The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Conflict Resolution God ‘s Way – Psalm 51

All of us experience conflict at some point – whether it be with a spouse, family member, friend, colleague, or acquaintance. Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a sense, conflict is simply looking at the same thing from a different perspective as someone else. Conflict can even be a good thing, even beneficial, especially when solving problems. But when conflict isn’t handled well, we can easily offend, or be offended by, another person and hurt emerges. In a way, we should expect this to happen. The Bible tells us that we all fall short of what God intended us to be (Rom 3:23b). So, when there is offence we apologise, and where there is hurt, we forgive.

Yet, no matter how much we apologise it doesn’t undo our offense. No matter how much we forgive, hurt can remain. While we may go through the process of apologising and forgiving, we can be left with the sense that the issue remains unresolved, and we feel insecure in our relationship with the other person. So, we really need to have a way where we can deal with this type of hurt that leaves us feeling secure in our relationship with the other person that we have offended or have been offended by.

The good news is, there is such a way! We see it when there is a conflict between God and his people, and God is the one who is offended. When it comes to differences in perspective, it’s not possible to have a greater conflict than between a holy God whose judgements are always right (Ps 19:7–8) and a sinner who is constantly deceived by their heart and mind (Jer 17:9). Yet, God’s approach to conflict resolution means his people can be absolutely secure in their relationship with him.

We see this in Psalm 51 with David, who was chosen by God to be king over God’s people, and yet comes into sharp conflict with God and offends him. So, it’s worth having a look to see how God does conflict resolution and apply his approach when resolving our conflicts. To do this, we’ll look at:

  1. David’s offence.
  2. David’s apology.
  3. God’s forgiveness.
  4. Moving forward.

Then we’ll see how God’s way of conflict resolution can be applied to how we apologise and forgive where offences need to be addressed.

1. David’s Offence

The background to this Psalm comes from 2 Sam 11 where we read about David’s dealings with Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah. There’s a lot going on in that narrative. In summary, David makes Bathsheba pregnant, then arranges to have Uriah killed as a casualty of war. Even in a permissive culture such as ours, the severity of the offence is readily appreciated. David knows he has done wrong.

2. David’s Apology

David’s first response is to appeal to God’s character. He doesn’t presume that this is something he can fix or undo. Uriah is dead! There is no “undo” for that. Bathsheba is pregnant. There is no “undo” for that – at least not a moral one! All David can do is ask God to treat him according to God’s character – his steadfast love and abundant mercy – and not according to what David has done (Ps 51:1–2). Neither is David trying to minimise his offence. He’s not saying, “Opps, I didn’t mean to make Bathsheba pregnant … I didn’t mean to kill Uriah … I was just, you know, wanting some fun and got a little carried away.” David was very intentional in his actions toward Bathsheba, and his attempts to cover up his dealings with her. Now David had to deal with the consequences. You can imagine every time he looked at Bathsheba, who he took as his wife, or looked at his son, who Bathsheba bore to him, he would be haunted by the memory of what he had done. In a very real sense, his sin was always before him (v. 3). In apologising, David cannot promise to fix what he has done.

Secondly, David must reckon with his own character. His confession of only having sinned against God seems strange (Ps 51:4). Obviously, David has sinned against Bathsheba by making her pregnant, and he’s sinned against Uriah by arranging him to be killed. The reference to only sinning against God may be because of the secrecy in which David committed this offence. Uriah isn’t going to hold David accountable – he’s dead! Bathsheba isn’t going to hold him accountable – she’s pregnant and widowed! No one else is going to hold David accountable – he’s the king! David has got away with his sin!! In fact, he may even go down in history as the king who uses his power and wealth to save pregnant war widows from a destitute life. What a guy! Except, God knew what he’d done, and he sends his prophet Nathan to tell David all about it (2 Sam 12:1–16). What a guy, indeed!

Neither is David promising that he will never do anything like this again. The fact of the matter is, David’s character and being is defined by sin (v. 5), and this contrasts with God’s character and being who delights in truth and the inner being. There is a fundamental difference between God and David that will be an ongoing threat to their relationship. David can’t fix it, neither can he stop it. Even though David has committed the offence, it’s actually God who needs to do something about this situation.

3. God’s Forgiveness

For the relationship between God and David to continue, God needs to forgive David. God needs to regard David as though he had not offended (vv. 7, 9). God needs to remove the impact of the offence from David. Remember, David can’t fix it. God needs to allow David to rejoice in him again (v. 8). David can’t make up for what he did. God needs to allow David to come into his presence. God needs to keep giving David his Holy Spirit (v. 11). God needs to give David the joy of his salvation and allow David to delight in him (v. 12).

But notice at no point does God say that what David did doesn’t matter. At no point does God say to David, “There, there, David. I know you didn’t mean to make Bathsheba pregnant, or to have Uriah killed. It’s alright. Let’s pretend that never happened. Let’s pretend there was no real intent in what you did.” There are significant issues that need to be addressed for the relationship to continue. Part of forgiveness is developing a way forward. But, before a way forward can be developed, forgiveness must come first. There must be a commitment to continue the relationship as it has been before issues can start to be addressed.

4. The Way Forward

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. The way forward in this Psalm is for God to create a clean heart in David (v. 10). To give him a new understanding and to empower him to remain consistent in his relationship with God. This will enable David to teach others about God’s ways (v. 13), sing about God’s righteousness (v. 14), declare God’s praises (v. 15), and for David to remain humble and contrite before God rather than trying to cover up his sin (vv. 16– 17). As for God, he will delight again and his people (vv. 18–19). To have a way forward means putting a structure in place so the relationship can continue as it should.

Applying God’s Way of Conflict Resolution to Us

Apologising and forgiving can leave us feeling that the issue hasn’t been resolved and feeling insecure in our relationships. This may well be because we haven’t understood what apologising and forgiving do, and we expect them to do something that they are not intended to do. As children, when we’ve done something wrong, we taught to say “sorry”, then the offended party gives some kind of pardon, then we move on by pretending that the offence never happened. What we see in Psalm 51 is something very different.

An apology is not a means of righting a wrong. It’s not an “undo” button as we might find on a computer or electronic device. When we have committed an offence, we can’t fix it, or make it go away. It may be appropriate at times to make restitution or pay some kind of compensation. But that does not erase the offence. Neither is an apology a promise that nothing like that offence will ever happen again.

An apology is, firstly, an acknowledgment that there has been wrongdoing. It’s an acknowledgment that something has been done that is inappropriate and has caused hurt. Secondly, an apology is a petition to the offended person not to treat the offender according to the offence that has been committed. Instead, it’s a petition to the offended person to continue the relationship as it has been. The offender cannot do anything more than that. At which point, the offender is totally dependent on the offended person to forgive. Which is why it’s important to understand what forgiveness is.

Forgiveness is not forgetting. Neither is forgiveness pretending that no offence had ever occurred. Forgiveness cannot be based on a feeling or a promise that the offence won’t happen again. Forgiveness is a decision to treat the offending person as a whole even though you have been hurt, and not to define the person by their offence. At no point is forgiveness saying that the offence doesn’t matter, or the hurt has disappeared. All hurts take time to heal, and this is quite apart from the act of forgiveness. But healing starts with forgiveness.

Once forgiveness has been granted, and only when forgiveness has been granted, structures can be put in place to continue the relationship. In other words, what are you going to do next time there’s a risk of the offence reoccurring? As horrible and painful as being offended can be, there can also be a positive aspect to all this. That is, both the forgiven and the forgiver have an opportunity to learn about each other’s needs. It may be for the forgiven to ask about the needs of the forgiver, and for the forgiver to gently explain what their needs are. It may also be for the forgiver to learn what the needs of the forgiven are to support them and lessen the chances of the offence reoccurring. It could be that there’s a lot that can be done to support them (either as the forgiver or forgiven), or there may small amount. Whatever level of support, it’s going to communicate a lot to the other person that you love and care for them as they are.

At this point, you may protest saying that you can’t forgive what the other person has done. It’s too much and I’m too hurt! Granted, there are things incredibly difficult to forgive. Occasionally, it may be necessary to break relationships and establish boundaries as a way of moving forward. Even Jesus cites a reason for forgiveness not to be given (Luke 12:10). Yet, our capacity to forgive does not come from ourselves with some people having more capacity to forgive than others. It may be hard due to life experiences, but the capacity to forgive is the same for all believers. This is because our capacity to forgive comes from Jesus. Let me explain.

We have a massive debt of worship that we owe to God. John had a vision of heaven where God is being worshipped. While the worship is happening, a song rings out, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11). As the vision continues, the worship is so intense and so abundant that heaven is filled with praise and thanks that it spills over onto the earth where believers are caught up in this heavenly worship (5:13). It’s incredible to think that believers on earth here today are caught up in the worship that’s happening right now in heaven. God has given you everything that you own, has fulfilled your every need, and sustains your very life, so that you may thank and worship him.

So, here’s a test: before you go to bed tonight, stop and think how many times you were thankful to God today, either by your words or actions. Even if you make it to double figures, dare I say triple, compared to the all-encompassing, all enveloping worship that is happening in heaven, it simply does not rate! The fact that we don’t thank and praise God the way he rightfully deserves offends God and hurts him. This is an offence on an eternal scale.

Yet, God does not treat us as according to our offence (Ps 103:10; Eph 2:4–7). Instead, God has put a structure in place so that he can forgive us, move on, and enjoy being in relationship with his people. That in the crucifixion of Jesus, the penalty for sin has been paid, and in his resurrection certain hope of eternal life has been given. He has done this so we can be absolutely secure in our relationship with him with no condemnation to fear (Rom 8:1). This is what we remember at Easter. When we begin to understand just how much we have offended God simply by holding back worship that rightfully belongs to him, and the cost that was involved to forgive us, then any offence we need to forgive pales in comparison. In Jesus we have an incredible capacity to forgive. All we are doing is passing on the grace and forgiveness that God has given us in Jesus. It’s not from ourselves.

If we’re struggling with ideas of apologising and forgiving, maybe it’s because we really haven’t understood their function. An apology is simply an acknowledgement that something inappropriate has happened, and a petition to the offended person to continue the relationship. It doesn’t make the offence disappear. Forgiveness is a commitment to continue the relationship. It doesn’t take the hurt away, but it’s a start to healing. We put structures in place to support the other person in their need. Then we take the time to enjoy the relationship. This is God’s way of conflict resolution.

April 6, 2023 Posted by | Articles, Bible, Bible Exposition, Biblical Theology, Devotionals, King David, Religious, Sermons, Talks | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

A Theological Approach to Relating to People with Disabilities

This paper was presented at the “Men Meeting the Challenge Conference 2011” 3rd September, organised by “Men for Christ Ministries”.


The Bible does not have a simple category for people with disabilities. It does not address the issue of disabilities directly. However the Bible does recognize disadvantaged people groups. These included the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widowed. These were people that were at a social and economic disadvantage in the community of Israel. So it seems appropriate to also include disability among these disadvantaged groups; and by looking at how God approached the issue of disadvantaged people we can also see how He approaches the issue of disability.


In Leviticus 19:9-10 (23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21) the Bible speaks of these disadvantaged people and the provision that they were to enjoy. Scripture stipulated that food crops on the edge of fields, and any crops that were dropped or left behind in the process of harvesting, were to be left for disadvantaged groups. In this we recognize that being disadvantaged was not punishment from God. Nor were people who were disadvantaged to be treated like second classes citizens. They were recognized as members of the community. Note also, this provision was not a hand out. This provision did not allow these disadvantaged groups to sit around all day and do nothing. In order to eat, and provide for their family, they were to be involved with the on-goings of the surrounding community and they were to be responsible for their actions.

For our purposes of relating to people with disabilities, it is more then simply providing for immediate needs. There is a social dynamic that needs to be considered. That is, enabling the person to exercise their God-given abilities, as small as they may be, to become an active member within their community.


We see a similar approach in the ministry of Jesus. Through the gospels people are reconciled not only with God, but with other people. And how people are reconciled to other people reflects how they are reconciled to God. We see this in the way Jesus engages with people. In Matthew 20:29-34 we read how Jesus was going to Jericho when he met two blind men. And in this encounter we find Jesus asking the question ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ Now us modern, task orientated people, we read that and we might think, “Get with the program, Jesus!” It’s pretty obvious what these blind men want. They want their sights restored. So why doesn’t Jesus just heal them? Why does Jesus put the question when the answer is so obvious?

The answer to this is quite simple. This is possibly the first time in their lives that these two men have been treated like human beings. The culture tells a lot about the attitudes towards people with disabilities at the time. We know that from a well of information that such people were considered to be a blemish on the fabric of the holy society and it’s little wonder that the crowd told them to “shut up”. It was an embarrassing thing for a great teacher to be pestered by two blind men. Being pestered by two men who obviously been rejected by God because of their blindness!

So I want you to notice the gravity of what is happening here. It could be the first time that someone is placing themselves at the disposal of these two blind men. And it’s not just anyone who involves themselves to these two men. Matthew describes Jesus as the One who is faithful to God. So the one who is faithful to God is making himself available to people who are perceived as not faithful to God. For Jesus, it wasn’t simply a matter of enabling these two blind men to see, but to engage with them personally. And this was a restoration of their humanity as well.


Again we find the same thing happening in Luke 8:40-48 where we have a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. Now this is a woman of no status in the community. And she had no right to be in a place where she could access Jesus and touch him. All this woman wanted to do was get in, get healed, and get back out undetected. But Jesus concern goes beyond this woman’s physical needs. We find Jesus asking what seems like another ridiculous question, ‘Who was it that touched me?’ Now, if I was in the crowd and I heard that, I would have been rolling on the ground laughing! It is just a ridiculous thing to ask. There were people pushing and shoving Jesus in every direction. The scene of one of chaos, and out of all this chaos Jesus wants to know who touched him? It’s a ridiculous question. So why does Jesus ask the question? Again it’s about this personal interaction. It wasn’t enough for this woman to be healed of her bleeding. She needed her humanity restored. Someone unfit to be called a daughter of Israel, Jesus calls His daughter. She is restored into a relationship with Jesus. She becomes a daughter of The King! It’s more than having needs met.


Again in John 5 we find Jesus encountering yet another person with a disability. And again Jesus asked the man a pretty obvious question, “Do you want to be healed?’. But the question asked brings something out of the man’s character. That he doesn’t only need healing on the outside. He actually needs healing on the inside, and this is Jesus’ real concern.  Jesus heals the man and he is well. But what he says towards the end of this account is interesting. Jesus says to him, “Sin no more that nothing worse may happened to you.” What’s he  talking about? Is he talking about sinless perfection on earth? No he is talking about entering a right relationship with Him. You see, right through the account this man has been denying Jesus. His body might be healed. His physical needs may be met, and he is walking. But he is not right with God. Jesus is concerned with seeing him right with God. And when he says ‘so nothing worse may happen to you’ Jesus is not talking about a disability. He is talking about Hell. Jesus ultimate concern for this man is that he becomes right with God. It’s more than physical. It is more than having immediate needs met. It’s relational.


I’ve only picked out a few examples of how Jesus interacts with disadvantage people. If we read the gospels, we find again and again, it’s more than physical, and it’s more than immediate needs. It’s personal, and it’s eternal. If we are going to minister the gospel to people with disabilities, it needs not only to be physical. It also needs to be personal, and it needs to be eternal.


Well, how does this work in the church? In 1 Corinthians 12:22 Paul writes this, ‘On the contrary the parts from the body that seem weaker are indispensable and those parts of the body that we think are less honorable we bestowed greater honour. Our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty”. What does that mean? It is difficult to understand this verse in English mainly because it is difficult to understand this verse in the original Greek. And different commentators have different ideas of what Paul is on about, and I’m not entirely convinced. What I am convinced of is Paul’s vision for the church at Corinth was for each of the member of the church to serve other members so they can serve. The background that Paul was writing to was one where people were showing off so they can better themselves against other people. To this Paul says ‘no!’ Instead of showing off, use your abilities to help someone else use their abilities.

So I take it in the modern context, if someone is unable to contribute to the church, I do what it takes so they can contribute to the church. This may take more time, more effort, and even more resource. This can go against our task orientated culture but we need to stop and ask what are we trying to do? Are we trying to run programs? Or are we trying to build relationships? It may not be the quickest way of doing something. It might not be the most expedient way. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are building those relationships and we are building people up, presenting them mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).


By way of conclusion, I hope we can see that: firstly the relationships that we have with people with disabilities needs to be based on the relationship that God has with us – a relationship of reconciliation. And secondly I hope we can see that relating to people with disabilities is much, much more than just providing a service. It is about building relationships, serving people in the context of a relationship. Not a relationship in the context of their needs.


© The Student’s Desk, September 2011

September 2, 2011 Posted by | Bible, Biblical Theology, Essays, Religious, Talks | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Times of Change (Christmas Message)

Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the
Lord has spoken.”

Times of Change

We’ve all had one of those times when nothing is going right. It’s just one piece of bad news after another. After a while it just gets so depressing, and you wonder if things will ever change. I have times like this. I have them frequently. In fact, they’re almost the norm. But then something good happens, or you get some encouraging news, and it changes your whole perspective. You begin to think that things aren’t as bad as they seem.

This is what we have in Isaiah 40. It’s a silver lining in a cloud of bad news.

Let me tell you about Isaiah. Isaiah was one fellow that you would not want at your Christmas party, or anywhere else for that matter. Isaiah was full of doom and gloom, and was utterly depressing to listen to. He reckoned that God’s people had been unfaithful to God, and because of it, they were about to get it in the neck. What made it worse was, he was right! But every so often he’d come out with some good news, some encouraging news.

Another thing that’s remarkable about Isaiah is, he was around long before Jesus was even born. In fact, around 700 years before Jesus. So he wouldn’t have been going to any Christmas parties anyway! But what’s remarkable was the things that Isaiah said and looked forward to was fulfilled by Jesus. Isaiah was talking about Jesus! So it’s helpful for us to see what he said.

As I said before, Isaiah saw that God’s people were going to get it in the neck for being unfaithful. But this judgment, this punishment would not last forever. Isaiah also saw the time coming when the end of the judgment and punishment would come. A time when God will forgive his people, and they will no longer fear God’s judgment. Not because they have done their time as it were for being unfaithful. Not because they’ve managed to get their act together, and keep God’s law perfectly. But because Isaiah saw a time when God would be made known to everyone. God will actually be amongst his people.

Now, as you might imagine, this has consequences. Isaiah saw this too, as he said, “… make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” (Isaiah 40:3-4) Isaiah isn’t talking about building a freeway so people can drive their cars at high speed. Isaiah is talking about change. A monumental upheaval. God is coming, and life as we know it must change. This will be a new period in history. The old order has gone, and the new order has come.

All this can be said about Jesus.  When we read through the life of Jesus and what he did, one of the things to pick up on is how incredibly disruptive Jesus is. He just doesn’t fit in anywhere. He doesn’t do what people expect him to do. This is because Jesus brings about this change that Isaiah talks about. Jesus changes the way we relate to God. Because of Jesus’ work, namely in his death and resurrection, we can relate to God as forgiven people, no longer fearing God’s punishment. That’s why Jesus was born in the first place! And in turn that should effect the way we relate to each other as we look to serve one another, and not take advantage of each other.

Jesus birth and work truly has brought about change. Yet more of the same sorts of changes will take place as God finally comes to be with his people forever.

In 1999, people looked to the new century with great hope, expecting that the new century will be better that the old century. Well, we’re 10 years into the new century, and it’s starting to look a whole lot like the old century.

And being December, part of out excitement comes from the prospect of a new year with new opportunity. But I suspect we’ll get to February, and start thinking the new year isn’t all that different from the old year. It can seem that things will never change for the better.

But they have. The changes we want, the changes we need are found in Jesus, and only Jesus. And it begins with our relationship with God. This is the silver lining in a cloud of bad news that Isaiah was talking about. Jesus is the silver lining in the cloud of our struggles today. And it is this silver lining that ought to change our perspective of our struggles, when we’re having one of those times. It wont be easy. But it wont be impossible either. Let us thank God this Christmas for the silver lining we have in Jesus, going into the new year with the perspective of being forgiven people.

© The Student’s Desk, 2009

December 23, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Easter 2009 – The purpose of the Christian life…

Read: Psalm 16


Who is like you, O God, who provides for all our needs before we ask? You have given each us our tasks in life, and made our lives secure. We thank you that you are a God who speaks, and you counsel us in all matters. We thank you for Jesus, that in dying you did not leave him, nor let him see decay. But he became the path of life for us that we may know your eternal pleasures. As we consider what resurrection is, may we understand afresh what Jesus has done for us, and help us grasp hold of that wonderful promise we have in Jesus.

Read: 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

It’s Easter! A time when we stuff ourselves silly with chocolate and get incredibly fat. Is this really why we have Easter? Easter is the time when we remember and celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Hold on a sec! Did anyone notice what I just said? I just mentioned Jesus’ death and resurrection. How do we think about that? How do we conceptualise that? I think most of us have been to a funeral. Either the curtain closes, or the coffin is lowered down, and that’s the last we see of the person. We’ve got the death bit figured out. But the resurrection bit… what does that look like?

The Bible gives us some clues. One of those clues is from the created order. When we look around the world, we can see different things have different sorts of bodies. Think of a tree, for example. A tree begins is life as a seed. Yet the tree and the seed look nothing like each other. In fact, the seed needs to be buried before a tree can grow. And we know that there are different kinds of bodies. A person looks nothing like a dog, and a dog looks nothing like a bird, and a bird looks nothing like a fish. So it is with a resurrected body. It’s different to the body we have now.

How is the resurrection body different? The bodies we have now a weak and frail, and will eventually die. They are also shameful. We know we do things that displease God, and we can often feel ashamed of our sin. It’s just natural for us to do things that God does not want us to do. But the resurrection body is different. The resurrection body is imperishable; it won’t become weak, frail, and eventually die. It will be honourable, and will be able to do the things that God wants. It won’t be attracted to sin like the body we have now. The bodies we have now, the Bible calls ‘natural’. The resurrection body the Bible calls ‘spirit’.

Well, where do these bodies come from? The first man that was made was Adam, so we’re all descendants of Adam. We’re all born of Adam. And this is where our natural bodies come from. But more importantly where do our spiritual bodies come from? Jesus! Jesus is the one who came from heaven, so he has a spiritual body. But how are we born of Jesus? By believing in him!

Why is this so important? Because our natural bodies can not handle heaven any more then a fish can walk on dry land. We must have a body that is fit for heaven. Our mortal, perishable bodies must be replaced by immortal, imperishable bodies.

Well, how does that happen? God gives us these new spiritual bodies in Jesus. Jesus is the one who took death head on and defeated death. Jesus has made it possible for us to receive new, spiritual bodies that are fit for heaven. It is by believing in Jesus that we receive new bodies when our current bodies die. And these new bodies will be imperishable, strong, and glorious.

Now let me speak personally for a moment. I’m 34 years old. And I’m finding the older I get, the more aware I become of my limitations. And the more aware I become, the more frustrated I become. Sometimes I’m not even aware of why I’m frustrated. I just am. Yet when I recall this passage, I am reminded of the tremendous hope we have in Jesus. That our frustrations aren’t all there is to life. There will be victory, and the victory has been won by Jesus by rising from the dead.

How are we to respond to such a promise of victory in Jesus? By standing firm, remaining faithful to Jesus. Nothing we do for Jesus, no effort we make, will be wasted. It may feel like it! I feel that quite allot. But it’s not true! Here it is in the Bible, “know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Wow! What a promise!!

The idea of resurrection may be difficult for us to understand. Nonetheless, there is a new, spiritual body made available to us. Jesus has made this body available to us in his own resurrection, so we can have bodies that are fit for heaven. Our task is to remain faithful to Jesus.

© The Student’s Desk, 2009

April 10, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Message for 2008

Read Philippians 2:1-11

Meet your Saviour!

As Christians, we talk about how Jesus came to save people from their sins. For this reason, I keep on reminding us of the importance of believing and trusting in Jesus. But, how do we know Jesus can save us? How do we know that Jesus can sympathise with us? How do we know that Jesus can meet us exactly where we are in life, and raise us up to eternal life with him, forever? 

I mean, Jesus was born 2000 years ago. That’s a long time! He was born in a different culture, in a different country, in a different time in history. How could Jesus possibly know about life in Australia in the 21st Century? What would Jesus know about drug dependant young adults, alcoholic parents, pregnant teenage girls living with their boyfriends, mortgage repayments, machines that don’t do what they’re suppose to? What would Jesus know about being disabled, and being stuck in a wheelchair with a speech impairment? What would Jesus know about my life??? 

Jesus knows all there is to know about not just your life, but everyone’s life. When Jesus came into the world, he was born fully human. Not part human. Not a modified human. But fully human, with all the difficulties that it entailed, yet without sin.  

Jesus knew what it was to be poor. Do you know what Jesus’ first bed was? A cattle trough (Luke 2:7)! A wooden box that only a few hours before big, dopey animals were slobbering in. Later on in his life, someone came running up to Jesus and said, “I’ll follow you wherever you go!” Jesus effectively told this man, “Mate, I got nowhere to go. Foxes and birds are better off than me!” (Matthew 8:19-20). Jesus knew what it was to be poor.

Jesus knew what it was to be frustrated. He spent so much time teaching he disciples, and so often they’d look at him, “huh?” At the start of his ministry, he teaches in a parable. At the end of the parable, Jesus effectively says, “Unless you have understood this parable, you’re not going to understand anything else. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Later on, the disciples came to Jesus, “err, please explain?” (Luke 8:8-9). How frustrating! Or at the end of his ministry, when after three long years of teaching his disciples about God, one of the disciples said “Jesus, show us the Father.” (John 14:8). Had it all gone in one ear and out the other? Jesus knew what it was to be frustrated.

Jesus knew what it was to mourn. When one of Jesus mates died, Jesus actually wept. Even though Jesus had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, and he went to Lazarus’ tomb specifically to do so, Jesus felt all the pain, all the anger, all the confusion of seeing a loved one die. (John 11:35). Jesus knew what it was to mourn. 

Jesus knew what it was to be angry. He went to the temple one day and was utterly disgusted by what he saw. The temple was where you want to pray to God, offer sacrifices, and learn about God. Instead of a prayer place, Jesus found a market place! (Matthew 21:12-13). Can you imagine trying to have a church service in the middle of the local shopping centre at Christmas time? It would be utter chaos! People coming and going in every direction, noises drowning out every word and thought. This would be the kind of scene Jesus came across. Is it any wonder Jesus got angry? 

My personal favourite is Jesus knew what it was to be misunderstood. Not that the Bible says that Jesus had a speech impairment. In fact, Jesus probably had good, clear speech. But he wasn’t always understood. Like when he told his disciples to be aware of the yeast of the Pharisees. The disciples thought he was upset with them because they didn’t have any bread with them. He wasn’t talking about bread! He was talking about the teaching of the religious leaders of the time (Matthew 16:5-12). Or when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the need to be born again. Poor Nic was scratching his head wondering how a grown man could crawl back inside his mother’s womb! Jesus wasn’t talking about physical birth, but spiritual birth (John 3:5-8). Jesus knew what it was to be misunderstood.

Jesus knew what it was to be betrayed. Do you know who gave Jesus over to the authorities? One of his best mates who had been with Jesus from the beginning, Judas (John 18:2-3). You think you know a guy, don’t you? 

Jesus knew what it was to be abandoned. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus begged his disciples, “please, stay up and pray with me.” Yet every time he went back to his disciples, he found them sleeping (Matthew 26:36-46)! The next morning another of Jesus closest mates, Peter, would deny that he knew Jesus at all (Matthew 26:69-75). Jesus knew what it was to be abandoned. 

Jesus knew anxiety like none of us can imagine! As he prayed that night, alone, drops of sweat came from his head that looked like blood (Luke 22:44). 

Jesus knew what it was to be rejected. For a time, Mary and Joseph had to hide with Jesus in another country, so he wouldn’t be killed by the local governor (Matthew 2:13-15). He was rejected by the very people who he grew up with when he tried to tell them about the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:53-58). Occasionally he was rejected for healing people and doing good (Matthew 12:10-14). Not to mention his rejection at the end of his life when the crowds shouted in anger at the top of their voice “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Matthew 23:18-23). 

Jesus knew what it was to be abused. As he was being led to the cross, people spat on him, struck him, taunted him, called him names, and made fun of him (Matthew 27:17-31). 

Jesus also knew what it was to have a body that doesn’t function. Joni Eareckson Tada who suffers from paraplegia realised Jesus knew exactly what it was to have a body that could not move when he was fastened to the cross, unable to move (Matthew 27:42). 

Wherever we are in life, Jesus knows about it. There is nothing that we will experience that Jesus has not. Jesus has been there, he’s done that, and he is able to meet us in that place, and help us. 

So know you might be thinking, “ok, I get the idea that Jesus experienced all there was to being human. But, what can he do about my situation?” Jesus can do plenty, because Jesus is also fully God. God himself (Mark 2:7). That same power that created all things from nothing – that formed the earth, put the stars, sun, and moon in their places, that filled the sky with birds, and the land with animals and made plants and trees grow from it, that breathed into a handful of dirt and created a man (Genesis 1, 2) – that same power is in the person of Jesus. The power to re-create! 

We see this in Jesus’ ministry. He heals the sick (Mark 1:29-31; 3:3-6; 5:24-34; Luke 5:12-13; John 4:43-53), raises the dead (Mark 5:38-42; Luke 7:12-16; John 11:32-44), drives out demons (Mark 1:24-26; 5:1-13), restores sight to the blind (Matthew 9:27-31), hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb (Mark 7:32-37), and makes the lame walk (John 5:5-9). He feeds the hungry (John 6:1-5), welcomes sinners and outcasts restoring relationships (Luke 15:1-2). Not just once or twice, but a continual part of his ministry. Miracles were an every day event with Jesus. Yet, all this was just a foretaste of his future ministry, because at that time, Jesus will come and restore all things, even you and me. It will be a re-creation. 

This ministry has already begun. It began on the cross. By Jesus dying on the cross as he did, Jesus remained absolutely obedient to God in a way that none of us can. And because of Jesus’ obedience, a way has now been established to cancel sin once and for all (Hebrews 10:12-14). Because of this, the most important relationship has been restored – our relationship with God. 

It’s by Jesus that people stand or fall with God. Because of Jesus’ obedience, God has made Jesus the authoritative figure when it comes to our relationship with God. There is no alternative. On that day of the great restoration, everyone, regardless of what they believe or think about Jesus now, will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord!

Well what about you? Do you acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord? Do you believe Jesus is able to meet you exactly where you are in life, with all the warts, and all the difficulties, and all the shortcomings? Do you trust in Jesus promise of restoration? Not just in the future, but now, knowing your sin and wrongdoings have been dealt with once and for all, and you are able to enjoy a right standing before God now?

This is what the Bible proclaims about Jesus. Let us be encouraged by this, and be comforted by God’s love for us. That Jesus was born, fully human, fully God, that we may enjoy eternal life with him.

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon on the Mount: Jesus shows off ‘showing off’…

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 


Basis for Prayer: Psalm 147:7-11

Lord, we thanks and praise you for the great love you have for each one for us, and you bless us day after day, not only with the things that we need, but with things to enjoy. Lord, your word teaches us that you are not impressed by what people can do. Instead, you take great delight in those who put their hope in you. Lord, in the light of this, we confess that there have been times when we’ve showed off. When we’ve tried to impress others and you, and make ourselves out to be better than what we are. Lord, as we look at what Jesus taught, humble our hearts, and help us understand. Enable us to do things not to show off, but to honour you.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


Sermon on the Mount: Jesus shows off ‘showing off’…

Read Matthew 6:1-8

We’ve all seen show offs haven’t we? Perhaps we’ve showed off ourselves. I’ve been called a show off a number of times, and probably not without reason. Why do people show off? To draw attention to themselves. To be noticed. To make themselves out to be better then what they are. Jesus reckoned people showed off so people would say how good they were. They might give a whole lot of money so someone might say “Fred, you’re the most generous man I know!” Or they might pray in public so someone might say, “Wow, he must be so holy to pray like that!!”

But this doesn’t impress Jesus at all. Jesus says if all you want is for people to tell you how good you are, then that’s all you’re going to get. You have nothing more coming from God. You have received your reward in full. Because the faith of such a person is not sincere. They aren’t focussed on God. They’re just looking to show off.

So what does a since faith look like? When it comes to giving, not just money, but anything – even our time – we’re to do so with our left hand not knowing what our right hand is doing. In other words, we’re to give without expecting anything in return. In this way our concern is the other person, and not scoring points with other people or God.

It’s the same with prayer. We ought not use prayer as a way to impress others. Instead we ought to pray in private. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray publically. The Bible often speaks of people getting together to pray. But when we pray publically, there might be part of us trying to impress the others. When we pray in private, there’s no risk of that happening. Even still, we need to be careful with our private prayers that we don’t end up trying to impress God. When we do pray, we shouldn’t feel we need to use big, fancy words to get God’s attention. Or say the same prayer over and over and over again to score points with God. God knows what we need! He doesn’t need us to tell him. And we pray in Jesus’ name who made us right with God, so there’s no sense in trying to score points with him. Instead we should simply ask God for what we need.

Living Christian lives is not a matter of showing off. Following Jesus is about having concern for others and having a sincere faith in God knowing that you have been made right with him by Jesus.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

September 23, 2008 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon on the Mount: Going the extra mile, and beyond…

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 


Basis for Prayer: Psalm 18:20-30

Lord, as we have been looking as the message Jesus preached so many years ago, we have come to see that living Christian lives is very different to the world. For you do not judge as the world judges, nor value what the world values. Often you despise the things the world values, and we think little of what you ask of us. Help us see the wisdom in Jesus’ words this morning that we may live different lives, radical lives, so people know that we belong to you.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. 

Going the extra mile, and beyond…

Read Matthew 5:20, 38-48

This is perhaps one of the hardest teachings of Jesus. And we’ve heard it that many times, it’s become a cliché – “turn the other check”. Yet it still makes us uncomfortable. Jesus seems to be asking the impossible here. Are we suppose to get around butt-naked for the sake of others and literally give the shirt off our back?

Well you don’t need to look too far today to find people interpreting the Bible for their own gain. In Jesus’ day, it was exactly the same. Way back in the Old Testament when God made his people into a nation, he gave them a law that said if someone deliberately injures another, then they should have the same done to them. So if I broke your leg, you would have the right to break my leg. The whole point of the law was to limit payback. I have heard in some indigenous cultures there’s a system of payback. One person does something to another, then the other person does something worse to get back at them. It goes on and on, and there’s no end to it. This law was given to stop all that nonsense, and to give respect to people, even nasty people.

Some people in Jesus day had a different take on that law. They used this law to justify payback. They didn’t respect people. They weren’t concerned for there welfare. They just used God’s law to justify their own selfishness. It was pathetic! It is against this abuse of God’s law that we need to understand Jesus’ teaching.

By teaching what he does Jesus places the emphasis back on respect for the other person. This doesn’t mean we need to strip naked every time someone demands something of us. Jesus is using exaggerated language here. He is actually saying to go beyond the minimum standard, and actually do something positive for the other person, even if they’ve cost us or offended us.

In Jesus’ day, a person’s cloak was very important, particularly if the person was poor. It may have been the only thing they had to keep them warm at night. So to give away your cloak was no small thing. Why would Jesus make such a wild statement? Living life upside down and following Jesus is about thinking about the other person and not to be so selfish. When we start jumping up and down demanding our rights, who are we really concerned about? Ourselves! Are we thinking of the other person? Hardly!

So this teaching of Jesus isn’t about going around butt-naked. Jesus is using exaggerated language to show what it is do deny ourselves and put others first. After all, it was Jesus who denied his very life to put us ahead of him so that we would enjoy eternity. 

Jesus presses the issue again we he tells people to walk the extra mile. Have you ever been asked to do something, and you do it only because you had to? I have. I drag my feet and don’t do any more then what I have to. Jesus isn’t impressed with that. Jesus says to think about the other person, and to do the extra work. Again it was Jesus who did the extra work for us, work that we could not do, in obeying God perfectly. It’s in Jesus that we can experience God’s blessings.

We have been blessed so much as Christians. May we show others how blessed we are and bless them by thinking of them. Even if it means putting them first.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

September 7, 2008 Posted by | Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Religious, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment