40. Gifts of Ministries – to Plant

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

40. Gifts of Ministries – to Plant

Eph 4:11,12  Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Cor 12:27,28  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

Lk 6:12,13  One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:

A Focus & A Question: I am going to divide this subject of ‘ministries’ into those that initiate or establish new local churches and those who maintain and continue to build the local church. Thus in this first part I am going to focus on apostles and evangelists and to a lesser measure, prophets. Perhaps we should first of all deal with a question in some minds, does the church need these ministries? I doubt if there is anyone who would question the need for evangelists, pastors and teachers in the church and we may wonder why therefore the doubts about apostles and prophets? They are, after all, in the same verses where Paul speaks of Christ’s gifts of these men with the specific role of equipping the people of God, and they are still needed to build up the church and bring it to maturity and fulness in Christ. I’m not sure we can ever say that task is completed. I suspect queries against these ministries arise either out of ignorance of their functions, or possibly experience of those who, living out their gifting, fail in some way to maintain grace and humility. A shame in both cases.

Apostles: Very well, first some basics. The word simply means ‘a sent one’ and we see the distinction between a disciple and an apostle in Lk 6:12,13 above where Jesus, “called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”  In the New Testament we first see ‘the Twelve’ who Jesus had with him and one of their roles was, in Peter’s words, to be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:22). From observing them and particularly watching how Peter and John continued after Jesus’ ascension, we see the apostles taking the lead in the church, preaching the gospel and performing signs and wonders. There is authority and Holy Spirit anointing. I have had the privilege of knowing a number of apostles, men who were clearly church-planters, church-builders, men of faith, vision, power and authority, not by mere word but by deed.

Observing Paul & Barnabas: In the previous study we noted how Paul came to the Lord, preached, grew in faith, taught in the local church and was then sent out by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel and, watching how that developed, moved from Jews to Gentiles and clearly established groups of believers who became local churches, and then appointed elders (leaders) in each local church. This created a long-term sense of care and responsibility in Paul, seen in how he wanted to go back and check out those churches (Acts 15:36) and so subsequently went back through the area they had been to before, “strengthening the churches”, (Acts 15:41) with the result that, the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” (Acts 16:5).  He and those with him (note, “and his companions” Acts 16:6) were clearly directed – limited as well as being led on – by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 16:6-10). It would be foolish to suggest that an apostle need not be filled with the Holy Spirit! Studying both Paul and Barnabas we see them as men growing in faith, being sent, and then being used as they preach with power and authority.

Characteristics? So, from what we have observed of the narratives of the New Testament, the apostles – first the twelve, then others (e.g. Paul & Barnabas seen in Acts 14:14, Andronicus and Junia, mentioned in Rom 16:7, and it may be that those who simply travelled with Paul were generally termed apostles, sent ones, sent to be missionaries, bringing people to Christ, and then establishing them with leaders in the local context) – were people who grew in faith, received vision and would have had to have moved in wisdom, with a strong sense of the Lord’s presence with them on occasion as they moved in authority with power with signs and wonders. These are the things that distinguished them. Are they needed in the Church today? Very much so!

Well, first, perhaps something that distinguishes them from present day bishops, arch-bishops, cardinals etc. was that they were ‘hands on’ out there doing the stuff, not managers or even just good examples for the faithful, but people operating with power as well as authority (and their authority did not come from their position in an institutional structure but from the working of the Holy Spirit in and through them), who were out there ‘doing the stuff’ extending the kingdom. Does a small town say, with a dozen or more local churches today, need the ministry of an apostle coming in? Well the one thing I have observed in the past, being part of a network in which apostles and prophets operated, is that apostles never simply accept the status quo. They are constantly asking, “What next Lord?” and so they energise and motivate the local church on, releasing faith and vision and enabling and equipping and empowering new leaders and new ministries. They are, if you like, God’s catalysts.

Prophets: We all know what prophets are, for we see their writings and activities in the Old Testament, mostly men, but don’t forget Deborah (Judg 4:4), with that popular image of a man standing on the hillside overlooking Israel declaring the word of God to a disobedient nation. In the New Testament we find Agabus who came and prophesied over Paul (Acts 21:10) but there are other references to prophets – at Antioch (Acts 13:1), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8,9). We know about the gift of prophecy because there is much about it in 1 Cor 12 -14 especially, but little about ‘prophets’ except  prophets come with God’s heart and with vision, and like apostles are God’s motivators. The prophet tends not to be just concerned with one or two people for whom he has a word, but for the glory of the Lord in the greater church. I mention prophets here in that they come second in Paul’s listings in Eph 4:11,12 and 1 Cor 12:27,28. In my life, although I have known many people with the gift of prophecy, I have only known personally three men who were clearly prophets (there may of course have been more).

Evangelists: Mentioned in the Ephesian verses but not in the 1 Cor 12 verses, the only one specifically mentioned in the New Testament as an evangelist was Philip (Acts 21:8) and we see him in action earlier in Acts 8:4 onwards, both preaching and operating in signs and wonders and seeing many turn to Christ. Paul also exhorted Timothy, do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5).  Now it has to be said that the apostles clearly operated as evangelists – bringing the gospel resulting in salvation – as they went out proclaiming Christ.  At which point we have to wonder that perhaps evangelists are apostles without the wisdom, vision and authority, a simpler and more straight forward ministry of being more fruitful than most in drawing people to Christ. They also appear to have the ability to impart faith to God’s people to likewise reach out with the gospel.

And So? These appear to be the primary instruments that God has used and continues to use in establishing His Church. So often, across the Church, if we are honest, we see an administrative hierarchy that are more known for their committees and the controlling influences, and simply maintaining the status quo rather than their pioneering energy that continues to ensure the gospel is brought to places where it would otherwise appear to be absent and, even more, it is brought to places where the gospel has come in the past but the life of the church has turned moribund, as continuing surveys of denominational numbers so often reveal. The truth is that where apostles, prophets and evangelists function, life flows, and church grows. Where they are absent, so often stagnation sets in and committees rule and the church resorts to social events to attract the starving crowds, rather than seeking God for the Christ appointed and Christ-anointed ministries that he has chosen, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

The unity that is absent across the breadth of the Church, brought through history by men who were insecure and so divided off from others, is a sign of the absence of these ministries which were replaced in the early few centuries by men and institutions that were not Christ appointed and Christ-anointed. The tolerance of a powerless form of religion (1 Cor 4:20 “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” and 2 Tim 3:5 “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” ) in so many places, is a similar sign, of the absence of such ministries moving under the power and direction of the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, seated at the Father’s right hand. Let’s pray for the Lord of the Church to send a resurgence of Eph 4:11,12 ministries. We need him and we need his power and we need his ministries – desperately!

39. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

39. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction

Rom 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Eph 4:11,12  Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Cor 12:27,28  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

A Focus: There are ‘gifts’ and there are ‘ministries’ and sometimes there is confusion between the two. A ‘gift’ is a precursor to a ‘ministry’. I recently came across a quote of some leader saying in accordance with 1 Cor 14, we can all have the ministry of a prophet. Wrong! Paul doesn’t say that; he says, “I would rather have you prophesy,” and the whole context there is gifts not ministries. The difference? The heart the individual contains and the anointing upon them.

Gifts to?  Another way of distinguishing is by saying who are these gifts to. Gifts of the Spirit, for example itemised in 1 Cor 12:8-10, are gifts to individuals, for use within the church. Gifts given by Christ seen in Eph 4:11,12 are gifts of people to the church. To take prophecy and prophets as an example here, Paul makes it clear that anyone can prophesy when they are filled with the Spirit. As I have led groups seeking to move in the gift, I have noticed a number of times that, although I may pray over them as a group of usually about ten, and that evening all of them will step out and have a word for another that is pure revelation, in the months that follow I have noted (in a church where the gifts are encouraged) that of that ten, two or three will have words regularly, four or five will have an occasional word, and two or three will never have a word again.

Different people, different gifts: This says nothing about the spirituality of the individual, but more about the heart that God gives the individual. In the Romans verses above, Paul speaks of the grace that God gives in different measure to different people. I have expressed it more in the past as the level of faith that God gives individuals. Thus I see individuals who have great faith for giving financially but not, let’s say, for healing. Then there may be others with great faith to pray for healing but don’t have any feeling for giving.  It is a mystery but ultimately it is down to God to find people who will respond in differing ways, and so He gifts them, I believe, accordingly.

Gifts into Ministries: Now I have never carried out surveys on this but I think my general observation through the years is that God gifts many individuals with gifts of the Spirit, but He develops that in only a relatively few to bring about a ministry. A ‘ministry’ is a form of service that captures the heart of an individual and receives the special anointing of the Holy Spirit and is used by God to build the church. The heart for this will grow and develop in an individual and as they step out, so the anointing will likewise grow.

The Example of Saul/Paul: The apostle Paul is a good example of this. it is a fairly lengthy story (taking up chapters 13 & 14 of Acts) but will have bearing in the next study. In it we see the development of his spiritual life and ministry experience.

Earliest days: From the time he was saved and filled with the Spirit (see Acts 9) Saul, as he was originally known, started preaching (see v.20). With the help of Barnabas he was accredited as a Christian believer by the apostles in Jerusalem (v.26-28). Because of opposition from the Jews he was sent off to Caesarea and then to Tarsus (v.30).

In Antioch: Later he was brought by Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:25) and he taught for a year alongside Barnabas (v.26) and was then sent as a finance carrier (v.30) to Judea, returning some time later bringing John Mark with them (12:25).  Saul and Barnabas were known in the company of “prophets and teachers” (Acts 13:1). In the context of the church there in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were commissioned to go out to take the Gospel on what we now refer to as their first missionary journey

First Missionary Journey:  Initially this was to Jews in the synagogue at Salamis on Cyprus (Acts 13:4,5), where his name is changed from Saul to Paul (13:9) and brings blindness to a sorcerer (a power sign) before moving on. After leaving Cyprus they returned to the mainland (13:13) and then went inland to Pisidian Antioch (13:14) where Paul preached powerfully to the Jews but was ultimately rejected by them (13:45), and so turned to preach to the Gentiles (13:46). Moving on to Iconium, they preached boldly with signs and wonders following  (14:3) and it is there that they are first indirectly referred to as apostles (14:4). Moving on to Lystra, Paul healed a cripple (14:8-10) causing many to hail them as ‘gods’. It is at this point that Luke rather pointedly speaks of, “the apostles Barnabas and Paul”. (Acts 14:14). Moving on to Derbe, they had many converts (14:20,21). They then backtracked and appointed elders in each of the churches they had previously formed (14:21-23) and eventually make their way back to Antioch to whom they reported all that had happened (14:26,27). In the next study we will perhaps backtrack and observe the stages of Paul’s development as an apostle, seeing the characteristics that went with it.

Serving to Build: Now we should also note in passing that the Greek word used in the New Testament for ‘ministry’ is ‘diakonia’ (plus other forms of that word) that essentially means ‘to serve’. It is from that word that we get ‘deacon’, one who serves in the church, and we’ll look at them in a later study.  I have said it twice already but we should emphasize that, first and foremost, spiritual gifts and gifts of Ministries are to bring about, create, and build the church. In the following studies we will see how this happens in each case. In respect of spiritual gifts Paul taught, Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12) What is true of spiritual gifts is also true of ministries. If there is anyone who appears to exercise one of the Eph 4 ministries and does not have the heart to build the church and thus glorify God, their ministry is suspect.

And So? We find provision in the Church of ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ which are used by individuals to bless and build the church. We also find provision of ‘Ministries’, gifts of people with heart and anointing calling to minister to bring about, create and build the church. I have twice used this language here to emphasise what these ministries do. In their differing ways they bring about or bring into being what we have throughout these studies been calling ‘the Church’; they create it by spreading the Gospel and creating believers who are the Church, and they build up, equip and empower those believers to act as the body of Christ and continue the creating-building process. This we will see in more detail as we move on.

45. Prophecy

Short Meditations in John 6:  45. Prophecy

Jn 6:45 “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.”

The Message version builds this verse as follows: “This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’ Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it first hand from the Father.”

There are really three parts to this verse. First there is the prophetic reference, a quote from Isa 54:13 that referred to Israel’s future, a time of blessing when God would teach the future generations. Life for the people of God includes receiving revelation from Him, teaching that would guide, lead and change them and make them be seen across the earth as the unique people of God. That was how it was supposed to be.

Second, there is reference to those who have “heard the Father and learned from Him.” The clear implication is that not everyone hears and certainly not everyone learns from Him. Hence the Message version’s, “really listening” emphasis. But this is the condition upon which the verse pivots. The first part is God’s intent, this second part is the response of those with open hearts to God, which leads on to, third, the outcome or response of such people who will take on board what they read or hear, they will turn to Jesus.

There is a sharp logic in this verse with a teaching that is easy to forget. God speaks, that is always stage one. When it first happens, before we turn to Christ, most of us don’t realise what is happening but the conviction that follows only comes because God has spoken into a receptive heart. When that conviction comes it is because we have heard God. As I say, I am sure most of us don’t realise this is what has happened, but it is. When His words penetrate our prepared hearts, we show we have heard by our response, which is always to turn to Jesus.

The apostle Paul asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Gal 3:2) They had heard the gospel and then believed it and as a result were born again. To the Ephesians he said, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” (Eph 4:20,21) i.e. you were taught, you heard, and that provided a basis for how you were to live out this new Christian life. God’s word draws us to Christ and then Christ’s word guides us into the future. Make sure it happens.

2. God the Communicator

Meditations in Hebrews 1:  2. God the Communicator

Heb 1:1  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways 

I think I have lost count of the number of times, over the years, I have written, “God is a communicator”, for the whole Bible is about God communicating with mankind. From the outset, before the Fall, He communicated with Adam (Gen 2:16,17). After the Fall He communicated with Adam and Eve (Gen 3:9-19), then later with Cain (Gen 4:6-15) and then even later, by implication to Enoch (Gen 5:22-24) and then later still to Noah (Gen 6:13 on), but the ‘big conversation with God’ man was Abram (Gen 12 on).

In our verses at the beginning of Hebrews the writer is going to contrast Jesus with even the prophets and say how much greater than them he was, so whatever we see of these men (and they were mostly men although Deborah (Judges 4:4 on) stands out) we need to remember that Jesus was greater than them.

Now Abraham is the first man designated by God as a prophet (Gen 20:7) yet not a man who  brings, “Thus says the Lord,” types of word but without a doubt he us shown as a man who has conversations with God and is later described in the Bible as ‘God’s friend’ (Jas 2:23). Now Jesus was more than a friend, he was the unique Son of God, begotten of the Father (begotten means ‘comes out of’).

Four hundred years or so later, Moses would designate himself a prophet (Deut 18:15) but Moses was unique among those designated prophets in the Old Testament in that he spoke face to face with God and when he came out of God’s presence, his face shone with the glory of God (Ex 34:34). When the writer to the Hebrews says “at many times and in many ways” we don’t know what he has in mind but clearly already we have seen Abraham walking and talking with God and Moses waiting in God’s presence in the Tent of Meeting or the Tabernacle having face-to-face encounters with God. Remember along the way, my assertion that God is a communicator. There had been previous communications but now much deeper communications with both of these men, both designated as ‘prophets’.

We next see the word ‘prophet’ applied to a specific individual (Moses had used the word in teaching throughout Deuteronomy) in Judges 6 where we read, When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says…..” (Judg 6:7,8) This seems to be the first ‘Thus says the Lord’ type of prophet who bring one message calling Israel to repent. However, when you read Judges you realise this is not the only divine communication. In chapter 2 an angel of the Lord comes with a message of rebuke to Israel (Judg 2:1-3) and at the end of that chapter the Lord speaks to Israel again (2:20-22). In chapter 4 we come across Deborah the prophetess (4:4-) who clearly communicates God’s will. This brings us to Gideon to whom the Lord appears to speak directly (7:2-).  Later, in Judges 10 there is a time when Israel appear to repent and call on the Lord who answers (Judg 10:11-14), presumably through a prophet. When it comes to the story of Samson in Judges 13, it starts with an angel of the Lord communicating with his parents (Judg 13:3-5,11-18)

At the end of the period of the judges, Samuel “was attested as a prophet of the LORD” (1 Sam 3:20) and we read the Lord, “revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (v.21) which, examining Samuel’s ministry, would suggest a combination of “Thus says the Lord” type of words plus words of wisdom as he judged the people. Samuel, of course, initially heard God’s word out loud (1 Sam 3:4-). What we tend to forget is that before this started to happen to Samuel, we are told “a man of God” came to Eli, the old priest, with a strong and lengthy prophetic word of rebuke and correction. (1 Sam 2:27-36). God of communication!

Now rather that go on and write several pages of all the records of the times when the Lord spoke to His people through the rest of the Old Testament, we would simply suggest that as you read your Bible you keep an eye out for the times when the Lord spoke and how He spoke. There are clearly times when He spoke directly to individuals and other times when an unknown prophet turns up with a word, or even more, when a prophet with a full prophetic ministry is clearly one who hears God – e.g. Elijah, Elisha then the major prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and then a number of ‘minor prophets’.

Already, in the limited scan of the earlier part of Israel’s history, we have seen that the Hebrews’ writer is accurate when he says that God spoke, “through the prophets at many times and in various ways”. We are going to go on to see how God then spoke through His Son, Jesus Christ, but that ‘speaking’ involved a lot of action. Perhaps the big difference between Jesus and many of the prophets is that Jesus demonstrated the kingdom of God and the others merely spoke it. The only real exception was Elisha who also demonstrated the wisdom and power of God through his ministry.

Of course, now we are in the era of the Church, the body of Christ, the clear teaching of the New Testament is that we too are to be God’s mouthpiece and we too, like Jesus, are to demonstrate the presence of the kingdom of God as he did. Remember he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) That really leaves no room for argument! That is the intended style of life in and through the Church. May we see it more and more.

20. God said it

Meditations in Acts : 20 :  God said it

Acts 2:15-16  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

There are some things in Scripture that are so obvious and come up so often that I believe many of us who read the Bible regularly, probably take them for granted, and our verses here now includes one such thing. As Peter seeks to explain what is happening he has, first of all as we have already seen, discounted the idea that these apostles are drunk because it is too early in the morning. He then goes on to say why this is happening and it is that, I suggest, we take for granted – that this is happening because God said it would!

It is as simple as that. These events are unfolding because God had said they would. When Peter refers to “the prophet Joel” it is immediately implied that Joel had spoken prophecy under the empowering of the Holy Spirit and so it was in fact God speaking. Now, as I said, this is so obvious that we need to pause up and reflect upon it.

To say that God speaks is simply to reflect on what the Bible says, yet there have been whole groups of men who would purport to be Christian scholars who denied that such a thing was possible, denied that the divinely supernatural was possible. Some of these men still are living loud and well in the church. They are what some call liberal scholars, but if we are to fully appreciate the wonder of the things we read in Scripture, we would do well to face their challenge.

At the end of the day it is a matter of belief, a matter of faith. You will either say, “I believe what the Bible claims of itself, that this collection of writings are those which have been inspired by God and are a genuine account of God’s dealings with the world.” Moreover we will say, “I believe it when it describes God as a living being, supreme, almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, who communicates with His creation which He brought into being.” The alternative is to say, “I do not believe the unity and harmony that is in this book and so I do not believe in the God you have just spoken of and so I do not believe that there can be divine communications or divine actions.”

But can we see that this later viewpoint is a rejection of the immense evidence that is this book, the Bible, and a blindness to the wonder of what is there. It is a viewpoint that STARTS by saying “I do not believe in the supernatural or the spirit world” but that is not an open-minded scientific approach. The open-minded researcher looks at every page of this book, considers the possibilities, sees how the book came into being, sees the harmony and unity that turns individual books into one book, sees the harmony and flow of history that is coherent and understandable, and says, “It is true.” Yet even that is a statement of faith because by the very nature of it we cannot guarantee it – yet it makes sense.

We would go a step further and suggest that there is really not a mid-way view, between these two views we noted above. The latter view above is ultimately atheistic, and the middle view is agnostic, but the agnostic is in reality nearer the atheist than the believer, because there is within such people a refusal to go and search out the truth with an open mind. Remember, the two possibilities are ONLY i) there is a God as described by the Bible or ii) there is no divine being and all the Bible writers were deluded and there is no meaning or purpose to life because life is pure chance. There really is NO mid-way!

So, we believe, and find ourselves with this amazing declaration, that Almighty God is a communicating God and the Old Testament is full of His communications. The communication, I would dare suggest, is not perfect because it comes through human beings and prophet or not, the effect of Sin in us means that we struggle to ‘hear’ God. It may be for that reason that God did not lay out a systematic theology, but simply shared Himself with those who were open to Him, and shared little bit by little bit, aspects of the divine plan.

Perhaps He did not want it to be blindingly obvious because, as Jesus hinted in his teaching between the two parts of the parable of the Sower, it is only those with open hearts who will truly understand what He says and that God’s word comes in ways that only seekers will understand and receive to be saved (Mt 13:14,15).

But the fact is that God did speak and His prophets did hear and write down what they heard. It is a fact that Joel did catch something from God and it was about God pouring out His Holy Spirit, and that, says Peter, is what is happening here. God said it and so now God is doing it. This is God doing what He said He would. This, in front of you, is an act of God being unfolded before you!

So now, to this matter of preaching! We have in this meditation confronted the heart of the preacher. You either believe this book is the inspired word of God and take it as it is, or you make excuses for it and about it and you bring nice homilies instead of God inspired, life changing, Bible-based messages. If you are a preacher, reread this meditation and check out your approach to the Bible and to your preaching. There is too much faint-hearted, wishy-washy, powerless preaching around in the Church today. As we will see later, this sermon came with such power that thousands of lives were changed. Isn’t that what we want?

22. God of Mercy

Meditations in 2 Peter : 22 :  God of Mercy

2 Pet  2:5-9  if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment

So we took the hard side of these verses in the previous meditation. He had cited two specific historical catastrophes that we find in the early part of the Bible – the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Previously we consider the validity of God’s judgements but now we find something else.

We find two other examples, examples of God saving men from those catastrophes. First there was Noah who was saved from the Flood and then there was lot who was saved from Sodom. Prior to the Flood we read, “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:6) This was the Lord anguishing over His world which was on a runaway course with Sin. But then we read, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9)  That explains why the Lord saved him, but when we come to Lot I find Peter’s description of him very gracious.

When you read the accounts of Abram and Lot, we find Lot choosing what, at first sight, seems the best part of the land, when they divided it up, and we read, “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.” (Gen 13:12,13) Clearly Sodom had a reputation and yet Lot still went and lived near there. Not long later we find he is living actually in Sodom (Gen 14:12). By the time God’s angels go to Sodom we find, Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.” (Gen 19:2). Now the gateway was the place that the elders of the city sat to preside over the affairs of the city – that was the extent to which Lot had now gone. I always feel, therefore that Lot doesn’t show up very well thus far. He certainly does take care of the two angels and protects them from the crowd, even been willing to sacrifice the purity of his two daughters to do it.

But it is to Peter that we turn for a fuller picture: a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).”   Peter portrays a man who has got himself to a place that he regrets, where the society is godless and unrighteous and this tormented him. Well that is good news. That paints a better picture of Lot.

So the Lord saved these two men (and their families) from the destruction that He was bringing because they were righteous. But Peter hasn’t finished. In fact he is about to bring us to the climax of his argument for all that we have considered so far is the basis for a logical conclusion to follow. See his “If… then…” argument. if this is so, then.”   If God rescued those two men from the judgments He was brining in their days, then we may conclude something else. What is that?  It is twofold.  First, the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials.”   Even when the rest of the world is going bad, the Lord will save His righteous children from the midst of the judgment that He is bringing. That is the first part. The second part is, to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.”  The unrighteous may appear to be getting away with their unrighteousness but God is just waiting for the appropriate time to bring it to an end by bringing His judgment. The wicked will not get away with it!

These are the two crucial points that Peter has been working towards in this chapter. There has been a clear train of thought that started from, “I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” (1:14,15) He then emphasized that the gospel wasn’t made up and he knew that because they had been eye-witnesses to all that had gone on. More than that, it all conformed to the prophetic Scriptures which had come through prophets inspired by God.

Then, as a continuation from all that, it’s as if he says, “But be careful because not all prophets are good prophets and there will be those who will teach wrong things and seek to lead you astray – and you will see much of that in the world – but hold onto this truth: while the world is going astray, as long as you remain faithful, God will keep you and save you and bring you through whatever days of judgment He brings, and don’t worry about the unrighteous, God will eventually deal with them. Their time WILL come. Understanding all this – be at peace!” That is the gist of what he has said so far.

8. Revealed

Meditations in 1 Peter : 8 :  Revealed

1 Pet  1:12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

I have to confess to not liking secrets, they smell of division, and yet I recognise that sometimes secrets are quite valid. You keep secret the presents you have bought for a birthday or at Christmas. You keep secret difficult times you may be going through from your young children who could not handle the worry. If you are working on an invention it is legitimate to keep it a secret until you have patented it. If you are planning changes in business or war, it is legitimate to keep the plans secret until they have been finalised and thought through properly. In Britain we struggle with a ‘Freedom of Information’ Act  which is sometimes abused so that people are required to relinquish information prematurely. We also live in an age when ‘leaks’ appear common and someone ‘spills the beans’ before the information is ready to be released.

The prophecies about the Gospel in the Old Testament are God’s ‘leaks’. It was like He was so excited about what the Godhead had planned, that He couldn’t help sharing bits of it with His prophets. But why keep it a secret? Why not come out with it to Abram, say? “In many centuries I am going to send my Son from heaven to reveal my love on the earth and then to die for the sins of the world.”  Why didn’t God say that? Well, I suspect the answer has got to be that it wouldn’t have helped us. We wouldn’t have understood it and we’d still have been sceptical of Jesus when he came and threatened our religiosity.

As Peter continues to talk about the prophets who received the revelations in the Old Testament period he says, It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you.” Now I confess to finding that strange, I’m not sure I understand it, and I haven’t found a commentator who explains it satisfactorily, because he is basically saying that they were told by God that this was for a future generation but in reality they could not have known which generation would enjoy the fulfilment of their words. It has, therefore, to be a general sense that is being referred to, the sense that this is going to happen at some future date.

Possibly an example of this was Balaam who eventually brought a word that is usually taken to refer to Jesus: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Num 24:17) and then, “A ruler will come out of Jacob.” (v.19) It is a word that is also so dressed up with references to other nations being subjugated that it has to be very much spiritualised to be applied, yet the point is that he does know that it is yet for some time in the future.

These things have now been brought right into the present by the preaching of the Gospel says Peter: when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel.” On the day of Pentecost Peter started his message by a long reference to Joel (Acts 2:17-21), explaining how what was happening was a direct fulfilment of his prophecy. He then cited David’s psalm writing (Acts 2:25-28) that indirectly pointed out the fact of the resurrection, and then about Jesus ascending back to heaven (Acts 2:34,35).

After the healing at the gate called Beautiful, Peter taking the opportunity to preach again declares, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.” (Acts 3:18) and “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, `The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.” (Acts 3:21,22) and, “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, `Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:24-26). In each case the general teaching followed by a specific example.

Of course Jesus himself on the road to Emmaus said to the two disciples, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk 24:25-27)

The message is very clear: the Old Testament prophecies clearly pointed to Jesus and Jesus and his apostles used that to verify all that had taken place and which we now call part of the Gospel. The angels in heaven were likewise kept in suspense as they looked on and saw what was happening on earth yet the revelation was not given to them but to prophets and then apostles. It’s a Gospel for mankind and it was to mankind that it was shared. Hallelujah!

7. Seeking Prophets

Meditations in 1 Peter : 7 :  Seeking prophets

1 Pet  1:10,11   Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.

The previous section had come to an end with Peter declaring, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (v.9). It is natural for him now to say something more about this salvation: “Concerning this salvation…” Now I’m going to consider these verses above in reverse order.

“When he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” Who is the ‘he’ here? It was the “Spirit of Christ in them” and the ‘them’ were the Old Testament prophets. So he reminding us of a strange feature of the Old Testament that perhaps we take for granted. It is said that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament that Christ fulfilled, i.e. 300 that pointed to Christ, and some of them speak about his sufferings. Now the Old Testament period teachers really struggled with all of this for some prophecies also spoke about a coming One who would be a ruler. We’ll stick to prophecies from Isaiah for this comparison purpose. As to a ruler: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:6,7) Note the ‘ruling language’ there.

Yet when we go into a later part of Isaiah we get pictures of a suffering servant: “See, my servant will prosper; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” (Isa 52:13) Oh that’s confusing, it starts out speaking of his success! But watch how it continues: “there were many who were appalled at him– his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” (Isa 52:14) That doesn’t sound very good! “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 53:2,3) This successful servant is not going to be a handsome hero and in fact he’s going to be despised and rejected!!!! “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5) It continues: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer (Isa 63:7-10) All of this speaks of the work of the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Christ.

All of this, God knew because it had been planned within the Godhead from before the foundation of the world. This is what the Spirit of God was communicating through many prophecies throughout the Old Testament period. Thus there were a number of prophets who found themselves speaking out these things and who were left wondering, “What does this mean? When will this happen?” Surely some times there was a double fulfilment in respect of what was spoken, a fulfilment within years and then centuries later through Jesus Christ,  but even so the prophets were left wondering, and the teachers were left wondering, what form of person does this refer to? How can opposite pictures we true? These things seem contradictory! On one hand a victorious and glorious king, but on the other hand an oppressed and crushed servant! How can these things be? Is it any wonder they had lots of questions.

No wonder the apostle Paul spoke of “the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings.” (Rom 16:25,26) and “he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Eph 1:9,10) and “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (Col 1:26).

What does all this say? It says that this glorious Gospel was not some last minute strategy from God to dig the earth out of a hole; it was a plan that had been on God’s heart from the beginning of time and which came at exactly the right time in human history. Hallelujah!

4. John the Baptist

People who met Jesus : 4 :  John the Baptist

Mt 3:13,14    Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

I have a feeling that John the Baptist would have been an uncomfortable person to be with – prophets, especially Old Testament prophets, often were, but then as John’s Gospel blandly says, There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.” (Jn 1:6), Yes, he was sent by God and he came with a purpose, and that purpose involved him meeting his cousin, Jesus, publicly and proclaiming him.

His birth had had a supernatural touch about it, because of his parents we read, “they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” (Lk 1:7) but that was going to change, as announced by the angel Gabriel: “the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” (Lk 1:13). His birth would cause much rejoicing (Lk 1:14, fulfilled in 1:58), he would be holy (Lk 1:15) and he would be a prophet like Elijah (Lk 1:17). Oh yes, there was definitely something about John that set him apart from all other men.

His role was to bear witness to the light, which was Jesus: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” (Jn 1:7) to prepare people to believe in Jesus: “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord ….. to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Lk 1:16,17). Now what is interesting is that he was clearly aware of a lot about Jesus, but not everything. For example: “You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ ……He must become greater; I must become less. The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” (Jn 3:28,30,31) and yet, as our verses for today show, although he was exercising his ministry of baptizing people, he didn’t realise that that had to include Jesus.

It is clear therefore, that these two cousins, although closely linked in God’s purposes had not talked about the details of what would happen – and that is encouraging! I say that because there is, in some circles, an assumption almost that God will share everything with His children – He doesn’t!  We are called to a life of faith (2 Cor 5:7) which sometimes means we just have to get on with what God has given us to do, WITHOUT  full knowledge of the details of what will happen and how it will work out.

This truth is personified in John because after he had baptized Jesus he just carried on with his ministry. He obviously felt that he was to carry on until told otherwise by God. It was only Herod’s intervention that stopped him: “when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.” (Lk 3:19,20) Yet that didn’t stop John continuing his ministry of pointing people to Jesus for we read later, “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Mt 11:1-3). Was this John having doubts in prison? It was more likely his way of sending his own disciples to Jesus as he recognised that his time had come to an end.

John is an amazing example for us. He was the cousin of Jesus but his sole task is to obey what God has said to him and point people to Jesus and to prepare them to receive him. It was a ministry without glory, for it was left to Jesus to give him the honour due to him that others hadn’t recognised: “Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” (Mt 11:7-9) and then added, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Mt 11:11). No, John understood this and had declared in respect of himself and Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (Jn 3:30) John didn’t seek any glory. Indeed, to the contrary, he gave it all to Jesus and made less of himself. What a challenge to modern ministries!

John prepared people’s hearts to receive Jesus, by making them realise that they fell short and needed to come to God in repentance. When they had done that, they were ready to meet Jesus. At that time he was a physical Saviour, not a risen Saviour. For the moment he brought God’s words of love and acceptance, and God’s power brought love through healing. Later he would bring salvation and Sonship but John never saw that. John simply did what God gave him to do, and carried on doing it until stopped. What an example!

32. Equipping

Ephesians Meditations No.32

Eph  4:11-13 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

As a pastor of a church I really like these verses. They come as a total surprise to many Christians because they reverse the roles, so often perceived of  ‘clergy and laity’ (terrible descriptions!). So often we see the role of the vicar, minister, call him what you will, as the man who we hire to do all the stuff. Well look again at these verses and you may be very unsettled if that’s what you thought!

Remember, in the previous verses, Paul has just been writing about the gifts that Jesus gives through grace. Now we see that those gifts are gifts of men, gifts of ministries: It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” Apostle simply means ‘sent one’, one sent out by Jesus to establish new churches. Prophets are those with the ministry of a listening ear to convey the heart of God for the now moment. Evangelists are those who have the divine ability to move hearts in conviction to make a commitment to Christ. Pastors are shepherds of the flock, those with local oversight and a caring role. Teachers impart knowledge, understanding and wisdom for the body of Christ. All of them operate because they have been given divinely supernatural abilities by Jesus. So that, very simply, is who they are.

But it is when we come to why they are to do it, that the shock comes: “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Wow! What Paul is saying is that the job of the spiritual leader is to prepare God’s people so that they do the stuff! Christians are meant to be servers. You may remember that Jesus had a slight upset with his disciples on one occasion: “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28). At the Last Supper “he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (Jn 13:4,5) and then taught them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:14-17). Later he taught, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

So Jesus looks in each of us to find a servant heart but He is the one who guides us into what we do: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) and, you may remember from previous meditations, He is the one who equips us: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you…..We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:3,6). This is for ALL Christians, not just a special few. As we give our lives over to Him so He will bring out of us the gifts that He has on His heart for us. He knows exactly what we are best suited for and will bring that about – using these faith ministries we referred to earlier in today’s verses. That’s what each of these men are – faith ministries, because they have a large portion of faith for their particular role and they impart that faith to those who are open and who God has chosen.

What is the end product of all this? It is we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” It is to build unity in the church, as we each learn to move in faith in the way God equips us, getting to know Jesus and his will for us more and more. This is maturity as we become more and more the body that Jesus wants us to be. Maturity is thus knowing the Lord, being open to him, receiving the gifting he wants to give us to serve in his kingdom, accepting that we are all different and that we complement each other, fitting together in harmony, producing a body that brings God’s blessing in a variety of ways to the church and to the world around it.

That is Jesus’ ultimate present goal, what he is working for in the present, and to achieve that he wants to use every Christian, not just the full time leader. The role of the leader is to teach, train and release the people of God so that the people of God can be the person they are designed to be in Christ. Where do you ‘fit’ in this body?