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25th May 2016
The apostle Paul's last instruction to the Ephesian church was to be strong. He was reminded them that what we contend with is not just physical, but also spiritual, and we have a real enemy.
These were his closing remarks, where he didn't want the church to be focused on the here and now, but on the spiritual realm. He stood like a sergeant, giving instructions to the troops. He told them to be strong because they're in a fight (verses 10-13), to be prepared and put on their armour (vv14-17), and to be prayerful because it makes a difference (vv18-20).
The decision to be strong is not something God does in you – it's a decision that you make to stand and be strong. All the way through the Bible, there are commands for God's people to be courageous. We have a personal responsibility to take what God has given us and to stand strong. It's not with our own resources, but with God's – with His might.
Courage is an internal quality, but the way we are strong is we put on armour, fortifying our souls. Paul says that we have got a real enemy – the devil exists – and this passage in Ephesians 6 tells us that he is a powerful foe. He's defeated, but he's powerful. He's also evil. He wants to ruin your life. He's not neutral. He is against you and he has schemes to take you down: he knows how you're wired and wants to seduce you into compromise and deceive you into error.
This is why we're told to be prepared by putting on the whole armour of God. That's how we stand firm when the devil tries to trip us up. We are to fasten around ourselves truthfulness and uprightness in our behaviour. One of the first things we put on is being truthful in our way of life – you know how vulnerable you are when there isn't an integrity in your life. Make sure that you're the same on Sunday as you are on Wednesday.
We're also told to put on the breastplate of righteousness. We gain the righteousness of Christ when we come to Him and confess Him as Lord, but as well as that, if you want to stand firm, living a righteous life is critically important. If you are dabbling in sin, you will not be able to stand. It's like a wide open door for the devil to shoot through.
Shoes are also a key part of the armour. We are to be ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. When we are ready to tell others about our faith in Jesus and display something of God's love, there's an opportunity here for us to not just be defensive against the devil, but to go on the offensive as well.
In all circumstances, we're to take up the shield of faith. Hardly a day goes by when we don't feel fiery little darts coming against us – doubts, fears, lies. How do I extinguish them? I take faith – I go through the memory bank of the Bible and what God has done and I cling hold to His promises. When I wake up in the morning, how I handle the first half a dozen thoughts that come into my head sets the tone for the rest of the day. I need the shield from the moment I wake up!
The helmet of salvation is placed as a guard after my mind and my heart. How familiar are you with your salvation? How much do you love what God has done for you? Worship is a wonderful way to enjoy your salvation.
The only offensive weapon mentioned is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The Romans didn't throw their swords – they were used in close combat! Likewise, we're to confront our problems close up, taking the words of the Bible that specifically address them, and then we jab the promise of God right through the heart of our fears and anxieties and we kill them! That's how it works.
We need the Holy Spirit to make the word of God effective in our lives. We need to be filled with the Spirit, because He illuminates the Bible. In order to fight, we need to know the word of God.
We also need to pray. Sometimes when we are really struggling, it's because we're not really seeking God for breakthrough – we're not going after Him in prayer. This passage says we should pray "at all times"! Take opportunities to pray, whether you're washing up, travelling, whatever you're doing, learn how to be prayerful. It makes a difference!
We've got people to talk to about Jesus, sick people to be healed, oppressed people to be set free, the Kingdom to advance. We're to take ground, not hide in a bunker. We need to stand and fight!
Posted by Paul Mann
21st December 2014
Humility isn’t something we generally pursue with great vigour! But it’s the very thing that Peter encourages us to do in chapter five of his first letter. Counting others as better than ourselves is not necessarily something that comes naturally to us – sometimes we think that the problems are in those around us, before we realise that often they’re with us!
Wayne Grudem describes humility like this: “The term humility speaks of an attitude which puts others first, which thinks of the desires, needs and ideas of others as worthy of more attention than one’s own.”
Humility is a rare commodity. You didn’t suddenly become humble the minute you became a Christian! There’s a lot about humility in the Bible, and we are encouraged to clothe ourselves with humility, to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3), which means it is possible for us to grow in this area!
Humility is an attitude, but it is usually expressed in what we say and what we do. It is expressed in our words and the little things that we do. It’s usually when the pressure’s on, when life gets a bit difficult, that we see what’s on the inside as it starts to come out.
Being humble isn’t being a doormat. It’s not thinking you’re worthless or of little value. CS Lewis wrote: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” True humility is knowing we can be peace-makers and we don’t need to fit for our rights or jostle for position. Jesus is the ultimate example of humility and strength.
The opposite of humility is pride. Tim Keller says: “Pride is the carbon monoxide of sin. It silently and slowly kills you without you even knowing.” Pride is never far from any us. It can surface in everyday situations, such as when we’re driving and someone else tries to edge in front of us!
So how do we kill off pride and allow humility to grow in our lives? Peter tells us six things we need to do and six things we need to know. Firstly, he says: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility” (1 Peter 5:5) – humility is a choice we make.
Why should we choose it? Because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (verse 5). When we choose humility, God’s grace floods in.
Peter also tells us to “humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God” (v6). Though we may not want to humble ourselves to the person in front of us, we choose to humble ourselves under God. We do it with God in mind, knowing that “at the proper time he may exalt you” (v6). It’s about trusting God that He will raise us up at the right time, that He has our backs covered.
Anxieties rush to the surface as we humble ourselves. Fears and doubts come in. We worry that if we don’t fight for ourselves, we’ll be overlooked or taken advantage of. But Peter says we should cast our anxieties on God “because he cares for you” (v7). When we allow ourselves to be shaped by knowing God as our Father and live in the good of His love, there is immense security so we can be humble and put others first.
We’re also instructed to “be sober-minded; be watchful” (v8). We need to be alert to what is going on around us, including spiritually. Why? Because we have an adversary (v8). Pride opens the door to the enemy’s schemes. It’s a lot easier to trip up a proud person than a humble person.
We can resist temptation – we don’t have to give in (v9). All of us mess up and fall at times, but we don’t need to. God has given us all we need to follow Him. It’s a faith battle. Do we trust His plans and purposes? One of the key tactics of the enemy is to isolate us, but Peter says that what we’re facing is the same as what our fellow Christians are facing too (v9). One of the most encouraging things is to know that I can push through because I know others have.
Suffering is mentioned 19 times in 1 Peter. But he says that once we have suffered for a little while, God “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (v10). If we say kind words and encourage people; if we wash up even when it’s not our turn; if we buy the milk for the staff room even though no one else does it; when we do these things, our humility speaks volumes to those around us.
Humility is expressed in the everyday actions and words of life. As we go into a new year, make that decision that you will clothe yourself with humility. When we do so, the grace of God rushes in.
Posted by Paul Mann
7th December 2014
It might seem odd to give a message about persecution the title: ‘Radical blessing’. But it’s clear that Peter is writing to a church that is experiencing persecution. The gospel will cause offence – it did in the days of the early church, and it does today.
Peter was writing to help Christians know that persecution shouldn’t be a surprise to us – we should expect it – but there is a way to handle it so we can stay standing.
Are you ever shocked by the way people treat you? Do you ever ask yourself, “Why am I going through this?” Jesus said that we would have trouble in this world and that if He was persecuted, His followers should expect to be too. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “When persecuted, we endure…” (4:12).
If everyone in your life is happy with you, maybe there’s a problem with the message you’re carrying. We carry a message of love, but the Bible says that the message is offensive to some – to some it’s the aroma of life, but to others it’s the stench of death.
Our call is to show love, regardless of how we’re treated – whether people love or hate us, we’re to extend God’s love to everyone around us. Christians aren’t supposed to be critical, judgemental, and self-righteous. We died to that. It’s not about us; we’ve been saved for love’s sake, to live for others, carrying God’s love to them.
When we take our eyes off our navels, and start reaching out to our neighbours, we find that we’re fulfilling God’s call over our lives.
Persecution takes many forms. In 21st century Britain, we don’t face death for what we believe, and persecution doesn’t take the form that it does in other nations. For us, it’s more likely to be ridicule, people thinking we’re nuts, mickey-taking, unkindness or unpleasantness towards us. But however it comes, hostility will come to those who follow Christ.
Our faith will be tested. How does it stand up under pressure? One thing we notice in the book of Acts is that when the church is persecuted, the gospel advances. That’s what we can expect too. When our faith is proven genuine in the face of persecution, we see the power of God explode.
We handle persecution by fixing our eyes on Jesus. It’s easy to be like Jesus when everything’s going very well, but it’s in exactly the dark and difficult moments that we are called to live and love like Jesus. Jesus didn’t say, “Just tolerate your enemies and slap those who persecute you.” No! He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44)
What does it look like to radically bless an enemy or persecutor? It’s asking for God’s favour upon someone; it’s extending love to someone regardless of whether or not you feel they deserve it; it is responding to unkindness with kindness, to hatred with love, to bitterness with forgiveness.
If you’re a Christian, the same Spirit that rested on Jesus at His baptism and raised Him from the grave lives in you! When we obey God and stay true to Him in the face of persecution, the Spirit of God rests on us in increasing power. We can never be separated from God or from His love. He is an ever-present help. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil. Why? Because God is with us! Knowing these things helps us to endure persecution.
Our primary goal isn’t to sit in churches and be empowered to live increasingly moral lives. Our primary mission is to release the goodness, mercy and love of God’s Kingdom wherever we go. Our call isn't to change people; it's to love people.
To download the 'Radical blessing' sermon and life application questions, click here.
Posted by Santino Hamberis
30th November 2014
There are three steps that any follower of Jesus should make in their life. One is a one-off step of obedience. The other two are ongoing things we do for our whole lives.
We see in 1 Peter 3:21-4:11 that the first thing that any disciple needs to do is be baptised in water. The image Peter has in his mind as he writes is being fully immersed, as we read in other parts of the New Testament too. Baptism in water is the first step of obedience for Jesus' disciples. It's the first thing He calls us to do.
There's nothing magical about the baptism water. It's just come out of a tap! But it is an outward sign of the inner transaction that has taken place: where our old, stony heart has been exchanged for a heart of flesh because we have accepted Christ's substitution for our sins and we have hidden ourselves in Christ.
The second step is that, now we have a new identity in Christ, there are things we are to 'take off'. There are things that no longer fit with my new identity; I now live for the will of God. My old life has died. I have been buried with Christ and raised to a new life, to live for God. As Peter writes in this passage, we used to live in this way, but it was an empty way of life. Now we take this stuff off, not as a way of making ourselves acceptable to God, but because we are living in line with our new identity.
So how are we to live? As well as taking things off, there are things to 'put on', too. Peter writes that we are to "be self-controlled and sober-minded", living for the glory of God. He associates the effectiveness of our prayers with righteous living and calls us to great love that overlooks small offences – and sometimes big ones too!
How are you doing at 'taking off' stuff that doesn't line up with your identity? How good are you at clothing yourself with the things followers of Jesus are to 'put on'? It flows out of our identity as a child of God!
To download the 'New life' sermon and life application questions, click here.
Posted by Paul Mann