Category Archives: Church

1 Peter 2:4-12

But you are a chosen people

Context

In writing a letter to Christians scattered across the world, Peter encourages his readers to remember the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus. What joins us together is not this world or geography or heritage but the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been born again into a the family of God. We are no longer part of this world but must set our minds on our eternal future. Everything in this world will pass away, but the promises of God stand forever.  He instructs us to live like we are God’s children in this world and not like we are making this world our eternal home.

The next section continues the theme of our new identity in Christ and uses words and concepts which harken back to the book of Leviticus. While preserving great links between the Old Testament and the New, Peter describes a great divide in this world between those who come to the Living Stone and those who reject Him.

Observation

Structure

  • 4-6 You are being built as a spiritual house
  • 7-10 Once you were not…but now you are!
  • 11-12 Live lives that glorify God.

4-6 You are being built.

“As you come to him…” Notice the progressive language here. Peter will teach us in this passage that we have been chosen by God (2:9 and 1:1) and that there are two different people in this world: those who reject Jesus and those who accept him. But here, those who accept Jesus are described as coming to him. They are inclined toward him. Salvation is both a binary and a progressive event. We are both holy now, and waiting for our glory to come. We are both saved and righteous now but also ridding ourselves of our previous way of life (2:1).

“…the Living Stone…” Peter identified Jesus as the Living Stone back in Acts 4:11-12. He alludes to Psalm 118:22; see also Isaiah 8:14-15; 28:16; Zechariah 10:4; Matthew 21:42-44; Romans 9:32-33; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:7. Every reference in the NT about this OT stone identifies Jesus as the stone. The OT itself identifies the cornerstone as the Messiah and all that was left was to identify Jesus as the Messiah.

“…rejected by humans but chosen by God…” Peter’s two early sermons in Acts 2 and Acts 4 focus on the line that God had clearly approved Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ but that mankind rejected and killed (Acts 2:36; 4:10-11). This reality of being rejected by men but chosen and precious to God flows through the rest of what Peter will say about Jesus and his followers. We will be rejected too, but the reality is that God has chosen us and we are precious to Him!

“…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…” How incredible to be compared even remotely to our LORD! While Jesus is the cornerstone, we are also stones making up the same house. Our nature derives from the resurrected Lord who has give us new birth into a living hope. While we are all stones making up this spiritual house, Jesus is the cornerstone which defines how the rest of the house will be built. The house is not a physical one but spiritual. Since Peter will speak of a priesthood and since the house is spiritual, we ought to think of the temple – the place where God met and dwelled with Israel. The temple and the priests were established so that God could dwell with his chosen people. All of this imagery, Peter embraces to describe Christians now! Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and together we make a spiritual house. God’s dwelling place among humans is in the lives of his chosen people – those who accept the Living Stone.

“…to be a holy priesthood…” although we have no need for blood sacrifices any more – because Christ’s blood has been offered for us, once for all – we offer spiritual sacrifices as God has described. We have already heard Peter command us to love one another deeply, to rid ourselves of our old ways and in verse 11 we are instructed to live exemplary lives. Like the whole tribe of Levi were devoted to God, Christians offer their whole lives to God. Living sacrifices, see Romans 12:1; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:15-16.

“…acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” A good life on it’s own is not acceptable to God – but by grace and faith through Jesus Christ. We cannot be born again except through Jesus Christ. We cannot be pleasing to God except through Jesus Christ. All of our acceptable spiritual sacrifices are offered in the context of what God has done for us through Christ.

7-10 Once you were not…but now you are!

“Now to you who believe…” A new subsection begins with the word ‘Now.’ This section has a flow that looks like this: To you who believe…but to those who do not…but you. Peter describes the great divide between those who believe and those who do not. If there is one thing that will highlight a true believer it is this: that Jesus is precious to them.

“The cornerstone” Both Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14 are quoted by Peter to show that the one who has been rejected is both the cornerstone (foundation stone) and a stumbling block.

“They stumble because…” Verse 8 here gives us a classic picture of human judgement mixed with God’s sovereignty. Many will get fixated on God’s predistination of both the elect (1:1) and the damned (2:8). But Peter doesn’t say they were pre-destined, just that they were destined. This was going to be their end because – they disobey the message. God’s word is open and available for all to read and respond to (yes, there are closed countries and difficulties – but across time and the world the word has been made available). In our culture, there are dozens of Christian churches in every city. Their doors are open every Sunday and more! Their websites are running 24/7 and their members are living in and around the community ready and prayerful to share the good news of new life through Christ. Yet people stumble because they disobey the message. It was always going to be the way. “Christ is laid across the path of humanity on its course into the future. In the encounter with him each person is changed: one for salvation, another for destruction. …One cannot simply step over Jesus to go on about the daily routine and pass him by to build a future. Whoever encounters him is inescapably changed through the encounter: Either one sees and becomes “a living stone”, or one stumbles as a blind person over Christ and comes to ruin, falling short, i.e., of one’s Creator and Redeemer and thereby of one’s destiny.”

NB: be careful to conclude verse 8 is about predestination to damnation. It could be saying that ‘they’ are destined to disobey or it could equally mean all those who disobey are destined to stumble. That is the destiny of every person who disobeys the message that they stumble for they have no other hope.

“But you are…” In contrast to those who reject Jesus as Lord, we, who see him as precious, are described by Peter in holy and sacred terms.

“…a chosen people…” not just wandering into the sheepfold of God but called by name. Not only are Christians chosen but also the type of people they become are the choice people that God ordained – they are Jesus people, i.e., they cannot simply be loved by God but they are the people God has chosen them to be through Jesus. Israel were known as the chosen people of God because he regarded and treated them as special out of all the other nations but this was not of their own greatness but of God’s mercy (Exodus 19:5). The purpose of this calling, even of Israel were for proclaiming his praise before all the other nations (Isaiah 43:20-21). So, royal priesthood, holy nation and God’s special possession are all synonymous for the same thing: that God has chosen those who have accepted Jesus to speak into this world the good news about God.

“…holy nation…” As 1 Peter 1:1-2 implies, Christians are united on the basis of their faith in Christ. We may be scattered and vary in all sorts of ways but we are a singular group – a nation of people set apart by God and for God.

“…that you may declare…” There is a purpose or a responsibility to all who call on the name of Jesus to be saved. We are to declare or speak or proclaim to all that God is mighty and sovereign and the only source of salvation is through Jesus. Let’s celebrate and be people who worship with joy and thanksgiving to the God who raised us from darkness to light. It’s such a puzzle why we fail to do this – except that we fail to set our hope on the grace being brought to us through Christ (1 Peter 1:13). The remedy may well be to meditate on verse 10 which follows…

“Once you were not a people…” The value of ‘not a people’ is quite extreme but Peter appears to be taking language from the Old Testament prophet, Hosea. Through that book, the prophet was commanded to take a bride and have children and name them in ways that communicated God’s plans for Israel who were being unfaithful to God. Hosea 1:6-10, one of Hosea’s sons was named Lo Ammi which means ‘not my people’. Prior to being the people of God, we are nothing. At that time, we had not received mercy but now, what defines us as the chosen people of God is that we have received mercy from God. To be his people is to have God’s mercy poured upon you (Deuteronomy 7:7, 9:6).

11-12 Live lives that glorify God.

“…I urge you to abstain…” The Christian life is a life of denying self. Peter has already talked about offering spiritual offerings and about ridding ourselves of the old way of life we once lived when we were in ignorance of God’s grace and mercy.

“…sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” The spiritual battle we will always find the hardest is the one going on inside our very minds and hearts. Paul talks about this battle between the flesh and the Spirit (Romans 7-8). Even a Christian living in isolation from the world, as if they could find a place to escape from it, will continue to experience this warfare going on inside themselves. The command is to abstain and be in control of this battle – unaware or unconcerned with this battle will just not do. The good news here is that signs of inner struggle is not evidence of unconversion! Even God’s chosen, holy and royal priesthood will need to combat their inner conflict: to serve the flesh or to live as children of God.

“Live such good lives…” The level of good here is simply the kind that stands out in a pagan world. The result though is sobering – it won’t be the Christian praised for their goodness (this is not the purpose for our good living) – it will be God who is praised. This glory that God receives when he returns may not be of a saved person praising God – rather, that all mankind will see what great mercy and work God has had on mankind – it may be recognising God’s glory through a snarly face.

Meaning

There are two type of people in this world: those who love Jesus and those who do not. The difference is huge! The former are called the chosen people of God – set apart to worship him with their whole lives, while the latter remain in darkness, receiving no mercy from God and destined to  remain in that state. Those who come to Jesus do so at the mercy and grace of God and are called to live wholly for Him.

Application

  • Topic A – Rejecting or accepting Christ. Can you say that your faith is based on a living relationship with Jesus? How can we remove human obstacles and create as many paths for people in our community to come to Jesus and receive him? We cannot force people to love him but we can certainly try to make him known. Who are you praying for at the moment to bring the gospel to ?
  • Topic B – Declaring the praises of God. How can you express your gratitude to God for calling you from death to life, darkness to light, outside his mercy to inside his grace? Consider how our praises can be displayed in prayer, in song, in our conversations with Christians and those outside our Christian community.
  • Topic C – The war against your soul within. To what extent are you aware of a battle going on within you? What is your strategy for combat? James says to resist the devil and he will flee (James 4:8); do you have a method for resistance? Being aware of the particular temptations that ‘get’ us is a good place to start. Think of, or even share with others, the particular sins that you are most vulnerable to.

Prayer of the Week

Our Lord God and King, may we live our lives grateful for your salvation and always ready to declare what you’ve done in us. Thank you for embracing us as your people. Please help us in our ambition to live holy and exemplary lives for you and your glory. Amen.

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The Spirit and Gifts

Next Level Blessings?

Context

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he desired to give them some spiritual gift when and if he visited them in order to make them strong (Romans 1:11). In 1 Corinthians chapters 12 to 14 he speaks about gifts of the Spirit. In our study, we will try and bring some clarity to what these gifts were and what we ought to desire from God. Are Christians promised to receive more through the Spirit if they seek it? What is the difference between being gifted (talented) and having a Spiritual gift? We will not exhaust this topic but our aim will be to find truth from God’s word so that we may share his desires and vision for Christians and the church.

Observation

Romans 1:11-12 is the only occurrence of the phrase “spiritual gift” in the bible! And clearly it means mutual encouragement in the faith. Many translate 1 Corinthians 1:7 with “spiritual gifts” and yet the word “spiritual” is not in the original Greek but placed there for context.

Paul wants to visit the church in Rome to share his faith with them and hear about their faith and he calls that a spiritual gift. The word gift is to be aligned with the word grace and spiritual is from out of this world. Not a bad way to describe mutual edification.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 – ‘lack no spiritual gift’ is actually a mistranslation since it only refers to ‘gift’ – probably refers to the knowledge and speech of verse 5 but stems from the grace given in verse 4. Aside from the word ‘spiritual’ asserted into this paragraph, Paul is thanking God for gifting the church with speech (‘logos’ which means words) and knowledge which confirm the gospel of Christ. The gift is about words of faith.

So, the only places where ‘spiritual gifts’ are mentioned both refer to gospel words for building up and strengthening in the faith. The next place to look is where gifts are clearly associated with coming from the Spirit and it covers three chapters written to a church being rebuked for many things.

1 Corinthians 12-14 speak of gifts that are given by the Spirit. Paul makes a couple of points clear:

(1) if it is a gift of the Spirit of God then it will affirm that Jesus is Lord (1Cor12:3). And the gifts will not promote any other Spirit or other God or other Lord (1Cor12:4-6)

(2) That the gifts of the Spirit are for the benefit of the church and not for self (1Cor12:7).

(3) Though there are many gifts, there is one Spirit and one body – not many parts but one body. Unity is key. No matter what gift you have and exercise, the whole body is needed. (1Cor12:8-31 esp verses 11, 14, 20, 26)

(4) that the greatest gift is love! (2Cor12:31-13:13 esp verses 12:31, 13:13)

(5) That it is far better to speak recognisable sounds than unrecognisable ones (1Cor14:1-19 esp verse 19).

(6) gifts do not take over a person but the person is in control (14:12).

(7) What is required in the body is order and peace and understanding so that all may be built up and enquirers be able to repent because of the gospel (1Cor14:20-39 esp verses 28, 39)

Here are the four places in the New Testament which clearly list gifts (charismata). This is taken from a work by Ronald Y.K. Fung and republished in ‘Spirit of the Living God: Part One’ edited by B.G. Webb.

The numbers to the left of the gifts are aimed at numbering and categorising the gifts into 17 areas. The aim in presenting this is not to show the extent of the gifts since lists in the bible are not aimed at being exhaustive but rather to show where the emphasis lies. The order of each column is as appears in each text.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 Romans 12:6-8 Ephesians 4:11
3b word of wisdom

3c word of knowledge

10 faith

5 gifts of healing

4 workings of miracles

2 prophecy

11 discerning of spirits

8 various kinds of tongues

9 interpretation of tongues

1 apostles

2 prophets

3a teachers

4 workers of miracles

5 gifts of healing

6 helpers

7 administrators

8 various kinds of tongues

9 interpreters

2 prophecy

12 service

3a he who teaches

13 he who exhorts

14 he who contributes

15 he who gives aid

16 he who shows mercy

1 apostles

2 prophets

17 evangelists

3a [7b] pastors and teachers

 

Four criteria to hold against claims to spiritual gifts as concluded in Chambers, Neil, ‘Spiritual Gifts’ from ‘Spirit of the Living God: Part One’ ed B.G. Webb, Lancer Books, 1991, p141.

  1. Is this person a Christian, as testified to by his or her testimony to Christ as Lord? (1 Corinthians 12:3)
  2. For what purpose is this activity practiced? Is it for congregational edification? (1 Corinthians 12:7)
  3. What, in our circumstances, is best for the edification of the congregation? One could imagine a situation where, although the person was a Christian whose intent was to edify, the expression of his or her gift may at that time not facilitate the edification of the congregation. (1 Corinthians 14:26-28)
  4. How is this gift practised? Is it exercised in love? (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

Meaning

When it comes to gifts of the Spirit, we must not jump to fanciful conclusions about them but we must always look at the context of the New Testament writings about them. Firstly, they are called gifts because they are manifestations of God’s grace. Secondly, they are for building up the church. Thirdly, they proclaim Jesus as Lord and are to serve him. Fourthly, they work together as individual parts for the benefit of the whole. Fifthly, there is reason and self-control involved in the gifts – not nonsense, chaos nor out-of-control. Sixthly, any gift must be exercised in faith, humility and obedience. Lastly, love trumps.

Application

  • What talents do you have which could be exercised for the building up of others in the faith? Discuss what you think your gifts may be and encourage others with what you have observed as their gifts. How might you exercise those gifts for the building up of the body of Christ?
  • How would you respond to someone who claims to have a spiritual gift? What if the gift was healing, prophecy or tongues? Use what we’ve read in the New Testament to shape your response.

Prayer of the Week

Lord God, we thank you for your Spirit and your generosity toward us. Help your church to grow in love and obedience to your word. Awaken our desire to serve one another in order to bring glory to you and build one another up in love. Amen.

Acts 18:1-17 – God’s people in Corinth

Context

Paul’s second missionary journey has taken him from Antioch in Syria to Athens in Greece. He is only a short boat ride away from Rome. He preached the gospel in Athens while he was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him there. He reasoned with the Athenians that Jesus is God’s chosen one, risen from the dead, who will judge the entire world one day with justice. No other so-called gods are anything.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-3 Paul meets refugees Priscilla and Aquila
  • 4-6 Paul is done with the Jews in Corinth
  • 7-11 God points Paul to his people in Corinth
  • 12-16 The Jews being pushed aside
  • 1-3 Paul meets refugees Priscilla and Aquila

“…went to Corinth…” A church was formed from Paul’s visit here which receives at least 3 letters from Paul (only 2 of them have survived). Crispus (v8) and Sosthenes (v16) are both spoken of in 1 Corinthians 1:14 and 1:1. Paul had impact in this first visit that would establish a church of Christ.

“…there he met Aquila…with his wife Priscilla…” This husband and wife team became partners in the gospel with Paul. They housed him while in Corinth and went on to travel with him before commencing gospel work of their own (see v19, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19).

“…Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome…” Priscilla and Aquila were refugees from Italy since Jews were being forced out of Rome. They were Greek since they were native of Pontus. Pontus is mentioned among the exiled Christians in 1 Peter 1:1.

“…he was a tentmaker…” Both Paul and Aquila were tentmakers. While Paul waited for his colleagues, Silas and Timothy, to arrive, he held an income alongside Aquila by working his trade. While tentmaking to earn money, he continued his habit of reasoning in the synagogues. This has become a modern shorthand phrase to refer to someone who works a low-key position somewhere in order to receive income while they continue their main goal in life which is to win people for Christ.

4-6 Paul is done with the Jews in Corinth

“…every Sabbath he reasoned…” Paul has continued to persist with the Jews in every town that he has visited. I am constantly amazed at how far and wide the Jewish faith had travelled for a religion that was all about the land and the Temple. It is apparent that the faith was also about the heritage and the hope that one day God would come and deliver them and re-establish his kingdom. And for this reason, Paul would reason with them every Saturday.

“…Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching…” When Siras and Timothy finally arrived to be with Paul, they may have brought rations and money with them to enable him to drop the tentmaking and devote all of his time to preaching.

“…testifying…that Jesus was the Messiah…” As we’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the subject of Paul’s message was not to establish the need for a Messiah but to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. In modern terms, we might say, in every context, that Jesus is the reason and purpose of life. Know Jesus, know life – No Jesus, no life. A Jewish faith that is honest and humble will recognise Jesus as the Messiah. But these Jews would not see it.

“…your blood be on your own heads…” Paul has made his case for Jesus and they have rejected Jesus as Lord. This will not fall on Paul’s head come judgement day, but on those who rejected. John 3:18 says that “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Condemnation falls on this fact alone: whether Jesus is accepted or rejected. Welcome Jesus today and you will be welcomed too into eternal life. Reject Jesus and you will receive the same response on the day of judgement. Paul is washing his hands of the Jews in Corinth.

7-11 God points Paul to his people in Corinth

“…Paul left the synagogue and went next door…” Paul’s next stop was not his lounge chair but to the next house. Right there, a stone’s throw away from the Jewish synagogue, stood another house containing a man who had regard for God. Perhaps his worship was unschooled or perhaps he fashioned his theology after the Jews that he heard next door.

“…many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptised…” Where one door had been closed to Paul, others were opened. Rejection by the Jews didn’t stop him from preaching and it turns out that some of the synagogue turned to Jesus and were baptised.

“…the Lord spoke…’I have many people in this city.’…” The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, encouraging him to remain in Corinth and to keep speaking because his elect are there waiting to hear and believe. The Jews may be hard-hearted but God had prepared many other hearts in the city to receive Jesus as Lord of their lives.

“…so Paul stayed…teaching them the word of God…” As Paul stayed, he continued to make the word of God his teaching platform. The gospel does not grow or expand or sway or vear or increase or mature with other things. It remains about Jesus the Messiah who died and rose again according to the scriptures. Paul wants the world to hear the word of God – not the wisdom of Paul. With all the self-help books in the world and the thousands of hours of podcasts from Christians and other insightful people, nothing can grow and mature us quite like knowing and reading and learning from the word of God.

12-16 The Jews being pushed aside

“…the Jews of Corinth…brought [Paul] to the place of judgement…” Once again, the Jews are on Paul’s case to try and stop him from preaching Jesus. Once again, the Jews used their local Roman official to cast judgement for them. There is nothing new under the sun. These Jews will not succeed because God has been protecting Paul along his journey plus God had spoken to Paul and said that no harm was going to come upon him. It seems almost like God’s word could go unfulfilled – but we know better than to think that!

“…settle the matter yourselves…” Even before Paul has a chance to defend himself, the proconsul silences everyone and declares that this is none of his business. This is a waste of time for him. What does he care what Paul is preaching?

“…the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader…” Sosthenes was one of the Jews who had believed Paul, we know this because he is later mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor 1:1. The Jews turned on one of their own who had succumbed to the new teaching. Unable to do any real damage to Paul on their own since he was not part of their synagogue, they made a violent point to those within.

“…Gallio showed no concern whatever…” The Roman view of the Jews is becoming increasingly low. Aquilla and Priscilla had been driven out of Italy because they were Jewish. Now Gallio seems totally unfazed by what the Jews do to themselves.

Meaning

The Jews are no longer considered the people of God but only those whom God has set aside to receive Jesus as Lord. Both God and the rulers of the land seem to cast the Jews aside.

Application

  1. When do you stop reasoning with people about the gospel? What do you do when one dead end is reached on the mission field?
  2. A five year plan was set for us all to bring one person to church and to Christ in the next five years. What stage of the plan are you up to? Take time to pray for the person or people you believe God has given you to witness to.
  3. Paul was a tentmaker for a time but later devoted himself fully to preaching the word of God. Discuss how we use “tentmaking” and giving people fully to the work of the gospel in our church and community.
  4. Reflect on Acts 9-18 and consider the various ways the gospel has been presented. Look back over a map and see the area that Paul has covered. Give thanks to God that the gospel spread so far and so quickly into a world that had only known darkness. Pray for our world today that still needs this gospel so that we can know God, know eternal life and know the freedom that comes from serving Him alone.