Monthly Archives: May 2021

BE DIFFERENT!

BE DIFFERENT!

“Live in harmony with one another Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.

“On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing so, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:16-21(NIV).

It’s all very well Paul giving instructions about how we should live, but how do we actually do it? After all, we have to contend with Adam’s old nature in us!

That’s the whole point. If it were impossible for us to be different, Paul would not have even bothered to write these words. We, who are followers of Jesus, have to ask the question, “Did the cross work?” Jesus’ life and death had a very definite purpose – to reverse all the effects of Adam’s disobedience and to set us back on course to becoming the Father’s real children once again.

This means that everything that went wrong when Adam sinned was put right when Jesus died and rose again. He not only restored us to our rightful status as sons and daughters, but He also restored the entire creation to its original perfection. Of course, it has not been put into effect yet but, when the final curtain comes down, everything will be perfect once again and everything that does not belong in God’s realm, including all lies and deception and those who subscribe to them, will be destroyed.

“At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” Hebrews 12:26, 27 (NIV).

How, then, are we to be different from the run-of-the-mill people around us and how do we carry it out?

Firstly, by what we think of ourselves. “Don’t be proud; don’t be conceited.” Get real! Who appointed you to be the model? Pride and conceit are subtle attitudes that lurk in our hearts when we compare ourselves with other people. Since when were we told to set ourselves up as the comparison for others? We have only one model – Jesus – and when we look at Him, we have to admit that there is no comparison! Whoever we are and whatever we achieve means nothing without Him.

Secondly, who made you the judge? Again, get real! Our judgment will always be flawed because it is one-sided and biased. When we leave the judgement and revenge to God, it takes the heat out of the situation and leaves us free to treat people with kindness instead of aggression because it’s no longer our fight. Like little people who look to daddy to fight their battles for them, we can look to our Abba to take care of our adversaries. He is fair, and bigger than they are.

Thirdly, the best way to subdue an enemy is to make him your friend. How can you do that? By treating him with unexpected kindness. That will take the wind out of his sails! Jesus put it this way: “Here is a simple rule-of-thumb guide for behaviour: Ask yourself what you would want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.” Matthew 7:12 (THE MESSAGE).

We have the potential to be different because God has put His nature and His Spirit in us, but it is up to us to put it into effect by making the choice and relying on the Holy Spirit to energise our action. We can only be different when we partner with the Holy Spirit to live out what the cross made possible.

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

“Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.”

IMITATORS OF JESUS!

IMITATORS OF JESUS!

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  Romans 12:12-15.

This is where the rubber meets the road!

How should this magnificent salvation, which God thought up and brought about through Jesus, make a difference in the daily lives of those who believe in Him?  God told the Israelites what He expected of them after He rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Because of what He had done for them, He wanted them to be kind to one another and He spelled it out in the details of their everyday lives.

In the same way, Paul described the ways in which the followers of Jesus should respond to the ups and downs of life. God has rescued us from slavery to sin, a far worse kind of slavery than bondage to another person because it destroys the soul from the inside.

In response to God’s mercy, our first response is to give Him our bodies and our minds, allowing His Spirit, through His word, to change us by changing the way we think. We are no longer in competition with one another, but free to become who we are, and to grow our gifts through serving one another. In the atmosphere and bond of love, we can take our rightful places in Christ’s body, living and working together in harmony, showing the people in the world around us what God is like.

We need zeal and fervour – passion – to energise us, motivated by Jesus’s love for us and loving Him in return. Whatever we do for others, we do for Him. Our passion will grow as we keep gazing at Him, learning to interpret life’s experiences, good and bad, from His perspective, “seeing Him who is invisible.” Hebrews 11:27.

We have three groups of people to whom we relate – ourselves, our brothers and sisters in the church and the people around us in the world.

First of all we need to bring our own hearts into line with the Holy Spirit in us. When we allow Him to lead us. He will teach us how to respond to the difficult situations that arise in our lives as well as to the needs of other people, those in His family and even those who abuse us because we follow Jesus.

Since we are part of a family of God’s sons and daughters, we belong to each other. This means that we do life together and are part of each other in our ups and downs. Our resources do not belong exclusively to us. They are for us to share with any family member who falls on hard times. In this way, our generosity helps to maintain equality in the family and keeps the resources circulating.

Then we must get away from the idea that it does not matter how we treat unbelievers because they are enemies and not “of us”. It matters very much because we are the windows through which they see Jesus. Remember that, when His enemies were killing Him, Jesus said, “They don’t know what they are doing.” Don’t call down curses. Do the right thing – bless them and pray for them. You can go even further than that. You can come alongside them and identify with them in their joy and sorrow.

In order to relate properly to our brothers and sisters and to outsiders, we need first of all to bring our own spirits into submission to Jesus. Instead of complaining about every little thing that goes wrong, build a picture in your imagination of how it will all be when Jesus returns. Then celebrate! It will be a million times better than that!

However, you need to keep your feet on the ground. Jesus warned that “stuff” will happen. Don’t blame the devil. He started it but God is still in charge. He’s busy reshaping you through the difficult times to look like His Son. This means that He wants you to learn to respond as Jesus did when life throws bad things at you. Instead of whining and moaning, and “taking authority over the devil”, keep in touch with God. You’ll be amazed at what He is up to!

What about the way we treat our church “family”? Paul said, “Be like your Father – generous. You’ll never be a loser if your do.” The more you share, the more will come back to you. That’s how it is with God. Have an open house and an open heart.

Paul put it like this: “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Ephesians 5:1 (New Living Translation).

Acknowledgement

SPIRITUAL GIFTS – FOR WHAT?

SPIRITUAL GIFTS – FOR WHAT?

“We have different gifts according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is  prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.” Romans 12:6-11.

Have you noticed how Paul focuses on the non-spectacular functions in the church here? Are these any less gifts of the Spirit than, say, speaking in tongues or healing? What makes us think that it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to do a miracle but not to be generous or to show mercy? The one reveals God’s power through you, the other, in you, otherwise the old natural selfish nature will still be controlling you attitudes.

The use of spiritual gifts is not so much the issue but the motive for which they are used to benefit others. If you use your spiritual gift as a platform to gain anything for yourself, be it visibility, popularity, admiration, accolades or any other personal glory, there will be consequences in the end. Ananias and Sapphira are a case in point. They sold property, gave some money to the church as if it were all, wanting to appear generous in competition with Barnabas; but they were quickly exposed by the Holy Spirit through Peter and put to death!

Is not this the reason that Paul warned his Roman readers (and us) not to be conceited but to think realistically about ourselves, and not suppose that we are indispensable or have to do everything. It takes humility to admit that we can do one thing well but not something else, and to be content to be who we are. When we can take responsibility for our part, and not try to do what we cannot do, we fit in comfortably with the other members of the body and, in partnership with one another, we can accomplish what Jesus wants His body to do.

Once again, it’s not about us – it’s about Him. Our task, in harmony with one another, is to bring restoration to each member through the use of our gifts and, in this way, to mirror Him to the world around us. The gifts He gives us are His, not ours, and are for the benefit of others, not ourselves. But, like everything God does, the blessing always boomerangs back on us!

We do what we are gifted to do through His grace, but it our attitude that determines whether we are blessed in return, or whether we stand in line for judgment as did Ananias and Sapphira. Behind the attitude with which we use our gifts lies another attitude – our attitude to God. The Bible calls it “the fear of the Lord”. When we have the right attitude towards Him, it will regulate the motives and attitudes we have towards ourselves and the ones we serve.

Solomon summed it up aptly in Proverbs 9:10. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  Wisdom is, very simply, doing the right thing. When we have a reverential awe of God, remembering who He is, and hating anything that infringes on His glory, we will not take what He says lightly or treat Him with contempt because, as Solomon concluded in Ecclesiastes 12:14, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.” In the end, God is inescapable.

Every thought, attitude and motive will one day be exposed in His light. I am sure none of us would like to see our selfish and self-seeking motives in neon lights for everyone to see! How can we prevent our old corrupted nature from intruding into our ministry and service in the body of Christ?

Paul gives us some simple but effective steps:

1. Give God your body for His use and change the way you think – from your thoughts to His thoughts. That comes about as we spend time in His Word.

2. Put yourself in the right perspective. You are not the whole – only a small part. You cannot be and do everything.

3. Do what you are gifted to do and do it faithfully with zeal and fervour.

4. Keep the bigger picture in mind and fit into it with joy. It’s not about competition but about harmony, working towards a greater goal, the health of the whole body.

5. Wrap it up in a blanket of love – for Jesus and for His body. Put Jesus and others before yourself Meet the needs of others at your expense.

Imagine what the church would look like if we all did that!

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

ONE BODY, MANY MEMBERS

ONE BODY, MANY MEMBERS

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12:3-5.

It seems to me that Paul is not talking so much about pride as about competition in the church. Perhaps pride does underlie the competition that goes on between the members in many church groups; but what about insecurity? It is the insecure person who craves to be noticed so that he can receive the accolades that boost his self-esteem but, like a drug, the effect wears off after a while, and he needs another “fix” to keep going.

Since the most prominent and visible people get the accolades, he will try to climb up the pecking order by aspiring to gifts and functions which are not his. Paul warns, “Don’t try to become what you are not.” Not only will you not fit the function, but you will also rob the rightful person of his or her place in the body. Those who crave to be noticed by trying to fill the wrong shoes do not understand either the mercy of God or the way the church should function.

Paul uses three images to describe the church in its relation to Jesus and to the world; a body, a building and a bride. Each image points to a specific facet of what it should be and do.

In this passage, Paul highlights the function of the body in relation to its head. A body cannot function without a head. It is the head than controls the body, not the body the head. The head of the church is Jesus, who controls and directs His body by His Holy Spirit. Individuals in each local church are placed there by the head in order to fulfil the function of that particular body in its local setting.

God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1:22, 23.

A body has two primary functions; to take care of its own health and to reproduce. It can only fulfil those functions if each part does its own work efficiently. No body part can take over the function of another: an ear cannot see and an eye cannot hear. Why is it that we understand this in the natural and yet we overlook it in the spiritual? The health of the body depends on each part fulfilling its own function so that the whole body can work as a unit.

Once again, this brings us back to the nature of God – He is one in three distinct persons. His nature is reflected in the interdependence of everything in the universe. God’s glory is evident when everything works together in harmony. Unity was destroyed when Adam sinned. Jesus restored the potential for unity through the cross and He will complete the restoration when He returns, bringing everything back under His headship and orchestrating the universe as one harmonious whole. That includes every person who is submitted to him.

Can you see how important it is that every member fulfils his or her function in the body regardless of how visible or invisible he happens to be? Personal ambition has no place in the body. Unity is the goal.

“So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work,” Ephesians 4:11-13; 16.

Unity and maturity go hand in hand. To grow up in Christ, unlike the independence everyone in the world craves, is to become increasingly dependent on Him and on one another. Jesus said that we are to become like little children – helpless without Daddy and Mommy! When we each do our part without encroaching on someone else’s function, we show the world what God is like and reveal His power that makes unity possible.

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY

IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1, 2.

“When you see a “therefore”, ask what it’s there for!” Ever heard that one?

“Therefore” forms the bridge between what has gone before and what follows. True to Paul’s way, his practical application follows his presentation of what God has done.  In this letter, he has carefully set out the legal foundation for God’s mercy – His justice based on His righteousness in which He both dealt with sin and acquitted the sinner.

Therefore, what God has done demands a suitable response from those who have received His gift of righteousness. Our response depends on the purpose for which He went to the trouble of removing our sin and absolving us of guilt – so that we can be reconciled to Him and return to His original plan for human beings.

It’s no use saying, “Thank you very much,” putting His pardon in our back pockets as a passport to heaven and continuing to living in our old way as though nothing had happened. This attitude makes a mockery of His mercy and is the worst form of ingratitude.

David recognised the absolute importance of embracing all the benefits and blessings of God’s salvation as the highest form of gratitude that we can offer to Him for all that He has done for us.

12 What shall I return to the LORD
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people. Psalms 116:12-14

God went to great lengths to redeem us. For what purpose? To bring His wayward children back to Himself so that, once again, we can be His family and He can be our Father.

“What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of God, As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’ And, ‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,’ says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:16-18.  

If God is our Father, then we as His children should resemble Him in His nature, since we have been born of Him. The sinful nature in us has to be subdued so that we can be restored to what He made us to be in the beginning – holy, set apart for God; and righteous, doing the right thing in every situation, just as He does. That means, caring more for others than for ourselves and being generous in every way towards all people.

The problem is that, in order to change our behaviour, we have to change the way we think. But how? First of all, by relinquishing our right to ourselves. Paul put it this way: give God your body as a living sacrifice – not literally, of course, but present the members of your body to Him to direct what you do with them. Give Him your head – the control centre of your life. Give Him your arms and legs – what you do and where you go; give Him your tongue, your eyes, your ears etc., so that He can be in charge of what goes in and what comes out. Get the picture?

Hand-in-hand with your body must go your mind. Your thoughts are selfish, corrupted and contrary to God’s thoughts about Himself, you and others. Your behaviour will change as your thoughts change. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow, lifetime process of reading, understanding and absorbing God’s word, re-evaluating the way you think and respond to your life’s experiences in the light of what God’s word says, gaining a new perspective on life from God’s point of view and replacing self with God and others.

Does this sound like an impossible demand? It is – unless we see it as a partnership between the Holy Spirit and us. We can’t do it alone but the Holy Spirit in us changes us as we do our part.

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, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13. 

What is our part? Choose to do the right thing in line with what God says, and the Holy Spirit in you will provide the power to do it.

Acknowledgement

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.