I love it when the Bible catches you off guard. And especially so when it is a passage you think you know well. That very thing happened to me this morning. I was looking over the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5. I cannot say I was actually reading it, but was more just…
— Read on andy-brown.org/2020/04/17/the-challenging-word-of-god/
This letter is from Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.
I am writing to you who share the same precious faith we have. This faith was given to you because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior.
2 May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.
2 Peter 1:1-2 (WEB)
I have written a lot about the Proverbs lately, and decided to switch gears and move into a New Testament letter. I was reading Peter’s second letter a few days ago, and so thought I would share a few thoughts.
Slave and Apostle
The opening is straightforward enough, and we learn that this letter, like the first one, comes from Simon Peter. Peter is probably Jesus’ most well-known disciple, and a man infamous for leaping in, putting his foot in it and thinking more highly of himself than he ought. He even once dared to “correct” the Lord (see Matthew 16:22).
Yet, for all his pride, Peter denied Christ and this event likely humbled him deeply. As he introduces his second letter, he depicts himself as an apostle yes, but a slave also. Peter could have bowled in, laying down his apostolic rights and demanding to be respected, but instead he refers to himself as a slave. And notice, he says slave first, then apostle.
May I be known as a writer, yes, but a slave first. May others see me as husband and father, of course, but primarily as a servant of Christ.
May I be known as a writer, yes, but a slave first. May others see me as husband and father, of course, but primarily as a servant of #Christ. #Bible
Whatever you “are” in your life, let your servanthood of Jesus be at the top of the list. The word “slave” (rightly) has negative connotations to us, and indeed we tend to prefer servant (although not a great deal more!) If indeed Christ is our Master, and we are fully submitted to Him and His authority, then slave is not a wholly inappropriate term.
I yearn to follow Him more deeply and more fully. I know He loves me and has good things planned for me, and so I joyfully submit to slavery in His care.
Peter does not address his letter to a particular group. It is not written to a church location, nor to the Jewish believers in a certain place. Instead, he writes to “those who share the same precious faith”
Christians often find many things to disagree about. I could write a list but not sure that would be the most encouraging! Be it points of doctrine, interpretation of Scripture, or the colour of the curtains in the vestry, we can usually find something to debate!
Despite our variety and differences, Peter unites us in sharing “like precious faith.” Whatever our background, whatever our age, whatever our language; whatever else that may differ about each of us, the thing that brings us together is our faith in Jesus Christ.
This faith is not to be taken for granted. Our faith is precious, meaning of great value. We treat precious things with a certain respect, and our faith is no different.
This faith, precious as it is, is not something we have bought or earned. If we read Peter’s words carefully, we learn that our faith has been given to us by God. This is truly astonishing because it shows us that we could not believe in Jesus had God not first placed faith in us.
In my post – Hope Comes Looking – I referred to a course I am currently studying, and the topic of the Lent season was on “predestination”. This is about whether God chose us, or if we chose Him. There are different views, but I now tend towards a view that God first chose us, and that even our faith in Him is entirely dependent on His Sovereign choice. This verse from Peter’s letter shows that even the faith we depend upon is given to us by God.
The WEB translation says we have been given this faith because of Jesus’ justice and fairness. Fairness is one of the reasons some do not agree with the view that God chose whoever He willed, because they deem it “unfair.” It is “unfair” for God to choose some for salvation and not others. I have said it before however, and state the same again now, we do not want fairness from God – we want mercy. Fairness from God is for Him to save no one, and leave us in the sin that stains us.
So, how do we read the above? Most other translations seem to render the words “justice and fairness” as simply “righteousness.” That, to me at least, feels a much better word. God is indeed righteous, and we praise and thank Him for bestowing this precious faith upon us.
Verse two says:
May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.
2 Peter 1:2 (WEB)
What a powerful little blessing this is. I pray this over every one of my readers today. May you indeed grow in the knowledge of the Lord (and I pray in some small way this post helps with that), and as you do so, may He give you more and more grace and peace.
May God’s grace be evident in your life more and more, and may His peace rule in your heart and your homes today.
The other day my wife was talking to me, and like a dutiful husband, I was nodding and saying “Uh-huh…” in all the right places. My mind however, was somewhere else! I had to hold my hands up and admit that although I was hearing the words, I wasn’t really listening.
Verse 20 of Proverbs 4 is a rather eloquent way of saying “Listen up!” Attending to someone’s words is not simply to hear them, but rather to engage with them. Likewise, turning one’s head in the right direction (so that the ear is pointed at the speaker) is not nearly enough to ensure the instruction hits home.
Solomon is again entreating us to listen, to take on board and to respond to the wisdom of his teaching.
In a similar way, verse 21 encourages us to keep Wisdom’s teachings before our eyes and thus planted in our hearts. This idea of God’s Word and wisdom not departing from our eyes is an exhortation to be both regular and consistently reading and studying the Scripture.
A 30-minute sermon on a Sunday is not enough. A 5-minute devotional each morning may be encouraging, but it may be insufficient to receive the full counsel of God’s Word.
For me at least, little and often may be the key. I have followed “Bible in a year” plans before, and while useful in some cases, it can become a burden or even chore as we wade through six or more chapters each morning.
Better to read and meditate on a few Bible verses regularly, than read a dozen pages without taking it in.
Better to read and #meditate on a few #Bible verses regularly, than read a dozen pages without taking it in.
That is not to take Scripture out of context, I hasten to add. There is just as much danger in reading your favourite few verses all the time, and not engaging with the wider text or understand its place in the big picture.
Verse 22 says:
For they are life to those who find them,
and health to their whole body.
Proverbs 4:22 (WEB)
Verse 22 has always been a verse which fascinates me. It says that God’s word, or the instruction of wisdom, provides life to those who find them and even health to our physical bodies. We touched on this in previous posts on the book of Proverbs, and clearly living wisely will lengthen your life. Smoking, drinking or eating to excess, or not looking after oneself is not wise, and as a consequence will of course reduce one’s lifespan.
The word translated as “health” here is the Hebrew word marpe’ and is most often translated as “health” (as above) or “healing.” It can also be rendered as “cure” or “remedy” also.
Could it be that the very studying of God’s Word can bring health to us, and I mean in some supernatural way rather than as a natural consequence of living right? While some would give a definite yes to that question, others would dispute it. I would encourage you to study its meaning for yourself.
The WEB translation of verse 23 is a little confusing, to me at least! Here it is from the NLT:
Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.
Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)
Despite talking of the health of the body in the last verse, this one is not referring to our blood pump, but rather our inner self. Guarding our heart is very much in line with what this passage has been talking about. Too few of us take seriously what we allow into our hearts and minds. Instead of keeping the Word of God before us constantly, we fill ourselves with ungodly entertainment or gossip. We are foolish if we think our hearts can go unscathed by such continual battering.
Your heart, that is, your inner self, will determine how your life goes. It is like a child who is constantly criticised or put down, they will struggle in life to overcome such negativity. Our hearts, in a similar way, cannot be soaked in negativity and produce positive results.
Verse 24 deals not with what we put into ourselves, but rather what comes out of us. It strongly advises us to be careful about how we speak, and I cannot emphasise enough the power of our words.
Paul also instructs us to:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
What a challenging verse this is! I say a lot of things in a day, but can hardly confess to all of it being helpful for building others up. I try to add value with my words, always having in the back of my mind that one day I will give account for them to the Lord. Yet too frequently I find my words are not wholesome, but instead are negative, critical or just wasteful. How about you?
Verse 25 to 27 all echo the same sentiment. Keep your eyes fixed ahead, and your feet on level ground. This is clearly not to advise us against turning our heads nor to ascend inclined ground in our hometowns! Instead, the Proverbs are warning us to keep fixed on what is right, and not to turn aside to evil.
If we do not do this, if we just wander along aimlessly, then we will find ourselves in trouble. Our focus and our determined purpose must be to seek after what is right and good. Our sinful nature has been programmed into us since birth, and despite the new life Christ brings, we do tend towards selfishness and evil unless we are set against it.
What are your eyes fixed on? Are locked ahead, gazing upon God’s Word, or do they wander and lead you astray? How about those feet? Are they shod with the Gospel, and following after Jesus, or do they stumble or meander away?
Make a decision right here and now that you will seek after wisdom all day long. Fix those eyes and discipline those feet, and you will life in God’s Word.
When I left university, I had little idea of what I wanted to do with my life – let alone what I thought God wanted me to do!
I applied for several jobs, and remember one vividly. It was an accounting role, and was based in Canary Wharf in London. At that time, it was a really up and coming area of the city, with a huge amount of development going on. It is now a very busy business district, among other things.
I was fortunate enough to be offered an interview for the role, and travelled to the area. There were some massive buildings there, and it was apparently a very expensive area. I recall buying a sandwich and having to take out a small loan to afford it!
I located the building and it was huge. As I went in through the main doors, I was confronted by a large reception area. Behind the main reception were the letters depicting the name of the firm in enormous characters. To me, it may as well have been as big as the Hollywood sign itself!
I may have been an adult by then, but I felt like a little boy gazing up at this gigantic sign. My heart sank and the phrase “out of my depth” sprang to mind! It never really occurred to me to turn and run, but I would not have been ungrateful if the ground had opened up at that point.
And that is when it happened…
It wasn’t an audible voice that I heard with my ears, but it was what I would later learn to be God’s voice whispering in my spirit. He said quite simply, “I am the God of this place as well.”
After that, the sign did not seem so big anymore.
I took a deep breath, uttered a little prayer and pressed on. I signed in, was escorted upstairs and gave it my best shot. As it happens, God had other plans for me and I did not get that job. Perhaps the reason I was offered an interview was simply to get me in front of that sign? I don’t know, but it taught me that God is ever-present. It showed me that even when I face things that are seemingly far bigger than I am, I go with a God who is bigger than everything.
What are you facing today or this week? If it seems too big for you, then remember you do not face it alone. The One who set the stars in place goes with you.
Jesus said, “Surely I am with you, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b). And He meant it.
One evening, a group of Christians and I met together for a home group (this was in a previous church I belonged to). I forget the subject of our Bible study that night, but I recall vividly what happened during the prayer time at the end.
As I prayed for the group, I got this nagging sense that someone was struggling with migraine headaches. From time to time, I believe God shows me such things and that this is part of my spiritual gifts. I shared what I had sensed, and as it happens, two of the eight people gathered admitted to having struggled with severe headaches all that day. Neither had mentioned them during the course of the evening.
We prayed together, and prayed for these headaches to cease. For one of the two, they did. I remember that person saying so clearly, “It’s gone!” for the other person, they said it had helped but they could not admit that the headache had completely gone.
Even so, it sticks in my mind as a time when God was truly faithful. It highlights that for a whole variety of reasons that not everyone receives healing every time we pray. That should not stop us asking however, and to see someone freed from an intense headache was truly something to thank the Lord for.
I have had migraines in the past, and they are no fun at all! It was an immense privilege to be able to hear God’s direction that day, and to be able to pray for a sister in need.
When it comes to spiritual gifts and the healing ministry, it is something I remain passionate about. God has blessed us with these gifts, and we are to use them to build up His church. Yes there are times when things do not quite work out as they should. For instance, this weekend I had a sense that someone had hurt their ankle. When I reached out to them, they had not. The most likely reason was that I was simply wrong.
Being wrong is something I have grown used to over the years, but that does not stop me trying to listen to Jesus and acting on His voice. The pain of a migraine, sore ankle or whatever ailment can be a real drag to people. if God should wish to use me to bring that relief, then I am humbled and clearly the glory is all His.
Have you ever had an experience like this? I’d love to hear about it.
I hope that this brief testimony has encouraged you. God cares. He loves you. He cares about your headaches, your bills, your entire life. For the most part, He will direct us through His Word, but I rejoice in the times He directs us through His Spirit too. Praise the God of love who cares for us each and every day! Amen!
At our church yesterday, we had our “World Focus” spot. This is a time where we think about another part of the globe, and see what the Lord is doing there. Often it also involves thinking about the challenges a country or region face, and helps us think on how we can support the church in that place. Given events in the Ukraine right now, this was our subject.
We learned about a woman named Jessica who works with orphans in that nation. She lives in a fairly dangerous region of the country in “normal” times, and even more so now. As of yesterday, she was heading for the border following the advice to flee. She leaves behind one of the orphans she has helped to raise, a young man now aged over 18, and so he cannot leave in case he is called upon to fight for his country.
This is but one story of thousands. How many families are being torn apart by this dreadful situation?
I have seen a number of blogs about the war in Ukraine, and many prayers uttered. I join with them today, and pray for peace in that land. I also pray for wisdom for both sides, and for leaders across the world. We know that such situations can quickly escalate, and it takes only a spark to set a great blaze.
We pray for the citizens of Ukraine as they bravely defend their homes. We ask you Lord to move in that place, to bring forth all or any good You can out of this time of trouble. We pray, too, for a swift end to this conflict, and that lives on both sides would be saved.
May Your church arise in that part of the world. May those who know You, and are seeking to follow You, be blessed with strength, wisdom and resources to shine Your light in that place. We pray for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and Russia, asking You to unite them with one purpose in serving You. May their love for You far exceed the hate of people, and may their example and ministry bring many souls into Your glorious kingdom.
Lord, when we see such things happen, it can be hard to know what exactly we should pray. Give us wisdom, and direct our prayers so that Your will is done, and You may be glorified. Where people suffer, may You be there to offer comfort. Where there is hurt, may Your church bring healing in Your Name.
We pray in the mighty Name of Jesus, amen!
Thank you for joining me in these prayers. And do add your own in the comments if you wish.