First Corinthians 13 is one of the most striking passages in the New Testament. Adolf Harnack called it “the greatest, strongest, deepest thing Paul ever wrote”. If you’ve taken any time to study the chapter, you’d probably agree.
The main theme of the passage is love, but not the love between a husband and wife, or between a parent and child. The main focus of the passage is on the commitment to love within the local church. The context makes this clear. In the preceding chapter Paul addresses the varied gifts within the body of Christ, the church: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:4). These gifts, if they function well, serve to build the body. However, when these gifts are used for self, rather than service, they harm the body. That is what happened in Corinth.
While some looked down on the gifts and service of others, they exalted their own. This focus on self, rather than service, weakened the body and prevented the church from doing what God had called it to do. How do we ensure that the variety within the body builds rather than breaks? There is a “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31), and that way is love.
What is love? We know the Greek word that Paul used very well: agape. The word is used a total of 116 times in the New Testament. This was the most appropriate word to describe how God relates to his children, and how God’s children should relate to each other. This love is not romantic or temporary. It is seen most clearly in the cross of Christ, which God set forth as the supreme manifestation of his love for his children. It is, in the words of Leon Morris, “a love for the utterly unworthy, a love that proceeds from a God who is love. It is a love lavished on others without a thought whether they are worthy or not.”
That is agape love. In experiencing this love we are transformed. That transformation becomes clear in how we begin to love what God loves: his children. This is the challenge: have you experienced God’s love revealed on the cross of Christ? If so, do you love what He loves?
Because of Christ,
Life is hard. That may not sound very encouraging, but it is true. It is universally true. Jesus and his disciples weren’t spared the difficulties of life. Christ’s perfection did not shield him from trials. The disciples’ proximity to Jesus didn’t protect them from persecution. Did they despair? No, quite the opposite: they rejoiced!
How? We know that Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). The disciples had a similar perspective. In 1 Peter 1:6 the apostle Peter writes of believers who “rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials”. Where does this joy come from?
Part of it is found in their identity. In verse 1 Peter calls them “elect exiles”. God’s Old Testament people, Israel, were also called exiles or sojourners. This shaped their identity: they weren’t like the other nations around them; they weren’t at home among them; they were heading for a better home. Similarly, the church is God’s chosen people and that means that we shouldn’t be at home here. We are waiting for another home.
Joy is also found in their inheritance. Verse 3-5 details the promise of the gospel. They have been “born again to a living hope” and to “an inheritance”. Regeneration, also called being born again, makes us new. It changes us from the inside out: a new heart, renewed mind and the indwelling Holy Spirit are all part of this wonderful act of grace. With this new nature we are then also given an inheritance. Peter describes it as “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (v. 4). Amazingly, not only does God guard the inheritance, but he guards his children as well: “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith” (v. 5).
So when we read about their joy in verse 6 we understand that it was rooted in the gospel, not in their circumstances. We understand that believers can rejoice because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Yes, life is hard, but God’s children confess: “Though we have not seen him, we love him. Though we do not now see him, we believe in him and rejoice with you that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (adapted from 1 Peter 1:8).
Because of Christ,
There are things that are simply too great for me. They are too great for me to comprehend or control. The plans and purposes of God are mysterious – I simply cannot wrap my head around them. Things happen in the providence of God – I cannot change them. I may wish to understand or strive to control, but ultimately I have to confess that I am just too small. Thankfully, I am not alone.
David had a similar struggle. There were many things that David did not understand and could not control. So what did David do? He relaxed, or more accurately: he rested in the Lord. Note what he says in Psalm 131: “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.”
The Psalm starts with David humbling himself before the Lord. Lifting up your heart or raising your eyes signified pride (v. 1). Instead of overestimating his own abilities, David did “not occupy myself with things to great and too marvelous for me.” This does not mean that David did not wrestle with the Lord or that he was indifferent. David thought great thoughts about God and he did great things for God. But David knew his limits. He understood that some things were just beyond him: beyond his understanding and abilities.
In those moments David did not become restless, anxious or frustrated. He “calmed and quieted” his soul (v. 2). How do we do that? He tells us in the final verse: “hope in the LORD” (v. 3). In those moments he rested in God, “like a weaned child with its mother” (v. 2). You don’t understand it all, but God does. You can’t do it all, but God can.
What will you do when you are faced with “things too great for me”? Take David’s advice: “hope in the Lord”.
Because of Christ,
Congratulations. If you started the Read Scripture plan on the first of January, you’ve already read through Genesis and you are almost midway through Exodus. You’ve also read about a fifth of the Psalms. This might not seem like much, but you are well on your way to reading the Bible through from beginning to end.
But what if you’ve lost some ground? What if you’ve struggled to keep up with the reading plan? You are not alone. I started the reading plan on the first of January, but this last week I’ve struggled to finish the assigned reading for each day. I made a point of reading each day, but I struggled to finish every chapter for each day. After two days I was behind. So what do you do?
Give up or catch up?
You could abandon the plan altogether. To give up or catch up, that is the question. I’d like to encourage you to catch up. There are a few ways you could do that. The first would be to set aside some time on Sunday to complete the chapters you’ve missed. This is one of the best uses for a Sunday afternoon. A cup of coffee, a comfortable chair and the Word of God... turn it into an event, instead of a chore.
Catching up does not necessarily mean that you have to read it all a single day. Another way to catch up is to increase the amount of chapters you read for a few days. Read two Psalms instead of one. Another way to do this would be to read in the morning and in the evening: take the first day’s reading in the morning and the second reading at night. Before you know it, you are back on track.
A third suggestion would be to use your “idle” moments. Standing in line at the bank, waiting for the car to be washed or for your doctor’s appointment... use these moments to read God’s Word instead of grabbing the nearest magazine or newspaper. Obviously this is not ideal: you don’t have a quiet, uninterrupted time in God’s Word. This cannot replace our dedicated time with God. But when we’ve fallen behind and we don’t want to lose touch with our reading plan entirely, these moments can be used to claw our way back.
When my plan becomes a tyrant
Doesn’t this make me a slave to a reading plan? Your reading plan can feel like a tyrant sometimes. There are days when discipline feels like duty or drudgery. However, discipline turns duty into delight – just give it time.
In 1 Cor. 9:27 the apostle Paul said: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control” (ESV). The term Paul used usually meant “to strike under the eye”. This is not gentle language. The NIV translates it as “I beat my body” and the NASB as “I buffet my body”. Paul wasn’t advocating violence against our bodies (that would contradict the rest of Scripture), but he was serious about keeping his body under control. Discipline is not always enjoyable, but it is necessary. Paul concludes the verse with these words: “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Discipline can feel tyrannical, but its purpose is not to torment. Like a dedicated trainer, discipline wants you to achieve your goals. What is the goal of our reading plan? We want to get to know God better.
From duty to delight
In 1960 Maxwell Maltz published a book in which he explained that habits take about 21 days to form.Every self-help book written since have focussed on this supposed magical number: 21 days. To be fair, Maltz did say that it took at least 21 days to form a new habit. There is no magical number. The reality is a little more complex than that.
Subsequent studies have found that forming new habits differs from person to person, and sometimes from habit to habit. On average a person takes about 66 days or two months to form a new habit. In a study by Phillippa Lally of the University College London it was discovered that some people can form new habits in as little as 18 days, but most took much longer. Some took up to 254 days to form the new habit.
What does this mean for our new habit of reading through the Bible? It means that Genesis and Exodus will be hard, Numbers and Leviticus may be a little harder, but somewhere between Deuteronomy and 1 Kings you’re discipline will start to pay off. Your new habit will have taken root. That new habit will not just benefit you for the rest of this year, but for the rest of your life as you seek to walk with God. 1 Timothy 4:7-8: “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Because of Christ,
Resolutions have been made – now is the time to keep them. By the grace of God and with the aid of the Holy Spirit we will read through the entire Bible together. Let’s get started.
As I mentioned on Sunday, the first step to ensuring that the Word of God is a daily part of your life, is to make time. Setting aside time for reading the Bible means that we order our lives in such a way that Bible reading happens. For some, this means setting aside a set time in the evening. For others, it means setting aside time in the morning, before the day starts running away with you. For moms it might mean reading while Junior takes his nap.
Whatever your situation, look for a set time during the day where you have some measure of peace and quiet. If you can find such a time, make such a time. Get to bed 30 minutes earlier and get up 30 minutes earlier. Make time.
Stick to the Plan
The second step to ensuring that the Word of God is a daily part of your life, is to make a plan and stick to the plan. A reading plan helps you move through the Bible in a meaningful and orderly way. It takes us to passages we might choose to skip and prevents us from getting stuck on passages we prefer. Reading the whole Bible in a year gives you a great “bird’s eye view” of Scripture. It immerses you in the world and vocabulary of the Bible. There are a number of reading plans out there – you may even find one printed in the back of your Bible.
This year I’m going to follow the Bible Project Reading plan. It takes you through the Old and New Testament in a more or less chronological way. It includes a Psalm for every day, which is not only great to read, but also great fuel for prayer. I’ve also chosen this plan because it includes a series of videos which introduces each book. There are also a few videos that cover important topics you’ll encounter, such as Atonement or Holiness. This helps bring your Bible reading to life in a way that keeps the plan interesting and keeps you motivated. You can use the “Read Scripture” app (available on IOS and Android). The videos can be watched in the app, on the Bible Project website (www.thebibleproject.com) or on Youtube.
Once you’ve read the section of Scripture for the day, take a few minutes to consider these questions:
It helps to keep a diary, but it isn’t essential. One piece of advice with diaries: don’t try to write a commentary! A few lines, key words or verses that moved you should be enough.
May the Lord bless you as you seek Him daily in his Word.
Because of Christ,
A new year has dawned and with it an opportunity for growth. Most of us commit to making some kind of change to our lifestyles and priorities. These often take the form New Year’s resolutions. However, most of these lofty ideals are quickly forgotten. But what would happen if we kept our resolutions? And what might happen if those resolutions focused on God instead of self?
In 1722 a young Jonathan Edwards needed direction. He was 18 at the time and was a long way from becoming the pastor and theologian we read about today. He decided to set down his goals in a series of ‘resolutions’. This is how he prefaced his resolutions: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” This reliance upon God and denial of self became the foundation for his resolutions and for his life.
What were his resolutions? Here is his first: “Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory and to my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how ever so many and how ever so great.”
The apostle Paul had similar resolutions. In Romans 15:20 he wrote: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel”. Or in 2 Corinthians 5:9: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” Making and keeping these kinds of resolutions are what make men and women of God.
What will your resolutions for 2019 be?
Because of Christ,
A lot has been written about the effects of technology and social media on society. Our phones and apps have a tendency to distract us, to take us out of the moment so that we live our lives through a lens instead of being present. But this is not the only temptation that our modern obsession with social relevance brings. There is another danger. It is an ancient vice that has become a modern virtue: narcissism.
Legend has it that Narcissus was so beautiful that he fell in love with his own reflection. His self-obsession eventually cost him his life. That is what narcissism is: it is the worship of self. What does this have to do with social media? So much of our social media obsession is rooted in our desire to look good and to be admired. That is why we only post pictures of our “best sides”. We publish our achievements and ignore our failures. And when we don’t get the adoration we think we deserve, we become depressed. “Why didn’t anyone ‘like’ my photo? Why didn’t they comment?” The same applies when we pity ourselves on social media. It is another way of seeking attention – it is an expression, not of humility, but of wounded pride.
So what is the answer? Some suggest abandoning social media. It might help, but it won’t deal with the core issue. Self worship doesn’t need an internet connection. No, we need to abandon self. Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). This is the only way to eliminate self worship: true worship. Social media is a symptom, not the problem: our idolatrous hearts are the real issue. The only way to push self out is by inviting Jesus in. You’ll only do that if you believe that Jesus is worth it – that Jesus is better than self.
What do we want most: to look good or to look like Jesus? To be admired or to admire Jesus? Let’s look away from our reflections and “[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Because of Christ,
Why do we sleep? Our modern obsession with productivity views sleep as a hindrance or a burden. Sleep is usually one of the first things that we sacrifice to maintain the pace of our busy lives. We quote passages like Proverbs 6:10-11: “A little sleep, a little slumber… and poverty will come upon you like a robber”. We convince ourselves that we are following the example of our Lord when we rise “very early in the morning” (Mark 1:35) or work well after “sundown” (Mark 1:32). Didn’t the apostle Paul “not cease night or day to admonish everyone” (Acts 20:31)?
While the Bible condemns laziness and sloth, it also warns us against neglecting rest. At creation God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested” (Gen. 2:3). Rest was part of God’s design for the world, even before the Fall. Jesus confirms that God did this for our sake: “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). The cycle of day and night was part of God’s design; the God-ordained rhythm for our lives.
Jesus, as the incarnate Son of God, understood this. Jesus slept (Mark 4:38). Jesus also encouraged his disciples to rest after a season of intense ministry (Mark 6:31). God created us in such a way that we need sleep. However, it would be wrong to view sleep simply as a necessity. It is also a gift: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (Ps. 127:2). Only God does not sleep: “he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Ps. 121:4).
Sleep reminds us that God is God and that we are not. God does his work, keeps his children, and sustains the world all while we are sound asleep. Sleep is a reminder that we need God. Understood this way, sleep becomes an act of worship and faith.
Why don’t you sleep? Maybe we sleep less than we need to, because we don’t trust God as much as we should.
Because of Christ,
What do you want most for your child? Good grades? Athletic achievement? While these are noble goals we have to ask ourselves how important these things are to God. How do our goals for our children differ from what the world wants for them?
What does God want for your children? God desires godliness more than grades. Look at Deut. 4:9: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children”. Later, in Deut. 6:5-7, we read: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
First, God wants your children to grow up with godly parents. In both passages God addresses the parents first. God expects parents to “take care, and keep your soul diligently” (4:9). You cannot tend to the soul of your child if you neglect your own. You cannot teach the love of God to your children, if you do not “love the Lord your God with all your heart” (6:6). Parents, be godly examples.
Second, God wants your children to be taught by godly parents. A godly example is important because so much of what our children learn about God is “caught, not taught”. Your example will always speak louder than your words. This does not mean, however, that you should not use words. What does God say? “Make them known to your children” (4:9) and “teach them diligently to your children” (6:7). Deliberate, consistent and constant (note “when you sit... when you walk... when you lie down” in 6:7) teaching is vital. Pastors and youth leaders have a role to play, but their role is supplementary. Parents, get to know God’s Word and teach it to your children.
There is obviously more to being a Christian parent, but this is a great place to start. What do you want most for your children? How does it differ from God’s desire for them?
Because of Christ,
Jesus said: “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:14). Wasn’t faith supposed to be the easy way? Who would willingly choose the hard and lonely “narrow way”?
In the previous verse Jesus elaborated on the way to “destruction”. We would think that, given the destination, people would avoid this way. Life is better than destruction, right? Sadly we don’t always consider the destination. Sometimes we are blinded by the journey.
Jesus highlighted the ease and fellowship of the wide way (Matt. 7:13). The wide way looks more enjoyable. The wicked always seem at ease (Ps. 73:12). You won’t be lonely. Sin loves company after all (Rom. 1:32). Compared to the narrow way, the wide way is a walk in the park.
The narrow way promises tribulation (John 16:33). On the narrow way you will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). The narrow way demands that we deny ourselves (Mark 8:24) and the pleasures that the wide way offers (1 John 2:16). This makes those on the narrow way very unpopular (1 Pet. 4:4).
If the journey was all that there was, then the wide way would be very appealing. Who would choose “hard” over “easy”? Asaph wrestled with the same question: “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Ps. 73:3). He was tempted to join the wide way, until “I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (Ps. 73:17).
The journey is not the only thing that matters. It matters a great deal, but only as it relates to the destination. The journey determines the destination. The destination makes all the difference and there is only one way that leads to God and eternal life: the narrow way.
Faith and faithfulness is not a matter of convenience – it is a matter of life and death. Yes, it is hard, but it is worth it. The temptation to leave the narrow way loses all its power once we remember the destination. John put it like this: “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3).
Keep your eyes on the destination and you will not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Jesus Christ is the destination.
Because of Christ,
We know that the gospel does not guarantee our comfort. In fact, faithfulness to the gospel might cause us great distress. Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). This is exactly what the believers in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) experienced. They were suffering because of their faith (see 1 Peter 2:19-25; 4:1, 12).
Yet somehow they remained joyful. How is that possible? 1 Pet. 1:6 tells us that they rejoiced in something. That something is described in verse 3-5: the living hope to which they were born again, the inheritance that is being kept for them and the assurance that they are being guarded for the inheritance. These truths look ahead at the glory that believers will receive, but they have an impact now. They bring us joy in the midst of trials.
This does not mean that the trials are easy. Peter goes on to describe the grief that the trials caused (v. 6), but their trials were not pointless. He says that they were “necessary”. What possible purpose could their trials have?
The word for “trials” refers to a test. The trial reveals someone’s character by submitting him to thorough and extensive testing. That is why Peter mentions gold being tested by fire in verse 7. The melting point of gold is 1064 degrees Celsius: you cannot test it at low temperatures. In the same way the genuineness of our faith is tested by a “fiery trial” (4:12). When our faith in the Lord Jesus survives the trial it proves that our faith is genuine. Genuine faith results in “praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 7).
This is one of the reasons we have to endure trials. Trials have a way of “proving” a genuine faith (v. 7) and of unmasking a false one (see Mark 4:16-17). Every trial brings an opportunity to be strengthened and reassured, or to repent and believe if our faith is found wanting.
What gives you hope? Avoiding the trial or enduring it? God has promised that we will not be tested beyond what we are able to bear (1 Cor. 10:13). Surviving the trial proves that God is faithful and that our faith in him is real.
Because of Christ,
Worship is a vital part of our Christian walk. Properly understood, it is the acknowledgement of God’s worth in every sphere of our lives. For the Christian, worship isn't an isolated event that happens on a Sunday morning - it is a lifestyle.
Worship does happen on a Sunday morning. Sometimes, however, even though we attend the service, sing the songs and listen to the sermon we don't experience it as worship. We experience it as drudgery or duty. Why?
One possibility is unconfessed sin. We know that God extends forgiveness to those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ. That is how any relationship with the Lord starts, but it is also how it grows. God calls on us to confess our sins as part of our growing relationship with God (see 1 John 1:9). Jesus also taught us to make confession a part of our prayers (Matt. 6:12).
Why would we have to confess if we've already been adopted into God's family? Take marriage as an example. When I sin against my wife it does not change the fact that we are married, but it does affect our relationship. Our marital status has not changed, but our experience of the joy, intimacy and trust that should accompany marriage has taken a blow. Confession and forgiveness restores the relationship.
Unconfessed sin hardens the heart and hinders worship. David experienced the cold prison of unconfessed sin, but he also experienced restoration: "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,' and you forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Ps. 32:1-5).
Jesus Christ became a man, lived a perfect life, died the death that we deserved to die and rose from the dead, thereby securing the forgiveness of sin and eternal life for all who trust in Him. Don't hesitate: confess your sins and rejoice in his forgiveness.
Because of Christ,
What stands in the way of experiencing worship? Worship, properly understood, is the acknowledgement of God’s worth in every sphere of our lives. We've been focussing on one special expression of worship: our Sunday worship service. However, this weekly expression of worship should not, in fact cannot, be divorced from the rest of our lives.
Our Sunday morning worship is just one part of our Christian lives. The rest of our lives should be as committed to acknowledging Christ as our Sunday service is. If that is not the case, the problem is not the service - the problem is us.
In James 2:17-20 we are warned that a faith that is not accompanied with works is "dead." True worship calls for a living, vibrant faith and such a faith can only grow in the atmosphere of obedience. A dead faith cannot feel and cannot experience true worship.
Peter also alluded to this when he admonished husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way, showing honour to them because they are fellow heirs with them of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7). Then he adds this warning: "so that your prayers may not be hindered." Clearly, when husbands do not honour Christ in how they treat their wives, their prayers will be hindered. Again, true worship is hindered by disobedience.
Sunday worship happens when believers in the Lord Jesus Christ gather together as the church of Christ, praying, singing, reading and explaining the Word of Christ, obediently conforming to the image of Christ. If we aren't conforming to the image of Christ, if we aren't acknowledging the Word of Christ in our lives, crucial elements of true worship are missing.
In short, don't just worship on a Sunday - worship Christ by following him every day of the week.
Because of Christ,
In our last article we started a new series on worship - specifically experiencing worship. Worship, properly understood, is the acknowledgement of God’s worth in every sphere of our lives, but in this series our focus will be on one special expression of worship: our Sunday worship service.
On a Sunday worship happens when believers in the Lord Jesus Christ gather together as the church of Christ, praying, singing, reading and explaining the Word of Christ, obediently conforming to the image of Christ. Christ is at the heart of worship. Which brings us to an important point regarding worship: if we want to experience genuine worship we have to be Christ-centred.
In Heb. 13:15 we are told: "Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name." Worship acknowledges Christ's name. How do we acknowledge Christ's name?
The word translated "acknowledge" above is sometimes translated "confess" or "declare". In 1 John 4:2 it is written: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God". And in Rom. 10:9 we read: "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."
Acknowledging Christ has two aspects. Firstly, it means that we know who Christ is (Jesus Christ has come in the flesh). Secondly, it means that we respond appropriately to him (confess him as Lord).
If you really want to experience worship, get to know Jesus better. This is why we strive for Christ-centred preaching and why you should pray for the ministry of the Word here at SBC. Also, as you grow in your knowledge of Christ, ask the Lord how you can properly respond to that knowledge. How does Christ's humanity give you hope? How does Christ's exaltation order your life? What does it mean to confess Christ as Lord?
These thoughts are the fuel of true worship.
Because of Christ,
Christianity is ludicrous without the hope of the resurrection. Think about it for a moment: what does God call us to in Christ? In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul reflects on some of the dangers he had to face for the sake of the gospel. In v. 30 he says that he was in danger every hour. Later, in 2 Corinthians 11:26 he records some the dangers he faced: “in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers”. No wonder Paul said: “I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31).
That is what taking of the cross meant for Paul (Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”). That is what it might mean for us.
If this is all there is to life – if death is the end – then following Jesus, risking for Jesus and dying for Jesus makes no sense. If death is the end, then we should “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32). But that is not what Paul chose.
Why did Paul choose the way of the cross instead of the ways of the world? 1 Cor. 15:20 & 58 gives us the answer: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
So ask yourself: what difference does the resurrection make now? How does the hope of the resurrection affect your life? At the very least it should give us hope, but more than that: it should give us courage – courage to do what God has called us to do, knowing it will be worth it in the end.
Because of Christ,
A couple of years ago I was at the Passion conference where 6000 young adults were gathered together, praising God. The stated aim of the conference was to encourage people to worship Christ. It was almost overwhelming: 6000 students sang: “Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God, forever”.
God judges the heart, so we’ll leave it to God to judge their sincerity. But it made me wonder: why can’t Sunday services be like that? Most people would blame the service, but that would be dishonest. If we can only experience worship with great music and big crowds the problem might lie elsewhere. The problem might be us.
What exactly is worship? Worship in the proper sense is the acknowledgement of God’s worth in all of our lives. But I want to focus on what happens on a Sunday. Worship happens when believers in the Lord Jesus Christ gather together as the church of Christ, praying, singing, reading and explaining the Word of Christ, obediently conforming to the image of Christ.
Col. 3:16 states that singing is part of it, but not just singing. Everything in the service should be an act of worship, even the sermon. Worship is the earthly expression of our heavenly vocation: glorifying God and enjoying Him for ever.
What needs to happen for us to experience worship in that way? First, we must have a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Deut. 6:4-5 made it clear that only those who love God can truly worship him (see also Ps. 95:6-7). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), or truly worship Him.
Do you know the God you claim to worship? Have you put your faith in Him and Him alone? That is where true worship starts.
Because of Christ,
The Bible has a lot to say about anxiety and worry. One Old Testament expression for “anxiety” is “tumbling thoughts”. We all know what this kind of anxiety is like: our fears and uncertainties have a way of “snowballing” on us. Before we know it, our thoughts are flooded with worries – one worry following closely on the heels of another. This can be overwhelming and depressing.
According to the Bible some of our anxieties spring from legitimate concerns, such as the “cares of this life” (Matt. 13:22), pleasing our spouses (1 Cor. 7:33-34) or the work of the Lord (2 Cor. 11:28). But we should be careful that these legitimate concerns don’t overwhelm or dominate us. If we give in to doubt we are in danger of making the Word of God unfruitful in our lives (Matt. 13:22). How do we prevent that?
Martin Lloyd-Jones once wrote: “The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self... Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” This is what the apostle Paul instructed us to do in Phil. 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
We find numerous examples of this in the Psalms. In Psalm 73 Asaph wrestles with injustice, but finds peace when he starts preaching to himself (v. 16-23). In Psalm 103 David finds comfort when he reminds himself of God’s benefits and character. This is what Jesus instructed us to do. Even when legitimate concerns press in on us, we should remind ourselves that our Father will take care of us (Matt. 6:25-34).
There are a lot of uncertainties in life, but God’s character and promises are not among them. The Lord will never change; neither will his Word. The next time worry tries to ambush you, “preach” the certainties of God’s Word to yourself. Pray to God and preach to yourself – these are the first steps to fighting anxiety and worry.
Because of Christ,
God has several purposes for work. The first purpose is to order creation. Man, created in God’s image, has been tasked with bringing order to creation. Back in Gen. 1:28 we read: “God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion"”. Gen. 2:15 then explains: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Both these verses indicate that God subjected creation to man and instructed man to subdue and keep it. This is often called the cultural mandate: bringing order, stability and prosperity to creation.
The second purpose is to provide for our needs. The Lord is the One who ultimately provides all we need, but God uses means to achieve his ends. Salvation, while an act of God, happens by means of the proclamation of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:21). In the same way, the regular means by which God provides for his people is work. Gen. 3:19 states: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground”. It is true that work is cursed because of the fall (described in Genesis 3), but note that the curse makes work harder – it did not change its purpose. It is still God’s appointed means by which people should provide for themselves. And not just for themselves, but for their families as well. In 1 Tim. 5:8 Paul explains: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
This brings us to the third purpose: providing for others. Scripture says a lot about caring for others. Rom. 12:13 says: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Where do we get the means to care for others? Eph. 4:28 ties our care to our work: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” We not only work for ourselves, but also for those in need.
The fourth purpose of work is to glorify God. Everything that the Christian does should be done with God’s glory in mind. 1 Cor. 10:31 makes this clear: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The apostle Peter adds: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Pet. 2:12). Even when our circumstances at work are terrible, Col. 3:22-24 shows us how our work can glorify God: by working “not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Work serves a purpose. As long as your work does not involve you in sin, God can use it to bless your community, provide for your family and magnify his Name.
Because of Christ,
The Human Sciences Research Council of S.A. did a study in 2005 that indicated that only 21% of South African employees were satisfied with their jobs. What does this tell us? It tells us that if we actually enjoy our jobs, we’re very fortunate and should be grateful. It also tells us that if we don’t particularly enjoy our jobs we are not alone. Most importantly, however, it tells us that people have a very low view of work. What should a Christian’s attitude be towards work?
First, we should remember that God instituted work. Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that God commanded man to, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion”. This was “very good” according to v. 31. Work isn’t explicitly mentioned in these verses, but it is implied. It is mentioned in the next chapter: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15). If we want to cultivate a Christian attitude towards work, we need to understand that work was instituted by God before the fall. This means that work is a gift, not a punishment.
If work is so good, why is it so hard? This brings us to our second point: work has been affected by the fall. Genesis 3:17-19 explains: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”.
The fall marred our enjoyment of work, but that does not mean work should be abandoned altogether. Marriage is another gift that was instituted before the fall, but affected by it. We don’t abandon marriage; we work at it. By God’s grace work, like marriage, can be redeemed, restored and enjoyed. Work is not our enemy – sin is. There is dignity in work, regardless of how menial that work might seem. Work, done right, brings God glory.
Because of Christ,
“What is man?” (Psalm 8:4). We’ve attempted to answer this question biblically: God created man for his glory, in his image, as both male and female; a unity of body and soul. Tragically, this picture of humanity was distorted by the fall. We became less than we were originally intended to be: we became sinners.
But the story does not end there. God promised a “seed” who would restore what sin had destroyed (Genesis 3:15). Throughout human history God entered into covenant with certain people so that through them He could send the promised Seed. That is why God promised Abraham: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). That was God’s purpose when He promised David: “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).
God also sent prophets to prepare the people for the coming of this Seed. God gave Isaiah a prophecy: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). God gave Daniel a vision: “with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:13-14). These and other prophets prepared God’s people for this Redeemer’s coming.
And then He came: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). In Jesus we see what humanity was meant to be: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him [that is humanity]. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour” (Hebrews 2:8-9).
Jesus Christ became the perfect man, lived the perfect life and died the death we deserved to die. Sinners are redeemed – humanity is restored – in Christ. The New Testament explains this “recreation” like this: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). What sin has destroyed, Christ has restored. We can only fulfil our true purpose when we are united, by faith, to this perfect Man.
Because of Christ,