52. Christ Poured Out?

Focus on Christ Meditations: 52.  Christ Poured Out?

Acts 16:7     When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

Our temptation, as we have worked our way through Old Testament prophecies, the birth and arrival of Christ, his names, his ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension, might be to say, right, that’s it, end of the story, but it isn’t, it isn’t the end of the activity of the Christ, it continues today, and we need to see that. But before we come up to date, we need to take in the events of the Day of Pentecost and all that followed, because that was the START of what CONTINUES today and reveals HOW Christ continues his work through us, and that is vitally important.

It is important here to understand the bigger picture. We concluded the previous study by noting that the New Testament tells us very clearly that Jesus has ascended back to heaven from where he came, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, in a position where he rules. In the next studies we will examine this rule in some detail but for the moment we need to realise that that rule, shared with his Father, started from the moment he ascended but was only seen, tangibly if you like, from the moment his Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. We need to link that with Jesus ruling at his Father’s right hand.

Now to see this perhaps even more clearly, we need to see how the Holy Spirit is described in the New Testament. Most of the time, the third person of the Trinity is simply described as “the Spirit” or often as “the Holy Spirit”, and sometimes as “the Spirit of God”, e.g. those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom 8:14 also 1 Cor 2:11,14, 7:40. 12:3 2 Cor 3:3, Phil 3:3, 1 Jn 4:2). However, because there is a unity within the Trinity there are also a (limited) number of occasions when he is referred to as “the Spirit of Christ” or even “the Spirit of Jesus” etc.

Observe: “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” (Acts 16:7) and “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9) and “I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.” (Phil 1:19) and “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” (1 Pet 1:10,11) and even, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” (Gal 4:6)

The book of Acts, most of us would agree, is an account of the work of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Usually we use the language of “being filled with the Spirit” or “baptized in the Spirit” but the ‘Spirit’ we refer to is in fact, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus. If we hold in our mind’s eye the picture of Jesus now ascended and ruling at his Father’s right hand, what we see in Acts is in fact the outworking of that rule in Jesus, there in heaven, prompting, leading, and inspiring his people by his Spirit. It is the way he expresses that rule when it comes to his people, us, Christians.

One has to admit that there did not yet seem a real consciousness in the apostles most of the time that this is how it is; it is only when we come to an incident as that referred to in our starting verses that Luke and Paul recognize what is going on. They wanted to move on into Bithynia but they became aware that “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” i.e. Jesus, exercising his rule from heaven stirred an unease in them that this was not the right thing for them to be doing. It is one of those rare occasions when it is made clear just what is going on. Most of the time, the apostles just move as, presumably prompted by the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, to act as they did, revealing the power and revelation of Jesus. Those are the two primary ways we see him working through the apostles – through power and through revelation.

When the Spirit is poured out on the Day of Pentecost it is power that energizes Peter to get up and preach and his ‘sermon’ is full of revelation. A short time later at the Gate Beautiful the healing that took place there was attributed by Peter not to themselves (Acts 3:12,13) but as in line with all that happened already (see v.13-16). Power exhibited and revelation poured out in his ‘sermon’ that followed. After being imprisoned over night, when called before what was almost certainly the Sanhedrin, Peter is filled with the Spirit to boldly explain all that had happened (Acts 4:8-). When they leave and tell the others there is a praise meeting and the Holy Spirit fills them so they speak out boldly (Acts 4:31). The incident with Ananias and Sapphira, who both end up dead, has surely got to be a judgment of God (Acts 5:1-11). As a general statement we are told, “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.” (Acts 5:12) Power continues to be seen. And so it continues.

Now most of the time it is simply attributed (where there is an identity) to the Holy Spirit, but all the time we must remember two things: first, the Spirit is sometimes named as ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ and all the while we have this picture of Jesus at his Father’s right hand overseeing and directing what is going on. There is in Paul’s writing that which sheds even more light on what is going on, describing the end times, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) I have emphasized what are, in this context, key issues: Jesus is working to establish the kingdom of God and he does that by ruling over – expressing the power of God and bringing the revelation of God – all things until there comes a climax after which he hands back the control, so to speak, to the Father.

Before we finish, there are some things Jesus said that I believe we take for granted but they also shine light into this teaching. For example: Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4) See four times in that one verses Jesus says we are to ‘remain’ in him. Remain means to stay in the same place, or continue in the same place. What is that place? See another expression: “in Christ”. e.g. Rom 6:11,23,  8:1, 12:5, 16:7,9,10, 1 Cor 1:2,4,30, 4:10,15,17 etc. etc.  Elsewhere, of course it talks about him being in us by the indwelling presence of his Holy Spirit. We are one with Christ, there is this link with the living Christ who, for the time being is reigning at his Father’s right hand. The story did not end at the ascension, it continues as Christ continues the work of the Father but now at his side and as he administers it through his Spirit. We need to understand more of this if we are to understand his ongoing working today, and that we will do in the following studies.

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6. The Gifted Body (2)

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 6:  The Gifted Body (2)

Rom 12:6-8   We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

As we started to consider these verses in the previous mediation we noted that these ‘gifts’ are expressions of the Spirit of Jesus in us, i.e. it is God’s ability being expressed in us that enables us to be and do. We also noted that we could each do every one of the things here but what happens is that we become ‘good’ at doing one particular thing as the Spirit enables us. We considered prophecy and serving.

We then find, third in Paul’s list of examples, ‘teaching’. Now again we find the writer to the Hebrew declaring,  “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again,” (Heb 5:12) where he clearly implies that part of the growing process or process of maturity in the faith, is becoming capable to teaching new believers. But there are some for whom imparting or sharing spiritual truths to a wider audience and bringing understanding to them, is what comes naturally and blesses them. Obtaining pleasure from the role is perhaps one indication that it is from the Lord – not always, but sometimes – because the Lord wants us to enjoy being the people He is making us to be. When we are blessed we bless others.

Then comes ‘encouraging’. Again this is something we are all exhorted to do by Scripture: “encourage one another and build each other up,” (1 Thess 5:11) and “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2 – for preachers at least), and encourage one another daily,” (Heb 3:13) and “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25) and “But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3) There it is; in so many different ways we are exhorted to strengthen, support and build up one another, and yet there are those who are particularly good at it, and it is something that just pours out of them all the time.

We might think that when we come to ‘contributing’ this is different but Paul says it is “contributing to the needs of others,” i.e. we see someone in need and we reach out and meet that need. But again we see this in general teaching to all of us: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36)  Yet there will be some of us who have material resources and we feel moved to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Such people are exhorted by Paul, “let him give generously.”  In other words, don’t hold back on your feelings, respond fully and be a big blessing!

Then he speaks of those whose grace gifting is ‘leadership’. I confess this one seems more difficult to apply more generally to all of us. Yet in Paul’s teaching we find “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1). The emphasis, I suggest, is on the role being a noble task, for indeed people can wrongly set their hearts on prestige, yet in the spiritual world they really do not know what they are doing. In the early church it often meant sacrifice and persecution. Leaders in the New Testament were either called ‘elders’, where the emphasis is on wisdom and maturity, or ‘overseers’, where the emphasis  is on the role of watching over and guarding the flock of God, and looking after it.

Leaders also hold a high level of accountability to God for the flock. See Acts 20:28-31 for the burden of responsibility that Paul conveys. But leaders are those who go ahead, in spiritual maturity and in grace and in faith. They need all those to counter the wiles and attacks of the enemy and to be God’s channel to meet the needs of the flock. To the person who finds God putting this desire on their heart and being recognized by the flock of God, his instruction is simple: “let him govern diligently.”  Govern here simply means carry out the caring, protective and administering role that God has given you. To do it diligently means to do it with care and perseverance.

Finally Paul speaks of the grace gifting of “showing mercy.” Commentators often speak of this as ‘Caring for the sick, the poor and the aged,’ but I think that is limited and underplays the gift. Mercy in the New Testament is usually spoken about in relation to the Lord (and there is virtually no injunction for us to show mercy to one another) and is simply undeserved good expressed to us. The emphasis is on the ‘undeserved’ element

Yet James taught: “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (Jas 3:13,17) In other words the humble life is one that flows from understanding wisdom and goes on to express wisdom, and included within that is being ‘full of mercy’.  Mercy here means, not looking down on those in less fortunate circumstances than you, but expressing all of God’s goodness to them. The person who finds grace within to do this in abundance, is not to do it in any heavy way but, says Paul, “let him do it cheerfully.” That way you can’t be heavy handed in being a carer, a giver, a blesser! Remember, it’s all the grace of God in and through you.

10. Be Holy

Meditations in 1 Peter : 10 :  Be Holy

1 Pet 1:14-16   As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Sometimes people have suggested that the call to the Christian life is not very clear, and yet the more I read the New Testament, the more I conclude the exact opposite: it is very clear! The first distinction that is made is the ‘before and after’. Being a Christian is something distinct. It is not trying to be good or trying to be religious, or belonging to a religious club.

It is all about being a completely different person from who and what you were before your met Christ. Jesus spoke about it as being “born again” (Jn 3:3,7,8) or being born of the Spirit. Later in this chapter, Peter is going to use exactly the same language. John in his Gospel said: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13) There is a distinct ‘God-change’ brought about in us when we come to Him.

There are often references to what we once were: “formerly you …. were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:11-13) and “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13). There were major changes brought about when we came to Christ. It is all about change or transformation.

Now Peter speaks about, the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” Before we came to Christ we were ignorant about God’s design for our lives and did not realise our state until the Holy Spirit convicted us. We were living in ignorance. But at that time all of our desires were godless and self-pleasing and were wrong. We didn’t realise it at the time but they were. That’s what we HAD been, but all that has changed when we came to Christ!

Now we have become children of God, as we saw above in John’s Gospel. Indeed John reiterates in his first letter: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 Jn 3:1). The reason for this new designation is twofold: first because that is how God now designates us, adopted children but, second, because He has put the Spirit of Jesus in us, the Holy Spirit, and so we are made like Him by His very presence within us. We are actually different from what we were before because now we are temples or dwelling places of God: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:21,22)  and “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19)

It is because of this that we find Peter giving us two charges. The first is the negative leaving the past behind:do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance,” and the second is the call to be holy: “be holy in all you do.” and the latter charge is because God is holy and it is because He lives in us that we ARE holy.

To be holy means to be set apart and completely distinct and this is in respect of who we are and therefore how we live. The son of a rich millionaire does not live the life of a scruffy beggar. A prince does not (generally) live the life of a pauper. They are what they are because of their father. We are what we are because of our Father. Because He has put some of Himself into us, we now take on His characteristics. In fact Paul tells us that His goal is to change us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus: “we… are being transformed into his (Jesus’) likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18).

Thus this salvation that we are receiving is all about changing us into God’s likeness by the work of Jesus on the Cross (making it possible) and the Holy Spirit within us (bringing it about). The call upon us is to be utterly different because that IS what we are, yet the wonder of it is that God still gives is choice and so we choose to let Him bring about the reality of our salvation – or not! There are Christians who appear to change very little after the initial conversion, yet God’s desire is to bring continual change to us. He has got something better for us than we have at this present moment. He will keep changing us for however long we remain on this earth, and then will come the ultimate change when we are granted new spiritual bodies (1 Cor 15:44) in heaven.

So there is the challenge, will we let Him bring our salvation which means gradual but constant change in us? That is His goal; is it ours?