Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 16 2019 - Jeremiah 10:1-16 – Idols are not like our God

Much of today's passage is devoted to describing idols. The craftsman takes a piece of wood from the forest and labours in shaping it to represent a god. It is then adorned with precious metals – hammered silver brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz – before being adorned with blue and purple garments made by skilled workers. Finally it is fastened to some sort of stand or plinth – without nails it would topple over. It's "like a scarecrow in a cucumber field," says Jeremiah (v.5). It cannot speak or move but is carried by those who worship it. You don't need to fear such 'gods'.

Jeremiah is addressing a people who have adopted the practices of the peoples around them (v.1). They are full of superstitious fears – that if they do not placate this or that god, if they do not offer right sacrifices then they will suffer bad harvests or disease. When they see "signs in the heavens" – perhaps gathering storms before the harvest is ripe – they are filled with fear and rush off to prostrate themselves to their scarecrow. There is no need to fear such things, says Jeremiah, these idols are worthless and helpless; they cannot bring blessing or trouble to those devoted to them.

But what a contrast there is with the Lord, the living and true God. He was not made by the hands of human craftsmen – or conjured up by the ingenuity of human priests or theologians.

He is the living God, the eternal King…
God made the earth by his power;
    he founded the world by his wisdom
    and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. (vv.10,12)

He is the God who made us and who has set his love on his foolish and wayward people (see v.16). He is a God who sees and hears and acts. He is a God to be feared for:

When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
    he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
    and brings out the wind from his storehouses. (v.13)

The "signs in the heavens" are his signs, whether lightning and thunder or the darkening clouds that bring the longed for rain. He created the rainbow and sets it in the sky to assure us that in judgment he always remembers mercy. He is a God who keeps his covenant promises.

Many people today are enslaved by all sorts of superstitious fears. They follow their horoscopes, fearful of what the coming day or week may bring. Many still prostrate themselves before idols of their own making. The living God has freed us from such fears. He sent his Son into the world to show us the depth of his love and to win us back to himself. He is the God who alone sees and hears and acts. He is the God who stoops to save and who lifts us up.

Verse 11 of this passage has a message for the nations: "Tell them this: 'These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.'" The Book of Jeremiah was written in Hebrew, but this message is written in Aramaic, the common language of the empire in Jeremiah's day. It is the message from the living God for a world cowering in fear. It is the message entrusted now to us: "Put away your worthless idols and come to know the living God who has made himself known in the Lord Jesus Christ. Exchange his peace for your fear."

Father God, we thank you that you are not an idol of our own making but the living God who created all things and who made us that we should know and love you. Thank you for the Lord Jesus who has set us free from fear and, by his death and resurrection, forgiven us all our sins and given us life that even death cannot destroy. Help us by your Spirit to tell others, in words they can understand, of your great love that they too may turn to the living God from idols and live lives freed from fear.

Aug 16 2013 - 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1 – Who and what is shaping your life?

For the second time in this letter, Paul tells the Christians at Corinth to imitate him. On this second occasion he writes, “Be imitators of me, even as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, cf. 4:16).

Paul is exhorting self-centred Christians to live not to please themselves but in a manner that will commend themselves and the gospel to others, and so win others to Christ. Paul had shown what such a life is like when he lived and ministered among the Corinthians. But Paul is quick to remind them that he was only following the example of another, namely of his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Jesus lived and died for the sake of others, to reconcile them to God. The risen Jesus lives now to bring people to God. Paul was a follower of Christ, concerned that his life should be shaped by the mind of Christ, “not seeking my own benefit but the benefit of all manner of people I meet, that they might be saved” (10:33). This was the purpose for which Paul lived – and for which he eventually died. “Be imitators of me,” says Paul, “even as I am of Christ.”

We were made to be imitators. From the moment when we first began to take any notice of our surroundings we learnt to imitate others. We learnt speech by imitation. Our patterns of behaviour, our hopes and fears, were all learn by imitation. It could not be any other way; it’s the way we were created.

But in this way we learn bad patterns of behaviour as well as good. In this way too, we can become enslaved to patterns of behaviour which are destructive of ourselves or of others.

Christ came to set us free. He comes to provide us with a supreme example of a life lived to please God and to bring blessing to others. But his example alone would condemn us rather than help us. By his death and resurrection, Jesus breaks the power of the sin which has spoilt our life, and by his outpoured Spirit he provides us with the power to live a new life. This is the good news of the gospel.

But Paul’s words to the Christians at Corinth remind us that the Christ shaped life is not automatic; it does not grow without deliberate cultivation. I find Paul’s words an uncomfortable challenge. I recognise that it’s all too easy for my behaviour to be shaped by others around me. Who is shaping whom? I need my life to be shaped by Christ and for my Christ-shaped life to have a shaping influence upon others.

As those who are born imitators, we need also to be encouraging one another. “Be imitators of me,” says Paul. Christians need to play a key role in shaping one another’s lives under Christ so that together we are strengthened in following him and in having a positive influence on the world around us. We not only belong to Christ, we have been intimately connected to one another, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (10:16-17). We need to give ourselves to the encouragement, strengthening and growth of one another, just as Christ gave himself for us.

What is shaping your life? More to the point, who and what is shaping my life and how am I shaping the lives of those around me?

Lord, help me to follow you. Make me more like you. Enable me to encourage others to follow you, grow in you and to have a transforming influence upon the lives of others.

Peter Misselbrook