The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

What does it mean to grieve the Spirit?

In recent months, I have seen the “grieving of the Holy Spirit” to mean the denial of the spiritual gifts, or resistance to intimacy with the Holy Spirit by being “too intellectually” or “intellectually proud”. But is this the correct understanding? How does the Bible present the grieving of the Holy Spirit? To be sure, the only reference to grieving the Holy Spirit is Eph 4:30. However, there are other offences that are made against the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:32 and 1 Thess 5:19). So, it’s worth considering these alongside Eph 4:30.

Ephesians 4:30

The command not to grieve the Holy Spirit comes in the context of personal conduct (4:25–5:2), which in turn comes from character – a central concern in the New Testament. Here, there are instructions to put away falsehood (v. 25), not to sin in anger (v. 26), refrain from stealing (v. 28), and not engage in corrupt talk (v. 29). To engage in such conduct is to act contrary to reconciliation in the gospel, of which the Holy Spirit is an agent. Not only are believers to put away conduct that is contrary to reconciliation, but they are to put away the conditions that that give rise to that conduct – bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and slander along with all evil (v. 31). Instead, believers are to speak the truth to one another (v. 25), work honestly (v. 28), look to build up others with their speech (v. 29), be kind, compassionate, and forgiving as they imitate God’s forgiveness (v. 32). In sum, therefore, to grieve the Holy Spirit is to adopt an ungodly character. The concern, then, is for believers to adopt a godly character.

1 Thessalonians 5:19

This verse is probably the closest to how the phrase “grieving the Holy Spirit” has been used. Here, believers are instructed not to “quench the Spirit”. For in the next verse believers are instructed not to despise prophecy (v. 20). This would very much sound like a denial of a spiritual gift. It’s understandable where spiritual gifts have been misused or abused some may seek its disuse. Such an approach to spiritual gifts is wrong. Leaving aside the nature of prophecy, however, the acceptance of prophecy is not without qualification. For believers are to test everything (v. 21). There clearly were some false prophecies doing the rounds concerning the day of the Lord (2 Thess 2:2). For this reason, they were to holdfast to the traditions they were taught by the Apostles (v. 15). This means that believers were to engage in an intellectual process comparing what they were hearing as prophecy with what they already knew from the Apostles. So, while it may “quench the Spirit” by denying spiritual gifts, in this case prophecy, it is most certainly not to grieve the Spirit to critique that prophecy. Anyone who uses the charge “grieving the Spirit” to silence criticism is to be regarded to be outside the instruction of God’s word. Neither does the presence of a spiritual gift demand its use. Instead, the benefit of the church is to be sought (1 Cor 15:26–33a).

Matthew 12:32 [//Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10]

The third verse to consider is Matthew 12:32 [//Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10]. Because the Matthew reference comes within the context which combines the teaching of Mark and Luke, the Matthew reference will be addressed last. Here, Jesus teaches that anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. So, what does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit?

In Mark’s account, the teaching comes when the Jewish scribes come down from Jerusalem to investigate Jesus’ activity. Now, Jesus had been casting out demons from people, and Mark depicts Jesus as being driven by the Spirit (1:10, 12; 2:8). Therefore, the activities of Jesus are also the activities of the Holy Spirit. Yet, instead of recognising Jesus activity in the casting out of demons to be the activity of the Holy Spirit, the Jewish scribes attribute the activity to Beelzebul, the prince of demons (3:22), which, as Jesus points out, is nonsensical (vv. 23–26). In other words, they are attributing the activity of the Holy Spirit to demons. Given that Jesus is the sole agent of salvation and forgiveness, there can be no forgiveness for those who continue to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus to demons.

In Luke’s account, the meaning of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” isn’t clear. Howard I. Marshall in his commentary surveys several possibilities before settling on the meaning of apostasy.[1] This accords with the context which refers to “acknowledging the Son of Man [Jesus] before men” (Luke 12:8), and “being brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities” (v. 11). For this to be true, for a believer to deny Jesus is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit which teaches the believer what to say at those times (v. 12). Yet, if this is correct, then on what grounds is Peter forgiven after he denies knowing Jesus (Matt. 26:69–75 [// Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–62; John 18:16–18, 25–27)? Notice that the verb to blaspheme (βλασφημέω) appears in the participle form, which may suggest that in view here is not one who merely blasphemes but is identified as a blasphemer and shows no remorse for their actions. This accords with the usage of simple verbs to refer to the one who speaks against the Son of Man (12:10). While Peter denied knowing Jesus, he did not have those actions as part of his identity. Instead, Peter “wept bitterly” over his actions (22:62 [// Matt 26:75).

In Matthew’s account, both perspectives from Mark and Luke are combined into the one teaching. However, the Pharisee’s opposition to Jesus’ ministry is explicit and made all the more vivid by their pre-conceived conclusion which was in contrast to the crowd’s amazement (Matt 12:23–24). In other words, the Pharisees are not even open to the possibility that Jesus’ ministry is being driven by the Holy Spirit. Instead, inasmuch the Pharisees recognise the supernatural character of Jesus’ ministry, they are simply out to oppose him, attributing the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ ministry to demonic forces. Ultimately, by opposing Jesus’ ministry, they are opposing the purposes of God. This, then, forms the basis for Jesus’ warning (vv. 31–32).

In conclusion, then, to grieve the Holy Spirit (and by extension, to quench and to blaspheme against) is a very serious charge indeed. It is not a charge to be wielded about lightly. The New Testament uses this charge in specific circumstances. As we have seen, the charge is made in relation to conduct and character that is contrary to godly living, in relation to the denial of prophecy (though this not to forbid testing of that prophecy), and in relation to attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to demonic forces and the denial of Christ. To charge a person or group of persons with grieving the Holy Spirit because they refuse to adhere to the words of a person who believes that they are led by the Spirit is to go beyond the authority of Scripture. If such a person is led by the Spirit, and considers themselves in a position to offer encouragement, rebuking, and correction to God’s people, then let them acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit among God’s people. Let them acknowledge the authority of Scripture that the same Spirit inspired and breathed into being, and let them not deny the careful, yet humble, inquiry into it.

[1] Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC, (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978), 517–519.

July 3, 2021 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Religious | , | Leave a comment

A Virtual Tour Around Corinth: Understanding Paul’s Correspondence as a Whole and its Application

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in the city of Corinth – a busy metropolitan cross road in the Roman Empire on the modern-day Greek peninsula. In his correspondence, he gave all sorts of encouragements, exhortations, rebukes and corrections. But the verse I find most amazing in all of Paul’s correspondence with the believers at Corinth is 1 Cor 1:10. Actually, it’s really only one word I find amazing – “brothers” (inclusive of women, please remember). This is not a mere formality, as a title may be used at the start of a letter. Paul refers to this group of believers as “brothers” another 20 times in his correspondence.[1] Paul is identifying himself with the believers in Corinth as sharing the same faith. By referring to the Corinthians as “brothers”, Paul is effectively saying, “Hey, I’m one of you guys!”. To understand why this was so amazing for Paul to refer to these believers in Corinth as brothers, we need to take a “virtual tour” of Corinth, and survey all that’s going on according to Paul’s correspondence. Perhaps you’ve seen some of these things before. But it also could be that you haven’t seen all of these scenes in one go before. So, buckle up. This is going to be quite a ride! 

At our first stop, we can see the vigorous competition of the popularity contest where various Christian leaders would be pitched against each other by their followers in a bid for social supremacy (1 Cor 3:4). The problem here is these divisions gave the impression that messages about the Gospel were distinct and there was no commonality between them.

At our next stop, we find sexual immorality going on. In fact, one man is said to be having sex with his father’s wife (5:1). The exact issue isn’t clear – whether it’s his mother or his father has remarried due to divorce or death. In any event, such relations were forbidden in both Jewish and Pagan traditions. Others had trouble controlling their sexual urges (7:9), while at the other end of the spectrum some took an ascetic approach and were avoiding sex (vv. 2–6).

At our next stop, we find believers suing the pants off each other in law courts (6:1–8). This was little more than one-upmanship. A way of gaining social status just as following different leaders was. The problem was, this hardly reflected the sanctification and justification they had received from Jesus (v. 11).

At our next stop, a non-believer has been inviting believers around for a BBQ (8:1–13). This was fine, until it was discovered that the BBQ meat had been part of a pagan sacrifice. Some believers were uncomfortable about this (v. 7). They didn’t want to give any validation to pagan beliefs, so from their own conscious, they refrained from eating the meat. Other believers were quite happy to eat the meat. They knew that pagan deities were nothing more than a fairytale (v. 5). What was the harm (v.8)? But for these people, their knowledge was more important than the impact that the actions had on others. So, they were actually causing the others to go against their conscious and stumble. In fact, some were even partaking in the sacrifice itself (10:14–22). This kind of thing just confuses God with demons (vv. 19–22) rather seeing him glorified in all things (v. 31).

At our next stop, there is some issue around the length of hair and head coverings (11:2–16). It’s not quite clear, but the best suggestions would seem to revolve around the flouting of conventional distinctions between men and women in terms of dress. While Paul teaches against conforming to the world (Romans 12:2), he is not interested in causing unnecessary offence by departing from social conventions.

At our next stop, there’s a celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17–33). That sacramental meal that calls to remembrance and proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and on that basis a new community of grace would be formed. I need to tell you that this is what they are celebrating because you would never know from their behaviour. You see, some are stuffing their face with bread while others go hungry, and others are getting plastered on the wine while others go without. I know it’s hard for us moderns to imagine how someone can stuff their face with a solitary crouton and become drunk on a thimble of grape juice. But we need to remember that this was a full meal with real alcoholic wine. It would seem they were clambering over each other as the more “spiritual” members helped themselves to the bread and wine leaving the “not so spiritual” members in their wake. So much for being a community of grace! No wonder Paul said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.” (v. 20). What a mess! 

At our next stop, we come to the main event – the “Spiritual Olympics” (12:1–30)! Well, that’s what we might as well call it. All of them are trying to outdo each other in the spiritual gifts department. The disturbing thing is their exercising of spiritual gifts is more akin to non-believers than anything reflecting the gospel (v. 2). It would appear that some are identifying with their gift more than the giver. That they are deriving their worth from their giftedness rather than the love of God vividly expressed in Jesus’ blood. It’s all fun and games until someone is left out. That’s right, the highly gifted believers thought they could actually do without some of the less gifted believers. For these highly gifted believers, exercising their gifts is never about service or helping those who were less gifted. It’s all about showing off and climbing the “spiritual ladder”. It’s just a shame no one realises that first place is also a booby prize.

At our final stop, we find that some people were denying the resurrection of the dead. I know, it’s difficult for us modern believers to know how anyone can deny the resurrection. It’s so foundational to our hope. But with the manifestations of the spirit: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, great works, prophecy, speaking other languages – even angelic languages – it’s understandable why some of them begun to think that they had already arrived! In fact, Paul taunts them earlier in his letter, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!” (4:8). The reality is that the Christian hope is far bigger, and far more glorious than the here and now in this life.

So, let’s have a recap of our virtual tour of Corinth. In the church at Corinth, we have factions around church leaders in a popularity contest, sexual immorality, the flexing of legal muscle, disregard for the conscious of other believers, the flouting of cultural norms, the disregard for other believers at the Lord’s Supper, the misuse and abuse of spiritual gifts, and finally the denial of the resurrection of the dead. If there was a church today that did half of these things, I’d steer clear of it. I’d be telling all my friends to do the same, and anyone in that church to leave. I would completely write them off as a church. I would conclude that they were on about something else other than the gospel. This is why I find Paul’s reference to them as “brothers” to be so amazing. That in all the mess, in all the chaos, in all the anti-gospel behaviour, he recognises that the grace of God given to the church at Corinth is the same grace that has been given to him. Instead of writing them off, he identifies with them as a subject of God’s grace.

That Paul identifies with them does not mean that Paul is indifferent to their conduct. These are big issues that need big resolutions. One by one, Paul addresses each issue, and grounds his response in the person of Jesus.

Concerning the rivalry and factions in the church, Paul reminds the Corinthians that Jesus is the foundation of the Christian community upon which everyone else must build (3:10–11). In other words, it is Jesus who gives the church its existence, coherence and identity.[2] To derive these from any other foundation – whether it be theological tradition, experience, praxis or rationality – is to build on a foundation that will not last (v. 14). This is not to deny a variety of denominations who are characterised by different theological traditions, experiences, praxes and rationalities. Indeed, there are different churches with their particular characteristics and their own issues in the New Testament. John writes to the seven churches giving each one a different evaluation (Revelation 1:4, 2:1–3:22). The Church (universal) is large enough to have disagreements (Acts 15:36–41), and to have different traditions (Romans 2:12–14; 14:1–2; 13–14 – the Jew with the Old Testament law and the Gentiles without the Old Testament law). However, should any of these characteristics be considered foundational, the defining factor of a church, including what church leader one follows, then that characteristic becomes a distraction from the church’s true foundation which is Jesus. Such a church forfeits its glory in being the temple of God by the indwelling of God’s Spirit (v. 16). So, Jesus remains foundational to the church, and no theological tradition, experience, praxis or rationality can substitute this (vv. 18–22). 

Concerning sexual immorality, Paul’s point is to say that Jesus’ death and resurrection has given believers a new beginning. This is referred to as Christ, our Passover Lamb, who has been sacrificed (5:7). To reach back into the past and bring old habits and practices into the new way of life is simply inappropriate. The idea being built upon here is one of leavened bread (vv. 6–7). Leavened bread consisted of using reserved dough which was made the previous week in the current batch of dough. This was done as a substitute for yeast. The week-old dough would then be fermenting. When the week-old dough was introduced to the new dough, it would cause the new dough to become fermented and rise in the heat. As useful as this practice was, it wasn’t hygienic as dirt and disease could be passed on from week to week.[3] This was possibly one of the reasons for God commanding his people to throw out any leaven from their homes once a year and to observe the feast of unleavened bread (Exo 12:14–20). By introducing the old ways of sexual immorality to the new life in Christ, this too would become an unhealthy mix. Therefore, Paul picks up this image of leaven again, and tells the Corinthians to throw out (or purge) the evil person from among them so as to avoid an unhealthy mix (1 Cor 5:13). 

The same point is made concerning suing the pants off each other. Paul reminds them of their status before God – that they have been washed, sanctified and justified (6:11). This means that they have made a clean break with their former way of life and had now been set aside for God’s purposes. This was made possible by what was revealed in Jesus – namely, the forgiveness of sins through his death and resurrection which is applied to the believer through the work of God’s Spirit. It simply does not make sense to flex one’s legal muscle against your adversaries and go up a few runs on the social pecking order when you have been set aside for God’s purposes. 

Concerning eating meat that’s been sacrificed to idols, in a sense, Paul seems to agree with those who take such liberties (8:4, 8). But the question is not what’s wrong or right. The question is what is helpful? For some at Corinth, seeing their fellow believers eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols was a real point of contention. It caused these believers to stumble and have their faith destroyed. This was the real issue. Paul recognised that those believers had a weak conscious, and these were people for whom Christ died (v. 11). So, to insist on rights over responsibility, to consider eating more important than the spiritual well-being of a fellow believer, is actually sin. It’s sinning against your fellow believer, and it’s sinning against Jesus who died for the fellow believer (v. 12).

Concerning the Lord’s Supper, Paul has to remind them, incredibly, what they are celebrating – Jesus’ death (12:26). As has been seen, Jesus’ death has been central to Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians. Using the Lord’s Supper to celebrate anything else was actually to eat and drink judgement on themselves. Instead, Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins was best reflected by how they treated the apparently lesser members of their church community and not turning the event into an opportunity to gorge themselves.

Concerning spiritual gifts, rather than seeing them as a sign that they are a cut above the “average Christian” (as though there could be anything average about being a Christian!), Paul tells the Corinthians something shocking. Spiritual gifts are temporal (13:8)! They don’t belong to the eschatological age – the time when Jesus will return and God will establish his kingdom. Spiritual gifts are for this present life, and this present life only. As spectacular and impressive as spiritual gifts are, they are of limited use. Instead, Paul tells them of a more superior way of showing their spiritual credentials, and it has nothing to do with doing (12:29). But it has everything to do with being – their character. If they want to show off their spiritual credentials, they need to show who they are in Jesus. Paul writes to them and says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Then he goes on to talk about the priority of love – agapē love, familial love, describing it as patient and kind, not being envious or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not or insistent or irritable, not rejoicing in wrongdoing. Instead, love rejoices with the truth, and it bears, believes, hopes, and endures everything, and it never fails (13:8–12). Love is the cure-all for every issue that Paul has raised with the Corinthians. Little wonder Paul refers to love as the superior way.

But, Paul’s description of love is even more radical than this. Paul writes, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (13:13). Where spiritual gifts will cease, love, along with faith and hope will remain. Faith, hope and love will continue to exist. Whereas spiritual gifts are the stuff of this present life, love is the stuff of the eschaton. Love is a defining feature of the Kingdom of God. Love is the future Kingdom of God brought forward into the present. Paul grounds this in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus (ch. 15), which some of them were denying. He says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v. 19). In other words, if your greatest hope as a Christian is to speak in tongues, or prophesy, or acquire knowledge, or become detached from physical desires, or climb up the social pecking order, or to stuff your face and get drunk at the Lord’s Supper, then you have missed the point and should be pitied more than anyone else. We may add some of modern trappings. If our greatest hope as Christians is to have a comfortable life, to become rich, acquire possessions, never get sick, then we really have missed the point, and we are to be pitied more than anyone else. But… the resurrection of Jesus changes all that. For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus is never far from his mind since this is what his apostleship is based on (vv. 3–9). It’s also the basis for the forgiveness of sins which leads to a new life (v. 17). As glorious as this life is along with our bodies, as much as we may rejoice in the temporal things of this present life, this is not the same glory that will be in the resurrection. Paul explains what is now perishable, dishonoured, weak, and natural will be raised is imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (vv. 42–44). In other words, the resurrected life will be so much more than the joys and glories of this present life.

None of this means that spiritual gifts are not without value in the meantime. Paul obviously thought that spiritual gifts, and in particular tongues and prophecy, were of value for the church at Corinth, and he spent a considerable time explaining their proper use (ch. 14). What, precisely, these spiritual gifts were and how these practices apply to the church today are the subject of considerable discussion. However, two things remain quite clear: firstly, spiritual gifts, in whatever form,[4] are for the building up of the church – they are for the benefit of the community (12:7;14:6, 12). Secondly, spiritual gifts can be abused, and be counterproductive for the task they are given (13:1–3). Spiritual gifts can only be fully appreciated when they are grounded in the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus where they are understood as part of a temporal glory which will pass away with the coming of the resurrection. 

As can be seen, the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus remains central to Paul’s thinking, and foundational to addressing the issues among the believers at Corinth. Paul does not look to “special knowledge” or “ecstatic experiences” or “gifts” as a solution to the issues. As has been seen throughout the letter, time and time again, Paul returns to the gospel. All the believers needed was a better acquaintance with what they have been taught. To understand how the Gospel applied to their situation.

So, what does all this mean for us?

Firstly, it means that the practices that were in place at Corinth are not necessarily to be replicated in the modern church. A lot of what was being practiced at Corinth was being practiced in error. If there was a church today that denied the resurrection, seldom would its practices be upheld as a model for other churches to follow. Yet when it comes to the church at Corinth, a resurrection-denying, little guy crushing, social status obsessed church, there are those who desire to replicate the practices of Corinth in the name of intimacy with the Spirit. To those who want to replicate these practices, I implore you, do not become obsessed with the Corinthian experience and practice. Instead, understand why Paul was raising these issues and why he responded the way he did. Understand that, without diminishing them as fellow-believers, Paul was pointing the believers at Corinth to a fuller, richer, deeper, higher, more profound spirituality than the one they professed. This was a spirituality based on love and expressed in relationships with each other.

Secondly, to those who profess to have knowledge, or experiences, or gifts: these are not without value. However, these are not markers of your salvation, or your maturity in Christ. It is easy for those with knowledge, or experiences, or gifts to look down at those who lack them. To even condemn them. This was precisely the Corinthian error! It was precisely for this reason that Paul had to defend his apostleship against the believers at Corinth (2 Cor 3) – the same one who brought the gospel to them in the first place (1 Cor 4:15)! It was inconceivable to the believers at Corinth that anyone who had been given the Spirit, anyone who had truly arrived, should suffer. That they should be beaten and struck, going about hungry, naked, and in danger. Yet, it wasn’t as though Paul was without the manifestations of the Spirit that believers at Corinth would recognise. Paul claimed that he spoke in tongues more than any of them, and he thanked God for it (14:18)! He also claimed to have had heavenly visions (2 Cor in 9:12). But he doesn’t use these gifts and experiences to certify his apostleship. If anything, he’s playing them down. Concerning his ability to speak in tongues Paul says, “I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Cor 14:19). Concerning his visions, he refers to himself in the third person so as not to draw attention to himself (2 Cor 12:2). When he does draw attention to himself, it is in reference to his weakness – his low social status (2 Cor 12:5). Instead, Paul’s certification as an Apostle is the believers in Corinth themselves in the way they responded to the gospel (3:2). As to suffering and weakness, rather than being antithetical to the spiritual life, Paul argues that they are integral to the spiritual life (2 Cor 1:3–11), and they are the means by which God’s grace is manifest (2 Cor 12:9). This is something that needs to be emphasised: Instead of celebrating his ability to speak in tongues and the experience he’s had, Paul celebrates weakness. Paul celebrates insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities (v. 10). In contrast to what the Corinthians believed, these are the means by which God’s grace is manifest.

What is to be replicated is the fuller, richer, deeper, higher, more profound spirituality that Paul was encouraging the believers toward. A spirituality that Paul calls the “superior way” (1 Cor 12:31). A way that is founded on love which expresses itself in patience and kindness; is absent in envy, boastfulness, arrogance, self-importance, irritability, resentfulness. Love that does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth, and that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor 13:4–7). It should be observed that all these attributes relate to a person’s character. Therefore, the manifestation of the Spirit is not found primarily in what a person can do. Rather, the primary manifestation of the Spirit is found in who a person is. Particularly in relation to other people – hence fellowship is vitally important for all believers, even the for the ones who are “seemingly weaker”. Of such believers Paul says that they are “indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22).

This emphasis on character is entirely consistent with Paul’s theology, and is not limited to his correspondence with the church at Corinth. To the church at Galatia he writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal 5:22). Again, all related to a person’s character. To the church at Colossae, Paul instructs them to put on the new self which is being renewed in the knowledge of the image of God. This putting on of the new self is then paralleled and equated with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness (or gentleness), patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and above all, love (Col 3:10, 12–14). Again, all related to a person’s character. To the church at Ephesus, Paul tells them to walk in a manner worthy of their calling by being humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, and unified in the Spirit (Eph 4:1-3). A person’s character features more predominantly in Paul’s teaching much more than spiritual gifts or abilities.

Therefore, while spiritual gifts, experiences, knowledge and theological traditions are of some importance, a person’s character and how they relate to others, even those of whom they have strong disagreement with – is of all surpassing importance. Character which is being generated by the work of the Holy Spirit that was availed through the death and resurrection of Jesus. For this is how God manifests his presence, his Spirit, and his grace. It is out of this character that’s being renewed that believers exercise their gifts to build God’s church on the foundation that Jesus laid. This is the lesson that believers at Corinth needed to learn. This is the lesson that believers today need to learn.

[1] 1 Corinthians 1:26; 2:1; 3:1; 7:24, 29; 10:1; 11:33; 12:1; 14:6, 20, 26, 39; 15:1, 50, 58, 16:15; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 8:1; 13:11.

[2] Thiselton, 310.

[3] Thiselton, 400. Fee, 216.

[4] Note that spiritual gifts are listed in Paul’s correspondence to the church at Rome (Rom 12:6–8). Within the Corinthian correspondence, the list of spiritual gifts also varies slightly (1 Cor 12:7–10. Cf. v. 28). This suggests that the list of spiritual gifts are not exhaustive.

July 3, 2021 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , | Leave a comment

Enough with the Rainbow-fart: A plea for compassion

caballito 1
This image of a unicorn passing a rainbow-fart pretty much depicts  what I think of the quality of debate around same sex marriage (SSM) from both sides. I believe the biblical term is σκύβαλα (skybala). The word is found in Philippians 3:8, and its meaning is much stronger then the NIV’s translation of ‘rubbish’. It’s a debate that really hasn’t benefited anyone.

My summary of the debate thus far is to say peace-loving progressives are being militant, while the well-considered conservatives are just being stupid and insensitive.

From progressives we have seen reports of people being denied employment for opposing SSM, calls for other public figures to be denied employment, and opponents of SSM being verbally abused. Progressives and SSM proponents have been assuring the public that SSM will have no impact on freedom of speech, religion, and education, while the experience of nations that have passed SSM demonstrates these areas are impacted.

Meanwhile, conservatives are putting forward arguments which, in all honesty, can’t really be sustained. Lachlan McFarlane wrote a blog explaining that though he’s a conservative Christian, he intends to vote ‘yes’ to SSM ( While I disagree with his conclusion and find his view of marriage lacking, his criticisms of many of the arguments put forward by conservatives are worth considering. It’s concerning that some conservatives have also resorted to violence.

Then there’s the suggestion that LGTBI+ people are just confused. My view is that LGTBI+ people have already been through massive amounts of confusion, and have had to work through a lot of issues. To reduce their complex experience down to a one sentence explanation, or a platitude, or to say they’re just confused is insulting, and does them a disservice.

No matter what the outcome of the SSM survey on November 15, there will not be any winners. Only losers. Don’t think the announcement of the outcome will put an end to the matter either.

The question I want to raise here is, after all the damage has been done, who is going to pick up the pieces? Where are people on both sides of the debate going to find healing, now and many years into the future as the debate continues and the great rainbow-fart keeps being contributed to? As the debate continues well after November 15, more people will struggle as they come to terms with their own sexuality, and sexuality in general.

My concern is the church should be the place where people can find reconciliation and healing. However, for those people who struggle to conform to the biblical ideal for sexuality, the church can be a very difficult and threatening place. Phil Campbell explains in his article, Somewhere Over the Rainbow (, that, “Most Christians have had a poor understanding of the LGBTIQA community.” I want to state that more strongly and suggest most Christians don’t have a clue about alternate forms of sexuality and sexual expression. Sexuality is rarely discussed in Christian forums or from the pulpit. Sadly, the rare thing that is said about sexuality fails to address the issues that some people are having to struggle with. It should scandalise us Christians when those with sexual struggles are finding solace in a pseudo-maxist postmodern philosophy rather then find healing in the gospel. That is, to find the final resolve to our struggles in the resurrection of Jesus – new life for eternity. Instead, the rejection of the gospel often provokes us Christians to be judgemental, which is all the more tragic.

It’s not only same sex attracted people who struggle with sexually. It’s also people who are single for one reason or another. Those who struggle with a “different” form of sexual expression. My concern is that anyone who’s sexuality does not conform to what is expected of sexual expression in the Christian culture, they are feeling the effects of the debate more than others. It also seems to me that the church needs to develop an understanding and an appreciation of the diversity of sexual expressions that exist with in the community.

It may be said that Christian’s shouldn’t struggle with sexuality. That somehow they are to embark on a Platonic ascent, rising above their carnal desires, and thereby resolving their sexual struggle. Such ascents are mere fantasy. If you are a Christian and you do not struggle with anything, I’m compelled to ask you, where have you compromised? If life isn’t difficult, what fantasy world have you constructed for yourself that affords you the luxury of pretending that you have your life together? Nowhere in the Bible does God command his people to embark on a Platonic ascent. Christians struggle, and fantasy worlds come crashing down. That’s life!! Christians struggle with relationships, finance, addiction, greed, materialism, disability, sickness, mental health issues, and so on. The area of sexuality is no different. Instead, Christians are called to persevere in their struggle. Christians are to persevere in furnishing their faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1:5-7), and part of this is being reminded of the grace God has given us (vv3-4). Perhaps another part of this is having God’s grace spoken directly into the areas where people are struggling, and being grace to them.

The impact of having grace spoken directly into a persons struggles can be dramatic. I know of two different men who struggled with their alternate sexuality for many years. The first man never felt there was the opportunity for him to talk about his struggle. As a result, he never received the pastoral care he needed. He didn’t hear God’s grace applied to his circumstances, and stopped persevering as he had been, which also impacted negatively on those around him. The second man was able to find a listening ear. He did receive pastoral support, and has been able to explore how God’s grace applies to his circumstance. He has been able to persevere, grow in faith, and continues to serve the Christian community in many ways. He still struggles greatly, and the Christian culture can be very difficult for him at times. But he knows that he is supported. Taking a cue from Rachel Gilson, in discussing her struggle with lesbianism, she explains, “Heterosexuality is not the end goal; faithfulness to God, and the joy that comes from relationship with him, is what we run for.” ( While the struggle is different in all three cases, the point to be pursued is the same – faithfulness to God. The importance of pastoral support cannot be overstated for those who struggle with sexuality and alternate sexual expression.

So I want to make an impassioned plea for compassion – Christ’s compassion. I’m not asking people to endorse lifestyles and behaviours that don’t conform to the Bible. But I am asking Christians to stop contributing to the rainbow-fart. To start appreciating the fact that people are struggling. Seriously struggling! James Parker, a former gay activist, explains when he began to take an interest in Jesus and the Bible, no one confronted him about his homosexuality. No one told him, “You can’t be doing that.” Instead, they accepted James as he was, and focused on establishing a solid relationship with Jesus. As he grew in his faith, he began to realise what he was doing was inconsistent with the Bible, so he turned from his homosexual practice. Same-sex attraction is still an issue for him, but having come to understand what it means to be the man that God created him to be, and out of his love and faithfulness towards Jesus, he does not engage in those practices. Establishing people in a relationship with Jesus, and encouraging them in their Christian faith, and reminding them of God’s grace in relation to their sexuality needs to remain the focus.

It’s not just LGBTI+ people who struggle. It’s also straight people. It’s people with disabilities. It’s people who are divorced. It’s people who have buried their spouse. It’s people who may never marry. As this debate continues, more and more people are going to struggle. So we as Christians better figure out how to start loving them, and how to speak God’s grace into their lives.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of how to do that. But a constructive conversation must start with appreciating that people are struggling. That’s a conversation I’m keen to see started.

© The Student’s Desk

October 27, 2017 Posted by | Bible, Religious | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas – the greatest adventure of all time…

Based on: Philippians 2:1-11

Most of us enjoy a good adventure story. Whether it’s ‘Ice Age’, ‘Madagascar’, ‘Despicable Me’, ‘Frozen’, ‘Toy Story’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Lord of the Rings’ or one of many others. There’s something about leaving behind what we know and love, what is familiar to us, to venture off into the wild blue yonder to discover whatever there is to discover. Adventure means going to new places, and being in different circumstances that will need different responses. So adventure stories fill us with excitement and wonder.

When I was growing up, I enjoyed watching the Indianna Jones movies – some of the best adventure stories of all time. It was thrilling to watch Indianna Jones get himself into all kinds of trouble, then to see him get back out of trouble, always with the girl of course. These days, adventure movies aren’t enough for me, and I need to have my own adventures. Last year I went to New Zealand, and it was so exciting some of the most amazing places I’ll ever see. But adventures don’t always go to plan. This year, I went to America. I rented a motorhome, and managed to lock the keys inside. So here was I, on the night before my 40th birthday, on the other side of the planet, in the middle of an American desert, at night, climbing through the side window of a rented motorhome. As I was rolling around on the dinning table, I couldn’t help but wonder, what happened for my life to get to this point? I mean, Indianna Jones never climbed through the window of a rented motorhome. Had I known what I was in for, I might never have gone! Climbing through that window was a long way from my quiet, comfortable life I know in Australia.

We all have our adventures, whether good all bad, and it’s good to remember our adventures. At Christmas, we remember the beginning of the greatest adventure of all time. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the birth of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.

What makes this adventure so great? Remember I said adventure is about leaving behind what we know, and going somewhere else. Well, Jesus left behind what he knew. Jesus left his home in heaven, to be born like one of us. We can’t get our heads around what this means! Jesus had been with his father for eternity! Yet Jesus swapped the majesty of heaven, for the filth of an animal shelter, to be born as a baby. He swapped eternal royalty for being despised on earth, and eventually crucified. Jesus went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Unlike me, Jesus knew exactly what he was in for. But he came anyway. And he came because of you.

Here’s where it becomes really radical. Jesus was completely and utterly sinless. He never did anything wrong, not against God, or anyone else. Yet Jesus swapped his sinlessness for our sinfulness. Everything we have done wrong, absolutely everything with nothing left behind. Jesus sees our sin and says, “I will have that!” Then he took our punishment for the sin we have done by dying on the cross. Instead of us being punished for our sin, Jesus was punished instead so we could be forgiven. This is massive. But it doesn’t end there. Jesus also rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. So now, Jesus says anyone who believes in him can have his sinlessness. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine, for example, giving away your nice new car, or your home? You just wouldn’t do it, would you? If you did, you’d want it to be someone who really deserved it. Well, Jesus gives away his sinlessness to people who don’t deserve it. This is why we can now have forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus left behind eternity to enter a sinful world to take our sinfulness so we can have his sinlessness. Christmas really is the start of the greatest adventure of all time.

But Christmas also the start of our adventure. What am I talking about? Remember I said adventure is about leaving behind what we know, and venturing off into different circumstances that require different responses. Well, by dying for our sins so we can be forgiven, Jesus has enabled us to leave behind the things we know. To leave behind the way we normally do things. We have left behind the world of sin, and we now stand in God’s Kingdom. So now we live with entirely new circumstances. Jesus has placed use in a right relationship with God – for eternity! We are now motivated and encouraged by Jesus, because we want to honour him. We are now comforted by Jesus when things aren’t going our way. We are part of what God is doing in the world through his Spirit. We are now the subject of Jesus’ affection and compassion. And these different circumstances require a different response. Instead of competing with one another and trying to out do each other, we’re to have the same understanding and same love. Rather than thinking that we’re better than others, we’re to have a servant’s attitude, always looking to the interests of others. Not because we should, but because this is precisely what Jesus has done for us. By doing these things we show what Jesus has done for us.

In a very real sense, we as Christians are on the greatest adventure of all time. Greater than any adventure movie. It began with Jesus leaving behind his home in heaven to be born as a baby. It continues with us as we leave behind what we want, and going after what God wants. This is the adventure that should fill us with excitement. This is the adventure that should fill us with wonder. This is the adventure of eternity.

December 16, 2015 Posted by | Bible, Sermons | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being led by the Spirit – John 16:12-15

John 16:12-15

This sermon was preached at Wesley Church, 26th May 2013. A fuller text of the sermon is provided below.

In a news article I read recently, a mother and her daughter in North Carolina were found walking down the street naked. When stopped by police, the mother informed them they were walking down the street naked because God had told them to.[1]

In another article, a South Boston made was charged with disorderly conduct for ‘train surfing’. He later informed police that God told him to do anything he wanted.[2]

In a much more disturbing article, a mother accidently suffocated  to death her 3 year old daughter believing her daughter had a demon, and that God had told her to exorcise the demon. She was committed to a state mental health institution for six months.[3]

News articles like theses may well see us asking: what does it mean to be led by God, or by his Holy Spirit?

As Christians, we have experiences which we may describe as being led by the Holy Spirit. We may particularly seek out guidance by the Holy Spirit when buying a house or a car. Or searching for a job. Or considering a marriage partner, or whether to marry at all. And I don’t wish to put the legitimacy of those experiences into doubt. Even I, myself, sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to which passage I should preach on today. I was given a choice of 4 passages by this church, and I felt led to preach on John 16:12-15.

But these experiences do not define the norm for what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit. For if we keep pushing this kind of thinking, we will end up seeking the Holy Spirit over which breakfast cereal we should eat – which is just ridiculous. For if that is how we think of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, there’s not much, if anything, that separates us from those in the news. So, we are still left asking: what does it mean to be led by the Holy Spirit?

Can I say from the outset, that the work of the Holy Spirit is not to diminish our responsibility, but to enhance our responsibility as followers of Jesus. To understand how the Holy Spirit does this, we must understand who the Holy Spirit is, where he and his authority comes from, and what he actually does. Once we have done this, we’ll be in a much better position to know what it means to be lead by the Holy Spirit.

Before answering those questions, we may wonder why is the Holy Spirit needed? In John 16:12, we find the disciples suffering a bit of ‘information overload’. When you consider that this is one of the longest single discourses of Jesus we have recorded, it’s understandable. But this is not the main cause of the information overload. It starts way back in chapter 12 with the celebration of the Passover.  In 14:8, the discourse takes on a sharp focus with Phillip’s request for Jesus to show them the Father. In other words, Phillip is asking Jesus for a fuller, richer experience of what it means to be his disciple. They’re about to receive that experience in 1 week’s time when they witness Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But they’re not going to understand it. That’s why they can’t bear what Jesus is saying to them now. Their eyes are glazed over, and nothing Jesus is saying is going in. How are they to continue on in the absence of Jesus, especially when they’re so thick?

The answer is the Holy Spirit referred to as ‘Spirit of Truth’ in v13. It’s not the first time he’s been mention in this discourse. So to find out more about him, and how he solves the problem, we’re going to look at other parts of this discourse.

So, who is he?

In 14:17, he is again referred to as the ‘Spirit of Truth’. There, we learn he is not of this world. He does not blend into this world. He cannot be received or recognised by the world. Why? I suggest it’s because his agenda is different to the world’s agenda. He does not entertain worldly passions. Do you want the Holy Spirit to lead you to that nice sports car, or that luxury yacht because your workmate has one? I suggest it’s not going to happen. The Holy Spirit’s concern is different from the world’s concerns.

In 14:6, 26 and 16:7, the Greek word used to refer to him is paracletos, and is usually translated as ‘helper’ or ‘counsellor’. I suggest another helpful word might be ‘coach’. He coaches us in our relationship with God. A sports coach doesn’t play the game for you, nor tell you what to do at every single point in the game. But he does point you in the right direction, and equips you to play the game well. Don’t expect the Holy Spirit to do your decision making for you. But look to him so you do make good decisions.

Where does the Holy Spirit and his authority come from?

In 14:26 we learn that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father in Jesus’ name. He is sent by the Divine Father who has been revealed by the Divine Son. This should give us a clue as to why he is not of this world, and cannot be engaged by the world. Because he is of God, and is God he is engaged in God’s work. His concerns are God’s concerns.

That’s why in 16:13, we learn that he has no authority is not his own. He takes what is God’s and what belongs to Jesus, and makes it know to us. So if you find the spirit is saying one thing, and the Jesus is saying another in the Bible, I suggest to you whatever spirit your listening to is not the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit does not speak of his own authority, but only the authority of the Father and the Son. And we know what the Father and the Son have said, because it’s been recorded for us in the Bible. There’s no guess work for us!

So, what does the Holy Spirit do?

In 14:26 we learn that the Holy Spirit reminds and teaches us what Jesus said. In 16:7 we learn that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is in direct relation to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’˜ ministry was to make atonement for sin in his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit applies that ministry to us. That’s why Jesus says in 16:7, “if I don’t go, he wont come”. Jesus was going to make atonement for sin, and unless that happened, they’d be no atonement for the Holy Spirit to apply. And if there’s no atonement to apply, there’s no work for the Holy Spirit to do. Follow??

In 16:13, we learn that the Holy Spirit guides us in all truth. Does this mean that Christians don’t need to study for exams? I can’t see any of my former lectures at Bible College being convinced of that kind of thinking! The force of what is said here is that the Holy Spirit will immerse us in everything Jesus has said. The disciples hardly understood anything Jesus said to them. But it was still truth. It was still relevant. The disciples needed to be immersed in that truth by the Holy Spirit so they could understand it with their minds, and have it seep into their hearts, and out through their bodies as they lived out that truth.

We also learn that the Holy Spirit declares the things that are to come. Does that mean that there’s more revelation to come? For us, no. For the disciples, yes. Remember, in 1 week’s time, they will see their beloved Lord crucified, buried and resurrected, and though they may believe, they will not understand. In 20:8-9, Peter believed but didn’t understand. In v13, Mary Magdalene thought someone had moved Jesus’ body. And in v25, poor old doubting Thomas needed physical proof!

It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came that they understood why Jesus had died, and was resurrected. The Holy Spirit reminded them of everything Jesus had taught, and made known to them the meaning of his death and resurrection. That when he died, he was taking their punishment, in their place, for their sins against a Holy and Righteous God. That they were no longer their own to do as they pleased, but they now belonged to God, PURCHASED by the precious and pure blood of Jesus for eternity. That they no longer belonged to this world with all of its selfishness, all of its lust, and all of its greed. But they now belonged to a new order, a heavenly order, where the good of the other is sought in love, and God the Father and his Son Jesus are worshipped alone, and are made known.

The same is true for us. We need to be immersed in that glorious truth by the Holy Spirit. The truth that we have been PURCHASED. We no longer belong to this world, so why on earth do we insist on living like it? We belong to God, and we live according to a heavenly order. The Holy Spirit guides us and enables us to do that. We owe Jesus praise and worship, big time!

It’s no wonder, then, that in 16:14 we learn the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus. The Holy Spirit keeps pointing back to Jesus. There is nothing more to know about God apart from Jesus. Jesus says, “Everything the Father has is mine…” Everything! … Everything concerning God, who he is, what he’s doing, what he will do, it’s all found in Jesus. All that the Holy Spirit talks about is Jesus. This is why Jesus says in v15, “… he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Are you starting to notice a pattern here? Being led by the Holy Spirit is not about our activity, and God responding to our small-time ideas. It’s about God’s saving activity in Jesus, and us responding to God’s ideas for eternity!

Being led by the Holy Spirit is about Jesus. Knowing Jesus and glorifying Jesus. There is nothing else to know or to be revealed apart from Jesus, because everything concerning God has been given to Jesus.

Therefore, being led by the Holy Spirit involves much more than our decisions. It involves our thoughts and our attitudes. We are to look for ways where we can be immersed in the truth about Jesus, growing in our knowledge of him, and glorifying him.

So, when it comes to buying a house, or a car, ask yourself, “How will this glorify Jesus?” When looking for a job, or a marriage partner, ask yourself, “Will this help me grow in my knowledge of Jesus, or is it a distraction?”

And if you really can’t make up your mind between Cornflakes and Cocoa Pops, there’s a very easy solution – have both! God gave us food to enjoy. Don’t make it any more complicated than what it has to be!

Being led by the Holy Spirit means growing in the knowledge of Jesus, and glorifying him in all we do.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2013

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Bible, Sermons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Great Commision’: The ins and outs of making disciples

Based on Matthew 28:16-20

This messaged was preached at the ‘Jesus Club’ supporters night, 22nd October, 2012.

Well, how are we going with the ‘Great Commission’? Sharing our faith is a walk in the park, right? Perhaps not. The notion of sharing any part of our faith can lead to a feeling of unease. Perhaps we feel inadequate for the task. Maybe I lost my patience the other day, and some naughty words slipped out. Or I wasn’t kind to that person I bumped into last week. What kind of a witness is that?? Or maybe I’m not up on the latest evangelism techniques, and the most effective way of talking about Jesus. Or I really don’t know enough about the person. Perhaps we struggle with who we are – who am I to tell people they need to repent and put their trust in Jesus? Either way, sharing our faith can be a daunting experience.

As we look at the ‘Great Commission’, we discover that Jesus spoke these words who stumbled and slipped in their faith. That sharing our faith isn’t about evangelism techniques, or knowing about people (although they can help. The ‘Great Commission’ is about Jesus authority, and his task in calling together the people of God.

So, what do we need to carry out the ‘Great Commission’ and make disciples? Firstly, we need to be disciples ourselves. This may sound it goes without saying, but we need to think about what it means to be a disciple. Being a disciples means enjoying a right relationship with Jesus. After Jesus had been raised from the dead, he appeared to his disciples at Galilee – where Jesus’ ministry had started. In response, the disciples worshipped him (v17). Well, most of them. Some doubted. Why were some in doubt? Did they doubt it was Jesus? This is possible. But I suspect the kind of doubt the disciples had was one where you’re not sure of yourself. You’re not sure where you stand, or what you can expect. So you hesitate about what you should do. You’re in doubt! After all, the disciples had abandoned Jesus during his arrest. A relationship had been broken. What kind of a reception would Jesus give his disciples? You can just sense the tension in the room as the disciples and Jesus eyed off one another. Yet Jesus’ approach to them is one of hospitality. It’s one of restoration as Jesus comes toward them and speaks to them as his disciples. So we see that making disciples is about enjoying a right relationship with Jesus.

Do you believe in Jesus? Are you enjoying spending time with him, reading his word, praying to him? I’m not asking are you doing these things. I’m asking, are you enjoying them? Have you ponded the depths of his grace for you? Are you just overwhelmed that God would have you as part of his family? That God’s sinless Son would choose condemnation of life, and assume your place on they cross. If that is your joy, you are able to share your faith. Sharing your faith begins with enjoying the relationship we have with Jesus.

Secondly, what authority do we have to make disciples? Our authority is Jesus’ authority, and that authority finds its expression through the church, God’s people (v18). What kind of authority are we talking about? An authority for what? The answer is basically, everything. We’re talking about an all encompassing authority. And authority that sees a kingly realm that covers the whole earth. Even death itself comes under this authority, since Jesus has just defeated it. It’s an authority that makes all people answerable to Jesus. This is why Jesus instructs has disciples to go to all the nations making disciples.

Now, if that sounds unnerving, it’s probably because it is. Imagine being a disciple during this discussion. You’re a Jew. As you were growing up, you were taught ‘Jew, good. Gentile bad.’ You did not associate with Gentiles. You had nothing to do with Gentiles. Gentiles were filthy, God-forsaken people. You knew this because God picked the Jews to be his chosen nation, which meant ever other nation must be condemned, right? Now you have Jesus saying to go to all the nations and make disciples. Guess what that meant? Talking to Gentiles! Oh, boy!!

The ‘good / bad’ dichotomy is still around. There are plenty of instances today. I believe one of them in our culture is disability. We’re taught, ‘ability good. Disability bad’. It’s all over our media. People do not want to be associated with disability. Against this, Jesus says, “On the basis of my authority, go and make disciples of all nations…” Now, I know at this point, I’m preaching to the converted. But I want you to see that what you do here at ‘WeBelong’, and ‘Jesus Club’ is very much part of the ‘Great Commission’. It involves pursuing those who society has deemed ‘unworthy’, and telling them about Jesus, as well as those who society has deemed ‘worthy’. Jesus’ authority is all encompassing.

Thridly, when are we to ‘make disciples’? Us modern metro people like having a box for everything, don’t we? We have a box for our work life, a box for our family life, a box for our hobbies, a box for our sporting life, a box for our Christian life. Within our Christian box, we might have our evangelism box. We just love our boxes, don’t we? The more boxes the better! Except, Jesus knows nothing about boxes. When we read v19, we get the idea that we need to drop all our other boxes, and pick up our evangelism box, and run with that. But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying, as you are going, as you are going about you’re everyday life, picking the kids up, doing the shopping, working your job, paying the bills, kicking the ball… make disciples. Making disciples is just an organic part of our lives. If we are enjoying our relationship with Jesus, it can’t be anything else. Jesus will just come up in conversation, wont he?

Fourthly, how are we to make disciples? Through baptism and teaching. What? Why baptism? Isn’t baptism just a sign? Baptism never converted anyone. Why is Jesus talking about baptism? Both those things are true, and at this point, I’m going to show my true Presbyterian colours, and say, what is significant here is not so much baptism, but what baptism represents. Baptism is a declaration of a person being a member of the community of God. Behind Jesus’ instruction for baptism is a concern to see people included in the church. So if talking about Jesus just isn’t your thing, inviting them to church, seeing them included, is still very much part of the ‘Great Commission’. We may also note that sharing our faith is not simply an individual effort, but it is a communal effort. We are in this together to make disciples.

This makes sense when you think about where do you hear Jesus teaching. The church. And in teaching people about Jesus, what are we teaching them? I hope we are teaching them how to respond to grace. Let’s be clear, Jesus is not advocating some kind of legalistic righteousness. It’s very easy to grab hold of something like the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, and turn it into a stack of rules. But that’s not what Jesus is on about at all. The issue is, we have experienced grace. We have God’s blessing. How are we to respond?

Fifthly, how are we enabled to make disciples? Jesus has not left us to our own devices. Jesus has promised us his presence will be with us until the end of the age (v20). I believe this is especially true, when we make room in the church for people’s brokenness, and be constantly reminding each other of the grace God has lavished upon us.

Making disciples is based on Jesus’ faithfulness in preserving the relationship we have with him, even when we’re unfaithful. Making disciples is not dependent on our cleverness, or the latest evangelism techniques. Making disciples begins when we enjoy the relationship with have with Jesus, and worship him. It’s only in relationship with Jesus that we can go beyond our comfort zones, and pursue those that society would rather forget. We must also remember making disciples is not meant to be a solo effort. Jesus presence is with us, and that presence is made manifest in his church.

As you go, make disciples. Include them in the church, teach them his grace.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

October 23, 2012 Posted by | Bible Exposition | , , , | Leave a comment

Who are God’s people?

Matthew 5:1-16 

Who are God’s people? Who are the one’s that enjoy God’s blessing? Who are the ones that can really have an impact for God, and change people’s lives? We might first think of religious leaders. People like Ghandi, or Mother Theresa. Perhaps even the Pope. Or we might think of people who can do lot’s of stuff for others. People who work for charities like Red Cross, or the Smith Family. Or help with food and disaster relief. Or, people like politicians or business people. People who use their money and power to do good in society. Well, if we take Jesus’s words seriously, we have to say that the people who have the most impact for God is us. It’s those who have their faith and trust in Jesus that can have a monumental impact. Maybe not on a world scale, but you have an impact for God, one person at a time.

Well, how is that possible? People in Jesus’ day were allot like us in the way they thought about these questions. Like us, they would’ve thought God’s people are the religious leaders, the wealthy, the do-gooders, and the well-to-do. Jesus takes this whole way of thinking, and flips it upside-down. God’s people, Jesus says, are the down and outers. The ones who have the power to have an impact, have no power at all. Let me explain.

Jesus says, those who feel they are not good enough for God, they’re the ones who know what it is to repent. They’re the ones who know their thoughts, their attitudes, and what they’ve done are not what God wants. And they are sorry for that, and they ask forgiveness. These are the one’s that enjoy God’s blessing.

Jesus says, those who have no joy, those who grieve over their own sin, and the sin of the world, they’re the ones who have God’s blessing. These are that find comfort. The kind of comfort that can only be found in God’s grace. It’s only in God’s grace in sending Jesus to die for our sins that our sins are dealt with and finished. We can enjoy the comfort of knowing when we approach God, he will accept us. If you’re not aware of your own sin and the sin of the word, why would you seek forgiveness? If you don’t seek forgiveness, how will you ever find God’s grace. It’s awareness of our sin that causes us to learn on his grace, his blessing.

Jesus says, those who are gentle, who control their desires and seek the benefit of others, the ones who aren’t grabbing everything for themselves, they are the ones who will have everything. Because they know everything belongs to God anyway. There’s no point squabbling over it!

Jesus say, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who really want to do what God wants, and not just pretend they do, they’re the one’s who’ll find satisfaction. They are the one’s who will enjoy God’s blessing. They’re the one’s who will be fulfilled. Because they will know God! Not know about God, like I know about the Queen. But they will know God in a personal relationship.

Jesus says those who show mercy, not strength, they’re the ones who’ll get mercy. It’s those who feel unworthy, who grieve over sin, who are gentle, who want to do God’s will, who aren’t worried about rights, and justifying themselves. They know mercy is needed, and they show it.

Jesus says those who really want to be friends with God, and have set their hearts on eternity, and nothing else, they’re the one’s who will be friends with God.

Jesus says those who seek to make peace, and not trouble and division, they’re the ones who are called the Sons of God. Don’t worry, that includes girls too. It’s those who look to lessen tensions, not add to them. Who seek solutions, and make sure everyone has understood them. They’re the ones who really reflect what God is like. Like father, like son.

Jesus says those who get picked on and made fun of because of their faith, they’re the one’s who really have eternal life. They know how good it is, and they hang on to it, no matter what!

That’s a long list, but what it boils down to is this. If you are fairdinkum about believing and trusting in Jesus, it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done, or what you can or can’t do. The issue is, what is you’re heart set on. Is your heart set on the stuff of world, and you’re only pretending to follow Jesus. Or is your heart really set on the stuff of God?

If your heart is set on the stuff of God, rest assured, you are one of God’s people. You have been given forgiveness, comfort, everything in Christ. You’ve been given knowledge of God, mercy, friendship, and are able to reflect what God is like in the way you live.

Because of this we are able to have an impact for God and change the lives of the people around us. This is what Jesus meant when he said we are ‘salt’ and ‘light’. By living out our faith, by being obedient to Jesus – providing wisdom, making peace, reflecting God’s character. We don’t do this to be saved! Jesus has already saved us!! We do this so others might worship God as well.

God’s people are those who have the hearts set on the stuff of God, and live out there faith in such a way, others can’t possibly miss it. Let’s respond to what God has given us in Jesus by set our hearts on the stuff of God, and living out our faith before others.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

September 28, 2012 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing ‘Worship’

Genesis 4:1-16

What is worship? I suspect when we think of worship, we tend to think of giving thanks, praise and adoration to God, and praying to God. This is absolutely right, worship is all these things. But here’s the thing: we can so easily distort worship, and twist it into something else as we give thanks and praise and pray to God. For us, worshipping God can become a means of scoring brownie points with God. Doing things to make God happy so he will bless us, or give us what we want. Ultimately, this kind of worship becomes about us trying to manipulate God. This kind of worship is a major problem, because it doesn’t reflect God’s character. God is a God who blesses. Who provides. Who is gracious. God doesn’t sit back and wait for us to do the right thing, and then he blesses us. God has blessed us. God has provided for us. Abundantly! When we worship God, and pray to him, his blessing and his provision need to be reflected in our worship.And this is where a man by the name of Cain came undone.

Cain was the son of Adam and Eve, and he had a younger brother named Abel. One day, both Cain and Abel worshipped God. God accepted Abel’s worship, but not Cain’s. And it’s not immediately obvious why it was so. But I think it’s got to do with their motives. It’s an issue of the heart. You see, when Abel worshipped God, he was whole-hearted. Abel recognised how much God had blessed him, and he gave the best thing he had to God. He didn’t want anything back. He just wanted to acknowledge God’s blessing on his life.

Cain on the other hand, he was half-hearted. Cain gave some of what he had. It wasn’t the best. Actually, to me, it sounds like Cain gave God his leftovers. Does God give us his leftovers? No! He gives us what’s best for us. So Cain’s worship of God didn’t reflect God’s character, and how much God had given him. Cain wasn’t truly thankful for how much God had given him. The problem with half-hearted worship is we’re not really focused on God. We’re actually focused on what we want. And that’s what sin is, wanting what we want, and not wanting what God’s wants.

Because we’re not really focussed on God, we end up trying to manipulate God to get what we want, and we become frustrated when God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want. Then we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. This can have terrible consequences.

Cain took matters into his own hands, this led to the murder of his brother, Abel. Cain was envious of Abel because God accepted Abel’s worship, and not his. Cain was so angry about his brother, he actually planned his murder. Cain had it all figured out – when and how to murder him, and how to get rid of the evidence. Perhaps Cain thought if he bumped off his brother, God would have no choice but to accept his half-hearted worship, and bless him with what he wanted.

The thing is, God won’t be manipulated. God won’t let himself be accountable to us. God is God, and we are accountable to him. He can see straight through us. Cain was a worker of the ground. He knew how to dig a hole and make a body disappear. He could con his parents into thinking Abel was alive and well, but not God. Cain relied on his expertise as a man of the land to cover up his sin. No one could ever tell what happen, except God. God saw straight through it. By burying his brother’s body, he thought that would cover his sin. Instead, the act actually convicted him. And the question was never about how well Cain could cover his sin. It was a question of the state of his heart. When God questions Cain about where Abel was, a very cold and hard heart is revealed. Cain couldn’t have cared less about Abel. All he could care about was himself, and what he wanted. Cain’s worship was half-hearted from the beginning, and that’s why God didn’t accept his worship.

What about our worship? Is our worship whole-hearted like Abel? Is our focus on God? Are we thankful for everything God has given us? Or has something else got our attention, so we end up trying to manipulate God like Cain to get what we really want. Because the thing is, God has given us so much more than what he gave Abel. God has given us Jesus so we could have a personal relationship with him. Jesus worshipped God the way God deserves. Jesus didn’t just give his best to God. He gave everything to God. Even his life. And Jesus did it with us in mind. Jesus worshipped God for us, and God accepted his worship. That’s how we can have a personal relationship with God now. That personal relationship needs to be reflected in how we worship God. Our worship of God doesn’t just involve praising God and praying to him. It involves our whole life – how we treat people, and what we do. It’s worth asking the question, “How does your personal relationship with God affect what you do?” This is your worship as well!

Worship is not about earning brownie points with God, to manipulate him and get what we want. We can’t be half-hearted about it, wanting something else as well. Neither is worship about us, and what we want. Worship is a whole-hearted response to what God has given us. Especially as Christians who know that God has also given us Jesus. Worship is recognising God’s character – that God is a God who loves us and has blessed us. He has already provided what we need. Finally, worship is made possible by Jesus. Jesus alone has worshipped God as he deserves. True worship begins when we put our faith and trust in Jesus.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

June 1, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Genesis | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus, our Advocate (Easter 2012)

Luke 24:36-53

I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had a disagreement or an argument with someone that’s seriously affected our relationship with the other person. We’ve either lost our temper or offended them in some way, and we feel as though we’ve burned our bridges with that person. There’s nothing we can do ourselves to mend the broken relationship. In such cases, we need an advocate. Someone who can represent us and our cause to the other person in the hope of undoing what we’ve done to offend them, and mending the broken relationship.

When it comes to God, we have all done things to offend God – whether deliberately, or accidentally. This is what the Bible calls sin. This has seriously affected our relationship with God, and all of us have burned our bridges with God. There is nothing any of us can do ourselves to mend that broken relationship with God. We need an advocate. We need some who can represent us before God. We need someone who can undo the sin we’ve done to cause God offence. We need someone who can mend our broken relationship with God.

But our advocate can’t be just anyone. I can’t represent you before God. I’m a sinner as well! I’ve caused God offence also, and need an advocate myself! Our advocate needs to be someone who has never sinned. Someone who can meet God on his terms. Someone who pleases God. There’s only been one person to match this description – Jesus. The whole point of Jesus’ life was to represent us before God, undo the sin that we have done to offend God, and mend our relationship with God. Jesus came to be our advocate.

But how can we be sure? How can we know Jesus was able to do all this? Any crackpot can stand up and say they are our advocate before God, and be mistaken. We can be sure that Jesus is our advocate before God because of the resurrection. When Jesus died, he was properly, properly dead. Crucifixion was designed only to have one outcome – death. People who were crucified did not survive, it’s that simple. After this, Jesus’ body was wrapped up, and placed in a tomb for three days. Any prospect of Jesus coming back to life was the furthest thing from the disciple’s minds, as we can see from the part of the Bible we read.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, they were frightened. This was a completely unexpected event, and their minds went in search of other explanations. Perhaps they were seeing a ghost! But Jesus had a body like we have a body. The disciples could actually reach out and touch him. Ghosts don’t have a body like ours, so maybe this really was the same Jesus. But they still weren’t to sure. They really didn’t expect Jesus to come back from the dead, and it just seemed too good to be true! So Jesus ate a piece of roasted fish. Now, think about it. If a ghost were to eat a piece of fish, what would happen? The piece of fish would drop to the ground, right? But that didn’t happen with Jesus. It was the same Jesus with the same body eating a piece of fish as he had probably done countless times before. Jesus had indeed come back from the dead.

So, how do we make sense of all this? Why did Jesus come back from the dead? In a sense they should have known, because it was talked about all through the Old Testament. But, the thing is, we can’t understand the Bible without God’s help. When Jesus opened their eyes to help them understand the Bible, he was able to explain to his disciples that he came back from the dead so that people would be able to repent and have their sins forgiven. In other words, Jesus came back from the dead to be our advocate. To represent us before God, to undo the sin we’ve done that offends God, and to mend our broken relationship with God.

We know that because of Jesus, we can repent and have our sins forgiven because Jesus was carried up into heaven – body and all. This shows that God accepted what Jesus did on our behalf. That Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay for our sins, and Jesus is the one who can be our advocate before God. Jesus is the one who can represent us before God, undo the sin we’ve done that offends God, and mend our broken relationship with God.

We can be certain that Jesus did come back from the dead because he had a real body. We no longer have a problem in our relationship with God because Jesus’ resurrection allows for repentance, and forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus, we do have an advocate who has dealt with the problems between us and God, and the only right response is to worship him. Jesus has made the impossibility of us being God’s friend possible for all eternity.

Easter is a wonderful opportunity for us to remember how Jesus became our advocate before God, even though we had burned our bridges with God, and we who follow Jesus now have peace with God.

(C) The Student’s Desk, 2012

April 6, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Jesus Wants…

John 17

What Jesus wants…

What Jesus wants. It seems a straight-forward question to ask, “What does Jesus want?” The answers that might come to mind are, Jesus wants us to be good; be kind; pray; read the Bible; go to church. I put the question on the internet to see how others would answer. One said Jesus wants our life. Another said our money. Another said peace.

All of these are certainly part of what Jesus wants. But there’s something deeper than all of these. Something more important than anything else. Something that Jesus wants more than anything else. The problem is, we can become so busy, or become so focus on these things, we actually miss what Jesus really wants. We become focused on doing these things to get what we want as Christians – God’s blessing. So the Christian life becomes all about us, and what we’re doing to get into God’s good books. The fact of the matter is, we, as Christians, already have God’s blessing. We’re already in God’s good books because of Jesus. The Christian life is about Jesus, and what he is doing in us and through us. If that is true, we need to go back and ask, “What does Jesus really want?” To do this, we need to read the Bible, and understand what Jesus really wants. Once we understand that, we learn what it is to follow and obey Jesus.

In John 17, we have one of the last prayers of Jesus before he dies, and the longest prayer. There’s nothing like imminent death to prompt someone to sort out what they really want. Jesus reveals what he really wants in this prayer, and 3 things come out in Jesus’ prayer. Firstly, Jesus wants to be glorified (v5). Secondly, Jesus wants his followers to be one (v11). Thirdly, Jesus wants the world to know that he was sent to earth and did what he did by God. But, what’s really interesting is how Jesus’ wants are fulfilled. Jesus’ wants are fulfilled through his followers, and they are given what they need to fulfil Jesus’ wants. Jesus never leaves his followers to their own devices to do what he wants.

Firstly, Jesus wants to be glorified, and the other 2 wants feed into this. But what does it mean to glorify someone? It means to give recognition to someone for who they are and what they have done. It means to elevate them, to see them as being more important than other people and other things. Often when we glorify someone, we give them more recognition than they really deserve. But in the case of Jesus, he deserves all the recognition we give him, and a whole lot more! The reason is, God the Father has given Jesus authority over all things, to give eternal life (so people can go to heaven), and has done all the work God the Father gave him to do. What’s interesting is Jesus asks God the Father to give him the recognition through Jesus followers. It’s through us that God glorifies Jesus. Have you ever thought of that? That we are caught up in a heavenly act of worship of Jesus. How is this possible? By God keeping us. By guarding us, protecting us, watching over us. There are a million and one ways for us to be distracted from giving Jesus recognition in this world. But God is continually teaching us and providing for us so we can give Jesus the recognition he deserves.

Secondly, Jesus wants his followers to be one. It’s important that Jesus’ followers are one because Jesus is one with the Father. Jesus doesn’t do anything to oppose the Father, and the Father doesn’t oppose Jesus. They work as one, and are one. Now, looking around at the modern church, you’d might think Jesus’ followers are anything but! There’s a difference of opinion on every point of doctrine, and I’m another person with their own set of opinions. But we need to understand what Jesus meant for his followers to be one. Our oneness does not depend anything we do. Again, it’s about what God is doing through us. God is sanctifying us. What this means is we have been set aside for God’s purpose. We’re all here for God’s work. It’s not just the guys with theological degree and whatever else that are involved in God’s work. It’s all of us. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been set aside for God’s work. That is how we are one. We might have differences, and that’s fine. We are one for the work of God.

Thirdly, Jesus wants the world to know that God sent him, so they might believe in him. This would be done by his followers being one in being set aside for God’s work. Jesus’ followers are empowered for God’s work by sharing in Jesus’ glory. This means receiving God’s revelation. That God has revealed himself to us in Jesus. Do you realise that we can know God, personally; and we can tell other people about God. That we are in relationship with God the Father, and show people what God is like? Only Christians can do that! No one else. As I’ve already said, we have been set aside for God’s work, and this is also part of sharing in Jesus’ glory. Jesus desire for the world to know that God has sent him is met through us! And God gives us what we need to make that possible.

We need to recognise that the Christian life is not individualistic. It’s not something you keep private between you and God. It’s communal. It involves the people around us. What dos Jesus want? Jesus want to be glorified, in the way we relate to people, and treat them; in the way we speak – what we say, and how we say it; in the way we conduct ourselves – what we do and how we do. This is what Jesus wants. So the world will know he is sent by God.

(C) The Student’s Desk, 2012

March 10, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, John's Gospel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment