Category Archives: Maturity

Study 5 – Luke 12:1-34

The Fear of God

Context

Jesus was challenged in Chapter 11 as being in league with the devil. He responded over many verses to highlight how terribly wrong his accusers were and that, in fact, his actions proved his innocence. However, their actions reveal where their hearts are and that they have not entered the kingdom of God. His accusers were not only outside of the kingdom but they were also blocking the entry for others.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law hardened their hearts more as they increased their opposition to Jesus, trying to catch him out. How will Jesus respond to the opposition? When given an audience of thousands, what would Jesus say? That’s what we’ll find in this weeks reading!

Read

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Observation

Another large section to study. Choosing to focus on a smaller piece this week would work. Either the first half of verses 1 to 12 or the second half of 13-32, or even focus on 13 to 21!

Structure

  • 1-12 Be clear on who to fear
    • 1-3 – Don’t be deceived by the size of your support.
    • 4-5 – Don’t be deceived by the threat you can see.
    • 6-12 – The small and unseen things matter.
  • 13-34 – Be clear where your treasure is
    • 13-21 – Boofheads build bigger barns
    • 22-34 – Reset your heart to eternal treasure

1-12 Be clear on who to fear

1-3 – Don’t be deceived by the size of your support.

“…when a crowd of many thousands had gathered…” The description from Luke must not be overlooked. Imagine gaining a following of thousands! In this day of YouTube ‘likes’ a number of thousands is impressive. Jesus had his subscribers! But what he says next could only come from a kingdom-minded person. He doesn’t puff up and address his peeps like a saviour of the world! He reacts like the real saviour of the world and warns his close disciples not to be deceived by what they see now.

“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” This huge fan-filled crowd will be easily swayed by the lies and double standards of the Pharisees. Like yeast spreading through a whole batch of dough, this crowd will easily be turned. And they do turn against Jesus to cry out ‘crucify him!’ The size of a church or group is not necessarily the reality of its strength. Jesus will go on to teach his disciples where to put their trust and hold fast to the One who is not a hypocrite. But we must ask ourselves where we stand? Are we truly living for Christ or are we swaying with the influence of the crowd? As our nation and the western world moves rapidly away from Christ, will you move with it? Is popularity and safety more important than serving the living God and keeping your soul?

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Jesus is most likely referring to judgment day when the hypocrisy that the Pharisees possess will be exposed. Both the righteous and the hypocrite will have their deeds shouted from the rooftop. The “plotting” (11:54) of the Pharisees will be exposed one day. It is striking that Jesus comments on this while staring at a crowd of thousands. The disciples are about to enter the heated town of Jerusalem where the small but fierce hatred of the Pharisees will grow through the whole town against Jesus and his disciples.

4-5 – Don’t be deceived by the threat you can see.

“I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Jesus is quite emphatic in these two verses that there is a thing worse than death. Notice the word ‘fear’ used three times. There is no escaping the enormity of Jesus’ words here. Forget those with knives or harsh words or prison cells. God has the authority to throw people into hell. How lightly we treat the choices of our day and how often we err toward avoiding confrontations and offending others.

“Hell” Jesus used this word more than anybody else in the whole bible. Matthew especially picks up Jesus’ commentary on hell (Matt 5:22-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 33). The word is gehenna and refers to a historic valley (AKA Ben Hinnom) near Jerusalem where evil sacrifices took place during wicked times in Israel (Jeremiah 7:31; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kings 23:10). An evil place which Jesus uses to refer to what can happen to a person after death. In Luke 16, Jesus depicts it as a place of torment. While some scholars attempt to show that God’s judgment comes in the form of annihilation, using images from the bible to make their point, the point is that there are a number of images that the bible uses to describe judgment. As Jesus has said three times in this verse, it is a place to be feared worse than death!

But the God who has the authority to cast into hell is also described as the God who cares…

6-12 – The small and unseen things matter.

“Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” After warning us three times to fear God, Jesus assures us now not to be afraid. As quickly as the wicked will be cast into hell, the righteous who do not fall into the prey of the Pharisees are highly valued by God. Something as worthless as a sparrow is worth something to God and the disciples of Christ are worth so much more than them. When you are on the right side of God, there is nothing to fear. Jesus goes on to define what that means…

“…whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” This is a beautiful contrast between declaring Jesus as Lord before other humans who really ought to fear God and the declaration that Jesus will make of that person before the entire throneroom of the Almighty. We are not to whisper in the ear in the inner rooms but we are to wear our love of Jesus with honour – even if the knife is toward us.

“…everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven…” There is forgiveness available for those who have spoken against Jesus (the Son of Man was Jesus’ self-title which brings together beautifully the image of a human child and the promised coming of God – see Daniel 7). The implication is that if somebody repents, then there is forgiveness but…

“…anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” See Matthew 12:31-32. It is the Holy Spirit who provokes a person to eternal life and seals them for eternity. Those who oppose the work of God in their life will fall under this description. There is no magic word that will place you in this predicament, rather, the ongoing rejection of God. You can be religious and yet deny the Spirit in you. Jesus spoke of demons being cast out only to return stronger because they found the ‘house’ empty (Luke 11:24-26). If people see the work of the Spirit and declare that it is evil, this could be what Jesus is talking about. This record has followed on from the accusation of Jesus casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul.

“”When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities…” Jesus is speaking to his disciples in the presence of a crowd of thousands. You can hear him preparing his disciples not to get used to this fan-based attention. It won’t last because many in this world reject the Lord and his call to repentance.

“…for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Continuing the theme of not fearing man and being confident in the One you have given your life to. The Holy Spirit himself will not leave the disciples behind. This is not a promise that we will always know the perfect thing to say at any occasion. It is the promise that when the time comes to defend the name of Jesus and publicly acknowledge him before others, the Spirit will lead them.

13-34 – Be clear where your treasure is

13-21 – Boofheads build bigger barns

“Someone in the crowd said…” The statement from the crowd shows how little the crowd were understanding of Jesus’ comments to the disciples. Perhaps the person overheard Jesus talk about being on trial before the authorities and blurted out what was dearest to his heart.

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” The man’s immediate need is where the wealth of his father is going.

“Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” We know that Jesus is Lord of all but Jesus’ question is about why this is his concern right now. He goes on to express how little this should concern us also.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…” After being warned to watch out for the spreading hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which is birthed from popularity, Jesus now warns us against material greed. This is just as damaging to the soul. Jesus’ description that follows demonstrates replacing God with money and possessions. Greed is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” The parable that Jesus tells is quite straightforward. A man took measures to look after his investments and financial growth only to lose it in an instant and be left with nothing. He had the world as his heaven and neglected heaven itself. Being poor toward God is to have little to no interest in God. Jesus expands on this teaching in the next section which concludes with the words: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We will pursue the things that we love the most. Earthly treasure will steal our hearts away from God.

22-34 – Reset your heart to eternal treasure

This section matches quite closely to the passage in Matthew 6:19-34.

“Therefore I tell you…” What Jesus says is a conclusion or application from the illustration that he just ended. Here is the point of the application and the outworking of what you must do in response.

“…do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.” Jesus clarifies exactly what he wants us not to worry about. Some have said that this passage and the Matthew passage command us never to worry, but this is a misunderstanding of what worry is. He’s not talking about anxiety disorders nor the natural habit of stress and worry. He is telling us to put the universe into perspective and stop placing food and clothing at the top as if this is what life is about. He is also not talking about being trendy or not. He’s talking about the essentials of food and something to wear. It is hard to imagine this kind of worry BUT even in a rich society, how we will maintain our standard of living can consume our minds.

Step back and look at how basic Jesus’ command is. He’s not promising wealth or high living. Yet this is what many of us do have. Our struggle will not be about worry over the basics but worry over not having more than we currently have. We could learn to say no to things. Would it be so bad if we went through life with no ensuite? Or if we had simpler holidays?

“…they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.” Jesus pulls in the illustration of the barn builder and compares him with the simplicity of God’s creation. Everything is created to live. Yet we fight and stress and persevere to have abundant possessions. It’s worth meditating on how many barns we possess. How many bank accounts? Superannuation. Work and life insurances. Health insurances? Shares? I am not suggesting that these are wrong or unwise to have. Being able to take care of yourself and others is a burden the NT speaks of elsewhere (1 Tim 5:8; Titus 3:14; 1 Tim 6:17; Col 4:1). But note the emphasis is on where we believe things are coming from and giving thanks for God’s provision. Jesus goes further to the point to talk about why we should not worry about the size of the next paycheque.

“Who by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” The point here is that our days are numbered. We could build the biggest barn ever and we would still have to leave it for someone else to enjoy. We cannot stretch our life to eternity. We will face death and we need to face up to that fact.

“…you of little faith!” He does not say ‘no faith’ but ‘little faith’. Here is the point. How far are we willing to stretch our faith? This is a faith issue. Do we trust God or not? Do we trust him only for our salvation but the rest of this life is up to us? Or is he not the God who created the heavens and the earth? He is either God. Or he is not.

“…for the pagan world runs after all such things…” Jesus gets more pointed. When you stress and flurry over what you have, you are living like the unbelievers.

“… your Father knows that you need them.” Enough said? Remember the Lord’s prayer in chapter 11? Our Father, give us today our daily bread? This is the prayer of faith.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” The gospel is not just “pie in the sky when you die.” It is also “steak on your plate while you wait”. For some it may be beef and reef with a pinot noir, and for others the bread that is just right for the day. Whatever the menu, the priority is to be God’s kingdom. Fear the one who can cast you to hell. Fear not because he give freely his Holy Spirit to all who ask.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” For someone who is so familiar with Matthew chapter 6, this little phrase which is not included by Matthew is a brilliant shining star in the familiar story. I love hearing Jesus call us his little flock! He is the good Shepherd and we are his little flock. Cared for. Nurtured. Protected. Guided. Fed. Clothed. Loved. Saved. Given the keys to the kingdom! So don’t be afraid.

“…a treasure in heaven…” Jesus concludes with this coda: retrain your heart to pursue the future. The kingdom is ours so why get obsessed with today’s trinkets? Do you desire a swimming pool but can’t afford it? A bigger house but it will take all your time and devotion to get it? Give your heart to God and let him be your delight forever.

Meaning

Fear is a the topic of this passage. Know for sure what is worth fearing and what is just vanishing anxieties. The draw of popularity may pull you to hypocrisy but devotion to God will keep you straight. Fear for your life may threaten you but don’t let it dominate the real fear of hell. But take heart and know that God is not just on about salvation but is ready to give you the kingdom of heaven along with the Holy Spirit. The keys are yours if you will be proud to be a friend of Jesus. He will not hold back his adoration of you if you do not hold back your devotion to Him.

Application

Topic A: Fear of men. It is common to want to please people and crave the commendation of others. It can manifest itself by being an overachiever because you fear someone criticising you or you crave as many praises as you can get. It can manifest in needing to say ‘yes’ to everybody. It can manifest too in one’s inability to talk about Jesus even when it feels like this could lead to the end of a friendship. Jesus said not to fear those who can kill the body (or hurt our feelings) but fear the one who has our eternity in his hands. A real part of maturing as a Christian is to stop trying to please others but to please God.

Topic B: Greed as idolatry. How do you manage your bank accounts, your income, your investments and your expenses? If you could draw a pie chart showing how much of your money is directed toward you (and you family) and how much is given away, what would the pie chart reveal? What would happen if you gave more away? Is there anything in your expenses that you could stop spending on yourself? God is generous himself and gives us good things as well as essential things. But examine how you could use your bank account to express your faith in God.

Topic C: Stress and anxiety. This is a stressful world and our day is perhaps more stressful than others. Counseling to talk about ongoing anxiety is a great idea. Mental health and medical help are all real things but so is prayer and being real with God. For general stress and worry, consider where your heart is at and who it is you are trying to please? Find someone to talk to about your frustrations with life and listen to their advice on what you should do next. Our ‘little faith’ in God can be real for salvation but may need some help for us to mature as faithful sons of our loving Father. If you are overloaded with anxiety, it is always a good idea to ask for help with it.

Study 10 – 1 Peter 5:5-14

She in Babylon sends you greetings

Context

We’ve reached the end of the letter by the apostle Peter to the church scattered in the northern regions of the Mediterranean. He has not addressed the letter to several churches named but to the elect of God dispersed across parts of the world. What binds the readers to gether is their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the hope of grace that comes through him. He has been encouraging Christians to stand firm in their faith despite suffering through persecution in this world. This world is not their home. His letter concludes with the returned theme of encouraging believers across the globe to trust God who is in charge and who cares. In the previous verses, Peter has been specifically addressing the elders of God’s community whose task is to shepherd God’s flock.

Observation

Structure

  • 5:5-6 Humble yourselves
  • 5:7-11 Know where the power and care lies
  • 5:12-14 Greetings from the other scattered saints

5:5-6 Humble yourselves

“In the same way…” Peter has used this same phrase to speak with wives (3:1) and husbands (3:7) and refers to his instruction back in 2:18 to do everything in reverent fear of God. All relationships fall under his headship and it is in reverence to Him that we decide how to treat one another. Slaves to masters, wives to husbands, husbands to wives and now young to elders.

“…you who are younger submit yourselves to your elders.” The word ‘elder’ means whatever the word means in it’s context. In a different context it would refer to people older than you. But following from verses 1-4 speaking directly to the shepherds of the church, this is not about age but about that responsible role of caring for the household of God. The younger, would then be a generic term for those who are not recognised as elders in the church. This generally had a correspondence with age but not necessarily (see 1 Timothy 4:12).

“…submit yourselves…” It is not the responsibility of the elders to squash the church into submission or shame them into obedience or manipulate them into assimilation. It is for the young in the faith to respect to their elders. The message of the kingdom of God is designed to be handed from one person to another and from one generation to the next. Those who have known their LORD longer and know how to handle the word of God ought to be respected and trusted as they teach and exhort others. Church life is truly a community.

“All of you clothe yourselves with humility…” Both elders and younger people, wives and husbands, slaves and masters – the entire household of God are to be humble toward one another. As the younger submit to the elder, as the wife submits to the husband and so on, the outcome is not domination or power plays but humility from everyone toward everyone else in the community.

“Because, God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.” Just as submission is given freely out of reverence to God, so too humility is displayed because this pleases God. Humility is not about pretending to know nothing or acting like you are insignificant but about using your gifts, talents and wisdom to serve others and not yourself. Jesus is the ultimate example of humility (Philippians 2:5ff)

“Humble yourselves…under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” This segues nicely between this section and the next. We know that God has the power to elevate us and glorify those worthy of praise and so leave it to him. No matter how good we may feel we are, we are always subordinate in every way to God. But he is no cruel master, as the next verse shows us.

5:7-11 Know where the power and care lies

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Christians do not need to fight for recognition or wealth or anything because we know that God is the giver of all good gifts. Knowing that God is all powerful and that he cares are the two most comforting truths in the bible. He has a mighty hand and he cares for us. Now, anxiety is not a sin but we need to be careful what we do with it. On a biological level, anxiety is that natural reaction to things that threaten us. As humans, we have the capacity to worry about things that are not of immediate danger (like not being ready for an exam or being disliked or afraid of failing). When we have these feelings of worry and deep concern, we have the privilege of taking them to God in prayer. Casting our anxiety on God is like throwing all of our concerns at him and then resting in his promises to do good with our request. Faith is trust. If we trust God then tell him about our worries and keep moving. If you keep worrying, keep talking to God about them. Note that talking to others is helpful and sometimes necessary too so that we indeed get good advice on how to think rationally about things that we may have irrational reactions to. But God’s ear is always the first and ongoing ear to speak with about our worries.

“Be alert and of sober mind.” We heard this phrase in 1:13 and 4:7. With clear heads, set your hope on the grace of Christ and know that the end of all things is near. The reality of the world as we know it in Christ ought to give us clarity to resist the devil and pursue what is right and good.

“Your enemy the devil…” The gospel writers, Moses, and Paul, to name a few, each described the devil as real. He is not the boogeyman.  When Adam and Eve made the mistake of their lives, the devil was talking in their ear. When Job was living a godly and holy life, it was the devil who spoke to God to get permission to cause suffering for him. The devil is not equal with God because he is a created being. But the bible does not show any signs that the devil will repent and come back to God nor that he has the option to.

“…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The image given by Peter is enough to know that the devil is a predator. He is shark-like in his wanderings across the earth (Job 1:6-7). He sought to destroy Eden, he sought to destroy Job, he sought to destroy even Jesus Christ. Anybody who is found without sober judgment with respect to God and His kingdom are easy prey for him. But there is a defense…

“Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” What Satan really desires is for all of humanity to deny God’s rule and promises. For all to regard God as a liar or worship him falsely. But standing firm in the faith – the knowledge of the gospel and the hope that comes through Jesus Christ – is the response to his attacks. All temptation, whether from the world, the flesh or the devil, is to be combatted with resistance. Speak truth to yourself. Pray to God for help and stand firm.

“…because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” No attack from Satan is new. It’s the same old thing. The persecution in this world has the support of the devil.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,” If it is God who has called you 1:1-2, then no power of satan can alter that. Peter is closing his letter with the same themes of calling and grace that he began with. Standing firm in the faith requires remembering who called you, what you have been called to (eternal glory) and what power or proof has been given for this calling (the life, death and resurrection of Christ). Be aware that the devil is on the move but know for sure that God has already won you and paid for you and prepared a place for you in Christ!

“…after you have suffered a little while…” Recall the great theme of suffering that has taken up a large portion of this letter. Suffering is not a sign that God is losing. That is the flavour of life this side of heaven – during this time of testing.

“…will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” God himself, not you, not an elder of the church, but God himself will restore you. During times of temptation, stand firm and come to God in prayer – casting your worries on him because he cares for you – he will restore you and give you strength and conviction to stand firm. Next time you become aware of temptation, come to God in prayer and see what happens.

“To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Although Peter tells us about the devil, and about the fiery ordeal of this life but does not want us to lose sight of who is always in control.

5:12-14 Greetings from the other scattered saints

“With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother…” Silas is mentioned often in the book of Acts and referenced in a number of epistles. Acts 15:22. He joined Paul on his journeys. How Silas has helped Peter to write is unclear. Perhaps he was the scribe or perhaps they co-wrote it. The way that Peter starts to conclude his letter though is to encourage the scattered church with news from the church in other parts of the world.

“…encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” There is no other gospel in other parts of the world. There is only one gospel and one truth about God and salvation. There is no such thing as localised truths and communities who manufacture their own beliefs. There is only one truth and Jesus Christ is at the heart of it. Stand firm in that.

“She who is in Babylon…” Although there are different arguments about what this phrase might mean, it seems most likely to match the phrase in Peter’s opening to the letter. He addresses the ‘scattered’ or the ‘temporarily residing abroad’. They are aliens and strangers. The city of Babylon was famous for where the exiled Jews lived for a time. They sat by the waters of Babylon and remembered their homeland. Peter is most likely using this metaphore to refer to the rest of the church (in the feminine) who are also scattered in different parts of the world. It could be specifically Rome but there is nothing to suggest this for certain. Peter is closing his letter to address the Christians scatterd in Asia Minor with encouraging words from the Church or household of God in other locations.

“…chosen together with you…” Peter mentions again that under God there is only one church. God has chosen all of his elect across time and space to belong to his royal priesthood. A Christian in a mega-church in Dallas is no greater than a Christian struggling to be fed in the 3rd world and no different to a saint in Campbelltown.

“…sends you greetings…” Peter’s theme here is to encourage all of God’s elect to stand firm because the people of God, thought scattered, are one in the faith that they stand firm in.

“…and so does my son Mark.” The writer of the second gospel record is also known as a close companion to Peter. (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, 39). Here he is referred to as Peter’s son although this is a spiritual relationship, not a blood relationship.

“Greet one another with a kiss of love.” While there is suffering and persecution from the outside placed on the church, Peter encourages mutual love and affection. This is a cultural reference to respect one another but the adjective to the kiss is love – not a fake kiss but authentic.

“Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” Peter ends the letter addressing the same readers he greeted at the beginning. Not just all who read the letter but all who are in Christ. This phrase, ‘in Christ’ is such a beautifully concise way of signalling that all of our hope, peace, trust, identity, motivation and future is wrapped up in Christ. We are not citizens of this planet but known and proud to be known as Christians.

Meaning

Peter’s final note is for all who are in Christ to stand firm and know that God is more powerful than any enemy we can face. While the dangers of this world are real (even if unseen) our defence against the devil and his attacks is to stand firm in the faith. We can be encouraged that this is the same faith shared across the globe by God’s faithful household. Even in the midst of the worst of humanity, the church of God is there and will survive. More than that, at the right time, God’s elect will be delivered to their eternal glory in Christ. Do not be concerned about the evils of this age, when you know that God cares and his power is above all and forever.

Application

  • Topic A – Helping yourself and the church grow. Peter provides a formula for the younger Christians to submit to the overseers in the church. To the younger, it is wise to submit because there is much to learn in the Christian faith. To the elder, it is important to show wisdom with humility. This is a wonderful formula for church growth and maturity. Do you see where you fit in the process of maturing one another in the faith at church?
  • Topic B – Anxious prayer. We must understand how important prayer is. What causes you worry, concern or anxiety? Do you take it to the LORD in prayer? Read Psalm 55 to hear how the psalmist talks to God and listen for the echoes to 1 Peter. Perhaps you could use this Psalm in your groups to pray together.
  • Topic C – The community of saints across the globe. We can always bring our brothers and sisters in Christ to God in prayer who are scattered across this planet. We are not identified by race, class, culture or denomination but as those who stand firm in the true grace of God. We don’t wear badges. We don’t have a secret handshake. But we call Christ our LORD and Redeemer and we have all been born again into a living hope through the blood of Christ. Do you identify with this community?

 

Prayer of the Week

Lord God, we thank you for your universal church, distinguished by race, gender or class, but set apart by your Son and your call to stand firm in the faith. May we be sober of mind and encourage one another daily while we wait for your kingdom to be revealed. Amen.

The Spirit and Growth

Galatians 5:16-25

Memory verse: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

Context

The gospel message must include information about the Holy Spirit. Remember that Jesus told Nicodemus, a Jewish expert in the law, that he needed to be born again of water and the Spirit if he wanted to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5)? Nothing that this Pharisee had done in all his life was enough to bring him to the kingdom. Only the work of the Spirit could do that. Jesus then said that only those who believe (in the Son) may have eternal life (John 3:15). So, the work of the Spirit is to open the eyes of people to see Jesus as King and Saviour, and that believing, they can have eternal life. The Holy Spirit kicks off the Christian life.

In our previous two sermons (God willing) we have heard who the Holy Spirit is (God) and that the Holy Spirit is the giver of life. In today’s study we will use Galatians 5:16-26 to examine the Spirit’s work in our Christian growth.

The New Testament book of Galatians is a letter by Paul the Apostle to the Christian church in Galatia who, having received the gospel of Jesus Christ, were apparently returning to old religious practices (Galatians 6:12) – observing special religious days and seasons (Galatians 4:10-11) and reintroducing circumcision (Galatians 5:12). Paul is worried for them that they will forfeit their eternal life because of false teachers who try to persuade them to return to observing the law. In Galatians 5, he explains how living free from the law does not equal free from holiness since Christians walk in step with the Spirit of God.

Observation

Structure

  • 16-18 The Spirit and the Flesh are in conflict
  • 19-21 The Fruit of the Flesh are…
  • 22-25 The Fruit of the Spirit is…

16-18 The Spirit and the Flesh are in conflict.

“…walk by the Spirit…” It is clear from Galatians 3:2-5 that the Spirit mentioned in comparison to the flesh refers to the Spirit of God (Galatians 3:5) rather than the spirit of a person. We are not simply being told to live the way your own spirit drives you but to live and act influenced by the Spirit of God.

“…desires of the flesh.” It is more likely that the whims and passions of the human spirit is aligned with this word ‘flesh’. “‘Flesh’ describes humans in their opposite-ness to God in their opposition to God. It’s talking about people who haven’t been born again by the Spirit.” (Petty, S. Little Black Books: The Holy Spirit, Matthias Media, 2012, p55). This simple definition matches the statement by Paul that the Spirit and the flesh are in conflict. If the flesh were simply our bodies, then the Spirit of God would not dwell in us. The word is still useful since it picks up the passions and desires that seem to go hand-in-hand with a physical body such as sexual immorality and drunkenness – even hatred feels like a fire brewing in the flesh!

“…desires what is contrary…” Both the Spirit and the flesh desire or strive or are passionate for something and both desire what the other hates. To listen to one is to ignore or disobey the other. “They are in conflict with each other.”

“…you are not to do whatever you want.” This must not be confused with having to do what you don’t want – like living in the Spirit will always go against our wants. Paul has stated clearly that the Spirit and the flesh are in conflict and so we must choose which way to go. Doing whatever you want will often be in sync with the flesh while at times, we may make a choice which happens to work fine for the Spirit. What Paul is saying, however, is that we must choose to listen and obey the Spirit of God. That is what we need to want.

“…if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Again, this is not to be confused with abandoning the law outright. Paul’s case in its context is that living by the Spirit of God will pursue God’s desires without the need of any written law or code or commandments. We will not need a textbook since we have the Spirit of God!

Paul’s message in verses 16 to 18 is that we are to distinguish between things we do and the nature of God. The path ahead for us all is to follow the Spirit rather than anyone or anything else. Pursue the way of the Spirit of God. All other pursuits are worldly and in rebellion to Him.

19-21 The Fruit of the Flesh are…

“The acts of the flesh are obvious…” You can see the flesh in action easily. This is an interesting statement in today’s climate. Is it politically correct to say that impulses that people have are in conflict with God? Is it politically correct to call a sin evil? Paul lists things that are obviously out of sync with the Spirit and he is confident to say that it is easy to pick. Perhaps it is not politically correct to judge people out loud, but we can judge ourselves and discern rebellion in others quite plainly. We can see the rebellion against the Spirit in action clearly.

“The acts of the flesh…” The list which follows contains a fairly obvious list of sin. ‘Debauchery’ or ‘licentiousness’ describes an indulgence in sex or drugs or alcohol. ‘Hatred’, ‘jealousy’ and ‘envy’ all relate to an inward desire for another person’s demise. These are what the desires of the flesh produce and so the word ‘acts’ and ‘fruit’ seem to be working in parallel. The fruit will operate out of instinct and reflex when not put under control while the Spirit will not take control of a person but produce a different kind of action. The person is always performing the acts but some are reacting to their own desires and impulse while the saved are listening to the Spirit.

“…and the like…” The New Testament does not give lists in order for us to make more tablets of commandments. Instead, they are given as examples and illustrations to make a greater point. The point is that the acts of the flesh are obvious. If the Spirit of God is working in you, then it is obvious.

“…those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Everybody sins (1 John 1:8-9). But the person walking by the flesh will be characterised by these things. Ephesians 2:8-10 make it clear that we are saved because of what God has done for us in Christ and that he promises to work in us to be like Christ. An unrepentant person will demonstrate their allegiance to the flesh and their rebellion against God. Such a person will not inherit the kingdom of God.

It is possible for a person to be “Christian-ised” and be brought up to reject fleshly things while in the company of others. The Spirit of God, of course, knows the heart of a person and unless they turn to Christ, they too will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22-25 The Fruit of the Spirit

“…the fruit of the Spirit…” See the comment under ‘acts of the flesh’. The Spirit does not act on our behalf but produces fruit in us. Our actions are the result of listening and learning and growing through the Spirit.

“…fruit of the Spirit is…” The list here is in contrast to the acts of the flesh. It is a singular fruit and all of the virtues are to be built up in parallel. 1 Corinthians 13 expounds on the first in the list as an overarching chief of the other items listed.

Love – chooses others first and shows no favouritism (1 Corinthians 13). It is perhaps the best word we have to describe God (1 John 4:8)

Joy – is a gift to those whose names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20)

Peace – is also a gift from God through reconciliation between us and God and between one another (Ephesians 2:14-18)

Patience (forbearance), kindness – demonstrates the nature of God toward sinners (Romans 2:4; 3:25)

Goodness – is what we are saved for (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:17)

Faithfulness – is to stand firm in the faith as well as to be trustworthy (Hebrews 10:23; 3 John 3)

Gentleness – promotes love and graciousness to others (1 Peter 3:15)

Self-control – is a direct response to the gospel of God (Titus 2:11-12) and the road to love (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“Against such things there is no law.” As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8 – love never fails. There are no restrictions or limits to the extent that these virtues can and should go! The law never speaks against love, joy, peace etc. These are all virtues of the Christian life for those who are walking with the Spirit. Each of these are to increase in the Christian as they grow in their trust in God and love of Christ. Furthermore, there is no need for law when the Spirit is obeyed – the law is obsolete when you have the spirit – this is true freedom from the law when we pursue life in the Spirit.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh…” We work in response to the call of the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the flesh. You cannot belong to Christ and not be putting to death the deeds of the flesh. You cannot successfully put to death the deeds of the flesh unless you belong to Christ. The surrender of your life to Christ is more than knowledge of the gospel. It is an ongoing work between you and the Spirit to kill off the desires that are obviously driven by the flesh. Since the flesh and the Spirit are in conflict, we need to destroy what is in conflict with the Spirit. This is the Spiritual warfare that matters first in the Christian life.

“Since we live by the Spirit…” Note that we don’t strive to have the Spirit or gain the Spirit once we put on love and peace etc, but that having the Spirit already, we shall listen to the way of the Spirit of God and be conformed to his will and influence. We do not summon the Spirit to us by doing good work or worship or intense prayer. No, the Spirit is the gift of God to all who believe in and trust the Son of the Father.

“…keep in step with the Spirit.” This is our eternal partnership! We do not live by rules and laws that need legal experts to interpret and find loopholes. Rather, we live by the Spirit who is love, and is patient, and is joy. He knows exactly what to do in every situation and we need to pursue listening to Him and obeying Him.

Meaning

Christian growth does not concern learning rules, nor keeping traditions, but rather listening to the Spirit of God who lives with us. Two masters are at battle within us, the flesh and the Spirit. They are in conflict with one another and cannot be friends. Feeding the impulses of the flesh works against spiritual growth and is inline with all who are excluded from the kingdom of God. Responding to the Spirit of God is what people in the kingdom do and produces Christian growth. Christian growth is about partnering with the Spirit of God.

Application

  • Topic A: Keeping in step with the Spirit. This involves listening and obeying and discipline. It requires meditation over the word of God to know God and know His Spirit. Many may say that they hear the Spirit of God speak to them when they pray. Even so, how can you discern the difference between the voice of God and your own random thought or even an influence of a lying spirit? We know God by knowing his word. Talk together about how to go about this. Share your own practice of bible reading and prayer. Challenge one another to not simply read the bible but to engage with God continuously.
  • Topic B: Putting to death the deeds of the flesh. What obvious acts of the flesh do you struggle to kill off in your life? This can be a very hard conversation to have in a group, so it may be better to talk in triplets. Pray for one another about these things and be sure to talk not only about what needs to be put to death and how, but also what life giving gifts of the Spirit do we have to combat it. Examples include prayer, love, remembering the promises of God which bring peace and joy.
  • Topic C: Speaking words of the Spirit to one another. Verses 24 and 25 talk about those who belong to Christ and live by the Spirit. When we are together in Growth Group and at church, what conversations can we have to encourage Spiritual growth? Consider how we steer our conversations away from things the flesh is at home with and on to content and manners in step with the Spirit.

Prayer of the Week

Spirit of God, guide us each day to think and act as children of God and heirs to the Kingdom of God. Help us to be conscious of your presence and your desire to shape us as those who belong to Christ Jesus. Give us strength and resolution to put to death the ways of the flesh and give us love, joy and peace in Jesus’ name. Amen.