Daily bible reflection

As you drive or walk past those who are working why not pray for them as you go past. Lift them in a silent prayer to God, He knows them and their situation. Those doing postal deliveries, refuse teams and utility workers, to name a few who keep our neighbourhoods working.

We have a growing prayer team here at Christ Church, if you would like prayer, please add it to the comments box. If it is for others please do not include personal details that could identify them to others.

Romans 15:22-end, completes my reflection on passages from Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome, even though chapter 16 is the final chapter.

01/07 – Romans 15:22-end outlines Paul’s plans for the future. Whether he ever got to Spain is an unknown, though Tom Wright in his biography of Paul suggests Paul may have visited Spain during  the time he was in Rome. The letter of Romans was written when Paul was in Corinth (in 57AD) and, just as in his second letter to the Corinthians, he writes about taking monetary gifts to the people in Jerusalem. Paul urges the recipients of the letter to pray for him in ‘his struggle’ and for his safe keeping. His journey to Spain, if it had happened as he planned, would have taken him via Rome so he writes about looking forward to being in their company to be refreshed. So Paul travels to Jerusalem, and the letter is taken by Phoebe to the churches in Rome.  Romans is a complex letter. Tom Wright suggests it is “one of the most ecstatic and exhilarating, dense and difficult, intellectually and spiritually challenging, and rewarding writings from any period in church history.” He advocates that it should be read in one go, from beginning to end, as it would have originally been, in order to understand the flow of the points Paul makes. Prayer, mutual understanding and love are a constant thread throughout the letter, a thread that should permeate our lives as Christians in whatever context we serve our Lord and Saviour. Paul asks for prayer as he set off for Jerusalem. Perhaps he knew the risk he was taking, for that journey resulted in his arrest and his ongoing journey to Rome as a prisoner. (Luke’s account of those events starts in chapter 21 of Acts.) None of us know what is round the corner and we need to hold each other in prayer, not as a casual act but as a commitment to fervent prayer for protection as we bear witness to Christ Jesus.

30/06 – These verses from Romans 15:14-21 are really the close of the letter. What follows after are Paul’s hopes for the future and then his greetings to those he knows. But in these verses he shares his confidence in those he writes to and then writes about his ministry, his calling to fulfil his “priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, “so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit”. He gives glory to God for the work he has been able to do, what he has achieved “by the power of signs and wonders”, how he has “fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ”. Paul affirms that it had always been his ‘ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known’. Is this something unique to Paul, or could it apply to us? Could we dare to aspire to be like him in some way? Is it our priestly duty to share the gospel and to give glory for the work we have been able to do? Should it be our ambition to share the gospel where Christ is not known? The answer: yes, it should be. Luke 4:18 is known as the Nazareth Manifesto, where Jesus reads words from the beginning of Isaiah 61. It outlines the purpose of the ministry He has been called to. In the same way perhaps we should make what Paul writes our manifesto: to share the gospel of Christ where He is not known and, like David, praise God among those who do not know God, ‘sing praises of His name’. It seems a very good place to be or to start from, and to affirm as our intention.

29/06 – Verses seven to nine of this passage from Romans 15:1-13 bring Jewish and Gentile Christians together within a common song of praise to God. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”, writes Paul. Turning to the Jewish Christians he refers to the “promises made to the patriarchs”. He quotes David, who is recognised as the last post-flood patriarch: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.” The quote is from both 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49 and is David lifting God up to the Gentiles, witnessing by praising God’s name in their presence. For Paul writes “Christ has become a servant of the Jews”, why? So that they may be the way for the Gentiles to find Christ for themselves. Paul draws this to a close with a blessing: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Hope is fundamental to the Christian life and Paul’s letters refer 21 times to joy, which is linked to faith (a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23), and this leads to an inward state of peace. Let us take that blessing upon ourselves, that we may live in ‘hope’, ‘joy’ and ‘peace’, as we sing God’s praise to all who would listen.

28/06 – In Romans 14:13-end Paul continues his attempt to bring understanding between both Jewish and Gentile Christians. This he does by addressing the topic of food and the differences between what they choose to eat. Those differences should not be a barrier to understanding and respect. Paul writes that if some foods are considered unclean then for that person it is. Paul is looking at this from the point of view of faith and how their individual context shapes their conduct. Paul does not want them to cause offence by eating something in the company of others who wouldn’t eat it. That would not be acting in Christian love. He goes further by writing: “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” Acting in a way that may cause someone ‘to fall’, ie lose their faith, is what this is all about, undermining someone else’s faith in Christ. This is a lesson in tolerance and understanding, of putting our own understanding of what is appropriate aside for the benefit of someone else. This is all written from Paul’s Christian viewpoint, and the need to show mutual respect. It shouldn’t be taken as something that applies outside that context. However, acting in a way with others that is likely to bring discredit to Christ, by being disrespectful of them, damages understanding and closes down on dialogue; that helps no-one. Let us always seek to keep lines of communication open even if it means observing the views of others, providing it is not in contradiction to the teaching of Christ. Remember: “Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”

26/06 – Romans 14:1-12 is about not judging others; we are called to honour others in their opinions, if both still honour the Lord. We are called into relationship with each other, a relationship that does not judge. It leaves space for mutual respect and understanding. The verses before and including verse seven, seem to suggest what the poet John Donne expressed when he wrote ‘no man is an island, entire of itself’. For Paul writes: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.” The relationship we have with our ‘neighbour’ is incomplete without ‘the Lord’ being part of it. Of course Paul was aiming to build understanding between Jew and Gentile, the whole theme of the letter to the churches in Rome. It is however, applicable today and should be applied to the way we live our lives. The key that Paul puts forward is that, whatever the stance taken, the Lord must be honoured. However, if an opinion does not honour the Lord we still should not pass judgment, “for we will all stand before the judgment seat of God”; for each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. We should not pass judgement, but if it is in contradiction to Christian moral and ethical teaching, it should be called out and challenged. Not in an aggressive argumentative way, but through listening and dialogue. May the Holy Spirit always guide us to listen and answer with compassion, seeking to win people for Christ, not to push them away.

25/06 – Paul in Romans 13:8-end starts by summarising some of the ten commandments but then leads us to where Jesus took it in Mark 12:31 by writing: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Paul adds: “Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Having emphasised again the importance of love, he then moves onto our conduct and attitude as we face each new day, by giving us the words that are familiar to all those who use morning prayer. “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.” We are to live in the ‘light’ as Paul says: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”. By doing that we do indeed ‘put on the armour of light’. We need to live in Christ, not just to walk with Him or follow Him, but to aim to live in Him and He in us. As it is written in 1 John 4:13-15: “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” Let’s share that message with others, and affirm the closeness of our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

24/06 – Romans 13:1-7 is a difficult passage and has led to much speculation as to Paul’s intention in writing it. That is assuming he did; some suggest that 13:8 fits with 12:21 and this passage is inserted. But we are assuming it is Paul writing it. What is the context at the time when this was written? It was probably written with the Jewish Christians in mind; the Jewish community was returning to Rome after being expelled by Claudius (the expulsion is noted in Acts 18:2). Christianity was at that time considered a sect of Judaism and so Christians were afforded some of the exemptions to emperor worship, like the Jews. However, trouble was not far from the surface, with a lot of discontent brewing; the Jewish Christians and the Gentiles were causing more tensions and divisions within the Jewish community, which could only bring more problems. For Paul, following Jesus as the Way, was the only way, but Tacitus, in the early second century, wrote about these times, that Christians were a group of people who hated the whole human race. What could be done to avoid an explosion of tensions that would possibly bring disaster upon both Jews and Christians? Perhaps a plea to avoid upsetting the delicate balance with the governing authorities. History though records the persecution of Christians that happened under Nero following the great fire in Rome. That then throws what we read in these verses into doubt. Are we called to allow that kind of persecution and repression by a tyrannical leadership to endure without opposition? We have to look at Mark 12:17: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” We also need to look at Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men”. Paul writes that governing authorities are servants of God, not gods in themselves, the status emperors took.  As servants of God they should seek the best for those they govern. If they do not then we as Christians should seek God’s will, and that may mean, in peaceful ways, not colluding with those who are in authority. It certainly means praying for those who govern, that God may be their guide and that they may seek to do His will as revealed through Christ Jesus. We should pray for Christians in politics and those who work for politicians in support roles.

23/06 – Paul in the preceding verses to these in Romans 12:9-end, wrote about gifts.  Now he  writes: “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.” That certainly raises the bar! Gifts without love for one another are not worth anything. J.B. Phillips translates verses 10 and 11 as: “Let us have no imitation Christian love. Let us have a genuine break with evil and a real devotion to good.Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers (and sisters), and a willingness to let the other have the credit. Let us not allow slackness to spoil our work and let us keep the fires of the spirit burning, as we do our work for God.” What is that work? Well, in part Paul makes suggestions: it is to bless and not curse, to live in harmony, to do what is honourable in the sight of all, to live peaceably with all, and to never avenge yourselves. Paul reiterates what Jesus says (Matthew 4:43-48) about loving your enemy, by writing: “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In the reality of life this is not an easy passage; it sounds great, but can we, do we, live it out? To do that with Christian authenticity we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit to enable us to shine in the darkness of the world. Let us make that our prayer for today.

22/06 – Romans 12:1-8 calls us to remember we are part of one body, whatever our background. Paul points out that that means we “are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another”; we are interdependent of each other. Paul takes this through to a well-known exhortation: “each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us”. Paul lists prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving and  leading, all gifts needed for the church to grow. They are different gifts and for some it may change over time, and that we should be open to. It is often others who recognise our gifts, which may not be the same as the one(s) we identify. That is part of our growth, in service and wisdom. Let us pray for each other, for some perhaps to put down gifts and take up new ones, for others to discover their gifts and to be confident in using them. Let us also pray that the Holy Spirit may give us the gift of discernment to see the gifts given to others and also the gift of encouragement to enable their ministry to flourish in the church.

22/06 – In Romans 11:25-end Paul now puts Gentiles and Jews in the same position, that of having been or of being disobedient. Gentiles were disobedient but now, through the disobedience of the Jews in not receiving the gospel, the Gentiles have gained. Verses 33-34 are translated in this way by J.B. Phillips: “Frankly, I stand amazed at the unfathomable complexity of God’s wisdom and God’s knowledge. How could man ever understand his reasons for action, or explain his methods of working?” How true! However, Paul again levels the playing field, for he writes: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” God’s grace pervades all. Like a ripple effect, the waves of grace are, unlike the ripples we see in water that dissipate, never ending and always at the same intensity. Praise God that we live in grace and are in a constant state of being forgiven, (providing, of course, we acknowledge our sins and resolve not to continue in sin). “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (6:16) But the grace we receive, we should also show; we should demonstrate forgiveness to others, and mean it. Lord God, give us the strength, through Your Holy Spirit, to show grace and forgive as we are forgiven.

19/06 – Romans 11:1-24 combines the reading for Friday, but one is linked to the other. Verse 1 starts with: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” And today’s starts with: “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means!” The fact his fellow Jews are unable to see Jesus as the promised Messiah distresses him, but it is not God’s plan – “By no means!” What does Paul offer as a reason? It was “to make Israel jealous”. Now Paul is trying to make his fellow Jews jealous and so save some of them. Paul picks up on an analogy used by Jesus, that of branches (John 15:5,6), though not of a vine but of an olive tree. He is suggesting that some of the branches have been broken off (Jews) so that new ones may be grafted on (Gentiles): “That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.” However, that does not mean that the Jews cannot be grafted back in, “if they do not continue in their unbelief”. In all this Paul makes an important point to the Gentiles, and to us: “remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” We are to have gratitude to the ‘root’, that of the history of Israel, the Old Testament and the lessons God taught. We have to justify our place, which we have “provided you continue in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off”. ‘Continue in His kindness’ – in other words know the forgiveness of God, through grace, not earned through our effort. We should have a humble security that leans on God, rather than a proud self-dependence that needs no help. Let us pray for each other that we may be confident as we lean on God.

17/06 – To continue the flow from verse 13: “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Good questions! That’s where we all come in, that is our task. There is no need for eloquence, or a gift with words, we can preach through our lives and living faithfully for Christ Jesus. However at the end of the chapter Paul does, once again, take aim at his fellow Jews, almost as if it’s his last attempt to win them round: “Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”” (10:20-21) Paul is not going to give up on his fellow Jews and that means being blunt about their rejection of Jesus. Yes, Paul had a ministry to the Gentiles but he never gave up on seeking his own for Jesus. Possibly God today would say that He is holding His hands out to a disobedient and contrary people and, like Paul, we must not give up. Our vision is to win 100 new disciples for Christ, now is not the time to give up, or admit defeat; it is a time for prayer, boldness and more prayer.

16/06 – Romans 10:1-10 carries on from the end of the last chapter and the quote from Isaiah about the law being “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” as the law does not lead to ‘righteousness’. This chapter also picks up from 9:3-5 where Paul laments that, given all that God has revealed to the Israelites, his fellow Jews, they did not accept Christ Jesus for who He was: “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (9:5) Yet again Paul makes it clear that Faith is the only route; no-one can bring Jesus back, there is only one way:  “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  In the following verse Paul draws together Jew and Gentile; in verses 12 and 13 he writes: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (NIV)”” Paul, from now on, takes the focus off what the differences are and starts to draw Jewish and Gentile believers together; “for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (11:29). God bestows them on whoever He chooses. When there is so much disunity in the Church, it is often difficult to realise there is so much more that unites. Let us pray for all those who work for Church unity between Orthodox, Roman and Anglican churches, and the work of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in bringing different church traditions together.

15/06 – In Romans 9:19-end Paul is again bringing the focus on God’s call, “not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles”, they are called “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” Paul writes that only a remnant of the Jewish nation (sons of Israel) will be saved. Paul saw his ministry as one to the Gentiles, those outside the Jewish faith and here he makes it crystal clear how important the Gentiles are, quoting Hosea: “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called sons of the living God.’” We tend to forget, as Christians, our shared heritage within the Jewish tradition, the Old Testament, and how God has called us to be His. When this letter was written it was a contentious position for Paul to take. Jesus was, after all, a Jew so they felt they had a greater claim on Him than any Gentile believer. Paul clearly refutes that in this letter; faith is common to every believer, the ‘law’ is not the answer that leads to life. He affirms this in verses 30-33, which lead into the next chapter. We do not gain righteousness through our own endeavours but by the will of God; all we need is faith. We are God’s chosen, his handiwork, a result of His craftsmanship (Ephesians 2:10). We should never forget that. Let us be built up in Him, to His praise and glory.

14/06 – Romans 9:1-18 is Paul’s grieving for the lost of Israel: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”.  Why? Because they had not responded to “Christ, who is God over all”. And that is despite the history and heritage that they have. The word of God had not failed, what it means is that it is not enough to be God’s chosen, by being descendants; “this means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”  At the end of the day “it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy”. In other words it is all dependent on the will of God as to who is classified as chosen for His divine purpose. Whatever God’s purpose, and here Paul references Pharaoh (9:17), God reveals His power. So it is not self will, or self determination that leads to the ‘promise’ given by God, but it is by God’s sovereign will alone. We, His people, are His people because that is God’s will for us. So wherever you are, whatever your situation, God’s hand is upon you. All you need to do is follow His lead through Christ Jesus, His Son and our Saviour, to bring His kingdom in.

12/06 – Romans chapter 8 is the mid point of the 16 chapters in the letter to the church in Rome, though of course the letter wouldn’t have been divided into chapters and verses. But we are brought the centre of Paul’s reasoning, it is the focus, and end point of what went before, but the starting point of what is to follow. What is the centre point? Verses 31-end say it all! “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Jesus is the focal point. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The love of Jesus is so great for us that nothing can separate us, nothing at all. As Paul writes: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Nothing can, other than our own disbelief or lack of faith. It is always we who move away from Christ Jesus. He is constant; God’s love is constant, and the Spirit of life is always there, waiting. “I am a seeker, and You are the teacher. You are the reacher, so reach down, reach  out and lead me, guide me and keep me in the shelter of Your care each day (The Seeker – Dolly Parton). Let us always welcome Jesus into our hearts, into our lives, into our actions; by doing that He is always with us, and we are in the shelter of His care each day.

11/06 – Today the church remembers a Levite called Joseph, whom we know better as Barnabas, a name given to him by the apostles which means ‘son of encouragement’. We don’t know what happened to Barnabas when Paul and he parted company and he sailed to Cyprus. However in Romans 8:18-30, Paul writes; “and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”. This statement is set against a rich backdrop of powerful word images, of a ‘creation waiting with eager longing’, that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption”. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now”. It has been waiting for the sons of God, the children of God, as we in turn wait for the glory that is to be revealed to us. It is a longing we have for we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption.” ‘For in this hope we were saved’. However, we are weak, “we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” What an amazing thought: however alone in our journey we may feel or think we are, the reality is that the Holy Spirit is alongside interceding for us, whatever is happening. It is God’s will that He does that, for us and all the saints, “for those who are called according to his purpose”. Perhaps the words of a traditional hymn are apt:”Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine, and visit it with  thine own ardor glowing; O comforter, draw near, within my heart appear, and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.”

10/06 – Romans 8:12-17 contains one of the best known verses in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons (and daughters), by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” As if that is not enough Paul adds “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” However, what follows is not often quoted. If we are children, then we are also heirs. Amazingly that means we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Now here’s the rub! “Provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” Oh dear, that word ‘suffering’ raises its head again, but it is unavoidable throughout the New Testament; it is part of our witness to Christ. It doesn’t mean we set out to suffer, as if that is some way gets us bonus points. No, it simply means we accept that to be true disciples we may have to undergo suffering for His name’s sake. It is something we are called to embrace, and so many of the pastoral letters keep affirming that, written as they were at a time of persecution. It is part of the purpose of being together as the body of Christ. It is to hold each other whatever befalls us and to keep us strong, always remembering we are “fellow heirs with Christ”. What a privilege!

09/06 – Paul at the start of this chapter seems to reach the point he has been heading to in the preceding chapters: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 8:1-11 presents us with the unshakeable reality, about which there is little choice for those who follow Jesus. Either you’re in or you’re out! “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” If you live in the flesh, Paul writes, you cannot please God, for you cannot submit to God’s law, so we need to live in the Spirit. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Paul clarifies this: “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Hold on to what Paul writes: “the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus”. So even though sin may be in our mortal bodies, if we believe in Christ Jesus, God, who brought Jesus back from the dead, will also give life to our mortal bodies. He is quite clear: our only hope is in Jesus. Paul puts flesh on Jesus’ statement in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. To live in the ‘Spirit’, who reveals Christ, is an intentional position as a mindset, one we need to keep working on. It should reinforce the fact ‘we belong to another’ (7:4). Let us be courageous, prayerful and committed to showing we have been set free and that Christ Jesus is all important to us.

08/06 – In Romans 7:7-end Paul seems to be affirming the law as in itself being good: “what then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” It originates from God, through the commandment; before that, the law lay ‘dead’. The truth is that if there is no law, you can’t break the law! That almost seems to apply today. Without God’s law being recognised human law is subjective and open to interpretation or, in the eyes of some, irrelevant. If you dismiss law then one is free to behave as one wants; there is no sin to commit and no sin to have to repent of! However, in our relationship with God, one would be ‘dead’, because God’s law would have been violated, and God’s law is good. Paul then clarifies it by writing: “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin.” So he draws a distinction between law, sin and himself as a human being. It is not straightforward, but Paul is saying that as he is under God’s law, which is good, then he also lives in sin, as he breaks God’s law, though he does not want to, and the result is death. A battle rages between what he wants to do and what he does; how true for us all! (Forgive the generalisation.) Now Paul draws us back to God’s grace through Jesus Christ: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” But we mustn’t give in to sin relying of God’s continued grace. Remember 6:1: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” This is where our recognition that we “belong to another” is important. If we identify ourselves as God’s, bought through Christ, then having that in the forefront of our minds acts as a barrier to our sinful nature’s actions. Let us always pray that we may know we belong to Christ, and affirm it again and again.

07/06 – In Romans 7:1-6 Paul turns to his Jewish brethren, “I am speaking to those who know the law”, to explain how they are free of the law. He uses the marriage relationship as his metaphor. A woman who lives with another man while her husband lives is an adulterer, for she is under the law that prohibits that behaviour, but, Paul writes, if her husband is dead, she is free of that law and can live with another man. So Paul introduces the readers to a new relationship in Christ. This really crystallises what he has been writing about in the preceding chapters. It helps clarify what he said before when he wrote: “you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God” (6:22), but in a more relatable way. Possibly we miss the point that Paul is making, that we ‘belong to another’. Do we surrender our lives to Christ? Do we feel we belong to Him? Or do we simply let Him in, but firmly under our control, under our conditions, into that segment of our lives we apportion to Him? In the complexity of our lives, in our own inter-human relationships, and  the many different interactions we have each day, do we choose when to let Christ in? Do we remember we ‘belong to Him’ at all? Let’s be real, that is hugely challenging! Once marriage would mean a surrendering of oneself to another, especially for the woman in the relationship, but now marriage is often taken as a commitment to live lives together, but respecting each other’s independence, so giving freedom to be oneself, without reference to the other in the marriage relationship. The marriage can become compartmentalised in the activity of life; living for one’ s self triumphs over surrender and sacrificial living to another. Is that our relationship with Christ? If so, we need to rethink, rebalance and restructure, so that we can say we ‘belong to Him’. Something I suspect we all need to pray about!

05/06 – Today in Romans 6:15-end, Paul starts with: “What then? Are we to sin?” We now have to decide if we are going to let sin reign in us at all. He has established that “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v11). Why? Because “the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God” (v10). All Christians have that choice before them, because “you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness” (v16). Paul presents a stark black and white choice; what do we want at the end? Eternal death or eternal life, one devoid of God, the other within the glory of God. So, Paul writes,”become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (v17). Being obedient, from the heart, that is obedience at the core of our being, to the teaching to which you were committed. In other words, we let the teaching we have agreed to adopt and follow as a lifestyle shape our very being. The teaching that Paul talks about has achieved a learning outcome, because it led to a commitment, that when implemented, leads to change. There is a fundamental difference between teaching and preaching. Teaching is more about informing and equipping disciples with biblical knowledge, whereas preaching is more about motivating and inspiring disciples for life-changing actions.Let us pray that what we learn in our Christian walk may change our lives, and that we are open to that change.

04/06 – Romans 6:1-14 starts with the familiar style of question that Paul presents in Romans – “What shall we say then?” In 5:16 Paul wrote “For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification”, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”(ESV). The J.B. Phillips translation puts it as: “Now what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought!” Verses 12 and 13, sum it up; “Do not, then, allow sin to establish any power over your mortal bodies in making you give way to your lusts. Nor hand over your organs to be, as it were, weapons of evil for the devil’s purposes. But, like people rescued from certain death, put yourselves in God’s hands as weapons of good for his own purposes” (J.B. Phillips). Nothing much can be added to that! The choice is ours: to be ‘weapons of evil’ or ‘weapons of good’. Matthew 6:24 reminds us we cannot serve two masters, especially if we are to be faithful and effective servants of God. J.B.Phillips uses the term ‘weapons of’ and perhaps that is the right emphasis, for we are in a battle, one that is on a human level and a spiritual one; Ephesians 6:12 reminds us of that. When as Christians we sin we can all too easily be part of the devil’s armoury and be working against Jesus, who should be our Lord, as well as Saviour. Yes, we are forgiven, for we are under ‘Grace’, but that means we must reflect on what we do and our attitudes, and confess when our steps take us in the wrong direction, away from Jesus. Let us continually pray for ourselves, and each other, that our walk is towards our Father in heaven and His Son alone, and that we allow the Holy Spirit to highlight those events when we stray from that path.

03/06 – Paul has established that Jewish and Gentile Christians are equally valued through faith, by God the Father. In fact in Romans 5:12-end, Paul takes those reading back to a time before Abraham, to the time that humankind was steeped in sin, sin that existed even before the law. It is logical that Paul looks back to the story of Adam in Genesis, as the first man. A man who through his sin caused mankind to be in sin, in a time even before the establishment of the twelve tribes of Israel; so again Paul makes the point about the common base for both Jew and Gentile. So, for Paul, Jesus Christ restores us by lifting us out of our heritage of sin, through faith, as exemplified by Abraham. How “much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ”. Again, Paul’s closing comment is that the law leads to death, but grace leads “to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. So Paul has laid the foundations for the rest of the letter, as he goes on to grapple with sin set against faith. These first five chapters are worth reading again as so much of what we believe as Christians today finds its origins in those passages. Lord, may we know and understand what we believe; may we recognise what Jesus has done for us, and be confident in His saving, redemptive work, so that through faith we receive justification, forgiveness, and are children of the living God.

02/06 – Paul has spent the previous chapters explaining why followers of Jesus, whether Jews or Gentiles, share the same privileges through the grace of God; and that faith, not the law, is the way.  Now, following on from the end of chapter 4, Paul  in this section of Romans 5:1-11 simply states more of the basic truths of our faith: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” We now “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The key word seems to be ‘rejoice’, we ‘rejoice in hope’ and we ‘rejoice in God’, that is the fullness of God, the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Whatever the circumstances, we rejoice; really and truthfully we should be the happiest people around! The fact that, for the most part, that is not lived out by many Christians, is possibly a sad indictment of the weakness of our faith. Or perhaps it could be a lack of understanding as to what God has done for us, or simply that the world has become more important than our relationship with Jesus. We need to reassess our understanding of our faith, if we are going to live by faith, and honour God. Let us be a people who ‘rejoice’ (feel or show great joy or delight, Oxford Dictionary) and share that with others, especially our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Not in a way that overpowers, but with love and sensitivity, that build up the body of Christ, His church.

01/06 – The theme of faith is continued in Romans 4:13-end, with Abraham as the example. Abraham never lost his faith in God, “no unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God”. “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.” Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised”. It was Abraham’s faith that God counted to him as righteousness, and as Abraham is the father of many nations, Paul asserts that the same applies to us, our faith means we are counted as righteous. He writes: “It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord”, Jesus who was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification”. Paul lays out the fundamental truths of our faith and our relationship with God the Father through Christ Jesus. The promise we have rests on grace, not the law, not works, just simply God’s grace; it is an outpouring of God’s love to us. So often people who have real health issues have a strong faith, that is because they trust God, whatever the future brings, just as Abraham did. Many people do not understand that strength of faith in adversity, but real faith brings peace. It takes away the pressures and demands of life as we surrender all to God our Father. Let us pray that we are able to surrender to God what we have, who we are, in trust to Him, that in faith He may lead us and we may follow.

31/05 – In Romans 4:1-12 we read the reasoning Paul gives for the Gentiles, the uncircumcised, being counted as righteous before God, through faith, in the same way as the Jews. It’s a chapter that makes sense of Paul’s stand in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21, 21:17-21) in defending the conversion of Gentiles without undergoing the ritual of circumcision. Paul holds Abraham as the example, that as “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”. Righteousness is not gained through works as “wages are not counted as a gift but as his due”, however, “faith is counted as righteousness”. A lot of people believe that being good, and doing good works will be their payment, their reward, their pathway to heaven and that believing in God is not necessary. We as Christians acknowledge the gift we receive through our faith, and in that understanding give ourselves, in service, to God, the one who redeemed us through Jesus Christ. We gain no right, no status, through our works; they are done for Christ alone, and what we achieve is for God’s glory alone. Let us always give the glory to God, that praise may be raised to Him and His kingdom may come, on earth as in heaven.

29/05 – In Romans 3:21-end Paul comes out with the clear declaration that it is by faith that the righteousness of God is shown; through faith we are “justified by His grace as a gift”. How is this achieved? “Through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” As we all sin we are all united through the atoning act of Jesus, which was “to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance”, God reconciles all who sin to Himself. If, that is, we have faith, through Jesus Christ. As Paul keeps stressing, that does not mean we live outside the law, that would be antinomianism (to live outside moral law as we have salvation through faith). Paul rejects this: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Of course this raises moral and ethical questions about keeping the law if it is contrary to God’s law or the teachings of Jesus. Should we, as Christians, allow the law to muzzle us in proclaiming the gospel truths? It is true, unfortunately, that issues around freedom of religion and freedom of expression are being tested today, and we need to pray that the light of Christ is not dulled by those who deny God the Trinity. Pray for those in this nation and around the world who are paying the price for speaking out for Jesus in places where that is not permitted. Pray also that we retain the freedoms we have to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of the world.

28/05 – In Romans 3:1-20 Paul moves his discussion on and prepares for what is to come in the following chapters about being under ‘law’ and how the righteousness of God is found through faith. Paul introduces his arguments then counters them with phrases such as “by no means”, to show how that suggestion is wrong. Paul pushes his readers to understand that there is no way out of sin through the law, for it is the law that makes us aware of sin. That law that governs all, makes all accountable to God; in fact “the whole world” is held to account. So Paul is saying to his fellow Jews that they have no advantage; they are no better off than the Gentiles as sin is over everyone. The first part of verse 8 is something Paul returns to later (6:1), he makes the point that no good can come from sin and it does not reveal to anyone God’s forgiveness, that is, if we live under the law. From now on Paul starts to systematically unpack his argument about faith, grace and Jesus Christ. When we witness Christians fail through their conduct, when they are condemned by the law, we have to pray that they will seek forgiveness through the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross, where He died for each of us. As Paul suggests, that does not mean we can sin with impunity; it does none of us any good at all. The confession we say every Sunday is a witness to our desire to live by God’s standards. It is not only our sins we confess but also those of the world around us, even though many do not know they sin, because they do not know God or the redeeming work of Jesus. Part of our work as witnesses of Christ is to bring people to the point where they understand how sin separates them from God and how much they need to have a living relationship with Jesus Christ to gain true peace.

27/05 – In Romans 2:18-end, we are again confronted with the issue of hypocrisy, and Paul highlights the conduct of teachers of the law who themselves fail to live out what they teach. As in the previous section, Paul continues to come down heavily on the Jews, his own people, as being false witnesses to the Gentiles. Though the Jews carry the outward sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17:13), they can too easily deny the outward sign and fail to honour the covenant in their hearts. Paul states that it is not about the law, and living by the law, it is about the heart and living by the Spirit. Whilst Paul is writing about the attitude of some Jews, the same applies to Christians. We read too often about Christian teachers and leaders who, we discover, do not honour God in their lives; in fact they bring dishonour to God and themselves, they grieve the Holy Spirit ‘by whom they were sealed for the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 4:30). It is unfortunately something those who seek to discredit Christianity can use as ammunition very effectively. How can people who profess a faith in Christ Jesus do such harm to Him and the gospel? We are part of the fallen world and subject to the temptations around us; we sin. Later in 8:16 Paul writes: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We must be alive to the temptations around us that can so easily consume us, for “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Let us defend ourselves and each other and stay faithful to Him who died to save us; Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.

26/05 – The second chapter in Romans starts with Paul writing: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.” Paul is putting his sights on hypocrisy, people who judge but carry out the same actions themselves. The use of the term ‘O man’ as a term could make us think back to Micah 6:8, where the prophet writes; “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” In this section of Romans 2:1-16, Paul is challenging all the attitudes that work against the principles that Micah raised up. Hold those words of Micah as you read: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” He also writes: “God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus”. Paul is focusing on the ‘law’, a topic that he sustains throughout much of the letter, but set against God’s amazing grace achieved through Christ Jesus. Let us be very careful how we judge the conduct of others, avoiding gossip, or condemnation without knowing the facts, but even then with real caution and only as appropriate. We live in grace, through Christ; we witness Christ’s love through grace shown to others. It is part of that love that we read about in 1 John 4:21: “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister”. Let us pray for the wisdom and strength to share God’s love.

25/05 – From a greeting to writing about his desire (obligation) to share the gospel, now in this section Paul is fairly damning of the society he sees around him. In Romans 1:18-end he doesn’t hold back his punches. In Verse 1:17 Paul wrote: “The righteous shall live by faith,”  or it could be translated as ‘the one who by faith is righteous shall live’, a different meaning perhaps? Next Paul is straight in with: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” That is such a sweeping statement. In effect even though the truth about God is revealed for all to see, the conduct of mankind is opposed to the ‘truth’. “So they are without excuse.” So God gave them up to their lusts, their behaviour. That is not to say God has given up on them, only that He is no longer going to exact discipline, as perhaps He would have done in Old Testament times. Now through Christ, God the Father has brought in a ‘new covenant’ based on love,  forgiveness and reconciliation. That perhaps moderates the closing verse at the end of the chapter where Paul writes: “God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die”. Let’s be clear that even in that hard statement the key word is ‘deserve’, not that that is the ultimate fate of people. The door has been left open through repentance and Christ’s sacrificial act through the cross. Of course today we filter some of what Paul writes through the lens of our present understanding on what shapes human sexuality in the context of our genetic makeup, and the issues which that raises about God’s hand in creation. (Not enough space for that here!) However, a lot in the verses 1:26-32 is very relevant, and needs to be called out through the ‘Spirit of Truth’. Our calling is to make an impact in the world, and with many asking why God does not intervene to alleviate suffering, much of which is caused by mankind and the behaviour listed in verses 29 & 30, our work in God’s name is more urgent and important. May the Holy Spirit release us to do His work, to bring God’s kingdom to earth.

24/05 – We start Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, Romans 1:1-17. A good introduction as to why this was written can be found in Acts 28:17-end. There was clearly going to be friction between the Jewish community who turned to Christ and the Gentile Christians. This was already obvious from the book of Acts, especially the view of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Have a look at Acts 21:17-26 as one example of the difficulties Paul faced. Paul’s opening greeting embraces all in Rome: “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul writes of his longing to be in Rome and the hope for mutual encouragement by each other’s faith. Paul’s closing statement of this section makes it all clearer: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”” So often our faith is strengthened when we share it with others, be it to bring others to know Christ, or to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ. Knowing our faith journey (and the reasons that we believe) is a vital resource in being able to share it. Paul says: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Interesting turn of phrase – I am under obligation – is that not true for us?

22/05 – 1 John 5 ties together what has been written before, linking the words ‘believe’, ‘faith’ (v1,4,5), love (v1,2,3) and His commands (v2,3). These are, for John, the test of a Christian’s faith. They are the basics that keep our faith focused. John, again, highlights the relationship of love between God, us and our fellow Christians, as an unshakeable principle of living a life in Christ. John also guides us to a fuller understanding of Jesus Christ, or perhaps it should be, ‘Jesus the Christ’. This is to counter heretical thinking at the time. Jesus came through ‘water’ (His baptism), through ‘blood’ (His death), and is testified to by the Holy Spirit, because ‘the Spirit is the truth’. We, ourselves, bear testimony for: “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” This final chapter is packed full of reasoned thought by John so that those he is writing to may have a fuller understanding of what it means to walk in faith together. His final sentence reveals our true status: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” John brings Jesus Christ and God the Father together, as revealed through the Holy Spirit, at work in us. May we be ever vigilant to listen to the voice of God and not that of the world, for the “whole world lies in the power of the evil one”.

21/05 – 1 John 4:7-end is the third time John reflects on love and tests of love; look back at 2:7-11 and 3:11-18. This passage though makes us look on the true nature of love, love that is from God and evidenced through Christ. The reality is that God continues to love through and in us – it is for that reason we must love each other, and why John can write: “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” We need to focus on the truth that “this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son”, and that “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” If we try to imitate someone from another country and we cannot speak their language it is obvious that we are a fraud. The same is true of a follower of Christ who does not have love for their brother or sister in Christ. “We love because he first loved us”, His love is in us for us to give away; that should be our mission. It is a love that is sacrificial, that takes risks, that has the hallmark of being in Christ. By showing love to each other we truly share the gospel and the world sees it and longs to be part of that. We should pray that we can live that out, day by day and not behave in a way that denies our Lord and Saviour.

20/05 – In 1 John 4:1-6 John turns to an issue that seemed to be happening at that time. It was also evident in the Corinthian church (chapter 12:1-3). The issue was the willingness to accept incorrect teaching about Christ Jesus. So John lays out the test to judge not only what people are hearing but also on how they receive it: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” All too often people want to hear what the world says and not what God says; there is a real danger for Christians in that. The truth should be that we can be true to the teaching we know, that, ‘whoever knows God listens to us and whoever is not from God does not listen to us’. By keeping faithful to sound teaching we should be able to discern ‘the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error’. By turning to God, as we learn to hear and trust the Holy Spirit, as one body of people, we can move forward to do God’s will and learn more of Him. To quote a song by Graham Kendrick (1986) ‘He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world. Therefore I will sing and I will rejoice for His Spirit lives in me. Christ the living One has overcome and will share His victory. He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world.’ Let us be a people that recognises the truth and acts on it.

19/05 – 1 John 3:11-end reiterates the centrality of love in our earthly relationships with each other. It is centred on and dwells in the love that God has shown us. Later John highlights what God’s love cost Him, but at the moment we are being called to live out God’s love in our lives and that we should “believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us”. John gives us a difficult instruction: “by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers”. John doesn’t stop there for he goes on, “but if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” How are we supposed to apply that? Is John just applying that to the Christian family? Or does it extend out to those beyond? To those in darkness? Perhaps it’s worth reflecting on the story of the Good Samaritan who saw the man in need and responded and gave of his goods to restore the man to health. Those who claimed to serve God were blind, they ‘closed their heart against Him’. Verse 18 pulls us up: “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” That applies to our relationships with each other. These chapters have required an answer to the question where does our love reside? Do we demonstrate that in ‘word or talk’ or ‘in deed and in truth’? Let us pray that we are a light in the world because of what we are seen to be doing for our Lord and God.

18/05 – 1 John 3:1-10 continues to develop the theme that we are God’s children in a world that does not know God. We are different if we don’t live in sin, but if we do sin and repent we “have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2:1). John returns to point out that sin has no place in our relationship with the Father, who loves us, and sin also separates us from each other. Through the letter so far John has emphasised relationship. In 2:9 he wrote, “whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness”; in 2:11, “whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness”; and in 3:10 “whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother”. To be in Christ is to love our fellow Christians (brothers). We walk in the light; as Christ “is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:7). The very reason that “the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (3:8). In other words, by not sinning, by loving each other, we deny the devil, the antichrists, a hold on us. That is a reason why sharing the peace before communion is so important; it’s not about saying ‘hello’ or greeting each other, it is an expression of that mutual love in Christ. It is to show unity, and that, as God’s people, nothing comes between us. The song taken from Ephesians 4:3-6, by Bob Gillman, has a chorus that should be our prayer: ‘Bind us together Lord, with cords that cannot be broken.’ The last verse goes: ‘You are the family of God, you are the promise divine, You are God’s chosen desire, you are the glorious new wine’.

17/05 – 1 John 2:18-end builds on the earlier part of chapter two in which he writes about light and dark, truth and lies. Now John introduces the people who betray Christ. He expresses this by way of the antichrist, not just one but many. What is worse and needs to be noted is that “they went out from us”, and “they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us”. Who are these people? “He who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” Don’t forget that can be done through actions as well as words. Therefore, we as followers of Christ Jesus, have to witness to God’s truth in our conduct and words; we must never lead people astray. Perhaps a little difficult when we read: “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.” This assumes that people know and understand God’s truth and obey Him. At that time there was no developed understanding of who Jesus was and as a result a lot of breakaway groups developed, many simply misunderstanding or misrepresenting the true nature of Jesus and His relationship with God the Father. We do need those with wisdom and knowledge to teach us, and lead us to and through biblical truth. However, we need the gift of discernment to spot those who misrepresent the truth or who are in error, especially in this age of the internet. Remember John writing “they went out from us”. Be ever watchful when listening to teaching from people you do not know; research them, know the background, keep yourselves safe.

15/05 – 1 John 2:1-17 is a practical outworking of Christian relationship, love, and what it means to be in Christ. John is using the contrast of darkness and light to make it clear that if our actions, our sins, shape our lives then we are living in darkness. However, through Christ Jesus “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining”. That happens when we live our lives showing that, by keeping the commandments of God the Father, the love of God is perfected. Too often Christians will talk about loving each other, but for that to be true, we must be aware we are invoking the love of Christ manifest through us. It’s not human love; it’s the sacrificial love of Christ. Our actions show us to be liars or followers of the ‘truth’. John is quite blunt about that. Lies are the darkness and truth the light. By keeping God’s word “we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked”. John sets down a marker, one that is uncomfortable but aspirational for us: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” It doesn’t mean we forsake the world, or that we should feel contaminated by it; it’s just that our love for God must take precedence. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him”.

14/05 – 1 John 1 is where we start, though the lectionary doesn’t pick up on the first letter by John until Saturday. There are always questions of authorship but the chances of this being written by John are fairly strong, not only the language and style but also because of the early church fathers, Polycarp, who references the letter, and Irenaeus, who attributes the letter to John. Reading the first chapter one hears the gospel reflected in the words. If it wasn’t John who wrote them then it was a very good imitator. The use of ‘we’ confuses; however, in the third letter John slips into the singular. John declares the message he has: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” John points to true fellowship as he starts, a fellowship gained through walking, living, together in Christ Jesus, in God the Father. It is a letter on God’s loving relationship with us, and the anointing we have received. John is clear: we can walk in darkness; we do sin. If we claim we don’t, John says, we make God the Father, and Christ out to be liars: ‘His word is not in us’. So as we enter into this letter let us do so acknowledging what Christ Jesus has done for us, and be thankful – extremely thankful!

13/05 – Today is the day the church celebrates the Ascension of Christ, His departure from the disciples, after He had told them that they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit, that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and that they would be His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.  After that Jesus was taken up as they watched. As they were looking “suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven””(Acts 1:1-11) So we stand on the bridge between two times, a bridge that has carried the lives of many before us and many to follow; unless, of course, Jesus returns soon. What are we to make of the time we have? Like many of the saints before us we are to witness ‘to the ends of the earth’, proclaiming the Good News, as led by the Holy Spirit. Let us attune ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit and do His work; that would be the real celebration of Christ’s ascension.

12/05 – The content of 1 Peter 5 is packed full and addresses different members of the Church. Leaders are called to be shepherds of God’s flock under their care, to watch over them – not because they must, but because they are willing, which is God’s purpose for them. Dishonest gain, which unfortunately we see too often, should have no place, leadership should be simply an eagerness to serve; not about lording it, but being examples. With regard to the ‘younger’ members (younger in faith or age?) Peter urges them to submit to their elders, to be humble to each other but also humble “under God’s mighty hand”. Finally we are warned: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith”. These closing paragraphs sum up Peter’s letter that has been aimed at others. Now the leaders have to understand the purpose and cost of leadership. However, that applies to us all, we are all ‘examples’ to each other and that realisation should never be far away from our thoughts. Let us pray that we are worthy of that role and that we walk with humility but declare our faith with boldness.

11/05 – 1 Peter 4:12-end picks up from the opening of the chapter where we are reminded of Christ’s suffering. Now Peter writes: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ.” This is a rallying call to people who are suffering. It is a reminder that we have a new birth “into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1:3-4). Often people complain that they are picked on because of their faith. The truth is that having a faith in Christ that is so visible is something to give glory to God for. Being picked on by colleagues or relations and friends, because of our faith, is to walk with Christ, it is living as a person called, called to be holy and special, God’s personal handiwork (Ephesians 2:10). As we draw to a close with chapter 5 next time, read the whole letter again as though you were a Christian from that period of time. Pray for all those who are fearful that they may have strength in Christ Jesus.

10/05 – This section from 1 Peter 4:1-11 picks up on the previous content of the letter: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude.” It can’t be more blunt than that, and those words speak into all that has gone before. In reading what Peter is calling slaves and wives to be and do, he is calling for not weakness but enduring strength, especially in the reality of what is coming: “The end of all things is near” (v7). That is the canvas that 1 Peter is written on. Peter knows that unity is strength in times of trial, but also at any time if we are faithful servants of God. Verses 9 & 10 speak volumes: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” “They should speak the very words of God”, and serve each other “with the strength God provides”. When that attitude prevails then God is praised with a thankful heart: “To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Let us not wait for persecution and dangers to prowl like lions, let us live by these standards now and make ourselves different from the world. In 1:22 we are called to have a “sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart”. That as a prayer should always be  on our lips.

08/05 – Perhaps we make a mistake not reading this letter of 1 Peter as those who received it at the time would have done, as one letter. There is a real danger that, in breaking it down, we lose its real purpose and also that we overlay our modern day perceptions on the text, our views on slavery and the role of women in a marriage, for example, and miss the true intention of Peter. Let us go back to the start. In the first verse we read: “To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.” It is a letter to a people who, having turned to Christ, are now learning that suffering is part of the journey. In verse 18 of 3:13-end, we read: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” That really sums it up, it speaks of our salvation and rebirth with Christ in the Spirit. Peter writes about Noah and his family being “saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. Jesus “has given us new birth into a living hope” (1:3). This letter is to a church that faces a ‘fiery ordeal that has come upon them’. It is a letter that expresses the hope that is before them/us in Christ. It expresses the foundations of their/our faith and gives strength and purpose to their/our lives. It equips us to: “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”(3:15)

07/05 – 1 Peter 3:1-12 opens with “wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands” in the same way as who? Unpalatable as it may be, the answer is slaves. Post-covid (hopefully), how are we supposed to view this statement when the rise of domestic violence has risen in a lot of countries? The answer is probably in the final part: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” The phrase ‘weaker partner’ may grate, but in a lot of cases the wife may well be physically weaker. That fact does not legitimise treatment that lacks respect. In fact, Peter is saying that wives and husbands are co-heirs of life (in Christ) and any lack of consideration would hamper the husband’s prayers; his relationship with Christ Jesus would be broken. So the onus in the relationship rests equally on both partners. In a Christian relationship Peter calls those who are married to “be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” He also suggests that this model should apply to all: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded.” This very much skims the surface of the passage and fails to reflect the structure and audience of the letter Peter has written. But it should focus our prayers on relationships that have gone wrong where abuse, physical or mental, takes place, and the damage that does to any children in such a toxic environment. Let us also pray for those who work with people suffering from the fallout of failed relationships, that God may grant them wisdom and protect them.

06/05 – 1 Peter 2:11-end is a really challenging text, it must have been as difficult for readers of that time as it is today. Is it possible that Onesimus would have read this? The possible dates of the two letters are quite close. What was it that caused him to flee from Philemon? How would Onesimus have taken the instruction that “it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God”. Add to that “if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you.” We are called to be slaves for Christ; in 2:16 we read “live as God’s slaves”. So what are we prepared to endure for Christ Jesus and how much of our lives are in His service? The statement that “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example” does not mean that we subject ourselves to suffering so that in some way we become more Christlike, that is a mistaken understanding. However, we do have to be prepared to embrace suffering as part of our Christian walk. Francis Chan in his book ‘Letters to the Church’ writes ‘suffering is prominent in the New Testament, not just in one book but in every book. It’s one of the clearest doctrines in the New Testament but we just don’t talk about it.’ (When suffering becomes strange. p132) There are many suffering today in their walk in Christ and they need our prayers, not only that justice will prevail but also that those suffering may be given strength to endure and so transform the lives of those causing the pain to know Christ and repent. May they be like Paul when he wrote in Philippians 1:12: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.”

05/05 – 1 Peter 2:1-10 includes references to our status as a priesthood. Firstly a ‘holy priesthood’, like living stones making up a spiritual house, “offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. Secondly we read that “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” How do we live out this status as a priesthood? “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance” (1:14) and “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (2:1). And what is the purpose? “That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” How? “By obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1:22). We are living stones, built upon the cornerstone, the stone that all the subsequent stones are orientated from and gives the building its direction. That stone is Christ Jesus revealed “through the living and enduring word of God”. The beauty of a house built of stone is the way that different stones are fitted together, bedded in. That beauty is lost in the uniformity of manufactured bricks. We are very different stones but called to fit together, and that requires the ‘sincere love’ written about in this letter. May God, as the master stonemason, position us together for His purpose and glory.

04/05 – 1 Peter 1:13-end picks up from the theme of verses 2-12 by writing: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”” Yesterday raised the question of how we live within our culture. We get an answer to that question: “live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” Clearly, we are called to be different. Today we face issues over how society handles cultural issues and ethnicity. There is no room for discrimination; we have to respect difference. Do we want a homogenised society? So what does it mean for each of us? We are called out to be holy, set aside, different, and the first way given in this text is to obey the truth: “so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again.” In verse 3 earlier, we read “He has given us a new birth”. Now, it is “you have been born again.” Have we made that transition from being ‘given’ new birth to ‘receiving’ that gift? Praise God, that so many times people report that on becoming a Christian those around them see a real difference in them. That difference needs to grow and shine in us all as a beacon of hope to those who are desperate to change. Let’s be proud to be ‘foreigners’ for Christ Jesus.

03/05 – We start with the first letter of Peter, with verses 1-12. There are questions over whether the two letters attributed to Peter are by the same author and if either one are in fact by Peter. However, what matters is that they are part of the bible and therefore we take them to be inspired by God. Their authorship should not detract from what we can learn, and there is a lot. In verse 10 we read : “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke . ./ . . (v12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you.” That is an amazing statement; what is even more mind blowing is the sentence: “Even angels long to look into these things.” What things? “The gospel preached to you” by those sent by the Holy Spirit from heaven. We are so privileged to hear the gospel, to have the truth revealed to us and to understand the work of Christ Jesus in our salvation. Verse 3 refers to a new birth and links us back to John 3:7 where Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You must be born again”. Do we live as people born again? Sometimes people feel that they need to remain part of the culture around them to be relatable. Does that reflect on us as being different? That is a real tension for us all, but if we recognise that we have a truth revealed to us that is transformational, should we not be transformed? Lord God, help us to be transformed by your presence in our lives, help us to be your light in the circles of relationships in which we move.