Peter Misselbrook's Blog
04/06/2020 - Romans 3:9-31 – Amazing grace

Paul has now come to the conclusion of his survey of the human condition. When he spoke of the corrupt nature of Gentile society, his Jewish compatriots would nod their heads sadly, or perhaps proudly. But then he has turned his fire onto his fellow Jews. It is not only ‘those people’ whose lives have failed to match up to God’s standards, the same is true of ‘our own people’, those who were entrusted with the very oracles of God; “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9).

Paul now rounds off his argument with a string of Old Testament quotations that speak of how people have fallen short of God’s standards to which he adds the punch line, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (3:19). These things, says Paul, were written to those who had received the law; these verses describe us. Both Jew and Gentile have fallen short of God’s standards and have nothing to say before him by way of mitigation. It’s a shocking and humbling picture.

But this is not the message Paul has to proclaim; it is only the context for his message. The hope of humankind is not humankind; it is God. “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (3:21). Where humanity has messed up God has stepped in to clear up – to act in righteousness and to put things right. This is the message that has gripped the apostle Paul; the message he wants all to hear and understand.

Paul writes to a mixed church of Jewish and Gentile Christians who are arguing with one another. He wants them to see that the Gospel is a great leveller. It declares that we all fall desperately short of God’s standards, no matter who we may be. But it also declares that all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are justified by God – accepted by him and welcomed into his family – regardless of background, race or class. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the grounds of such acceptance, for by his sacrificial death he paid the price our sins deserved, and by his resurrection from the dead he has brought life and immortality to all who believe in him. Salvation – acceptance with God – is all of grace.

One of the implications Paul draws from this truth is that we are left with nothing to boast about (3:27) – unless, of course, we boast of God and the cross of Christ. Grace robs us of grounds for boasting but gives us much cause for praise, joy and thanksgiving, for confident hope in God, and for devotion to him made visible in loving service of God and of others. Amazing grace streaming to us from an amazing Saviour calls for amazing lives – lives that prompt questions and point to Jesus Christ; lives that bring the blessing of God to a broken world.

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; according to your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of His name. Amen”

03/06/2020 - Romans 2:25-3:8 – Entrusted with the very words of God

Paul has been arguing that there is no favouritism with God. He treats Jew and Gentile alike, rewarding those who genuinely seek him from their heart and rejecting those whose religion is mere pretence. The people of God, he says, are not distinguished by some outward mark such as circumcision but by a heart softened and moulded by the Spirit of God.

Paul now imagines someone objecting, “But what advantage is there then in being a Jew?” Paul’s response is that we Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God (Romans 3:2). This is indeed a great privilege, but it calls not for pride but for humble submission. It calls for a life lived by God’s Word and a readiness to tell others of what God has said and done. God had revealed himself to Abraham and his descendants not for their blessing alone, but that through them all peoples on earth might be blessed. The Bible tells the story of God’s great love for and gracious purposes towards the whole of his creation.

And the same is true of us today. We who have come to know God through the Lord Jesus Christ have been entrusted with the Word of God and the message of the Gospel. This should not lead to pride and complacency but to a life shaped by this message and an eagerness to tell others of what God has said and done.

I treasure the Bible. I have dozens of copies in different translations and versions as well as several in the original Hebrew and Greek. I have hundreds of commentaries on the various books of the Bible – many of which I have actually read. I have an electronic library of Bible versions, commentaries and tools. I have a rich treasury enabling me to understand the Word of God.

But God is not impressed by my library. He looks for a heart that is sensitive to his Word and a readiness to live by every word that he has spoken. Is this word shaping every aspect of my life?

Moreover, in many parts of the world there is a famine of the Word. I have just been reading of the remarkable growth of the church in Cambodia. Twenty years ago there were just 5,000 Christians in the whole country. Today, there are over 250,000 believers. It’s a phenomenal rate of growth to rival China as the fastest-growing Church in the world. And it’s led to a huge demand for Bibles. 100,000 Khmer Bibles have been distributed by the Bible Society of Cambodia along with the delivery of literacy programmes, but that still leaves many unable to have their own copy of the Word of God.

We have been entrusted with the precious Word of God. Are we simply stock-piling this treasure in our own libraries or are we working to ensure that this treasure is widely distributed around the world in languages people can understand, in accessible formats and at a price people can afford. Are we seeking to make Bible poverty history?

And in our own country many may have a Bible somewhere in their homes but have little real idea of its message. The National Biblical Literacy Survey, conducted in 2009, revealed that 62% of respondents did not know the parable of the Prodigal Son and 60% could not name anything about the story of the Good Samaritan. One respondent said David and Goliath was the name of a ship. What are we doing to make the Bible story familiar again, particularly to the young people of our own country?

We have been entrusted with the words of God. What are we doing with this precious gift?

Forgive me Father that I have hoarded your word rather than distributing it freely and making you known. Help me to show how much I value your Word by making it available to all. May we who know you bring the blessing of that knowledge to all the peoples of the world, starting with those whose lives we touch today.

02/06/2020 - Romans 2:1-24 – Living the truth

In the previous chapter, Paul has been describing the character of the Gentile world from the perspective of Judaism. One can imagine the discomfort of his Gentile readers and that some of his Jewish readers are now beginning to feel just a little bit smug. But that’s all about to change, for, like an Old Testament prophet, he now turns the focus away from others – ‘them’ – to focus upon his fellow Jews – ‘you’.

It’s fascinating to read what Paul has to say here. One can hear so many echoes of Jesus’ arguments with the Pharisees. And now these same arguments come from one who had lived as a Pharisee; he had known that world from the inside. But he can now see it for what it is in all its shallowness and self-righteous pretence.

The Jews that Paul is describing considered themselves much better than the Gentiles because God has given them his law and shown them clearly the life that is pleasing to him. But, says Paul, it is not knowing the truth that counts for anything but rather, living the truth. Pride in knowing God's word can easily create a people who continually point out the faults in others while being blind to those in themselves. Such people, far from bringing the light and blessing of God to those around them, cause God to be discredited and his word discounted (Romans 1:23-24).

Don’t you realise, says Paul, that God has no favourites. He chose the children of Abraham for the sake of the whole world. He did not reject the other nations but purposed to bless them through Israel. And if his fellow Jews feel they have some priority in God’s sight they had better watch out; it might equally turn out to be a priority in judgment (2:9).

God’s Spirit is at work far more widely and generously than you realise, adds Paul. There are many who have never heard God’s law and yet who live lives marked by grace; unselfish lives devoted to the service of others. They show that God has imprinted upon their conscience an awareness of the life that is pleasing to him.

As we read these words of Paul, it’s easy for us to see just how much Pharisaic Judaism got wrong. Yet in doing so, we easily fall into the same danger of turning the spotlight away from ourselves onto others and finding fault with them so that we might justify ourselves. We need to examine our own hearts to ensure that we are not those who simply take pride in our knowledge of God’s word. We need that word to humble us, to fill us with a sense of wonder at God’s grace and the greatness of his saving purposes. We need this word to shape our lives. Moreover, we need to open our eyes to recognise that God is at work all around us, even among those whom we would not readily recognise as ‘one of us’.

If we have become proud that we are not like other people we have failed to understand the grace of God and the message of Scripture.

Lord God, may your word so shape my heart, mind and life that I may become increasingly like the Lord Jesus. May the character of my life as well as the words of my mouth convey your grace and goodness to those around me. By the power of your Spirit, may my life be a blessing to others and cause your name to be praised and honoured. Keep me always from the subtle, self-deceiving and ugly sin of hypocrisy.

01/06/2020 - Romans 1:18-32 – Thankfulness breeds holiness

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul paints a grim picture of the Gentile world of his day (note the third person plural pronouns (‘they’, ‘them’) used throughout this section before he turns his attention to his fellow Jews at the beginning of chapter 2). He draws a grim picture, perhaps emphasising precisely the way self-righteous Jews viewed Gentile ‘dogs’ – this is what people are like who have no knowledge of the living God. Nevertheless the picture he paints is of a world very similar to the worst aspects of our own world.

Paul argues that people have failed to worship God the creator and instead have made idols of the things he has created. In particular they have made idols of themselves and serve their own passions, damaging both themselves and others. And it all springs from a lack of thankfulness (1:21) – from a self-indulgent use of the gifts of creation with no thought for, or thankfulness towards, the Creator. What a mess we have made of God’s world!

1 Chronicles 16 records the psalm of David that was sung when the Ark of the Covenant was brought up to Jerusalem. It is a psalm of thanksgiving, beginning with the words,

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
make known among the nations what he has done (1 Chronicles 16:8).

The psalm then goes on to recount the many things that God has done for his people and his gracious provision for their needs. Later in this psalm, David calls on God’s people to,

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name ...
worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness (16:29).

Thankfulness, according to David, is a powerful promoter of holiness – of single-minded devotion to the God who has lavished so many good things on us.

Thankfulness also transforms human relationships. Others are no longer seen as there simply to meet our needs but as persons who have shown us consideration and deserve our consideration in return. A simple expression of thanks can brighten up the mundane routines of service with genuine human warmth. We certainly appreciate it ourselves and so we know how much it is valued by others.

The old ditty encourages us to ‘Count our blessings, name them one by one’. It’s good advice. It’s all too easy to take things for granted, whether it’s the goodness of God or the kindness of other people. That is why 1 Chronicles 16 and so many of the Psalms take time to rehearse the things that God has done for his people or list the blessings he has lavished on all that he has made. It’s no bad idea to end each day with a recollection of the many ways God has blessed us and the way others have brought help and encouragement into our day. It prompts prayers of praise and a renewed desire to be a blessing to others in the day to come.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).

Father God, when I begin to think of all that you have lavished upon me, both in creation and in Christ, I am filled with thankfulness and praise. Forgive me that I so often take so much for granted. Open my eyes to see your kindness and to appreciate the love and concern of those around me. Give me a thankful spirit that finds ready expression in words of appreciation and a life of glad service of you my God and of those around me.

31/05/2020 - Introduction to Paul's Letter to the Romans

Paul followed up his second letter to the Corinthians with a personal visit to Corinth where he stayed for some months (Acts 20:2). It was towards the end of this period that Paul appears to have written this letter to the Christians at Rome. Although he had never visited the church, Paul seems to have known many of the members whom he greets by name in chapter 16. Many of these Christians knew and had worked with Paul: the whole church was probably familiar with his ministry.

The origin and character of the church at Rome

We have no clear information concerning the origins of the church at Rome. Clearly it was not founded by Paul, neither would it seem likely that it had been founded by another apostle or person of apostolic standing – Paul is sensitive about building on another person's labours and yet seems keen to forge closer links with the church at Rome.

It is possible that the church at Rome could have its origins in Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2 tells us that there were, gathered at Jerusalem, Jews and converts to Judaism from every part of the Mediterranean world, including some from Rome (Acts 2:10). It is possible that some of those three thousand who believed and were baptised on that day were 'visitors from Rome' who then took back with them the message of the gospel. The movement of trade between Rome and the rest of the Roman world may also have brought Christians to Rome.

Whatever the precise origin of the church, it would initially have consisted mainly of Jews who would probably also have continued to participate in the life of the synagogue. But the character of the church appears to have changed twice between the time of its origin and when Paul wrote this letter.

In 49 AD the Emperor Claudius banished all Jews from Rome. Suetonius tells us that Claudius did this because "the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus." C K Barrett comments, "This is a not uncommon name, but it is possible that the disturbances were caused by Jewish-Christian controversy" (The New Testament Background: Selected Documents p.15). It is possible, therefore, that Jews and proselytes who had embraced Christianity were the cause of arguments within the Jewish community in Rome, just as similar controversy affected the Jewish communities with which Paul had been involved. As a result, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, including the Jewish Christians.  Among those expelled from Rome were Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2).

In the wake of such banishment, the church in Rome must have become almost entirely Gentile, and probably remained so for some years. During this period it would have developed Gentile leadership and a character, perspective and practices which would have reflected its Gentile membership – perhaps even extending to a particular understanding of the relationship between 'church' and 'state.'

Claudius died in 54 AD and his decree banishing Jews from Rome lapsed. Jews, including Christian Jews, began to return to the city. The reference to Priscilla and Aquila in Romans 16:3, along perhaps with reference to several others whom Paul had previously worked with is probably a reflection of such migrations.

It is not difficult to imagine the tensions that must have developed between Jewish and Gentile Christians at Rome. The returning Jews must have felt that the church was theirs; they had been the founding members and the gospel message concerned the Christ, the Jewish Messiah, the one who had come to fulfil all the promises of the Old Testament. The Jewish Christians were therefore keen to emphasise the continuity of Judaism and Christianity.

On the other hand, the Gentile Christians had functioned effectively as a church without the Jews.  They must have felt that the church at Rome was now their church, a church with a distinctively Gentile outlook. They probably emphasised the distinction between Judaism and Christianity – they may even have thought that God had written Jews out of his covenant. Since Claudius had expelled the troublesome Jews from Rome, they probably wanted to distance themselves from Jews and perhaps emphasised that the Christian message was no threat to Roman government. They may well have laid little emphasis on the Old Testament, perhaps even suggesting that it was no longer relevant in the light of Jesus and his teaching. In particular they would not have followed Levitical law regarding food and days.

Much of this picture is necessarily conjectural but it is given credibility by many of the things Paul has to say in his letter to the Romans.

Why did Paul write his letter to the Romans?

Paul wrote the letter to prepare the way for a visit he planned to make to them (Rom 1:11-13). He considers that his ministry in Asia Minor, Macedonia and Achaia is now complete: there are significant churches planted in each of these regions and the continuing task of propagating the gospel in these areas can be left to them. Paul must now move on to new areas where the gospel has not yet been preached (Rom 15:17-22). He has decided that this new region will be Spain and he plans to go there via Rome (Rom 15:23-29). He hopes that the church in Rome may take a real interest in this work and, just as the church at Philippi supported Paul in his ministry in Achaia, so he hopes that the church in Rome may offer practical support for his ministry in Spain (see particularly 15:24).

But Paul's plan to visit the Christians at Rome is not merely a means to an end: Paul wants to visit them and to enjoy fellowship with them, encourage them and be encouraged by them (Rom 1:11-12). Paul clearly knew a number of the members of the church (see Romans 16) and had often wanted to come and visit them (Rom 1:13). 

Since Paul knows something of the church at Rome, his letter seeks also to address some of the hot issues within the church. In particular he is anxious to heal the division between Jewish and Gentile believers within the church.

From the opening verses of the letter he is keen to stress both the continuity and discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity: Jesus has come in fulfilment of the Old Testament Scriptures and is the promised son of David, the Messiah (Rom 1:3). But Jesus is one who also has brought in a new age through his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4). The gospel message which characterises this new age calls Gentiles and Jews together to submit to the Christ of God (Rom 1:5).

Paul shows that both Jews and Gentiles are by nature rebels against God and are the subjects of God's wrath (1:18-2:16). Though Jews have the privilege of having been entrusted with God's revelation, this is of no benefit apart from faith. And for Paul, faith is, by definition, faith in Jesus Christ. In particular, Paul focusses on the Jews possession of the law: there is no virtue in possessing and knowing the law if you do not live by it; the Old Testament itself bears witness to the fact that, far from commending them to God, the law condemns those who live under it (2:17-3:20).

The people of God are those who have been redeemed through the atoning sacrifice of God's Son.  They are defined then not by parentage or ethnicity but simply by faith in Christ. God is God both of Jews and Gentiles (3:21-31). Paul shows that God accepted Abraham, the patriarch of the people of God, through faith, a faith analogous to the faith of the Christian who believes in one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. Abraham is the father of both Jewish and Gentile believers (Rom 4).

In the latter half of Romans 5 Paul draws an analogy between Adam and Christ. Just as Adam's sin affected the whole human race, so also the work of Christ is of universal significance. He is the second Adam, the head of a new humanity. His work is as relevant to the Gentile as it is to the Jew. Paul forces Jewish believers to read the Old Testament against the opening chapters of Genesis. From the beginning, the Old Testament was concerned with the plight of the world and the salvation of the world. Abraham and the Jews were chosen for the sake of the world.

Romans 7 is a notoriously difficult chapter but, reading it against the context of tension between law-keeping Jewish believers and Gentile believers at Rome, it may be seen as Paul's comment on a life lived by the principle of law-keeping. In contrast, Romans 8 describes the Christian life as God intended it to be lived – life in the Spirit. It is clear that, despite his Jewish origins, Paul's sympathies do not lie with Jewish believers who seek to live by the law.

In Romans 9-11 Paul provides us with a panoramic view of the purposes of God. At the moment the Jews (by and large) have rejected the Messiah. Though this is immensely painful to Paul he understands that this is all part of the great purpose of God. Their rejection of the Messiah was necessary since Christ had to die as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. Their continuing rejection of Christ has forced the gospel to be taken to and preached to the Gentiles. But Paul believes that the day will come when the Jews will be so moved to envy over God's blessing upon the Gentiles that they too will turn to Christ. Then God's saving plan will be complete as the full number of Jews and Gentiles will be included together among his people. The Gentile believers are not to look down on the Jews but are to remember that the gospel message has its roots in Judaism and will have its consummation in Jews turning to Christ.

In the first part of Romans 13, Paul addresses the issue of how the Christian should view and behave towards civil authority. Here again, he may be addressing issues which formed part of the tension or disagreement between Gentile and Jewish believers. Jewish believers may have had an over negative view of the Roman authorities. Paul's instruction here is rooted in Old Testament passages such as Daniel, Isaiah and even Esther.

In chapter 14 Paul addresses conflicts between the 'weak' and the 'strong.' In context, the 'weak' would appear to be Jewish believers who continued to observe the Levitical laws and who were sensitive about food and the observance of certain days. Paul's sympathies again lie with those who feel no need to observe the Levitical law, but he calls on both sides to respect and accept one another just as Christ has accepted them all (15:7).

Paul's letter to the Romans is therefore not an abstract treatise concerning the gospel. It is a letter written to a particular group of people, a letter which seeks to address specific issues of debate among these people. However, since it also addresses issues which have been at the heart of Paul's own ministry and personal history it is not wholly incorrect to suggest that Romans is also Paul's gospel manifesto: it expounds his understanding of the gospel, its relationship to the Old Testament and the nature of the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ; it is a declaration and exposition of the 'righteousness of God', God's faithfulness to his covenant and fulfilment of its promises in Jesus the Christ. In making the nature of his ministry and preaching clear, Paul is seeking not only to minister to the Christians in Rome and heal some of the divisions among them, but is also seeking their support in taking this same gospel to those in Spain who have not yet heard of Jesus Christ. Paul is animated by a vision of empire which rivals and dwarfs that of Rome; it is not Caesar but Jesus who is Lord, and it is his kingdom or empire, characterised by righteousness and peace, which is destined to dominate the world.

Welcome to Paul's great Letter to the Romans.

31/05/2020 - Romans 1:1-17 – Unashamed of the Gospel

Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome. He has never been there but he has heard all about them and he longs to visit them. One of the things that he has learned about them is that there are tensions between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. This may have been the result of their history.

In 49 AD the Emperor Claudius banished all Jews from Rome because, “the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus.” The controversy may have been between Jews who had embraced Jesus as the Christ and those who refused to accept a crucified Messiah. Whatever the cause, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, including the Jewish Christians (see Acts 18:1-2). The church in Rome was left solely to the Gentile Christians.

Claudius died in 54 AD and his decree banishing Jews from Rome died with him. Jews, including Jewish Christians, began to return to the city. The reference to Priscilla and Aquila in Romans 16:3, along perhaps with reference to several others whom Paul had previously worked with, is probably a reflection of such migrations. The returning Jewish Christians may well have outnumbered the Gentile Christians.

Such changes were a recipe for controversy. The Gentile Christians may have felt that the church was theirs – after all, the majority of the Jews had rejected the Messiah; Christianity was Gentile. The Jewish Christians may have felt equally strongly that the church belonged to them. After all, it was the company of those who acknowledged and followed the Jewish Messiah.

Paul’s letter to this divided community emphasises both the Jewish origin of the Gospel and its universal embrace. The good news he preaches is all about the Messiah, David’s greater Son, through whom God is fulfilling all of the promises he made to his people in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet this message is for all the world without distinction. The risen Christ had appointed Paul to be a missionary to the Gentiles; to call upon people of all nations and backgrounds to bow the knee to Jesus Christ and recognise that he is Lord of all.

And Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The good news of the gospel is about the power of God for its focus is in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, by which God has declared him to be Lord and Christ. But it is also a message that possesses power, for the power that raised Jesus from the dead is now at work in the world through the Spirit to give life to all who believe (Romans 1:4). Though it may bring mockery and even persecution, Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because God is at work through this message to bring people from death to life and from rebellion to the obedience that springs from faith (1:5). It is this power that has created a people from both Jews and Gentiles and it is this same power that can continue to break down the walls of prejudice and suspicion between them and unite them in praise of the living God.

The gospel is not just a set of propositions about sin, Saviour and salvation. The gospel is dynamite. It has the power to break down walls, burst dams of opposition and transform lives. Paul was unashamed of this gospel; its power had turned his life upside down and held him captive to Christ. Have we lost confidence in God’s power to transform the world through this message and through the living presence of the crucified and risen Saviour?

Living God, you have brought me to bow the knee to Jesus Christ and own him as Lord. Help me by your Spirit to live in obedience to him. Keep me from ever being ashamed of the gospel; work powerfully through me to draw others to the Saviour.

30/05/2020 - Acts 20:1-38 – Caring for the flock of God

Paul is on his way to Jerusalem and knows that he is likely to be taken captive and will not have the freedom to return to many of the churches among whom he has ministered. At Troas the Christians met together with Paul on the first day of the week – celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus as they broke bread together. Paul, knowing that his time with these believers would be limited, preached well into the night. At about midnight, a young man fell asleep and slipped from a window on the third floor, falling to the street. Many thought him dead, but Paul placed his hands on him and picked him up, alive and well. He then returned to the upper room and continued to speak to those gathered there until dawn. Both apostle and congregation had a deep longing to spend time with one another and encourage each other.

Paul had no time to return to Ephesus so he sent a message to the elders of the church to meet with him at the port of Miletus.

One of the finest books on the work of the Christian minister is, in my view, The Reformed Pastor, written by Richard Baxter in the seventeenth century. His work is an extended practical exposition of Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:18-35.

Paul encouraged the elders of the church to take care of the flock of God which he has purchased with his own blood (a remarkable phrase which finds an echo in some of our great hymns). Paul also reminds them of the example of care that he set for them when he laboured at Ephesus for more than three years. He was not greedy for anyone’s money – he did not minister to line his own pockets. He was careful to teach them everything needful, instructing them both publicly and teaching each family in their own homes (an example followed by Richard Baxter). His message focussed on repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus, and included clear warnings concerning the opposition the new converts might expect to experience.

The Ephesian elders are to continue the work begun by Paul, caring for those over whom the Holy Spirit has given them oversight. Paul warns them to be vigilant, for there will be those who, like fierce wolves, will seek to prey on the flock: there would even be those from within the flock who would seek to lead others astray. But the elders will not be left to do this work on their own. The Holy Spirit who appointed them to this task will equip and empower them for it: Paul entrusts them to God and to the word of his grace which is able to build them up and give them an inheritance among all God’s holy people.

The work of the pastor remains vital to the welfare of the church of God. It is a difficult, demanding and serious task, particularly in this highly individualistic age. It should be characterised by bonds of deep affection between pastor (shepherd) and flock. We see such affection in the tears with which Paul ministered among the Ephesians (20:19, 31), and the tears of the Ephesians as they said farewell to Paul (20:37-38).

Lord Jesus, we pray that those who have been entrusted with the task of caring for your flock, may be good and faithful shepherds. May they follow the pattern laid down by the Apostle Paul, both by example and in the instructions he gave to the Ephesian elders. Above all, we pray that they may faithfully reflect the character of the Good Shepherd. May we always encourage and support them in the work to which you have called them.

29/05/2020 - 2 Corinthians 13:1-13 – Lives put back together

Paul uses an interesting verb in his closing exhortations to the Corinthians. The single word is translated in the NIV as “aim for perfection” (2 Corinthians 13:11). Paul has used the cognate noun just two verses earlier when he writes, “our prayer for you is for your perfection” (13:9 NIV).

I say that this is an interesting verb, for we first meet it in the New Testament in Matthew 4:21 where we read of Jesus coming upon James and John while they were in their father’s boat “mending their nets”. This same verb is used there of their “mending” activity. They were removing all of the weeds and other items that had become entangled in the nets, mending any tears and generally restoring them to all that they were designed to be and making them fit for purpose. It is this verb and cognate noun that is used by Paul in his prayers for, and instruction of, the Christians at Corinth. This sense is reflected in the 2011 revision of the NIV which renders these verses, “our prayer is that you may be fully restored” (v.9) and “Strive for full restoration” (v.11).

God is at work in us, his people, mending broken lives. He has done this first by sending us his Son who was broken for us. Through his resurrection from the dead he has not only been restored but also glorified; “he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power” (13:4). So he has become a perfect Saviour; completely fitted to our need. Now by his Spirit he is mending our broken lives. He is removing all the rubbish that has become so entangled in the fabric of our lives that it has shaped who we are and who we have become. He is mending the tears in our lives, tears caused by ourselves and by others; damage caused by the situations we have faced and disappointments we have suffered. He is putting our lives back together and making us again to be all that he intended us to be – making us like Christ. In all of this, he makes us fit for service – like mended fishing nets ready for the hands of the fisherman.

This is God’s purpose not for our lives only, but also for the world that he has made. God is in the restoration business. His purpose is to take this world that has been damaged and spoilt through human rebellion and to restore it in and through Christ that it may again reflect the purpose and glory of its creator; that it might be made new.

Let this be our prayer for ourselves – for our perfection; for us to be made whole again; made all that we were meant to be; made like Christ. Let this be the passion of our lives; the thing we aim for above all else. Let this also be our prayer for one another, prayer that shapes our attitudes towards others and our interactions with them; “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (13:11). Let this be our prayer for our broken world and the vision that shapes our work in the world that we might be menders rather than destroyers; co-workers with God in bringing about his Shalom.

Lord, mend my life: remove the rubbish; repair the damaged areas; heal the hurts. Make me like Jesus. Make me fit for your use. Use me in the work of your kingdom; enable me to touch the lives of others and to bring healing and restoration to the glory of your name.

Peter Misselbrook