The last word

I really liked parts of Selwyn concluding remarks that covered the material he has been discussing over the past two months.

This excerpt captures his main point: ” … what is to be my last word? It is based on our text for today (Matthew 1:21): ‘ … you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.‘ This was the text of the first sermon I ever preached. In these words lies our hope. During that sermon I said, ‘There are two things we need – light to help us understand the mystery of life, and power to give us mastery in life’. In Jesus these two needs are met.”

Whatever unbalanced living there may be in our lives, Jesus can highlight the problem areas and provide His wisdom and power to bring us back into balance. We just need to ask Him to search our hearts and to give Him complete authority over our lives – to allow Him to change us in His perfect way.

Strong yet weak

The key message for me from today’s study, was: “Surrender both your strengths and weaknesses into Christ’s hands right now and trust Him to work within you to bring about a better balance. He stands ready to steady your life, and all He needs is your consent and co-operation.”

The verses for today, carry an important truth, we have been made clean (purified – made acceptable to God) when we believe in Jesus. 

John 15:1-7 (NLT): “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! … “

Don’t you agree that these are amazing words  – if you don’t remain in an active relationship with Jesus – you can do nothing that’s worthwhile?

The irreducible minimum

Selwyn writes today about two issues that he believes are essential beliefs, ‘about which there should be no disagreement’.

He goes on to say that close fellowship, with people who do not subscribe to these beliefs, cannot be maintained.

The two matters are: the Person of Christ – ‘to be Christian means accepting Him as Saviour and Lord (God). “The second belief to which every Christian should subscribe is the authority of the Bible. If we do not believe its truths, bring ourselves under its authority and obey its commands, we cannot call ourselves Christians. … “

I would qualify Selwyn’s last statement by adding that it’s the truth, authority and commands of the Bible as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13-14 (NIV), we read: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”

The Bible can be misused – individual verses can be manipulated to suggest actions which go against the will of God. There is no better example, than what we read in Matthew, Chapter 4, where we find that Satan has an excellent knowledge of Scripture. [Matthew 4:5-7, NIV],  “Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ … ” 

It is this type of area where we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to determine the relative importance of particular verses, and to protect us from taking verses out of their context in support of our own agenda.  

What do you think of Selwyn’s position regarding Christian fellowship; which is, no agreement on these two basic beliefs –  means, no close fellowship is possible?

Stand up and be counted

Selwyn’s main point in today’s study is: “Those who are prepared to demonstrate brotherly love to all, but are not prepared to stand up for truth when it is being compromised, are also off-balance.”

He uses Revelation 2:12-17 (NLT), Jesus’ message to the church in Pergamum, to illustrate this point: ” … I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching. Repent of your sin … “

You can see from what John wrote in Revelation that tolerance of false teaching, is a sin. In addition, Paul, in a number of his letters also makes it clear that a Christian community must not tolerate false teachers, and they should expel those people, after appropriate counselling, who refuse to accept the truth. 

Of course, Scripture can never be used to justify the harsh treatment or torture of people who hold heretical views; and, while on this theme – Scripture can never be used to justify ‘state’ violence, such as the Crusades. God’s role in the conquest of Canaan, is fully explained in the Old Testament; and the circumstances of that case, as far as I can see, has not been duplicated, in the New Testament. In summary, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, in the same way that He loves them; and it’s obvious that His love does not include the tolerance of sin.

What’s your view?

The power of love

Today, Selwyn asks: ‘is the way of love a practicable way to live’?

For those who follow Jesus it is the only way to live. 

If, on the other hand, we ask the question to the average person in my western culture – their answer, as demonstrated by their attitudes and actions, would suggest that it is not a practicable way to live in their world.  God’s perfect love brings with it, the essential element of forgiveness, we see this in the quotes which Selwyn uses in today’s study, in particular, Luke 23:34 – ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’  My society – rarely demonstrates forgiveness – in a practical sense.

The verses, Selwyn has picked for reading and meditation are really good –  my heart really jumps for joy, when I read this type of material – especially the highlighted bits [1 Peter 1:13-25, NLT]: “So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as “foreigners in the land.” For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days.

Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.

As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades.

But the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And that word is the Good News that was preached to you. … “

Don’t you feel like skipping through your day – after reading words, such as these (above)?

A ‘fallen’ church

I’ve done a lot of background reading, after looking at Revelation 2:1-7, referred to by Selwyn in today’s study, regarding the Ephesian church.

Revelation, 2:1-7, New Living Translation: “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from (Jesus) the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:

I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! [Other translations have variations of, ‘You have forsaken your first love’. ]

 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.

Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.”

It’s clear that our first love – is our love for God; and from this first commandment, comes the second commandment – to love each other in the same way that Jesus loves us. The importance of our love for God is that when we leave our love ‘behind’, we fall – not just a little way – but all the way back, to where we started our journey. All, what we do, if it does not have the love of God as its focus – is useless – it is of no value!

Here is what Selwyn writes in today’s study: “The Ephesian church was a top-notch church in the eyes of many – busy and industrious – but in the eyes of Christ they had ‘fallen’.

By that standard I would say many contemporary churches have ‘fallen’ – correct in doctrine, beautiful in ritual, eloquent in preaching, rich in culture, but lacking in love. Such churches should be careful, for if this lack of love is not repented of, Christ will come and remove His lampstand from their midst.”

It’s important to understand the nature of our love for God, here in John’s Gospel (14:15-21, NLT), we hear Jesus talking to His apostles: If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.

The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

No, I will not abandon you as orphans – I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them. …”

A loving Church never teaches that we can make up our own (independent) mind, about following Jesus’ commandments. Many people are blind to this aspect – do you agree?

The highest emphasis

Selwyn continues to discuss the need to balance the two virtues – truth and love.

In John’s first letter we read [1 John 4:7-9, NLT]: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.

But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.”

Selwyn’s conclusion is, I think,  a challenge to many: “Those who are prepared to do battle whenever they think the truth of God is being compromised need to remember that though is is right to stand up for the truth, it is wrong if it is not done in a spirit of love.”

Too many people have caused harm, by justifying their actions on their interpretation of a truth – however, they never knew the truth; because as John says – those who do not love  – do not know God, the one and only truth. 

Don’t you agree that an important point has been made by Selwyn?