The blessed and God-breathed Book (2 Timothy 3:16)

GodBreathed_slide1x_365_y_273This is one of the most breath-taking Three Sixteens, one which you may have already committed to memory.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 is that great statement of assurance concerning God’s Word, the Bible, the God-breathed book on which we build our faith.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (ESV)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

I recently read through 2 Timothy with a friend, over several weeks and many great coffees! The whole letter is a call to persevere in the faith, despite persecutions and difficult people. These are (possibly) Paul’s parting and most important words. He wants Timothy to stick to the truth of the Scriptures, which he’d been taught from his earliest days. (For Timothy this would mean the Old Testament scriptures as well as the teachings of the apostles.) There are so many treasures in this 3:16 (and 17), but I’ll focus on just three points:

1. The Word is God-breathed:  Just as we speak with our actual breath, which forms and carries the sounds of our words, so it is with God’s breath. He has exhaled these words, he has breathed them into the minds and hearts of people who have faithfully written them down, carried along by the Holy Spirit who always does the Father’s will. How else could this extraordinary book, penned by so many authors across millennia, have such consistency and unity of message? This is His Word to us and he has ensured that his breath, his voice, will continue to be heard as we await the return of Christ, the Word of God.

I love what Peter Blowes says about the way the words of the omnipresent and eternal God apply across all time and space:
“. . . God had every reader of Holy Scripture in mind at the time of its ‘exhalation’. This means not only that God’s word is inspired and universally applicable, but also that, in it, God is speaking presently to every particular reader (or hearer) of his Word.” (2011, “Reading the Bible”, Matthias Minizine). 
This leads to my second point.

2. Reading the Word is the most profitable thing we can do.
More than the early morning coffee, jog, paper, news update, more than crossing things off our to do list, more than any amount of television viewing, study or social media, more than relaxing with the family, more than making money .  . . investing in the Word of God is THE most profitable thing we can do. The world shouts at us, calling for our attention, telling us that those ancient words are dead, irrelevant and useless. But as we immerse ourselves more and more in his Word we understand why reading it is the most profitable thing we can do. By reading we come to know our immortal, invisible, all wise, good and gracious God. The Spirit works in us and we grow in confidence of his power, his might and the reality of his work in our world and hearts. We grow in the certainty of our salvation won in Christ.

3. The Word is wonderfully sufficient, equipping us for every good work.
The Bible equips us not by containing enough lists of do’s and don’ts to train us how to do good in every situation (this is the world’s view of the “good book” – which shouldn’t be ours. Christ has fulfilled the law!) Instead, the Word of God equips us by making us more like Christ – who is entirely and always about the Father’s good work. The Word changes us from the inside out and drives our behaviour. This behaviour becomes good work, good fruit (like those good works prepared in advance for us, which Paul described in Ephesians 2:8-10).

John Piper explains well:
Bearing fruit in “every good work” (see Colossians 1:10 ) means that it comes out on the branches of your life naturally from something that has changed inside. And what has changed is that you are dead to the law as a set of lists to constrain from the outside, and are now united to Jesus Christ in a relationship of joyful trust so that when he speaks—even speaks some of that same law—it comes from within as the desire of your heart. . . .The Scripture, day after day, reveals to us the greatness and the beauty and the power and the wisdom and the mercy of all that God is for us in Christ so that by the power of the Spirit we find our joy in him, and the ways of sin become distasteful—indeed ugly and repugnant. Yes the Bible gives us many specifics as pointers how to live. But most deeply the way the Bible equips us for every good work is by changing what we find satisfaction in so that our obedience comes from within freely, not by coercion from without. It does this when we read it and meditate on it and memorize it and meditate over it every day.”
(John Piper from Desiring God)

You may also enjoy:
Sharing the rich, indwelling Word               Sharing the perspicuity of God’s gracious Word

The waterfall, river and reservoir of God’s grace

solid-joy-appI have been really enjoying a smart phone app called “Solid Joys” which comes from the pen of John Piper. Each daily devotion takes about a minute to read, and a few more minutes to contemplate. (You can look it up here if you would like to read online, or check your phone’s app store.) This one is on the theme of grace and how it relates to our past, present and future. Grace is not just about God doing good to us, but also in us. I hope you will find it as encouraging as I did.

The Different Tenses of Grace

We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12)

Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it — undeserved favor. It is also a power from God that acts in our lives and makes good things happen in us and for us.

Paul said that we fulfill our resolves for good “by his power” (verse 11). And then he adds at the end of verse 12, “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The power that actually works in our lives to make Christ-exalting obedience possible is an extension of the grace of God.

You can see this also in 1 Corinthians 15:10: By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

So grace is an active, present, transformative, obedience-enabling power.

Therefore this grace which moves in power from God to you at a point in time is both past and future. It has already done something for you or in you and therefore is past. And it is about to do something in you and for you, and so it is future — both five seconds away and five million years away.

God’s grace is ever cascading over the waterfall of the present from the inexhaustible river of grace coming to us from the future into the ever-increasing reservoir of grace in the past. In the next five minutes, you will receive sustaining grace flowing to you from the future, and you will accumulate another five minutes’ worth of grace in the reservoir of the past.

“Living by Faith in Future Grace”

You may also like these posts:

More Great Grace Songs                                                   The Unexpected timing of God’s grace
advent                               kingscross

The mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16)

mystery_of_godlinessAs we arrive at 1 Timothy 3:16 (in the Three Sixteen series) Paul tells Timothy about the importance of godliness in the church, the church being the pillar and foundation of the faith. The church has been entrusted with the Gospel, with proclaiming Christ to the world. Paul lays down guidelines for selecting overseers and deacons in the church, for teaching, for prayer. Then he includes this apparently random summary statement about the great mystery of Christ:

“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs* is great:
He appeared in the flesh,

    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.”

This is a great summary about Jesus, his life and purpose, and makes a great 3:16 verse! But Paul is actually quoting lines from a well known hymn of the early church. This commentary has some good insights about the relevance of Paul’s words:

Now Paul’s citing of part of what was surely a well-known hymn in the course of writing instructions for behavior in the church is to bring his readers to the point of corporate response. The hymn itself, like many in the New Testament, celebrates Christ’s appearance and ministry on earth. The introductory phrase is a call to consider the implications of this grand event, to evaluate our conduct on the basis of what we confess. . . . Consequently, this phrase ‘the mystery of godliness’ forms a connection between the appearance of Christ, which the hymn celebrates, and Christian living: the mystery is the essence of godliness. It was critical for Paul to remind the readers of this principle, for the false teachers were successfully driving a wedge between belief and behavior with damaging results. In our day of institutionalized atheism and the popular heresy of humanism, the church faces the same danger. Even if dangers of this sort seem remote, we easily forget the practical implications of what we believe and profess to be true.” 

So this is a great verse not just because it celebrates Christ’s work, but because it connects his glorious saving work with our behaviour. We are to walk worthy of Christ’s saving work for us.  His work is finished, we don’t have to earn it! But we are called to live godly lives that point to Him as we, the Church, safeguard and pass on the Truth of His Saving work.

(*Note: if you look at other versions of this verse you may find that it simply says “the mystery of godliness” or the “mystery of our faith” – but the newest NIV translation seems to have hit the proverbial nail by phrasing it “the mystery from which true godliness springs”. True godliness will grow in us when we have build our life on Christ!)

Grace has come – new Sovereign Grace album

grace has comeIf you are the person who chooses new songs for your church, (like me) you may be very excited by the announcement of a new album from Sovereign Grace (August 1). “Grace has come: Songs from the Book of Romans”looks sure to be a treat! Sovereign Grace certainly has figured out a good recipe for singable Gospel songs garnished with much grace! The sample track is based on Romans 8:31-39 – Nothing can tear us from the everlasting love of Christ.


(click title to listen)

VERSE 1   
What shall separate us from Your love?
Can years of sorrow break eternal bonds?
Can condemnation ever raise its voice?
Against the pardon of the blood of Christ?
Though our journey here is long
This will be our triumph song

Nothing in all the earth

Not any height above
Could ever tear us from Your everlasting love
Nothing in all the earth
Not any height above
Could ever tear us from Your everlasting love

What shall separate us from Your love?
For now the sting of death is overcome
And all the powers of this world must fall
Before Your feet because You rule them all
And though our journey here is long
This shall be our triumph song

Nothing in all the earth
Could ever tear us from
Your everlasting love

© 2013 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

The Peace of Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

Peace-With-God“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.”
2 Thessalonians 3:16

There is much comfort from the promises of the Bible which tell us that if we are in Christ we have forgiveness, we have peace with God. (Romans 5:1, Romans 14:17, Philippians 4:7, John 14:27, Galatians 5:22, Colossians 3:15)
This next verse in the Three Sixteen series points us to Jesus, the Lord of peace, the Prince of Peace. If Peace were a country then Jesus is its royal head of State! And from Jesus this peace flows in every direction, at all times and in many different situations.

But why do we need this peace of Christ? Peace is something you only need when there is a time of war, stress, unrest, anxiety, a lack of peace. And such is our natural unpeaceful state apart from Christ.

The peace He brings works on 3 levels:
1. Peace with God.
When we bow to him as Lord we move from enmity with our Creator to a state of peace. Our sin, that the Holy one cannot look upon, has been dealt with in Christ. God’s wrath is removed. We are at peace with Him. This is the greatest treasure in the whole wide world: peace with God! In Christ it is as though a legal or political declaration has been stamped on us. A peace treaty has been signed for us by Christ. He has made peace for us by His blood shed at the Cross.

2. Peace in ourselves.
We need the peace of Christ not just for forgiveness but for each moment. We must choose to let the peace of Christ reign on the throne of our hearts, rather than our sinful desires. Even if we are in Christ we can still lack a sense of peace, due to the ‘wars’ that rage both around and within us in this fallen world. Sinful desires compete within us. But Jesus offers us peace for the moment, applicable to different times and places. Anxiety about health, the future, our children, a car accident, an exam….all can be met with the soothing balm of peace given by Christ. We can respond with a quiet confidence. He is our peace, and He gives us peace. He gives us purpose and wisdom to deal with our innermost conflicts. Sometimes just remembering the name of Christ is enough to bring peace to anxious hearts. He is an anchor for our souls, a mighty fortress, a refuge.

3. Peace with others.
Christian brothers and sisters still have their troubles and conflicts, despite their best intentions and the fact they are united in Christ. In this area the peace of Christ is also called on, to help us live what we are, to sort out our differences and make peace between us.

2 Corinthians 13:11 NLT
“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”

So today whatever troubles are with you, look to the Lord of Peace, and He will give you rest.

Some unusual thoughts on parables and miracles (Message of Mark part 3)

peterIn studying Mark’s Gospel narrative I’ve been challenged to consider a few familiar things in a new light.

1. Parables
These stories were the main form of Jesus’ teaching. They are actually a veiled way of teaching spiritual truth, that draws some people closer to Jesus in faith, and turns others away in hardness of disbelief. This is a hard thing to grasp. You would think Jesus should speak in simple stories that clearly reveal who he is and what he is going to do . . . but no. And perhaps this is the point.
The Kingdom of God is not going to be handed to people on a platter. Jesus wants people to exercise faith! Jesus wants those who have “ears to hear” to draw near and gain understanding of the secrets of the Kingdom, to draw near in faith. To those who do this, they receive greater understanding. Their faith increases! After Jesus told the parable of the sower and the soils (Mark 4), he took the disciples aside to explain:

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,

    and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’

While the Sower parable reminds us that there will be mixed responses to the gospel, there will be a certain harvest. Mark 4 contains several other parables of the Kingdom, explaining through brief stories or sayings the type of Kingdom he ruled over.

The Lamp: no matter what people think of Jesus now – as obscure, insignificant, foolish – one day he will be seen in power and glory.
The Seed and the harvest: The word of God will advance and grow Jesus’ kingdom by God’s hidden power. The harvest is guaranteed and will come suddenly.
The Mustard Seed and the Tree: The Kingdom of God may seem small, beginning in obscurity, but one day it will be see for what it is – the greatest Kingdom of all.

2. Miracles
While people think that if there were more miracles today there would be greater numbers of people following Jesus, if you look at what happened in Jesus day, this is unlikely. Although crowds swarmed around Jesus (and made his teaching ministry more difficult) the miracles he performed did not cause faith to appear. When most miracles occured it was because the person had faith in the first place. The faith of the men who brought their friend on a mat (Mark 2), the faith of the bleeding woman who touched Jesus & the faith of Jairus whose daughter was raised to life (Mark 5) – in all of these faith came first.
We also see that despite witnessing miracles most people still do not understand or draw near in faith (which is the case for the disciples several times!). Rather, the faithful are the ones who cut through the crowds to draw near to Jesus, having faith in his ability to restore them. Each time, Jesus directs their faith to greater knowledge of Himself.  Miracles are not the cause of faith, but Jesus uses them to increase a person’s understanding of him and to provoke questions.

Just thought you would like to know! It certainly changes the way I read the Gospels to appreciate these!

Ps. In searching for a suitable imappage I found a link to an iPhone/iPad app called “Parables and Miracles“. Check it out if you have children and you don’t mind giving them another reason to use your “i” device!

Message of Mark Part 1: Kingdom
Message of Mark Part 2: Titles of Christ in the midst of a whirlwind

The Message of Mark (part 1) Kingdom

kingdomofgodI’m currently in my final week of studying the New Testament 1 subject (Moore external studies) which focuses on the Gospel of Mark. The exam is next Wednesday, and so I’m going to take this opportunity of having a captive audience (here at sevennotes) to motivate me to condense and revise the main concepts I’ll need to write on next week. Hopefully you will find some encouragement here too (especially since you don’t have to write an exam next week).

This first one is based on a practice essay question which asks: Why is the theme of the Kingdom of God an important theme in Mark’s Gospel?

Well the main reason is that this is the heart of the good news which both Jesus and Mark are announcing. God’s promised King, Messiah, Son of God, has showed up, calling people to repent and believe. The Kingdom of God is at hand because the King has come and if you bow your knee to him, take up your cross and follow him, you become part of his Kingdom! Mark wants his readers to be part of this kingdom of faithful followers of Jesus. He wants to free us from lives of serving our own little kings, that is, ourselves. He knows that the service of such little kings leads to death, but in the service of King Jesus there is eternal life and joy!

So what aspects of the Kingdom does Mark make perfectly clear through his gospel account?
1. Jesus is the King of the perfect, eternal Kingdom of God. He fulfills all the promises foreshadowed through the chosen nation of Israel, the rule of David and Solomon, and the voice of the Prophets. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he gradually revealed who he was. This is reflected in Mark’s gradual reveal which draws the reader to see why he has come.
2. King Jesus rules over a kingdom where sinful humanity is restored: sickness, suffering, death and evil have no authority against this king! He has the power and authority to heal, restore and most importantly to forgive sins. He is God’s son, with the full authority of the author of life.
3. The Kingdom will remain a mystery to many: kingdom teachings come in parables that will draw those who have ‘ears to hear’ closer to Jesus, in faith and repentance. Those who reject the message of the King will never understand or find a way into the kingdom.
4. Jesus is the one like a ‘Son of Man’, (promised in Daniel 7, 12) who would receive the Kingdom in the new age, winning victory over evil and sharing the spoils of the kingdom with the ‘saints’. Jesus identified himself as this Son of Man several times (Mark 2, 8 and 13), who comes on the clouds, bringing in the Kingdom, with power!
5. In the resurrection we see the arrival of the Kingdom with power! This is the beginning of the new age of salvation. Death and sin are defeated since Jesus is alive.
6. The way to enter the kingdom is by faith in the King. True discipleship involves bowing the knee to the King. “Kiss the Son” (Psalm 2) comes to mind. The way of the Cross, the response of faith is the response Mark wants us to have to his gospel account.

This Kingdom is indeed a kingdom of grace!
See you again for more study soon.

You may also like:

The Message of Mark (part 2): The Titles of Christ

The Message of Mark (part 3): Some unusual thoughts on Parables and Miracles

Coheirs with the Child of the Promise (Galatians 3:16)

Unlike other memorable Three Sixteens in this series, here in Galatians the 3:16 verse is no piece of cake! It is perhaps quite confusing. It talks of the promises to Abraham (land, people, fame, blessing) which you usually think of as being received by many descendants. God made the promised family group descending from Abraham into a great, blessed nation. Through this nation all the world would be blessed. Yet here Paul seems to be saying ONE person receives the promise. Have a look:

Galatians 3:14-18 (NLT)
Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. 15 Dear brothers and sisters, here’s an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or amend an irrevocable agreement, so it is in this case. 16 God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say “to his children” as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says “to his child”—and that, of course, means Christ. 17 This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. 18 For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.

The Scripture referred to here in verse 16 is Genesis 12:7 and 13:15, where God promises he will give this land to Abraham’s “offspring”, or in Hebrew “seed”.
Now like me you may be taken at this point with the fact that “seed” could be used as a singular noun, or a plural one. Perhaps Paul was using this grammatical anomaly to his advantage (as some commentaries would suggest), playing on the “seed/seeds” confusion to make a point to his Jewish audience. Just because they were Jews, one of the many “seeds” who had sprouted up as part of Abraham’s family tree, this did not automatically make them a true child of Abraham, a true child of this promise. Afterall, these were the “foolish Galatians” (3:1) who were hoping to receive the salvation Christ won for many (by his death and resurrection) by their own good works – by keeping the Jewish law. Paul says no. Don’t go back to trying to keep the law! You must be IN Christ, who is the true heir of this promise.

This is the certainty we have. Christ and only Christ is the way of blessing, open to all who receive him as their Lord and Saviour, regardless of their racial credentials. Through Christ many can come into God’s family, not by their own merit, but by Christ’s. Jesus is the ONE descendant from Abraham who makes it possible for us to receive the GRACE of this promise. He is the promised Seed, who fulfilled all the promises of God, promises to Adam and Eve, promises to Abraham, promises to King David – promises made through Isaiah of a suffering servant King who would give his life as a ransom for many. The Promise was to Abraham, and it is fulfilled in Christ. We must be IN Christ, not just in Abraham’s family tree, to be co-heirs of the Promise, with Christ. This is a remarkable reminder of God’s grace to us IN Christ. In Him we receive the undeserved favour of the Son who should ALONE receive the blessings of the Father. But we also receive these blessings IN Christ, if we are IN Christ.

Let’s continue to rest in His righteousness and not our own.

Ps. If you are intrigued by that CD cover image at the top, you can click here to find out more about the album.

The gracious choice to carry others’ burdens

The other day I was involved in a discussion about how we can knowingly or unknowingly tempt others to sin. What is our responsibility in that situation? Interesting discussion!
One person shared a verse from James 1:14 –But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” In their view this verse excuses us from much responsibility. Now James does have a fair point here of course. People do have a choice, to give in to the temptation/entertain the thought, or not! But does this exempt me from responsibility?
If I know someone who has difficulty with being, frankly, a glutton, should I offer them a large serve of chips and a whole block of chocolate? If someone has a problem with anger, should I provoke them by luring them into a heated debate? If someone, by virtue of being male, is tempted by images of scantily dressed females should I make the effort to wear more modest, less figure hugging clothes? If someone is an avid gossiper should I mention some tasty little bit of information to them, out of turn?

In seeking godly wisdom for this dilemma, Paul reminded me in his letter to the Galatians (6:1-2) that: ” . . .  if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.(NIV)
Also in Philippians we read: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (James 2:3-4)

This is how the law of Christ is fulfilled! This is the law of love, lived out when we consider that each of us carry burdens, and the heaviest burden is sin. Paul commands us to carry each other’s burdens. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.(1 John 3:16). (See the post in the Three Sixteens.)

We carry each others burdens best when we remember that we are part of the Body of Christ. We are part of a larger unit of people who need each other, and should support each other, just as the different organs and limbs in our physical bodies do. We are a living system and we are to seek the good of others in that system. I don’t think God intends us to struggle alone with our sin, without help. Let’s look around and consider what burdens others are carrying, and help them by being mindful of their weakness. We can even pray for them! And if it means we have to change something about ourselves, our actions, then so be it. Just because we aren’t responsible for other people’s sinful actions doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider them ‘better’ enough to help carry their burden. Let’s spur each other on to love and good deeds (not more sin).

I now feel compelled to, most daringly, turn this whole thing around and back on to me.
Does this all mean that I, a sinner saved by grace, should be honest enough and vulnerable enough with others to let them know my struggles with sin? Am I willing to do that? If I don’t, aren’t I preventing others from fulfilling the law of Christ. What do you think?

You may also like

The waterfall, river and reservoir of God’s Grace                Unexpected Timing of Grace  


The LORD is my light and my salvation…(2)

An interesting way to think about “hiding God’s word” in our heart – and why it is important to do that. This blog “Singing in Babylon” is a good one; it’s all about Psalms, about how we, who are living in “Babylon”, as it were, can be encouraged by this ancient book of poetry/song. Enjoy!

Singing in Babylon

‘My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek.’ Psalm 27:8.

Is it just a prejudice that comes with living in the 21st century that I have such difficulty thinking of David, living 3000 years ago, as a man so acutely self-aware in the presence of his LORD?

Even with the differences between us on a cultural level (David never drove a car or wore a suit and tie; he never had a ‘Facebook’ page or ‘blogged’ a single line, and his taste in music was so ‘Old Testament’) the similarity in his songs with what goes on in my heart when I am confronted by God amazes as well as comforts me.

Threatened with powerful enemies, this man whom the LORD described as one ‘after my own heart’ could look within himself, into his heart and find the way to meet…

View original post 347 more words