Reset 14: Disciples Persevere (part 2)

In Romans 7 and 8 Paul’s been helping the believers in Rome think clearly about living as disciples.  How they are set free from sin’s mastery and now live by the Spirit.  And how suffering points them forward to, and prepares them for, the eternal glory God has in store for his people. And he reaches a crescendo in (29)“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called; he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Are you a starter or a finisher?  Do you buzz with ideas and enthusiasm at the start of a project only for the energy to fade part way through?  Or do you struggle for ideas and the energy to start something new but once something’s going you just love to see it through to the end?

Do you see what Paul’s saying?  What God starts he finishes.  He’s Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, and everything in between.  Those he predestined and called he brings through to glory.  If God begins a work in someone by saving grace he brings it to completion in eternal life in glory.

So what does that mean for these hard-pressed believers in Rome?  They live in the lion’s den in Rome facing persecution and suffering and struggling with and fighting sin but God will bring them to glory.

Paul addresses a couple of barriers to realising this assurance.  A couple of ways they need to apply the gospel to their thinking and feeling so they’re assured not doubting.

Firstly they need to know that God is for them.  (31-32)God is for his people and he proved that once for all at the cross.  If we ever doubt that God is for his people we look at his giving his son for us.  And that ought to assure us that God will graciously give us all things, he will bring us through to glory.

Imagine for a minute that I buy a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO.  It last sold at auction for £37.2 million.  I take it for a drive but it gets a flat tyre.  I get out look at the flat tyre and sigh, well that’s the end of that then, I throw my keys onto the seat and walk off.  Abandoning my £37 million pound car at the side of the road to rust because of a flat tyre.  That would be galatically stupid wouldn’t it?  I’ve paid a fortune for it a flat tyre wouldn’t put me off it.

That’s Paul’s point here.  God has spectacularly proven he’s for his people in giving the most precious thing he had to save us in Jesus.  He isn’t going to abandon his saved children now because of their struggles with sin having paid such a price to redeem them.

It’s the lie Satan has always told God’s children, right back to the garden.  God doesn’t really love you.  But says Paul God has proven once for all that he’s for you and he will follow through.

But sometimes we find that hard to believe.  So v33-34 Paul takes us into the courtroom.  “Who will bring charges against those God has chosen? … Who then is the one who condemns?”  God is the divine judge in the courtroom and Satan is the accuser, the prosecution lawyer.  We know that feeling don’t we?  When Satan takes us back to a certain event and says indignantly look at that!  Or when we fail again in our battle with a persistent sin, he convicts us and wants to make us cringe back – you can’t confess that to God again, not for the hundredth time.  

Look at Paul’s answer to those courtroom questions.  Who will bring charges against those God has chosen?  The answer “It is God who justifies”  How can a just God declare us free of guilt, undeserving of wrath?  Because 5v1 we are justified by faith in Jesus and 5v9 will be saved from judgement and wrath.  And there is no higher appeal court, no doubt about the believers justification.

Who condemns?  (34)“No-one.”  Why?  Because the risen Jesus is at God’s right hand interceding for his people.  Satan’s accusations against us aren’t false, they’re true.  As he runs through the charge sheet against us; idolatry, immorality, greed, anger, pride, slander, hatred, and so on we can’t deny a single one of them.  Neither does Jesus, he doesn’t look for loopholes or enter a plea bargain.  He intercedes for us as he shows his wounds that have paid the price for us.  Justice has been served and there is now no condemnation left for those who are in Jesus.

We can be assured of our future glory even as we struggle with sin because Jesus has paid it all, we are justified by faith in him.

That’s the huge difference between the good news of the gospel and the burden of every other man made religion.  Jesus does what we could not.  He gives us his perfect record and pays for our sin and that is our security.  God loved us so much he did that, he paid that price to make us his children.  Perhaps you’re still stuck trying to be good enough, trying to justify yourself, thinking you have to please God.  Please stop.  You never can, and God longs for you to accept his gift and believe in Jesus.

But it’s not just sin that causes us to struggle with doubt.  That drains away our assurance and our joy.  Sometimes it’s our circumstance, our suffering.  Because sometimes we think that the suffering we face whatever form it takes is a sign that we aren’t really saved.  That somehow if I was really saved, if God really loved me, I wouldn’t face this.  That something we’ve done has caused God to turn his back on us.

Look at v35-39.  The big question Paul asks and answers is exactly that question.  What can separate us from God’s love?  Is there anything that can separate us from God’s love?  The emphatic answer is no(37).  In Christ we’re more than conquerors of all these things, one day we will reign over them with him.  We’re more than conquerors through him who loved us.  Notice the tense it’s the past tense, Paul is taking believers back to the cross.  That supreme, once for all, demonstration of God’s love.  If God, Father, Son and Spirit, loved you like that you can trust in that love to overcome anything.  There’s nothing that can separate you from God’s love(38-39).

Stop and look at the circumstance that whispers to you, calling you to doubt God’s love.  It might be a diagnosis of long-term chronic illness, or a recurring battle with the dark valley of depression, a broken relationship, or growing opposition to your faith from family or friends or colleagues.  None of it, not even death, “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If our assurance is based on our record it will be flimsy and fragile.  But our assurance is based on the love of God seen at the cross that speaks of no condemnation and no separation from the love of God.

So that’s one side of the coin.  Our assurance is rock solid because it depends on God not us.  But doesn’t that just mean I can live however I want?  If Jesus has done it all then we can just sit back and coast?  Turn to Hebrews 12.

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Reset 14: Disciples Persevere (part 1)

As we reach the end of our series on discipleship we’ve seen that disciples follow Jesus, listen to God’s word, gather together, pray, are filled with the Spirit, pursue holiness, grow, love others, make disciples, work, steward and suffer.  And we’re finishing the series with disciples persevere.

Following Jesus isn’t a momentary decision that you can simply sit back and look back fondly on for the rest of your life.  It’s not like the ticket stub or programme from a cup final or concert that you pin up somewhere to take you back to the day.  Following Jesus is a day by day life long pilgrimage.  But sometimes that pilgrimage is hard.  It’s hard because we sin, and sometimes we find ourselves thinking would I really keep on sinning like that if I was truly saved?  Or maybe something happens and we find ourselves struggling for a long time and we think; as a Christian I shouldn’t feel like this and then ‘Am I really saved?’  Some of us struggle with assurance, we doubt and we question and we’re quick to lose any sense of security.

Others of us struggle with the opposite problem.  There’s little progress in our lives.  Little growth.  But we have false assurance because we keep looking back to that day when.

There’s a danger I’ve been very aware of this week as I prepared this.  It’s the danger of unsettling those who struggle with assurance, and confirming the complacent.  It’s a bit like the teacher in front of a class of students at this time of year.  They’ll encourage the class to work really hard for the last couple of months of term so there’s evidence to be able to award their grades.  But even as you do that you know that message is really a kick up the backside of those who complacently coast but that they’re likely to ignore it.  Whilst those who are already working hard, in some cases too hard, will take this as a rebuke and work even harder.

So let me ask this question: As you look back on the last year can you see evidence of growth in your love for Jesus and of Jesus character being formed in you?  Are you still actively following Jesus, seeking his will, not just drifting along in the slipstream of others who are?  Don’t make COVID an excuse.  How are you doing spiritually?  Where are you headed spiritually?  How can you be sure you will finish the race of the disciple and hear God’s welcome and well done?

We need to see that assurance because of what God has done for us and perseverance in discipleship by us aren’t opposed to each other.  They’re two side of the same coin.  The assurance of God’s work in salvation and his keeping of us leads us to persevere, you can’t have one without the other.

Reset 13: Disciples Suffer (Part 3)

Disciples aren’t exempt from suffering, we know v6 that it’s temporary compared to eternity, but it’s hard, it’s painful, it can feel never ending.  These believers face “all kinds of trials.”  Death, loss, illness, broken relationships, insults, abuse, persecutions and so on.  And Nero is ramping up the pressure, isolating and blaming Christians, and state persecution is coming.  And Peter isn’t minimising these, but he does want disciples to see they’re not pointless but purposeful.

Suffering isn’t the result of the pitiless indifference of a world without God; they’re not the random result of the roulette wheel of fate, or a sign that the world is out of control.  Rather (7)“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus is revealed.” 

That’s a staggering verse.  God is so sovereign that their, and our, suffering is not wasted.  God is so sovereign that the suffering Satan wants to inflict on them, and us, to drive us from God and to abandon our faith, God repurposes to refine our faith and grow our love for Jesus.

Turn back to Job 23.  Job has lost everything; his children, his flocks, his herds, his servants.  All gone, even his health.  And he’s left with an embittered wife who tells him to curse God and die and 3 friends who mean well but whose faulty theology means all they can do is assume Job must have sinned to cause this and engage in victim shaming.  Job isn’t a comfortable read for us; it’s brutally honest that the Bible doesn’t give us neat answers for suffering.  But instead we see Job grieve, lament, question, and veer between seeming despair and confident faith, but always, always, he tenaciously clings on to God as he pours his heart out to him.  In the crucible of his suffering he speaks these words(8-12).

Job doesn’t have neat answers.  But he knows God is sovereign.  That God sees.  He knows that God is not tame and he’s not answerable to Job and Job’s thoughts and ways.  But he clings to God’s word and trusts God is at work to bring him forth as gold.

Peter echoes Job here.  Suffering refines faith.  It tests the genuineness of faith because we’re always tempted to trust in Jesus + something else.  Jesus + health.  Jesus + my job.  Jesus + wealth.  Jesus + family.  Jesus + legal rights to hold and share my faith.  But suffering proves that our faith in Jesus alone is enough as other things are stripped away.  And that proven genuineness is more precious than gold because it lasts for eternity, and it result in praise, glory and honour when we hear God’s well done.

Suffering refines our faith.  It leads us to love and put our joy in Jesus(8-9).  To love and believe in him even though we haven’t seen him, to have an inexpressible and glorious joy not in suffering but in Jesus that suffering cannot touch.  God’s purpose in suffering is that we might be weaned off the world and grow to love and treasure Jesus more and more.  How do we do that?

Turn to ch2v21-25.  Following Jesus means following Jesus.  That means we don’t suffer in a vacuum but our suffering shows us more of what Christ has done for us, of his love for us.  Peter says that Jesus is our example.  That’s a word from the first century classroom, it was sheet of paper with letters or sentences on it that would be given to students to trace so they could learn to write.  That’s what you are doing as you’re suffering, you are tracing over Jesus suffering for you.

As we suffer we look up and see what Jesus suffered for us.  We follow him.  It’s not a example to beat us up or burden us, but it is an example that speaks of love, his love for us that bore our sins in his body on the cross, that healed us by his wounds.  That brought us when we were wandering away back to God.

As we suffer we trace Jesus life and as we trace his life we see his love, and as we see his love we love and treasure him.  We see again the wonder of the gospel(1v10-12), the amazing grace that is ours and we’re reminded that our suffering isn’t a sign that we’re not loved.  But a sign that we are.

Disciples suffer.  But disciples suffer differently.  Suffering doesn’t deny God’s mercy or his goodness or reshape our identity.  It points us to Christ who suffered to bring us to God and who loved us and redeemed us for a future that’s secure and certain.  And who is at work now to refine our faith and love and hope in him.

That doesn’t mean disciples suffer stoically.  God in his mercy has given us a story filled with fellow suffering saints whose stories we learn from.  He’s given us laments and songs and prayers to pray as we suffer.  He pours out his Spirit, gives us his word and gives us his church so that we’re not abandoned and alone in our suffering but so that the truth is spoken to us, so the compass points us to our identity and hope in Christ.Suffering does not change our identity but leads us to see and treasure and love our Saviour and set our hope on that day when our salvation is realised and we hear that well done.

Reset 13: Disciples Suffer (Part 2)

Peter begins (3)with praising God for who believers are in Christ.  He starts off with identity.  “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  God is merciful, not a little bit but great in mercy.  And because of that mercy disciples have been born again into a living hope through Jesus resurrection.  God hasn’t treated believers as they deserve, he hasn’t paid them back for their sin, he has counted their sin to Jesus account and he has paid for it.  The resurrection is the receipt that their debt has been paid and their new birth certificate.

And because of Jesus resurrection they have a living hope of an eternal unspoilable, unassailable future that is totally secure because it’s kept in heaven for them.  But not only is their future secure but (5)they are shielded now through faith by God’s power.  God working in ways they cannot see to protect them even when things look at their worst.

Peter begins his letter to suffering disciples by praising God with them for their new identity in Christ.  An identity that is rock solid.  The suffering they are experiencing does not change who God is or who they are in Christ.

One of the lies we’re tempted to believe is that our suffering is a sign that God has forsaken us?  That somehow suffering changes God’s identity and ours.  But says Peter that’s not true!  Suffering doesn’t change who we are.  We’re secure in Christ, in Christ God has shown us mercy and he is faithful he doesn’t forsake his people.  He shields them until their salvation is ready to be revealed.

Suffering doesn’t teach us about God or about who we are but it does teach us about our world.  It reminds us that our world isn’t as God intended it to be, that it needs complete renewal not just a minor upgrade.  And that our hope is in God’s new creation because of Jesus.

Don’t let suffering shrink your perspective.  Pain can do that.  If we burn ourselves it feels like the only thing we can feel is that burn.  Suffering can become like that.  We see and feel everything through the lens of our suffering.  Sufferer becomes our identity.  But Peter says don’t let suffering define you, don’t let it be your identity, or shape who you believe God is.  How do we do that?

(6)starts “in this you greatly rejoice…” it’s referring to everything in v3-5.  Suffering disciples refuse to let suffering define them as we rejoice in who we are in Jesus and in who God is.  We’re not forsaken.  God is merciful, active in our suffering shielding us, and our hope is sure because of Jesus and it is held, secure, safe, waiting for us when Jesus comes again.

Many in our church family are suffering.  Some of us are grieving loss, some have significant chronic illness, some face battles with their mental health and on going bouts of depression, some of us suffer with family worries, or job concerns, or a combination of a multitude of the above.  Can I ask you this morning to honestly look at how you view yourself and how you think of God?  Your suffering is not your identity.  You are a sufferer, yes, the Bible does not minimise or dismiss your suffering, God cares about it and or you in it.  But you are first and foremost a saved shielded saint secure in Christ and with a certain hope you can rejoice in.

How do we think of ourselves in our suffering?  Is suffering warping our view of ourselves or of God?  Will we greatly rejoice in our identity in Christ even as we suffer?

Just as Peter writes to encourage these suffering saints to rejoice with him in who they are in Christ so we must encourage one another to do so.  Peter writes this so everyone in the church knows how to encourage one another in suffering.  As a church family we need to learn that lesson.  We need to help each other rejoice in our identity and security in Christ.  We need to constantly remind one another of who we are, of our hope, of God’s mercy.  That suffering isn’t our identity but a temporary part of our lives as God’s children until Jesus returns.  The church should be like a compass constantly pointing the sufferer to our identity and hope in Christ.

We need to do so frequently as we speak and meet together.  But we also need to do it sensitively, not clumsily.  Patiently and graciously as we talk with, walk with, and pray with one another.  Drawing one another to praise God for his mercy in Jesus that gives us that new identity and a certain secure hope.

But that’s not all.  It’s not just that disciples have a better hope for the future.  We have a better hope for the present even as we suffer.

Step inside the accelerometer

It’s a year since the first lockdown. How did that happen? As we have a day of reflection it had made me think about the impact of COVID on some of the social trends we see and their impact on our congregations. Lockdown has vastly accelerated social trends and as churches we need to recognise this and the impact it may have. And think carefully about how we respond to them. Here are a few where I think the last year will have vastly accelerated social trends.

Isolation. Nothing isolates like a stay at home order. Millions of people not leaving their houses for weeks at a time except for one mandated form of exercise a day. And even whilst on that exercise crossing the road to avoid others and the danger of infection they pose to us or we pose to them. A year of that message will have vastly accelerated the trend towards isolation that was already present in our society. As we emerge from our COVID protocols we have to reckon with this. We have been reshaped. Our church fellowships will have been reshaped and we will have a lot of rebuilding to do and the extent of that reshaping will vary from person to person and family to family. It has practical implications. Our churches will be divided over the protocols we should have in place, whether we should sing or follow guidance, and so on. And the echo chamber of social media will entrench them in their views and potentially make them less tolerant of others. Will we snap back to life like before or gradually look to ease people into it? Will we move chairs closer by increments? How do we do so in a way that both loves those who are incredibly anxious about ending isolation and those who have had enough and just want everything they had before back now or at the earliest opportunity?

Professionalism. There was a trend to give jobs to the professionals in society before our COVID year and that has been exacerbated by the events of COVID. More than ever we have been forced to just do our jobs and let others do theirs. But it also seems to have accelerated a trend to outsourcing things to the professionals. Statistics on pupil engagement with online learning seem to point to that, with a significant percentage of pupils not engaging with online learning and parents feeling it’s either the teachers job not theirs, or that they have enough on their plate with their own work from home let alone educating children. That was the case before the pandemic in many areas – we may take on small DIY tasks, but get professionals in to do the big jobs. That trend seems to have accelerated and spread. Add to that as churches that one of the results of COVID secure protocols is to have fewer people involved from the front, no refreshments and welcome teams, a minimum number of people on PA and the like. Many of the teams we had before have been paused. Many areas of service are in mothballs. More of the ministry that can be done is being done by the “professionals’. How will we as churches move away from that? How will we reengage our teams and when?

Valuing the virtual. There have been lots of good innovations to the pandemic. Zoom, Teams, and so on have really made a difference to the ability to stay connected. More churches than ever have a YouTube channel and a presence on FaceBook, and that is a good thing. And has resulted in a shift in thinking. Those who prefer virtual church because it’s easier, more convenient, and fits into their way of life. Its easier for the children as they can play whilst the adults hear a sermon. Those who prefer online bible study because it saves significant travel. It’s good that churches have adapted quickly to provide online content. But as we face the future what are we going to do with our online services and provision? What if it becomes a hinderance to people returning to church when they can because it’s just easier to have church at home in my front room? What if in valuing the virtual people have come to dismiss or minimise the benefits of the physical gathering? After all I don’t have to put up with someone I find hard to talk to in virtual church, I don’t have to put any effort into serving and setting up, I don’t have to bear with, or in fact do any of those one anothers that I find so hard. I can just tune in online on Sunday and meet up with one or two people I like from church for a walk, or eventually in a home during the week and that’s fine. I can even choose to hear great preachers, not our churches average preacher, and still meet friends from church during the week. I don’t think we should underestimate the impact of the pandemic on church voyeurism, growing disconnection, increased consumer mentality, and a general discipleship malaise. How will we respond to those challenges as a church? How do we reconnect people? How can we create a sense of longing for the physical? What role will virtual content play going forward? How can we use it well to support rather than subvert church?

As the country begins the journey on the roadmap to unlocking we need to be ready to lead our fellowships through similar journey. There are lots of other social trends that have been accelerated in this pandemic. Denying their impact will only bring harm. There is a challenge but also an opportunity as we lead God’s sheep to lead with lessons learned and challenges faced and see again what God in his word calls his people to be.

Reset 13: Disciples Suffer

Why is life so hard?  Why is there so much suffering of all shapes and sizes?  From the small and personal to the vast and global.  Nobody is immune to suffering; suffering is part of the human experience.  We can fight it but we can’t stop it.  Everyone has to adopt a way of coping even if its just denial. How do you deal with suffering?

It’s often a question thrown at Christians – if there is a God why is there so much suffering?  Perhaps that’s a question the pandemic has forced you to think about.  Or that you’ve been asked, or are worried about answering.  God doesn’t hide from that question.  The Bible isn’t a fantasy story set in a world without suffering.  And suffering isn’t the skeleton hidden in God’s cupboard.  God answers that question but inviting us into his story.  

He tells us of the good world he made and gifted humanity to enjoy in relationship with him and according to the manufacturers instructions.  It was a world of joy and sustainability, of right relationships without suffering or pain or death.  But that’s not the world we live in because humanity wanted to rule God’s creation our own way, throwing out the manufacturers instructions.  We wanted God’s stuff but not God.  And the consequences are horrific, death, sin, pain, bitterness, resentment, abuse, suffering all come flooding into the world, and all because of user error.

But God is gracious he’s not done.  He doesn’t wipe the world clean and start again.  Instead he does something all the more amazing.  God enters into his broken creation in Jesus to redeem it.  He suffers alongside us; he gives us a glimpse of the world we all long for in his miracles and his teaching and in the community he creates.  And then he pays the price to reconcile us to God, as he bears our punishment for rejecting God, and rises again to prove that price is paid and that there is a new day coming.  Jesus’s resurrection is a guarantee of a new life in a new creation free from the shackles of sin and suffering and pain and death.

And God invites us to enter into that story if we confess our rejection of him and repent and trust Jesus.  The Bible provides a framework to help us understand the world we live in.

But that poses a question doesn’t it?  Why do followers of Jesus still suffer?  And if we’ve followed Jesus and find ourselves suffering how are we to think of it?  Is it a sign of un-confessed sin, is it a sign that we’ve done something wrong and God has forsaken us?  Have we misunderstood the kingdom we’ve become citizens of?  Do disciples suffer?  And if so how should we think of it?

Peters writes to churches scattered across the Roman Empire.  Notice how he describes these believers, “exiles”(1).  They are citizens of God’s kingdom who live now as exiles.  Travellers and pilgrims.  This world isn’t their home, this world isn’t all there is.  And they’re exiles who are suffering, every chapter of this letter addresses the issue of suffering.  And not just one type of suffering but all kinds of suffering.  Peter writes to suffering churches so they know how to follow Jesus in their suffering.

This morning we’re going to look at the foundations he lays in 1v3-12.  Maybe you’re suffering and you’ve got so many questions.  Maybe you want to know better how to walk alongside those in our church family who are suffering.  We all need to listen to these things so that we’re equipped for when we suffer as disciples.

Reset 12: Disciples Steward (part 3)

Are you rich? How do you answer that question? And why do you give that answer?

“Command the rich…” Paul writes and instantly we think what?  That’s not for me.  I’m not rich.  This only applies to the really wealthy.  To the top 5%, to those who earn 6 figures.  To the church with bankers and footballers and surgeons in.

But here’s the key question – are we rich?  We compare ourselves to others around us, with the lifestyles of the rich and famous we read of and assume we’re not.  We can always name someone with more than us.  But let me ask you some questions.  Do you have enough money to buy food, clothes, have clean water and shelter?  Do you have disposable income to pay for non-necessities; like a mobile phone, or Amazon Prime, or Netflix, or for leisure?  Do you have enough to pay for a holiday at least once a year?  Then you are rich.  We look around us and assume we’re not because we live in the goldfish bowl of consumerism where we’re constantly told we need more, and others have more, and therefore we should aspire for more.  That’s constantly raising the bar for what we need, and confusing needs and wants, necessities and luxuries.

But historically and globally we are rich.  If the world were only 100 people today 48 of those 100 would live off less than $2 a day and 1 out of every 2 children would live in poverty.  We are rich so we need to listen to God’s word to us here.

(17)“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant or to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”   This isn’t a suggestion it’s a command.  If you’re rich don’t be arrogant, don’t be proud and boastful as if you’ve achieved it all yourself.  Don’t look down on others or think your wealth means you’re better or more loved by God.  And don’t put your faith in money put it in God, because your riches could disappear in an instant.

Instead recognise that God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Is that a shock to you?  Riches in themselves aren’t a bad thing, they’re a gift God can give.  And it’s wrong not to enjoy a gift God gives.  We’re not to resent or feel embarrassed about the good things God gives us.  But we do need to relate to them rightly.  They are a gift from God not a source of security.  They are to be gratefully received but we don’t put our hope in them, we don’t allow them to wean us off hope in God.  Rather they lead us to be grateful to God, to praise and love the giver not the gift.

The second command is “Command them to be good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life which is truly life.”  Paul calls the rich believers in Ephesus to generosity.  They’re not to be tight and miserly hoarding what they have but they must be generous and willing to share.  Why?  Because they’re eternity minded.  We’re to steward the riches God gives us generously with eternity in view, investing not in this world but in the kingdom.  That’s the way to make sure you’re wealth doesn’t become a trap or a snare or lead you away from the faith and into grief.  Give it away so it doesn’t fill your heart.

Christians aren’t to be reservoirs hoarding the generosity of God for themselves but rivers that channel God’s generosity to others.  God is generous, generous in his creation, generous in sending his Son to save us, generous in his continued blessings, generous in the future glory we will enjoy, and so we ought to be generous.  God is a giving God and his people ought to be a giving people!

How do you think about the money you have and earn.  Is it yours or a gift from God?  As you look at your bank statement does it shout generous just like God or miserly and self-centred?  Does it tell the story of salvation and eternal life given, of investment in eternity, or of living for now?

Are you the river through which God’s generosity courses or the reservoir at which it’s dammed and slows to a trickle?

Rich believers are to be grateful to God and generous to others even as they enjoy God’s gracious gifts.  Just think of a Barnabas in Acts 4.  In contrast to a stingy Ananias and Sapphira we see him sell a field he has and give the money to the church to redistribute so no one has need.  Or think of the generosity of the Philippians who give beyond what they’re able to meet others needs.  Disciples steward generously.

But how do we decide what to give too?  (19)Paul calls the believers to invest in the kingdom.  They are to steward in light of eternity.  It’s not wrong to give to Macmillan or Oxfam or the RSPCA.  But we ought to prioritise eternal needs.  We ought to be funding gospel work so the lost can be saved.

Disciples steward.  And that means thinking about riches and wealth differently.  It means we thank and live for the giver not the gift.  It means we use God’s gift in light of eternity.  It means we’re liberated to enjoy what we have but not hold tightly to it.  What is God’s call?  Contented godly simplicity in our living and grateful generosity with all he has blessed us with.  Why?  Because our hope is in God, our focus is fixed on eternity, and we’re not citizens of the kingdom where the winner is the one with most toys, but we’re citizens of the kingdom of eternal joy and grace and mercy.

CT Studd became a Christians as a student, he went on to become an international cricketer, a wealth man from a wealthy family.  But one night as he heard the gospel he realised the fame he enjoyed and the wealth he’d accumulated had dulled his love for God.  He recommitted himself and eventually left it all to go overseas as a missionary, he wrote a great poem called only one life, here’s one of the verses:

“When this bright world would tempt me sore,

When Satan would a victory score;

When self would seek to have its way,

Then help me Lord with joy to say;

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Reset 12: Disciples Steward (Part 2)

Where do you find contentment?  If you listen to the advertisers it’s found in the stuff your wealth can buy you.  If we just had a bigger home, a better car, M&S food, a pay rise, a holiday rather than a staycation (which by the way is a holiday even if it’s in Britain!!!!), the newest phone, a faster computer, the latest fashions, we’d be content.  Or if we have enough money in the bank or the retirement pot then we’re secure.  Stuff and savings are the key to contentment.  

But have you noticed that although we live in a society that promises contentment it never delivers it in any lasting way, we’re chasing a rainbow, it’s always just beyond the horizon, another purchase or promotion or pay rise away.

Ephesus in the first century was no different and the believers were immersed in that same worldview.  And false teachers in the church are teaching that godliness is the way to bigger bank balance(5).  That’s appealing, because it fits Christianity to their normal worldview, just with a thin veneer of the gospel.

But Paul provides a radically different way of living for disciples “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”  Godliness, a life lived knowing and enjoying God in Jesus, loving and following and becoming like him,  brings contentment.  Following Jesus isn’t the way to wealth but it is the way to contentment.  Why?  How?

Imagine that you and some others are locked in a room.  On a table in the middle of the room is a huge pile of money and all the latest fashion and tech and other stuff.  The rules are; you can take nothing into the room with you and you can bring nothing out of the room with you when you leave in 24 hours time.  But whatever you can get whilst you are in the room is yours whilst you’re there.  What would you be willing to do to get a bigger share of that stuff?  What would you be willing to give?  Would you destroy your relationships with others in the room just to get more?  Would you lie, cheat, steal and fight just to get more?

No you wouldn’t because it’s ridiculous, you can’t take it with you.  It’s just temporary, just for those 24 hours.  That’s Paul’s point “godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  Disciples steward what they have now in the world for the short time we’re here in light of eternity.  The gospel frees us from consuming, from believing that lie that we can find contentment in stuff.  We’re made to know and enjoy God and that’s what we are given by grace in Jesus through faith and so everything else is put into perspective.  It isn’t eternal.

Godliness echoes into eternity, money and possessions don’t.  So pursue godliness.  Isn’t that helpful, but isn’t it also hugely challenging?  Maybe we should write out 1 Timothy 6v7 and stick it on top of our TV or laptop so that when we see the advert we keep it’s promises in perspective.

The gospel liberates us from the kingdom of consuming and into Christ’s kingdom of contentment.   We don’t need to strive for wealth or status symbols to prove ourselves to ourselves or to others, or for meaning, or for self worth, because we’re given all those things in Jesus.  And that fuels radical living (8)“But if we have food and clothing we will be content with that.”  Isn’t that challenging?  We’ve so much more than that and yet often we’re discontent.  Why?  Because we’re more influenced by the world’s siren voice and its promises than by the gospel.

Paul is blunt in warning about the dangers of that.  In(9-10) he plants a big red danger sign in the road with flashing lights all round it.  “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”  The desire for wealth as an end in itself is dangerous, it leads to temptation and is a trap and leads to ruin and destruction.  Why?  “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  Love of money isn’t the only root of all kinds of evil, but it is one of them.  Love of money leads people to do all sorts of things; to lie, to steal, to defraud, to enslave, to betray, to sacrifice family and friends and marriages.  And Paul says we all know people who’ve wandered away from the faith because of it.  Not deliberately setting out to abandon Jesus, but just gradually wandering away lured by their love of money and their hearts have grown cold towards Jesus.

Don’t just write this warning off as Paul being alarmist.  Or as just for the Ephesians.  Turn to Matthew 13v22. Jesus has told the parable of the sower and soils and he explains “The seed falling among the thorns refers to the one who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth chokes the word, making it unfruitful.”  Or think of Jesus parable about the man who built bigger barns, or his warning that we can’t serve both God and mammon, or his teaching to the rich young ruler.  Or of Achan’s avarice at Jericho, or Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, or Judas and his 30 pieces of silver.

Love of money chokes off love for God.  And it leads not to joy but to grief.  This a loving warning from a good God.

Disciples are content not consumed.  Isn’t that a huge challenge?  We pursue godliness as our source of contentment and live simpler lives for it.

Are we contented or consumed?  Think of your last bank or credit card statement, what does it reveal?  Am I content with food and clothing – with the basics; the rent or mortgage paid, the taxes paid, gas and electric paid and food paid?  Or does my spending reveal a desire to be rich, to have more?  What does it reveal about my heart and what it’s focused on?

Are we living in light of eternity or as if this world is all there is?  How would contentment in Christ enable us to simplify our living?  To reduce what we consume?

The world shouts consume, Christ invites us to rest, contentment and simplicity.  Whose invitation will we accept?  Perhaps that’s where the challenge starts for you this morning, am I content in Christ or looking or that contentment in stuff?  Am I living as if this world is all there is or as if it’s just temporary?Paul charges Timothy to flee love of stuff and pursue godliness(11-16).  But there’s a danger in the way we hear his instruction.  It’s that we jump to the wrong conclusion.  That we see stuff as evil, the rich as ungodly, and think being a Christian is all about not having, not enjoying.  But that’s equally wrong.  Ephesus is a church of haves and have nots, master and slave, wealthy and poor.  So what does the gospel mean for the rich?

Reset 12: Disciples Steward (Part 1)

How do you think of money?  Is it good or bad?  Is it a blessing or not?  Is it to be enjoyed?  Is it OK to be wealthy?  Or do you sometimes feel embarrassed or guilty about having more than enough?  What is enough?  Is it OK to aspire to a promotion and the pay increase that brings or not?  How different should we be as disciples in terms of what we have and what we do with our money?  And what about our giving?  Should we and if so how much and who too?

Timothy is Paul’s trouble shooter, sent to the church in Ephesus to combat false teachers(1v3).  He’s to expose the false teaching, teach the truth and firmly establish the church with leaders who know and will keep on teaching the truth.  Applying the gospel to every area of life; church, leadership, men and women, care for widows, elders, slaves and money.

Wealth is one of the things we’re squeamish about.  We don’t talk about it.  You never ask someone how much they earn, though you may google it when you get home.  You never ask someone about their budget and if you have to it feels intrusive and awkward.  But 1 Timothy shows us how dangerous it is not to apply the gospel to money and wealth.  Disciples are called to follow Jesus and Jesus often taught about money and how following him transforms our think about and use of money.  And false teachers and the world aren’t shy in teaching people about money and it’s uses.  So Timothy must teach about the implications of the gospel for wealth and riches.  And so must we.

It matters that we’re clear on this because false teaching is as prevalent today as it was in Ephesus.  The prosperity gospel is only a click of the remote or a twiddle of the tuner away.  Some of the most popular teachers on YouTube or in print pedal a prosperity gospel.  The belief that money in the bank, a healthy body, a thriving family, happiness and wellbeing are always God’s will for his people.  And that having enough faith, living by it, giving to church and mission are a means to increasing those things.  That prayer is a way to encourage God to give us the greater prosperity he’s just waiting for us to realise and believe should be ours.

Do you believe that?  We’re quick to deny that aren’t we?  We don’t believe that, you can’t find that in the Bible if you read it in context.  But what if we’ve just settled for a softer version of that?  

Do you believe that next year life should be a bit more comfortable than this year?  That you ought to get a pay rise every year at least in line with inflation?  What do our prayers reveal about our desires and expectations?  Do we pray for comfort or kingdom?  How do we react when suffering hits, is it with surprise, shock, dismay, whys?  What do our prayers reveal about what we really believe God wants for us?

Next week we’re going to look at suffering and discipleship but this week we’re thinking about the disciple and wealth.  How must following Jesus transform our thinking and our spending?

Reset 11: Disciples Work (part 4)

Now Paul turns from addressing the slave to speaking to the master.  And his words are just as revolutionary.  “And masters treat your slaves in the same way.  Do not threaten them, since you know that he is both their master and yours in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.”

Paul reminds them of their identity in Christ.  They are masters but they are also servants of a master.  They don’t have absolute authority they serve the same master for his glory.  What is true for the slave is true for the master.  In their work, in their leadership, in their home and business, in their treatment of their slaves they are to serve Jesus.  To do the will of God from their hearts, to live knowing and growing in an awareness of knowledge of God’s love.

So the Christian master is to be different.  Roman society gave masters all sorts of privileges and rights and powers over their slaves.  But Paul says in Christ they are revoked “there is no favouritism with God.”  He expects the master to serve him just as much as he expects the slaves to.  Treat your slaves as they should treat you, with respect, fear and sincerity.  Practically that means not threatening them as society allowed.

If we find ourselves in positions of authority as believers we need to listen to this.  We are to serve Christ as we lead.  We’re to treat those we lead as we would like to be treated.  Our leadership should be distinctly different.  Let’s try to apply this.

Your position of authority is a means of serving God and this passage isn’t a call to abdicate leadership but to lead well but not as the world sees good leadership it but as Christ led.  Leadership is a means of serving, it prevents chaos in the workplace, it cares for and values people.

Firstly it means treating people – be they employees, colleagues, clients, or customers with respect, fear and sincerity.  It means seeing people as Christ sees them, valuing them and treating them as you’d like to be treated.  They’re not numbers or resources, or cogs in the corporate machine as a business might be tempted to treat them.  They are worthy of respect and care, of time taken to consider and communicate well with them.

It will mean not making arbitrary threats or putting them under undue pressure.  It works itself out practically in serving them by providing clear guidelines on conduct, expectations, discipline and so on.  But also providing grievance procedures, fair pay, support and care for employees who are struggling.

That’s a huge challenge isn’t it?  The gospel changes everything.  Christ’s love for us changes everything.  The world of work in turned upside down.  For the disciple the work place is a place of worship.  Where we know God’s love in Christ and seek to live wisely in a way that shows our love for him.  Isn’t that a challenge?  Maybe you’re already thinking that will grate, that will cause friction.  Yes, it will.  But we serve Christ not the boss, our reward is an eternal welcome not an end of the month pay packet.

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgression.”  And what did he save us for, so that we whether gathered or scattered serve Christ in love out of an ever growing awareness and appreciation of his love, showing the world and beyond the power of glory of the gospel to transform everything for his glory.