Ephesians ch 3, the mystery is identified as Christ. Obviously referring to the whole means of salvation which was only revealed once Christ arrived.

Now the mystery remains, why do some people understand and others not? It has to do with the attitude of the believer. 2:14 reiterates that the message is foolishness to him/her. Why? Because the Spirit is not active in helping him. To those who are being saved 1:21, Who have believed through the foolishness of the preaching – the true message is revealed by the Spirit.

As I said last time that this is a mystery, that God needs to be active in the person’s mind and heart for him to experience the message as life saving for them. For the person who does not really care, the person who has no interest at all the message appears as foolishness.

Some, here the Greeks seek a clever argument, others, the Jews here, look for power and signs. They will look right past the beauty of the gospel.

Paul then returns to the problem of divisions in the church. His opening words declare that this is a case of spiritual immaturity. To counteract this he explains that while every worker in God’s field has a role to play that should not supersede the centrality of Christ 3:11.

Furthermore he reminds us of the sanctity and importance of the church 3:16. God in his Spirit lives among us and 3:22, if we belong to Christ he has given us everything. We need not run after men who we admire. By all means be discerning to follow those who have the gift of teaching, but don’t follow them because of who they are and place them on a pedestal above Christ.

Selfish ambition and poor theology are the root causes of division. Losing sight of the wonder of receiving every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, and the wonder and joy of sharing that with others in church causes our selfishness to blossom.

May God bless you this coming week.

The Power of the Gospel is Real.

As I become quiet, I see a marvellous sight – a glorious, majestic Figure filling the sky – with His light and glory. The King of the universe.

“I use the title of king to denote my rule over every part of the kingdom, My full authority over all My subjects and every part of this vast Kingdom. Yet it is an unseen rule at the moment. I rule by ruling in the hearts of those who have subjected themselves to Me and have received Me and acknowledge Me as their King. I also have authority and rule over the rest even though it is unseen, it is real. The picture painted of Me in Revelation of being seated on a throne, high and lifted up, with My train filling the temple is a symbolic picture. In the new heavens and the new earth just as now, I will not be confined to one place seated on a throne, no matter how beautiful. My glory will be everywhere – everyone will enjoy it just as you to will be glorified in My presence. The pain of this world is passing away and soon you will enter The Glory – My glorious Presence, in the New Heavens and the New Earth.”

As I promised last time, I am embarking on reading through the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians. In my early days as a Christian, involved heavily with the “Charismatic Movement” at the time, I was steeped in the teaching in the center parts of this letter. Because of this I think I have subconsciously avoided going back there again since then. So I need a fresh start and view of the WHOLE letter, not just selected parts. Without being too technical, it is wise to remember that the church to which Paul was writing had several problems which will explain the course of His discussion, as he addressed them.

Dealing with Chapter 1 up to 2:5, here are a few observations that struck me: Paul immediately brings into focus two of the main problems this church had. In 1:7 he brings up the matter of Spiritual gifts about which he will have a lot to say later, which was the focus of the Charismatic Movement. The other problem he raises is the problem of divisions in the church 1:10 ff.

Setting aside the story of the gifts, I sat up when Paul started speaking about divisions in the church. Now I have seen several churches broken up and their effectiveness destroyed by divisions which arose. So I think this is still a very real problem today. A problem which I believe is one of Satan’s great weapons to decrease the effectiveness of the gospel.

So what was the problem here? Paul raises the point that the people were following various “leaders” or teachers in the congregation. Not only were they following them, they were boasting about them 1:5 ff. The focus also seems to have been baptism. 1:14 -17. They were focusing on the physical rather than the spiritual reality which baptism represents. Now, I need not tell you how this subject has divided the church over the years. Underlying this problem seems to be pride, note the word “boasting” which Paul uses several times. Pride, and self-centredness are qualities which represent immaturity. So I don’t suppose one should be surprised that those qualities lead to divisions.

So what is Paul’s initial solution, which I take it will be developed as we proceed? Well it lies in what Paul’s message is. The gospel, just as in the book of Romans, Paul raises the reality that the Gospel is the power of God for us who are being saved (1:16b cf Romans 1:16). He expands this by explaining that his preaching was in God’s power, not with fine sounding words etc. Furthermore he says: “Christ did not send me to baptize but to evangelize”. (1:17).

It struck me that the way to avoid divisions in the church is to focus on the central message of Jesus and His cross. In that message lies a power which is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. (Ephes 1:19ff). An iresistable power.

Something else struck me. Something we maybe take for granted but worth mentioning. While the saints to whom Paul is writing are described as those called by Jesus 1:2,9, The are also called those “who call on the Name of the Lord” 1:2. So although salvation is entirely a work of God through Jesus, there is nevertheless a responsibility from our side that we are to call on God for salvation. This is a mystery which I do not want to demystify, simply showing how simple yet how complex salvation can be.

Next time we will look at the different types of reaction Paul experienced with His preaching and place it in our context.

As I continue into the New Year, I am encouraged and motivated to pray for the lost and share the gospel and watch God’s power at work. yet with an attitude of absolute humility and dependence.

The World needs to know.

The songs beseeching God to give me more of Himself, strike a false note – He has already given me all of Himself – what he wants is more of me.

“You are right Ian. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is here with you – Yahweh – the Creator of everything is here. I have been here before you, inviting you to come close to Me and listen to Me. I am present here through Jesus and His Spirit, seeking the closest bond of love with you. So as the year stretches out before you remember that everything that is happening to you in your life, what you experience as joyful and pleasant as well as the challenges. They are all intended to draw you closer to Me in a bond of peace and love. Yes you matter to Me – your life matters to Me – it is important. That is what lies behind my whole purpose for the universe. And as you experience this bond growing deeper and deeper – remember it is not only for you – it is a gift available to anyone who seeks it. If it is really important to you then continue to share it with whoever I bring across your path – shout it from the mountain tops – that the world can hear.”

As the new year begins, it is fitting that we come to the end of this magnificent gospel which Matthew, divinely inspired has left for us, as it should provide us with a suitable launching pad for the rest of the year.

Firstly we come to the description of the resurrection of Jesus in ch 28. This is perhaps the most important event of the gospel. Not because it outshines the sacrificial death of our Saviour in importance, but because it underlines it and adds a number of exclamation marks. This is not just a blowing of life back into a corpse. Remember the resurrection of Lazarus, “He has been dead 4 days, by this time there is a bad odour” (John 11:39). From the minute the circulation stops decomposition sets in. The tissues are changed and broken down. To raise a person from the dead, apart from the fact that it is a totally supernatural act, requires an actual recreation of that person. In the case of Jesus, when He was seen again His physical characteristics had changed completely.

Now if one sees to what extent the bible, in various places, emphasizes the fact that His resurrection was witnessed by many people, one realizes to what extent this act raises the whole life and death of Jesus above that of a super hero of sorts to the unique Divine. We find in Acts, that Paul in his various sermons places a great emphasis on this event. Thinking through this all reminded me of its importance and I realized how seldom I have ever spoken about it to anyone else when I have tried to share the gospel. I suppose by speaking about it, I have been afraid of being relegated to a nutcase.

Close on the heels of the description of the resurrection come the final paragraph of Matthew’s gospel. I suppose this event, the resurrection climaxes this whole amazing story of our Saviour and should lead us almost involuntarily into joining our hearts to hear this “Great Commission”.

Let us just look at a few points in this paragraph. Firstly what does Jesus mean by saying, “All authority has been given Me in heaven and on earth”?

So, firstly He is passing that authority on to those disciples, but not only them but every one after them. Just stop and think. This message which Matthew has given us, which we have the authority to tell others of, has the full power of God behind it. “The gospel is the power of God for everyone who believes”. Romans 1:16. We don’t just have a good story to share, we have a story which carries the full power of God to transform the life or lives of those to whom we tell it. God not only helps us with the right words to say, but drives them home with all His power behind them.

What is the message then? It covers every aspect of the gospel story. Introducing people to the whole idea, bringing them to a point of decision (baptising them), helping people to understand the way the gospel is lived out in each person’s life. The list is endless. Each one of us has a role to play. A role which is unique to each one. The command is to “do it”. Be ready to share this wonderful news at every opportunity that God gives. To some it may mean prayer. To others providing a social platform. The ways are endless.

So as we stand on the brink of 2023, remember we each of us hold a Jewel beyond price in our hands and if we share that it becomes a Holy Fire. This year is not just a year to find a way of passing through it. It is a year of possibilities for every one of us. It should fill us with excitement and anticipation. It has to me. Remembering the sobering thought though that we are at war with satan and his friends and so he is going to do the maximum he can to discourage us. But the resurrection shows Jesus has won the victory, we just need to trust Him and live in it.

God bless each one of you for 2023.

(I have decided to read 1 Corinthians now).