Archive

Tag Archives: Christianity

OK, I promise I’ll post the Song of Songs stuff soon (hopefully!) – it’s just taking me ages to write it. In the meantime….

Humans are relational people. As the famous saying goes, “no man is an island”. And our friends are important to us – can you think of the people you couldn’t live without? On the internet someone has predicted that we meet on average about 100,000 people in our lifetime[1]. That’s a lot of people! But not all of them will be our friends. We have circles of friends, best friends, and acquaintances, with different levels of closeness with each person we know. We love different people differently, too. I wonder who your closest friend in the world is; the person, or people, who you love the most?

1 Samuel 20 focusses on the relationship between King Saul’s son, Jonathan, and the David who we know was later to become king of Israel. But first, let’s look at a bit of background.

Saul was Israel’s first king, and had failed in his duty to be faithful to God. So God rejected him as king, and instead chose David to be the next king of Israel. David was a nobody, a shepherd boy from the backwater of Bethlehem, but God chose him because of his heart after God. He blessed him with success – first in his defeat of Goliath, and then in victories as a commander of Israel’s army. But Saul became jealous of this upstart shepherd boy, and several times in the previous two chapters had tried to kill him. At the beginning of chapter 20, David has just fled from one of Saul’s attempts on his life. Jonathan’s response to David was much different to his father’s. He became close friends with David, and formalised their friendship in a covenant where he symbolically handed the kingdom over to David.

This passage is huge, so I won’t quote the whole thing here. But here’s the basic story:

At the beginning of this passage, Saul has once again tried to take David’s life, so David has run away. He goes up to Jonathan and asks why Saul wants him dead (v1). Jonathan won’t believe that his father wants to kill David, but David insists that Saul is trying to kill him and makes a plan to prove Saul’s hatred. The next day is the start of the New Moon festival, where, as a member of the court, David was expected to attend the feast. David plans to not go, and make an excuse about having to be elsewhere. If he is missed, he asks Jonathan to tell Saul that he had to go home. Saul’s reaction will show whether he really does hate David and want him dead. In case David and Jonathan can’t be seen speaking to each other, they invent a cunning way of communicating. The New Moon festival arrives, and, sure enough, David’s place at the feast is empty. To start with, Saul thinks nothing of this, since it wasn’t unusual for people to miss such an event because of accidentally becoming ceremonially unclean. But on the second day of David’s absence, Saul askes Jonathan why David isn’t there. Jonathan gives David’s excuse, and Saul explodes in anger – not just at David, but at Jonathan as well! He even tries to kill his own son in his anger! Jonathan now knows beyond a doubt that his father hates David, and the next day goes to tell David of this.

As we look at Jonathan and David’s friendship, we’re going to see what this passage shows us about God, what it shows about Jesus (or, rather, the correct response to Him), and what we can learn from it. Let’s start by looking at what this passage shows us about God.

There is no “God did this” or “God did that” explicitly in this text, but can you see how God is at work behind the scenes? To start with, God is keeping His servant safe. He has protected David thus far from Saul’s anger and now is using Jonathan to protect him. Not only is God providing safety for David, but He has given David a faithful friend in Jonathan. Because of Saul’s public statement that David must die in verse 31, he now has to leave his home and his place at court, and is on the run from the authorities. In all of this, God provides a friend for David who has promised love and protection. Thirdly, God is securing His sovereign plan. David was the man that God had chosen to be the next king of Israel. Where Saul had failed as God’s servant, David was intended to succeed. David wasn’t perfect, but he was a man after God’s heart and a foreshadowing of God’s true King, Jesus Christ. God used David as part of His promises to His people, and by keeping David safe, He was carrying out His own plan for salvation.

So that’s what we can see about God. Let’s now look at what we can see about Jesus here. There isn’t so much in this passage about Jesus explicitly. However, we can have a look at Jonathan’s relationship with David as God’s promised king, and see if this has any relevance for us since David was foreshadowing Christ. David wasn’t just Jonathan’s covenant close friend. Jonathan knew that God’s plan was to have David as the next king. And, where his father rejected God’s plan and hated David, Jonathan accepted what God was doing and loved David.

Saul knew that God had rejected him as king, and was jealous of David’s success and rise in popularity. He hated David so much that when talking with Jonathan at the feast he won’t even say David’s name! He treats David shamefully, as it says in v34, and his anger is uncontrollable to the point of trying to kill his own son for defending David (v33).

Jonathan, instead of hating David, loved him. He knew that God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, which was why he symbolically handed over the kingdom to him in the covenant in chapter 18, and has promised to protect him now. Jonathan saw God’s plan and submitted to it, whereas Saul railed against it. Throughout the passage we see David and Jonathan’s close friendship – to start with, Jonathan says that if Saul wanted to kill David, he would tell him (and he has done so in the previous chapter). Although he doubts whether his father wants to kill David, he still agrees to follow through on David’s plan to test Saul’s motives. He also agrees to protect David, working out a way to communicate with him in case it is dangerous for David to be seen.  He was a loyal friend to David, defending him when Saul’s anger flared up against him; and Jonathan was livid at Saul’s treatment of his friend. And when David had to leave, the friends’ grief showed their affection for one another. So Jonathan not only submitted to God’s plan, but he also loved God’s king.

We’ve had a look at what we see of God in this passage, and we’ve seen Jonathan’s reaction to God’s new king. Now we come on to looking at what this means for us.

There are three applications that we can draw from what we’ve seen here. The first application here is from what we’ve seen about God preserving His plan in these events. Even the smaller details of the events here, which to David and Jonathan must have seemed very distant to God’s big picture at the time, were all part of God’s outworking for His Sovereign plan for salvation. You see, God works in the big picture, and He works in the details, and each these are never separate from other. God has the holy ingenuity to weave His plan and our lives together. Isn’t this great? And since God Himself is behind it all, we know that we can trust in what He is doing, no matter how dire life might seem at the time.

The second application here comes from Jonathan’s submission to God’s plan and love for God’s king, which made him willing to give everything up for him. His position as crown prince means a lot in the world – with wealth, power, and influence, it is one of the highest positions a person can have. Yet he gave it all over for the sake of God’s plan and God’s king. How readily do we give all we have to Jesus? I find it all too easy to say that I’ll give everything to God, but when it comes to that money, that dream for my future, or even that sin, I want to cling to them. If God wants it, He’ll have to prize it out of my hands. My life is relatively comfortable, and I may say that I’m willing to sacrifice what I have for the sake of the Gospel, but I know that when the rubber hits the road I’m more likely to walk away rather than stand up for Jesus. We can easily forget that God is carrying out His Sovereign plan today. And when we forget this, it’s easier to want to hold on to our own little kindgoms – maybe our reputation, or that job we want, or that relationship we hope for – instead of surrendering them to Jesus.

The third, and main, application, is this: Jonathan loved God’s promised king. He showed it formally in his covenants with David, but also personally in his relationship with him. There is obviously a close brotherly affection in how David and Jonathan interact – they trust each other, Jonathan defends David to his father, and Jonathan protects David’s life. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t need us like David needed his friend, but can you see the challenge to love, to trust, to devote ourselves to Jesus like Jonathan was devoted to David? How personal is our relationship with Jesus? Is it just a formal declaration of love that we give in our songs and prayers on a Sunday, or do we live like Jesus is actually a person, our Friend as well as our Redeemer and King, who is with us every day till the end of the age? How much do we talk to our King? How honest are we with Him? We can devote ourselves to Jesus in prayer, in trust, in standing firm in our faith and telling others the Gospel.

Jonathan had great love and devotion for God’s promised king, David. And this is a foreshadowing of how we should love God’s King, Jesus. We should be devoted to our King, who is also our Friend and Saviour. Jesus deserves our hearts and our lives, and there is no sweeter thing than giving everything to our King to gain eternity with Him.

Advertisements

Hi guys!

This will probably sound like I’m a grumpy old woman but I’m really not wanting to rant. Honest!

The lads and ladies at Worship Central are releasing a live album soon (YAY!) and have got the title song out on YouTube: http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRdlSRYPThg Now, I enjoy what the Worship Central crew do and think they’re a great bunch, but I’m seeing a trend in how worship songs in certain circles are being written. The lyrics for ‘Let It Be Known’ are:

Come on let’s turn it up/We’re gonna sing it out/For all the world to hear/Oh oh oh-oh/There’s love for everyone/A new day has begun/Something to shout about

Let it be known/That our God saves/Our God reigns/We lift You up, up/Let it be known/That love has come/Love has won/We lift You up, up, up, ooh

Nothing can stop us now/No-one can keep us down/We’ve found our voice again/Oh oh oh-oh/No need to feel ashamed/There’s power in His name/Come on, let freedom reign

Let it be known (etc)

We lift Your name up/Higher and higher/We lift Your name up./We shout Your name out/Louder and louder/We shout it out now

I’m not rubbishing the song – musically, it’s a lot of fun to play and sing, and the words are not un-true – but my concern is the lack of theological depth in many songs being written at the moment. ‘Let It Be Known’ isn’t theologically wrong as such, but doesn’t do things like explain why we should “sing it out”, or what it means by “love has come”. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use these kinds of songs, but songs like this do need to be mixed in with songs that describe truth in more depth, because ‘shallow’ songs might encourage or help us to respond, but they don’t say much about the truth we’re responding to.

Theology isn’t something we shouldn’t be scared of as musicians and song-writers. Bob Kauflin has a good post on why it’s important here: http://www.worshipmatters.com/2008/11/18/why-theology-matters-to-christian-musicians/ Theology is simply what you believe about God, and it is extremely important that we get the balance of songs right in our set lists, because what we sing teaches and reminds us of what we believe. So our songs should teach about God’s character, His holiness, mercy, love, justice, grace, power, etc; what He has done for us in redeeming us at the cross; and how it all applies to our lives – both in a response there and then, but also what it means for sin, confidence in salvation, what I do on a Monday morning, etc. We should proclaim truth as much as respond to it 🙂

I’m lacking creativity to write a catchy title for this one. But reading “Epaphras” so many times brings to mind how my friend says it. Epaphras was a friend of the apostle Paul, and you’ll read more about him in my talk. Blondie was writing and giving sermons on Colossians when I was, but instead of saying “Ee-paf-ras” like most normal people, she, in her soft-but-still-northern Yorkshire accent would go “Eeeeeh-paf-ras”, as in “Eeh-by-gum-paf-ras”. We both did a lot of Colossians, and every time I just couldn’t get over the “Eeeh-by-gum”. Sorry Blondie. At least I didn’t tell you while you were doing it.

I’m not gonna lie – this is one of my earliest sermons so it’s probably not my best. But no matter how badly wrapped the message may be, the truth of the Bible is the same. So please try to see past my clunky writing as we dive in…

Bungee jumping is ridiculous. To me, the idea of flinging yourself off a high ledge with nothing but a piece of rope to stop you becoming human porridge on the floor is insane. So much trust goes into that rope, and stories like the one last week don’t fill me with confidence about the sport. I remember last year there was a news story where a woman’s bungee cord failed whilst she was jumping over a crocodile-infested river. Thankfully, she managed to swim out of the river and was ok. But when something as important as the bungee rope fails, the jumper is in serious trouble, to put it mildly.

There are many things that we trust, to varying degrees. We trust the floor beneath our feet to hold us up, we trust our alarm clocks to wake us up in the morning; we rely on our friends and family and trust in their love. We also trust that what we are taught at school and university, and by our parents, is true. There are certain things that we trust which are fundamental to us, and like a failed bungee cord it’s terrifying when it seems like they aren’t true. What are the most important things we trust in? And how can we be confident that they are trustworthy?

I’m going to be talking on Colossians 1:1-8, and I hope that as we explore this passage we will see that we can be confident that the most important thing that we trust in, the Gospel, is true. Let’s have a read of the passage:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

–  Colossians 1:1-8

As we can see from the first two verses, the apostle Paul is writing to the church in Colosse. Colosse was a small city in the Lycus Valley area of what is now Turkey. It was about 120 miles southwest of Ephesus. The church in Colosse began during a period of evangelism linked with Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in 52-55AD, and which is recorded in Acts 19. It was started by a man called Epaphras, who was from Colosse himself, and brought the Gospel back home as Paul’s associate/representative. Paul is writing to the Colossians probably in 60/61AD, during his time in Rome. Epaphras had visited Paul in Rome and told him about the churches in the Lycus valley such as Ephesus and Colosse. He must have mentioned the recent introduction of a false teaching at Colosse which could undermine the Gospel and prove dangerous for the Church. What we will see from the rest of Colossians is that this false teaching basically said that you had to obey certain rules to gain what they called “true knowledge”. To correct this, Paul wrote to the young Colossian church.

His greeting in verses 1-3 is fairly normal for the time; stating the author, the recipient, and a greeting. Paul states his credentials as an apostle (literally meaning “someone sent”) of Jesus, as he does in his other letters. He also mentions Timothy, probably because he was with him at the time. He then addresses the Christians at Colosse as being “holy and faithful brothers in Christ” (v3). He is affirming their faith throughout this first section, encouraging them that they can be confident in the Gospel they know.

After his greeting, Paul goes on to mention his thanks to God for the Colossians. He says that “we always thank God… when we pray for you” (v3). If you notice, he says “when we pray for you.” This implies frequent prayer for the Colossian church – even though he hasn’t met them. When he does pray for them, he thanks God for their faith in Jesus and the love they have for “all the saints” (v4). I’ll come back to this later; but if you notice, both the Colossians’ faith and love for their Christian family come from “the hope that is stored up… in heaven” (v5). This hope is the hope of salvation and right standing with God that they have in Jesus. This is something the Colossians can be confident in, because it is stored up for them in heaven, as Paul says in verse 5. It is kept safe where it cannot be touched by any that would seek to destroy it or take it away. And this is the same hope that we have! We believe that we are saved through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, and here we see that the inheritance that we will enjoy is safe.

Paul mentions that the Colossians had heard about this hope through the preaching of the Gospel. You see, the problem is not that they haven’t heard the Gospel properly – Paul describes Epaphras as a “faithful minister of Christ” in verse 7, so he would have given them a faithful and true account of how Jesus had saved them – no, the problem is that some dodgy new teaching had crept into the Colossian church. This teaching could have confused them and caused them to doubt whether they were saved at all, because it was saying that you needed more than just faith to receive all the blessings we have in Christ. But Paul is stating here that the Colossians already know the truth, because they have been taught it by Epaphras, and that they can be confident in it. Why? Because the Gospel was spreading around the known world, as Paul says in verse 6, bearing fruit and growing. And it was doing this in their church as well. This is something alive, something growing. Something that is obviously Spirit-empowered as shown by its progress, against all odds at times. Paul is saying, “look, you know this already and it is true.” He is showing them that they are saved, because of what can be seen in them. He is beginning to suggest that the truth which they have already been taught is worth trusting in, and Paul will pick up on this thread throughout the rest of the letter.

So, Paul has described how the Colossians can be confident in what they have been taught already about Jesus and their hope of salvation. And we know that this had a visible effect: Epaphras told Paul about the Colossians’ faith and love, which resulted from their hope. It makes sense that faith follows on from hope – we believe in this hope that we have. But I wonder whether we consider our love for fellow-Christians to come from the hope that we have? I know that I hadn’t really thought about it before studying this passage. Yet the hope stored up for us in heaven, the fact that by trusting in Jesus we are given right standing with God and become His children, should spark a love in us for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as well as, faith. We know that we are saved by grace, and we know the imperfect condition of our own hearts. God’s Holy Spirit lives in us, and He empowers us to love others; especially the eclectic bunch of other imperfect people that we now call our spiritual family! And since this love and faith “spring” from our hope, they are a sign that we are saved by God.

We have seen that Paul confirmed that the Colossians could be confident in the Gospel, and that their faith and love came from their hope. He confirms that he can see that they are saved, in preparation for his rebuff of false teaching in the rest of his letter. So, we can be confident in our trust of the same Gospel that we believe in. And we can encourage one another, if, or maybe when, we struggle with assurance – we can encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, reminding them of the things we have seen in them that show their faith.

First of all, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you! And thanks for reading the blog 🙂

And no, I’m not getting married. You wish 😉

Despite my lack of nuptials announcement, this year will very much be the Year of the Wedding for me. It’s that time of life when you reach your early-to-mid-20s and all the Christians get married! I’m doubling the number of weddings that I’ve been to in my entire life in 2013, so (other people’s) marriage and relationships are very much on my mind. Having been pretty much a lifelong Christian Singleton, it can be as much of a struggle and heartache as it is a genuine joy and delight seeing my friends get married and be in relationships. It is so easy for doubt to creep in – perpetual loneliness, insecurity, lack of love, etc. It gets more and more ridiculous as you work yourself up, but it happens. And with the often well-meaning but unintentional obsession with marriage and matchmaking in Christian circles, it can be hard to be single beyond the age of studenthood.

BUT this is not a rant about that. No, because the important thing is not ‘woe is me, it’s so hard to be single’ or whatever, but about where our heart lies. Is having a spouse or boy/girlfriend an idol? I openly confess that I spent years with my aim in life to be married, and it was no help at all. OK, so it’s not wrong to want to have a special person and be someone’s special person; but I think that this longing for intimacy is something rooted in us. Because, at the end of the day, we all do have a relationship like that which we can look forward to. A relationship of intimacy and beautiful love that is offered to all of us. And that, my friend, can encourage both the singletons and married among us.

I hope to write more about this soon because it’s very much a theme in my life that God is using to encourage me – not just the weddings of friends, but also what God has been speaking about in sermons and talks that I’ve been listening to. And the relationship that we have, or could have, with Jesus is something utterly exquisite. I want to take time to do justice to it, but in the meantime, I’ve put what I’ve been reading/listening to below.

Song of Songs is a book that’s been fantastically opened up as a wealth of imagery and encouragement, and

Mike Reeves’ series on Song of Songs on the Theology Network website: http://www.theologynetwork.org/unquenchable-flame/the-reformation-in-britain/getting-stuck-in/the-love-of-christ-in-song-of-songs.htm

Henry Curran’s sermon series on Song of Songs on the St Mary’s Wollaton Park website (back in September 2012: http://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/podcast.html – you’ll have to scroll down to find them) have been really helpful. What you might also like is the series on Ruth also on the St Mary’s podcast page (May 2012).

I’m sure there’s loads more to put down that I can’t quite remember now! Enjoy 🙂 And watch this space!

(Or, a study in my TV-watching habits over the last few months)

We British are funny people. Most of the time, we’re cynical, self-deprecating sceptics who moan about the government, the weather, the NHS, and so many things that we have in our country. Yet we also have moments of great patriotism, like the Queen’s Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (I say ‘patriotism’, but it’s not quite the gung-ho patriotism of our American cousins. More like lots of flag-waving and choruses of Chariots of Fire. That’s the new national anthem, isn’t it?). We love understatement, rooting for the underdog, and (for some of us) proper spelling. We’re just weird. But we do have an attractive flag:

UK flag. Oh, the beauty of the red, white and blue! ‘Tis pretty funky, methinks. Shamelessly taken from glamorousliving.co.uk (http://www.glamorousliving.co.uk/viewitem.php?productid=291)

Maybe our slightly depressed national attitude comes from our weather – lots of grey days, and as Bill Bailey said: “The rainy season started around the 13th Century, and has continued pretty much ever since…” Still, I have been thinking about our national identity and what we think of ourselves as a country. Stirred by Shakespeare’s poetry such as this:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,–This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

(Richard II)

whilst watching a fantastic new adaptation of some history plays (The Hollow Crown, 2012 BBC adaptations of Richard II, Henry IV i & ii, Henry V – well worth watching); I wondered why we don’t love our country more. Sure, it rains, but the UK can be so pretty! We’ve been blessed with green fields and trees and beautiful rugged landscape. Why don’t we delight in our land more?

And then came the Olympics, and how brilliant they were! The whole nation got behind our athletes, waving their flags and getting into the spirit of things. So we can pull some national pride out of the bag, after all.

Historically, we seem to be suffering the after-effects of Imperial guilt and self-pity. I’ve had a lot of time on my hands recently so I’ve been watching factual programmes like Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip and Andrew Marr’s History of the World and finding out all sorts of facts that I’ve been boring my friends with for the last few weeks. And basically, with the Empire and everything, we really thought that Great Britain was the bee’s knees. Stiff upper lip, jolly hockey sticks, tickety-boo old bean, and all that. But the horrifying truth didn’t quite get home to Blighty: all our wars weren’t all about the glory of battle and the honour of fighting to increase our nation’s marvellous influence by civilising the natives. The truth is much worse. You see, the Brits were probably some of the first drug barons, using force to make China trade opium for tea. Africa is most likely in the poor state that it is because European countries fought a land war over it, increasing their empires by stealing wealth and enslaving the people. It’s not good.

And the First World War more or less put an end to our national self-importance. For the first time in centuries, the fighting was on our doorstep and the suffering we saw was horrifying. The Empire all of a sudden didn’t look like all it was cracked up to be. So now, after Britain doesn’t ‘rule the waves’ we have a bit of an underlying sense of self-pity and guilt. And it’s not just a British thing. OK, so the glumness may be, but it’s the story of many empires that rise and fall – bloodshed and self-interest.

I’m not saying that the UK is a rubbish country. Everywhere has its problems and history that it’s probably not that proud of. And I think there are lot of things that we take for granted that other places don’t have. We’ve got brilliant emergency services, we have a welfare state that aims to look after the needy and desperate. We have mountains, rivers, stunning coastline and beautiful winter sunrises. We’ve got cute dormice and majestic eagles. And basking sharks. And we have great accents.

Yet as much as I love my country and have a great affection for the place I live, if I left it there I think I would be missing something. Of course, we should delight and be thankful for the blessings we have and what we enjoy about our own country, whichever one it is. But there is something more.

If we are Christians, national identity does not first and foremost define who we are. To an extent, we are products of our culture and there’s the obvious genetic element in how we are physiologically and language and stuff. But if we are God’s people, we are citizens of heaven above all. And our hearts should be fixed there, not on a map or pretty-coloured piece of material. As it says in Revelation 21:26, “the glory and honour of the nations” will be brought into heaven – people and cultures from all parts of the world. Here is isn’t about national patriotism. It’s not about one homogenised empire, but about all nations bringing their own taste of the variety and creativity of their Maker. We glorify God by being different! And we are citizens of heaven, destined to spend eternity in our God’s presence. This is what we look forward to, and it should influence our attitude now. We can be thankful for our nation and cry out in prayer for it, but we must also be thankful for other nations and ask that God would be known all over the world.

So, as much as I love the UK, I would call myself a Christian first, and British second.

PS – Also, can I just add, here’s some terminology (sorry, couldn’t let it go):

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – the official name of the UK. It’s made up of the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. With some other bits and pieces around the world.

Great Britain – the island that is made up of England, Wales and Scotland.

England– NOT the whole country! Seriously guys, get it right (I’m looking at YOU, America). Here’s a picture to help you:

I’ve used ‘Britain’ and ‘UK’ interchangeably in my post. Maybe I should learn to get it right too.

Modern medicine has produced lots of incredible things. Not only can we treat many diseases, but we can actually see inside our own bodies. Things like X-rays and MRI scans can show us when things are wrong on the inside, giving remarkable pictures of what’s going on ‘under the bonnet’, so that we can diagnose and treat illness. But these things can only do so much. An X-ray can show you a broken bone, but it won’t be able to treat it. Nobody has ever looked at their MRI scan and been instantly well again! You need surgeons and nurses and doctors and healing time to get better. There’s a difference between diagnosis and treatment. And I hope that as we look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 we’ll see that they were always intended to show us our greatest problem. Like an X-ray, they can’t fix us, but they do show what’s wrong.

So let’s take a look at the passage:

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honour your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

Exodus 20:1-17

Context

Israel as a nation was in slavery in Egypt. God freed them from this slavery to lead them into a land that He had promised to their ancestor Abraham. At this point in the book of Exodus, God has just freed Israel from slavery and has led them from Egypt to a place called Mount Sinai in the middle of the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. If you look at the previous chapter, you’ll see that God came to the mountain in a dense cloud so that he could speak to the people of Israel and to Moses their leader. So, the people of Israel are gathered around the bottom of the mountain and God’s manifest presence has descended on the top of the mountain in the form of a cloud with smoke and thunder and an earthquake. And then God speaks the commands we have just read directly to the people. The “Ten Commandments”, as we know them, are right at the beginning of the Old Testament covenant between God and Israel, His people.

So what is this covenant? A covenant is a binding agreement between two people which brings them together in some sort of relationship. The way the Old Testament covenant was given is in a similar form to other covenants around at the time which were treaties between a conquering overlord or ruling state and the conquered people. In these treaties the overlord agreed to benefit the people with his protection and care as long as they obeyed the rules of the treaty.

In a similar way to these treaties, before He gives the rules of the covenant God establishes the giver of the covenant – Himself – and the relationship between Him and the people, as we can see in verse two here: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” If you notice, God is putting the covenant entirely in the context of His grace, because He identifies their relationship as Him being the one who saved them from slavery. The rest of the covenant, including other clauses such as rules and punishments, is covered in the rest of Exodus, and in the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Our passage this afternoon is right at the beginning of the covenant. It is where God establishes how the relationship between Him and His people is going to work. If you notice, the tone of this passage is very much along the lines of “I am your God, and this is how you will live as My people.” These commands were not meant to be restrictive, but to give freedom.

After all that background, let’s have a  look at the commands God gives.

Commands

The commands given here are listed in an order of decreasing importance, from the relationship of people to God, to the relationship of people to each other. God starts by addressing the relationship between His people and Himself. He says “You shall have no other gods before Me.” in verse 3. The worship of God alone is at the heart of this covenant relationship.

God then moves from who His people worship to how they worship, or really how not to worship. He says that they aren’t to make any idols, any visual representations of Him based on anything in the world. And this means that their understanding of who God is can’t be distorted by any picture that they would make of Him. The only thing they have to go on is what He has revealed about Himself to them. And later on in Exodus 34 He revealed Himself to Moses as “… the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” The reason God gave for not having idols is that He is a jealous God. He is jealous in that anything which is made to rival the glory and honour that He deserves, such as idols, will invoke His passion for His own character and glory.

God’s passion for His glory shows in the next command – don’t misuse God’s name. You see, God’s name is about more than just the word itself. His name carries His reputation; it includes His very Person. God’s name is not to be used lightly!

The command about the Sabbath is about right worship. Later on in Exodus, the Sabbath is described as a sign of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Therefore, anyone not observing the Sabbath was showing contempt for the covenant, and so the relationship they had with God.

The next set of commands, in verses 12-17, are about right relationships with other people, whether it is by honouring parents, or not murdering, stealing, lying, committing adultery, or jealously wishing you had something that someone else has.

So that’s a quick overview of the Ten Commandments. Let’s now think about what this means for us now.

Continuation

God’s covenant with His people as established in the Old Testament was thousands of years ago, so what does this Old Testament law mean for us today?

Well, since the covenant in the Old Testament was given, the most important thing that has happened is Jesus, God’s Son, coming to earth. He didn’t come to scrap the old covenant, though. In Matthew 5:17-18 He said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [that’s the Old Testament covenant]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

 Not only did Jesus support the Old Testament covenant, He also explained it further. At the time, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were teaching God’s commands, but many only addressed the outward obedience of them. Jesus said that the Old Testament Law was based on the command to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” [Deuteronomy 6, Jesus quotes in Matthew 22] And that isn’t done by just acting out the commands. God’s commands require more than what we do. So, Jesus said that commands like “You shall not murder” were not carried out by merely not killing anyone, but that the kind of sinful anger that causes someone to use bitter words is by nature murder, and breaking that command [see Matthew 5:22]. He also unpacked the command forbidding adultery in a similar way: “… I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” [Matthew 5:27]. Jesus also described the absolute perfection required by God’s holy standard: “… I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:20].

This is a high standard! The Ten Commandments not only cover what we do, but how we think and feel as well.

I don’t know how you feel at this point. When I was studying this, I was very convicted of my own failure to follow these commands. I know that I have broken all of them! And the fact is that we have not kept these commands. We are unholy people, unable to stick to God’s high standard.

Yet the sense of hopelessness that we get from taking a long, hard look at ourselves compared to God’s standard is exactly what the Old Testament Law is there for. Romans 3:20 says that nobody will be declared righteous by the Law, because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standard. There is no way in which we can perfectly keep the Law, because the Law is there to show us our own sin. It is a diagnosis of sin, not a treatment. And the diagnosis is grim.

We have a problem more persistent than cancer and deadlier than HIV. So if sin is our disease, how can we be cured? This is where the most incredible piece of theology we know comes in – you see, Jesus fulfilled the Law, meeting its perfect standard. He took upon Himself the punishment that we deserve for our lawlessness, and died the death that we should have. God declared Jesus righteous, and brought Him back to life. So, God’s Commands were kept by Jesus, and He took our punishment for us. Not only did He do this, but Jesus gave us His righteousness – His perfect record! The Law is there to lead us to Jesus, so that we trust in Him to give us His perfect record, and so get His righteousness by faith. So when God sees us, He does not see our own failed attempt at keeping His commands. Instead He looks through Christ and it looks like we’ve kept the Law perfectly.

Change

This is GREAT news! It means that although the old rules still stand, we don’t have to be able to obey the Ten Commandments in order to have a right relationship with God. It’s ok when we do wrong; failing to meet God’s standard doesn’t mean that we can’t know Him. All we need to do is believe in Jesus and trust Him, and then He gives us His clean record as our own. This is a great and wonderful thing! God doesn’t count our dirty records against us. We no longer have to listen to the temptation to despair because of our imperfection, because we know that God looks at us and sees Jesus’ righteousness.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t obey God, though. In fact, what God has done for us in setting us free from our own imperfect record should make us want to follow His ways as a response. These commands still paint a picture of what it looks like to be God’s people, and so we should still follow them. But we don’t have to return to our hopelessness when we do go wrong, because we know that God will forgive us. We shouldn’t try to rely on our own record to be right with God, because we know that there’s no way in which we meet God’s standard. So instead, we need to rely on God Himself and His promise of righteousness by trusting in Him.

We need to change. Can you see it? We can’t possibly be good enough ourselves. We need Jesus; we need to trust in His saving work, we need to come to Him and ask for our salvation by His perfect record replacing ours. We need to come to Him on our knees, knowing full well that not just our actions but our very hearts need to change – and a great promise that God gives us is that He will give us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do right and to change our broken nature.

So we’ve seen the beginning of God’s covenant with His people Israel in the Old Testament. We’ve seen that God set an outline for how His people should behave, and also how we fall hopelessly short of His high standards. The Ten Commandments were supposed to show us our sinfulness, like an X-ray shows a broken bone, so that we look to God’s way of saving us from our sin. And that salvation is found in Jesus, the Saviour that God promised for thousands of years throughout the Old Testament; the Son of God, who lived as one of us and fulfilled the Law that we could never completely follow ourselves. He took our punishment, and has given His own righteousness to those who put their trust in Him. How incredible! How magnificent is this display of God’s grace and love; granting us mercy whilst fulfilling His justice! And we should worship God with all we are because He has saved us, humbling ourselves and relying fully on our amazing Saviour for all we need.

Football is a hugely popular game, with millions of supporters in the UK (it’s pretty much our national sport, whether it’s official or not), and everyone supports their own team. How can you tell which team someone supports? Well, they go to the matches, they wear their team’s shirt, and they follow them in sports news. My brother is an avid supporter of what was our local team, Oxford United. He asked for a new shirt for his birthday whenever the strip changed, he had a season ticket and went to all the home matches before he moved away to university – actually, he still makes trips home to watch important matches! He spends hours on their website, and watching them on the local sports news when he can. It is beyond me why he bothers with such devotion over a game – or of OUFC for that matter cos they’re no Premiership side at the moment, it has to be said – but he undeniably is a supporter of the ‘U’s through and through, because of how he lives. His motivation for his fanaticism is his love for his team; and in a similar way, we are called to reflect our status as children of God in how we live, because we love God:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will appear with Him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favouritism.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

 – Colossians 3:;1-4:1

At first glance, it looks like the writer, Paul, is giving a list of rules to follow, just after he has said in the previous chapter that there is no need to follow rules for salvation. But we will see that here, his motivation for action is different – it isn’t “works for salvation”, but “works because of salvation”. We will see that our identity in Christ should motivate us to live in a way that reflects who we are.

So, what is our identity as Christians? We are raised with Christ to new life, as it says in verse 1. We are dead to sin and the rules of this world, and are hidden in Christ (v3). Christ Himself is our life, and we await the time when we will appear with Him in glory (v4). We are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, as it says in verse 12. We are members of the body of Christ, with a promised inheritance. So, who are we? We are the chosen, beloved, people of God. We have been made holy by Jesus Christ, who is our very life now that we are hidden in Him. And we expect and hope for a heavenly inheritance and an eternal, perfect life with God Himself.

If you notice, throughout this chapter Paul gives this identity as being the reason for doing the things he encourages the Colossians to do. Since we have been raised to life with Christ, we should set our hearts and minds on heaven (v1). Verses 3-5 say that we should put to death our sinful nature because we are hidden in Christ and will appear with Him in glory. As God’s chosen people, we should clothe ourselves with such things as love, kindness, and peace (v12-15). And 3v18-4v1 give the Lord as a reason for their instructions – whether it’s for the sake of pleasing Him, worshipping Him, or remembering that He is our Master.

Let’s explore what Paul says it means to live in a way reflecting our identity in this passage. In verses 1-4, Paul says that we should set our hearts and minds on heaven, because we are dead to the world, have been raised with Christ, and our lives are hidden in Him. We will share in His glory in the future, so we should live lives that glorify Him now. Verse 5 says that we should put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature. Here Paul lists two lots of five characteristics that we should put to death or rid ourselves of: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil practices and greed in verse 5; and anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language in verse 8. These are characteristics of the earthly nature – of how we used to live before we were saved. But now, we are God’s people, and so need to discard and put to death these aspects of our old nature and embrace the righteousness that we have been given. We still sin, granted, but sin’s power over us is broken, and now we desire to please God and live righteously. After he has described what we should get rid of, Paul describes what we should “put on” as God’s people. In contrast to the old self, we should clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace. Everything we do is to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him,” as it says in verse 17.

Can you see what this means for us? We are called to live in a way which reflects our status as God’s redeemed people. We are God’s chosen people, all of us who are saved. He loves us greatly, and has made us holy. He has forgiven us for our sins. And so, we can show the same forgiveness and love to each other. Or should do, rather, because each and every Christian is God’s chosen, holy and dearly loved child (v12). The characteristics of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience that Paul lists are seen throughout the Bible in the character of God. So as God’s people, we are called to reflect who God is in how we live.

Paul gives some practical applications of what living like people of God looks like in 3v18-4v1. His applications are based on what households were like at the time, but we can still learn from what he says. Wives are asked to submit to their husbands, honouring and obeying them freely, and affirming their husbands’ leadership and supporting his role in the family. In parallel to this, husbands are called to love their wives and be gentle with them. In Ephesians [5:25-33] Paul gives Christ’s sacrificial love for His Church as an example to follow. Children are asked to obey their parents, and parents are asked not to provoke their children so that they don’t become discouraged. Why? Because this “pleases the Lord” (v20). The instructions to slaves and masters seem a bit removed from how our society works today, but a similar relationship does exist between employees and employers today. So, slaves, or employees, are called to obey their masters, or employers – not only in ways which their masters can see, but also in ways that go unnoticed. Their service should be wholehearted, and as if God Himself were asking them to do it, because they know that they have an inheritance in heaven and that God will reward them for their fruitful work (v24). Everything we do should serve God, and that implies serving those on earth who have authority over us, since God put them in that position. Paul’s address to masters in 4v1 is short, but contains a serious warning to masters to treat their slaves fairly.

All of these relationships share the motivation of pleasing God, or of having God as their Master. And ultimately, this should be our motivation for how we live as well. Yes, we should live as people of God, reflecting our identity in Christ, but what is our underlying motivation for this? Is it to keep God on our side so that He will be nice to us? Remember, we are already God’s dearly loved people because of our new status in Christ, so whether we do or don’t get it right as being Christians doesn’t change the fact that God loves us and wants the best for us. We should live the way we live in order to please God, not appease Him. We should act out of love for Him, as part of our worship to Him. And when we do this, when we live as compassionate, kind, gentle, patient people, this reflects who God is. It brings Him glory when people look at us and see Christ! If we were to live like God’s people fully, it would be a refreshing foretaste of heaven! Such love, respect and honour would glorify God to all who see.

Living in this way is part of setting our hearts and minds on heaven (v1). As we look forward to future glory, to meeting Jesus face-to-face, to everything being made right, we should reflect what we look forward to in what we do now. We live in the time between Jesus’ act of salvation and the time when He will return to take us home – the time of “now and not yet”, where we live in the now looking forward to what is to come. We cannot claim our righteousness for ourselves, because we know we’re not perfect, but we can point to Christ. We need God’s help to do this, to fight against our sinful nature and actively seek to act in a Christ-like way. So let’s wear the shirt, sing the songs, and walk the walk that honours God and isn’t ashamed to be His.

Science and Belief

A blog about the positive interactions between science and faith.

Beyond the guide book

Ramblings of a compulsive travel addict

littlelifeofsquirrel

Thoughts, smiles, and 'Sarah moments'

Anglican Memes

a humour site about the Church of England

Hymns in My Heart

Sharing thoughts on my favorite hymns and Christian songs that have brought me comfort, joy and inspiration to worship Jesus Christ.

Christ the Truth

Jesus is the Word of God

Christ is Beautiful

"I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." – Jesus (John 17:26)

phil moore

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Phil Whitehead

... needs a cool tagline ...

The mighty mighty Monk Seal

IS NOT A GEEK, HE'S SMART!

From the Vicarage

Henry Curran's musings