These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“I am still as strong today as I was …” (v. 11) RSV
Caleb had been one of the two faithful spies (together with Joshua) who had been into the Promised Land and returned saying they could take it. He had been forty years old at that time. Since then Moses and Israel wandered in the wilderness for a further 40 years. Caleb was now into his retirement years. But he was still full of life. As the Psalmist says: “They still bring forth fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green” (Psalm 92:14).
A follower of Christ should always be full of the Holy Spirit. Joy should both be his hallmark and his strength. As Nehemiah wrote: “… the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Caleb was not prepared to rust out in retirement, but he was determined to continue living for the Lord all the days of his life.
Retirement from our employment can be a hard pill to swallow, though some may welcome it with relief. But as followers of Christ it is “he who endures to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). We always need purpose, and even more so when we retire. Fortunately Christians always have purpose; their aim is to know their God better, and to serve him with every fibre of their being.
Some people find retirement difficult because they become a ‘nobody’. A former Bank of England Governor referred to the transition from ‘Who’s Who’ to ‘Who’s He’! But disciples are not concerned with importance and recognition; they are concerned with using what’s left of their time and talents to the full.
They are not seeking the praise of men but rather the pleasure of their Lord. They want finally to hear that welcome: “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).
Thank you Lord for the strength that is left to me. May I find worthy outlets and opportunities for service. Amen.
“as for you … aim at righteousness, godliness …” (v.11) RSV
These past weeks we have been working through the Seven Ages of man as listed by Shakespeare, and we have been applying it to the Christian life. Today’s Age is actually expressed by Shakespeare by the word ‘Justice’ (or Judge), but I have changed it to ‘Elder’. The relevant point is that this person has reached full maturity and bears great responsibilities. He has fought at the front but now is in leadership.
Timothy was Paul’s protégé, and was comparatively young to be an Elder of a church. And yet he was a mature young man, and was being encouraged by Paul to become a pastor of others. “But as for you, man of God, shun all this [love of money, etc.- 1 Timothy 6:9-10]; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (v.11)
Elders in the faith are dependable, steady, balanced and helpful. Such people may not always exude superficial enthusiasm and overtly spiritual manifestations. They are not ‘Lovers’ (see last week’s reading), but are mature.
Timothy’s task was to “Fight the good fight of the faith” (v.12). He was, as Paul wrote to “Do your best to present yourself as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
How many of us have failed to grow up like this? The writer to the Hebrews was almost in despair at the immaturity of his flock. He wrote of them, “by this time you ought to be teachers, (but) you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12-13).
How many of us are still Indians and not ready or not willing to be Chiefs? God is looking for those to whom he can entrust the leadership of others. “If anyone aspires to the office of Overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Timothy 3:1).
Make me fit to be an Elder, O Lord. May I become steady and dependable, and may I study to be approved. Amen.
1 How does Paul define maturity?
2 What did God say to Joshua when it was his turn to lead?
As we grow up in the faith we realise that there is a battle going on between good and evil. This warfare becomes much more acute because we have sided with ’good’. As members of Jesus Christ we have in fact joined his army. In the 1662 Prayer Book of the Church of England we are described as “The church militant here on earth”.
In no way has this got anything to do with taking up bombs and bullets in order to exterminate or convert the opposition! As St Paul says in another of his letters, “we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power …” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). Our weapons are the word of God, love, prayer and acts of kindness.
The Church’s warfare is to bring in the Kingdom of God, and this cannot be done except by living as members of that Kingdom. When Jesus sent out his disciples he sent them out as “lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3).
We must not avoid our responsibility to be engaged in contending for the Faith. We must not shirk standing up for the oppressed. We must not keep quiet when we should speak up. Jesus said, “whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed …” (Luke 9:26). Let us be proud of our Lord and our faith.
Warfare is dangerous and will involve casualties. The contender for Christ can similarly expect to be misunderstood, criticised or even worse. But we fight on in the name of Christ. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to bring us out from behind locked doors where we might hide for fear, and has given us boldness to stand up for good against evil.
Father, forgive me when I want to remain a child, irresponsible and nurtured. Help me to take my place in the battle against evil, whatever the cost. Amen.
1 What helped Joshua in his battle against the Amalekites?
“O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth” (v.2) RSV
The world loves a lover. God loves lovers. But he also wants to keep them from self-destruction. God is not ashamed of physical love nor of the passions that draw young lovers together. However, there are restraints and guidelines.
The Song of Solomon delights in God’s gift of love and sexual union. Certainly it is also an analogy (and a wonderful one at that) of the union between Christ and his Church. But primarily it rejoices in the gift of young love.
These wild passions can however easily run out of control. Greed and lust can take over. Instant gratification ruins self-control. Our times are so often not God’s times. We need to grow in patience, commitment and thoughts for others outside ourselves.
This is also true spiritually. The Christian or believer can reach a point of ecstatic enthusiasm. He is totally in love with Jesus and loves to sing and praise. He wants to witness to others about his intense joy. Such a person has a great gift, but it has to be tempered with thoughtfulness and sensitivity.
Especially, he needs to be patient with others who are not (apparently) enjoying the same degree of infatuation with Christ. They are not necessarily failing in their love, but may well have gone on to a deeper more constant and devoted love. We cannot all be red-blooded all the time in our spiritual journey. Nevertheless some of us need to rediscover our “first love” (Revelation 2:4).
Thank you Lord Jesus for the first flush of love and enthusiasm that your followers have for you. Help me to rediscover something of that passion. Amen.
1 How can a lover keep his way pure?
2 How were the spiritually hot-blooded Corinthians to keep their
As young Christians we need instruction. Feelings are not sufficient. Sound teaching will lead to sound living. Without it, we will be blown around by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians. 4:14).
When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the Red (Reed) Sea to freedom, he had only begun the process. Their ‘baptism’ through the Sea was followed by a short journey to Mount Sinai. Once they arrived, Moses went up the mountain and there received the Ten Commandments. He eventually came down carrying two tablets of stone and proceeded to teach God’s people how they were, from then on, to behave.
Similarly, the newly baptised Christian or the person who has recently come to faith must be instructed as to what God now expects of them. Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, they need to know more clearly and fully what God has done for them and what are his promises.
The book of Proverbs has much practical teaching and wisdom. Our reading this week from chapter 4 is one of many passages that promote the need to be instructed. “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,” (v.1).
Paul described himself as a father to the Corinthians: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel”
(1 Corinthians. 4:15). Paul cared for his churches and he spent much time writing letters to them and instructing them.
People who are young in the faith must look out for instruction. They need to find a good church where, through preaching, fellowship and home groups, they find help. Or else, they need to search websites, book shops, and other sources to find similar help. But especially, they need to read the Bible for themselves. The book is rich in godly instruction. “Get wisdom, get insight” (v.5).
Thank you Lord for those who teach. Help me to be willing to learn, and give me a teachable heart. Amen.
In the play ‘As you like it’ Shakespeare wrote: “All the world’s a stage”. And the players are men and women whose acts are “seven ages”. The first is that of an Infant.
Over the next weeks we will consider the seven stages or ages of being a follower of Christ. The first involves our birth into the Faith. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “unless one is born anew (or, from above) one cannot see the kingdom of God” (v.3).
It has wisely been said that God has no grandchildren. Each one of us has to become a child of God. This decision may have been made for us when we were tiny, but has been subsequently confirmed by ourselves at a later date, or it may have happened later in life. But whenever it happens it needs to have happened.
We don’t have to be able to remember our birth. Who does? But we need to know that we have been born and are alive! We are not born Christians, we become Christians. The word of God (that is, his ‘seed’) enters into us and by the Holy Spirit causes us to be born again.
Not all of us have had a conversion experience. No matter. That is not the same as new birth. Conversion happens when we are brought up short and turn away from our old life. Those brought up in the faith may have no need to do that. But new birth is essential for all. Sadly even religious and knowledgeable Nicodemus didn’t understand it.
As infants in Christ we will then need nurturing. We cannot sustain ourselves; we are weak and vulnerable. Christian fellowship (the Church) and those who will mother/father us are essential to our spiritual survival. We need encouragement and protection.
Thank you Lord that you protect your infant children. Strengthen and feed me, O Lord, that I may grow up to serve you. Amen.
1 What do infants require?
1 Peter 2:2
2 Some who have been Christians a while are still infants.
“… the spirit of man which is in him .” (v.11) RSV
Human beings are not spirits, they are souls, but they do have a spirit. In our reading Paul refers to “the spirit which is in him” (v.11). When Jesus was dying on the cross he “cried with a loud voice and said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’”, or as the old version said: “He gave up the ghost”.
This spiritual aspect responds to beauty and love. All humans have a spiritual side to them, though some may ignore it and overlay it with material pleasures and concerns; they may also overrule it by depending on reason and science.
We ignore our spiritual side to our peril. We should feed our spirits by taking time to be quiet and enjoy beautiful things, especially nature. However these things alone will not connect us to God. Or if they do so, it will be very abstract and impersonal. The Christian faith describes us as being spiritually dead (Ephesians 4:18). This is made clear in our reading when Paul writes, “The unspiritual man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him …” (v.14).
God is Spirit and those who wish to be in touch with him and in fellowship with him, have to be made spiritually alive. We need to be “born from above/again” (John 3:3), and we need to be fed spiritually with “the pure spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2). If we also worship God regularly both on our own and together with others, then we will grow strong in our spirits. The things of God will become our chief love.
Jesus worshipped in the Temple and in synagogues. He often went off by himself to pray. Such spiritual disciplines are vital for all people. Without them we lose touch with God and we become weakened and subject of other forces.
Lord, thank you that you have made me so that my soul is restless until it finds its rest in you. Teach me to love you and to seek you day by day. Amen.
“… as we await … the redemption of our bodies.” (v.23) RSV
Sometimes we are given the impression by religious teaching that our bodies are wicked, or at least weak. The Greeks used to teach that the body was merely the casket that held the divine spark. The body could be either indulged or denied, but in either case it would not affect the spirit of the divine within.
This is so wrong. God created the material world and said it was “good” (Genesis 1:31). This included the bodies of Adam and Eve. The human race was made so that body, mind and spirit were all interrelated; no one could be fully human unless all three aspects were functioning properly.
Our bodies are a gift and not just a necessary evil. When we die we will shed our mortal bodies, but that is not because we don’t need them anymore. We leave this earth as body-less souls. We go to be with the Lord, but there will await “the redemption of our bodies” (v.23). The bodies that we shall have will be the body of the risen Christ.
God treats our body as equally valuable as our mind and spirit. Why else would he deign to take on human flesh and become man (John 1:14)? God has forever taken on himself human flesh. He became like us so that we could become like him.
Just as God transformed the mortal flesh of Jesus into immortality, so he will transform us in like manner; but that still lies in the future. Meantime, we treat our bodies with love and respect. God comes to us through our bodies as well as through our minds. God reveals himself through all our senses. Let us enjoy the presence of God in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the nature we see and feel, the bodies we touch.
Like all great gifts they can also be used by the devil! We can sell our souls for “a mess of pottage” as did Esau, or the caresses of a Delilah, as did Samson. Beware!
Thank you Lord for the gift of my body. May it be to me the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the House of God. Amen.
Not all people are saints, though of course many people are very good. Maybe we tend to think that only first class Christians are saints, those who have lived exceptionally good or generous lives, and in particular those who have died for their faith.
We may also call people saints even if they make no specific claim to be Christians and yet their lives are exceptionally good and ‘saintly’.
But in the Bible there is not a single saint! I use the word advisedly, for the word is never used in the singular. In fact it uses the word ‘saints’ in a very particular way. It does not use it to describe people of virtue, but people of faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul writes to many churches and always refers to the believers as ‘saints’. Yet so often he is writing because the churches and the people in them are in a mess or falling short of their high calling. They are all therefore regarded as ‘saints’ whether good ones or bad ones. The reason they are called ‘saints’ is because that is how God views them. He sees them not a sinners or merely humans, but as his children, clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Galations 3:26-27).
We too need to adopt a positive attitude towards ourselves. Let’s see ourselves as God sees us, rather than being depressed by our weaknesses and failures. A great sculptor once said that when faced by a large lump of rock or marble he did not see a shapeless and rough mass, but he saw the object to be carved already inside; it was his job to set it free through hammer and chisel. God also sees who we are in Christ and he will bring that potential to the light of day.
Dear Lord, you have such faith in me, more than I have myself. Help me to let you have your way in me and make me into the saint that in Christ I already am. Amen.
For weeks now we have been eulogising the elevated position that humans and the human race have in creation and before God. Man is “little less than God” (Psalm 8:5), and made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). He is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Yet man is also a mess. From time immemorial he has been in rebellion against God’s love and law. He has become both individually and corporately a sinner.
A sinner is not necessarily a person who is doing evil and wicked things. No, he may be quite a decent person. But he is not living out of faith and love towards God. And as it says, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). And also, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Herews. 11:6).
Sins are only the manifestation of sin. It is because we are wrong at the heart of our being that we also commit sins. Our actions reveal our heart, and it is our heart that God is interested in. Do we have a heart for God? Do we love him with all of our being?
Sin starts with rebellion, “I’ll do it my way.” That is how it is described in the Garden of Eden. We chose to ignore God’s generosity and his limitations and ate the forbidden fruit. This heart of rebellion is described well by John; he says it is to love the world (the created order) before we love God. He writes: “Do not love the world … the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life …” (1 John 2:15-16). This is not implying that we should reject all the goodness of this created order. By no means! It is saying in effect what Jesus said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (and then) all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33).
Forgive me Lord when I put my will before yours. Grant me a new heart that I may seek your good and perfect will. Amen.
The image of God is most perfectly expressed in the one particular individual, Jesus Christ. Indeed, we have been seeing that God could/should be revealed through any individual that he has made.
However, God is normally best expressed in the combination of male and female. God is neither male nor female, for he is spirit. However, within the Godhead reside what we would call male and female attributes. This disparate nature is best revealed on earth in the combination of men and women. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (v.27). Although the man Jesus fully exemplified God his Father, the image is normally best expressed through the human race, male and female, rather than through an individual.
And the highest image of God is found in the union of men and women. This takes place in communities, in churches, in business, but most particularly in marriage. The love between husband and wife reveals that love that God has for his people. Also, the respective strengths of male and female demonstrate the leadership, submission, tenderness, toughness, vision, prudence, etc, etc, of almighty God.
Neither male nor female are superior to the other. They may have different roles, but in the eyes of God they are of equal value. Of course this does not mean they are interchangeable. Each should be allowed to develop their gifts for the glory of God (not just for their own fulfilment). We will not be an image of God if we push forward our own will and our own self-fulfilment. Whether man or woman, our pleasure is to please our Lord; that will lead us to fulfilment. We will become what we were intended to be.
Thank you Lord that whether I am a man or a woman, whether married or not, I can be part of showing the world something of your nature. Amen.
1 What does Paul say about the equal value of all people?
“God breathed … and he became a living being” (v.7) RSV
Last week we concluded with the statement that man is a living soul. It is therefore true that he does not have a soul. This may seem somewhat odd. It is however mainly a matter of terminology. In the Creation story “God breathed into his (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life; and he became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7). The word “being” in Hebrew is nephesh, which means ‘soul’.
If we were in danger at sea we would send out a mayday message, S.O.S. This message means ‘Save Our Souls’. We would not be requesting a trip to Heaven, but a trip back to terra firma! In other words, ‘soul’ means body, mind and spirit: the whole person.
Yes, as the image of God, each one of us has been made in a Trinitarian mould. Our minds represent the Father, our bodies represent the Son, and our spirits represent the Holy Spirit. Yet each of us is only one person: a soul.
Now we know that our three aspects are often at war with one another. Sometimes our body won’t do what our mind requires, or vice versa. And sadly, our spiritual aspect is sorely neglected. St Paul put it well when he wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
Our trouble is that through our rebellion against God we tend to be led by our bodies (desires, passion and need for self-survival), and after the body comes our mind with which we try to overrule our wayward body, and our spirit lags behind, neglected and weakened; whereas we were designed to be ruled by our spirit, which would inform and transform our mind, which would in turn rule our body. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, but now fearfully marred and out of control. The spiritual needs to come first. God can change this!
Oh Lord, thank you that I can be restored into your Trinitarian image. Restore me by your grace. Amen.