Fool’s Gold – Galatians 2. RBT Notes, 19th December

What fool could take the inestimable riches and beauty of the Gospel and trade it in for something cheap, fake, powerless and totally worthless? I could, and probably so could you. There is something about our hearts which is so foolish that we could take God’s best and give it away in order to take something else. Those in the Galatia were doing just that. Paul writes this chapter, and this letter, to get our hearts valuing what is God’s precious truth for us. And that is the Gospel.

And so, he carries on with the story of his own Gospel journey. This is a crucially important part of that journey: Paul goes to meet with the other leaders of the church, and his concern is about whether they have compromised on the Gospel, and given to the pressures of a merely cultural religion (vv.1-5). To his relief, the meeting is a happy one, and the brothers recognise that Paul is a bona fide apostle to the Gentiles (v.7). They endorse his ministry, and all is well (vv.8–10). Why is he telling the Galatians this? Because he wants them to reflect on the fact the the Apostles themselves have recognised that he is as a minister of the true gospel.
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That means, therefore, that he will fight for the true gospel, even if the most surprising and influential people go soft on it. Look at Peter’s hypocrisy (vv.11-13). Peter’s Gospel seems to be only for the Jews, something Paul cannot countenance. This is obviously no Gospel at all, and it’s having a damaging influence (v.13). Paul bravely challenges Peter, that he is not “acting in line with the truth of the Gospel”(v.14). And Paul is right: no amount of law-keeping saves anyone. The Jews are as much in need of the Gospel of Jesus as the Gentiles, and the Gospel is exactly the same for both. We are justified alone by faith in Christ (v.16). Even if Peter should lose sight of that, Paul has the integrity to challenge him, and thereby to try to stop the rot in the church.
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Here is the heart of the gospel, then: we die to the law because Jesus has kept the law in our place. He gives us a brand new life through our faith. We live out that life every moment through faith in Him. He is our good news, our confidence, our life. There is literally nothing God is asking for from us except faith in Jesus and faith-driven living for him (vv.17-21).
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This is the glorious Gospel, powerful, free and true. A fool would swap it for a squalid, effort-based message and life. The Good News is that God offer his Gospel to those who are fools. Have you taken it? Are you holding onto it? If you are, never, ever let it go. By God’s grace you won’t.
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A Prayer to Pray
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Father, what an amazing Gospel. What an incredible plan You have revealed through Your Son, to give forgiveness and new life in Him. Thankyou for such a Saviour. Teach me to know and love Him more, and to fear ever disowning Him. Amen.

No Other Gospel – Galatians 1. RBT Notes, 16th December

Martin Luther took a lover. She was, he explained, the book of Galatians. He came to be enchanted by its message of grace, freedom, hope and resolve. Galatians, like the best of loves, is not one which will leave us unchallenged or unchanged. This letter will make demands and call for commitment. This much is good.

Paul wishes his readers grace and peace (v.3), but he hasn’t got an easy message for them. He is “astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you” (v.6). God and His Gospel used to be their delight, but they’re handing over the grace of God for a poisonous works-based religion. Paul, a man commissioned by the Father and the Risen Son (v.1), has a word for those who think they can casually wander off from his Gospel to “a different Gospel – which is really no Gospel at all” (vv.6-7).

To some ears, this might sound like a religious leader sliding into a authoritarian stance, and even, into an aggressive one. Paul does have authority. The authority he’s been given he’s entirely comfortable with. In fact, he wants the Galatians to be clear about his commission as a servant of the Gospel. If they grasp that, maybe they’ll have a change of heart about the Gospel he has brought to them. So he tells his story, which lasts from 1.11 all the way to 2.21. His own story is a struggle to grasp and contend for the Gospel. Now by grace he has it, and he won’t allow either himself or anyone else let go of it. Here are three essentials in our chapter:

1. The Gospel comes from heaven, is God’s gift to the world, and has been revealed to Paul (vv.11-12).

2. The Gospel saves persecuting zealots (vv.12-17). Paul’s life, career, goals and wisdom were all turned upside-down by the grace of God in Christ. So shattering was this Gospel to him, that he needed to search out a wilderness place in order to put his life and theology straight in the light of the Gospel (v.17).

3. The Gospel is shared truth. Paul was anxious to check that his convictions were those of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (vv.19-24). He was saved on his own, but didn’t want to be a lone ranger, nor did he want to have been deceived. He discovers what he was already sure of: he is a trophy of grace. He really was saved by the grace of Christ alone. “They praised God because of me” (v.24).

Paul’s experience as he recounts it, matched with the false Gospel of other teachers so-called, gives us a simple but essential lesson: know your leaders. Know that they have a story of conversion, and of commission. Don’t entrust the needs of your soul casually to anyone. Don’t believe what you hear, just because the speaker occupies a pulpit, likes to have a title, or reminds you of his theological degrees. The best false teachers have often been the most educated – and popular. The best true teachers are those who have met and been taught by Christ. they are the ones who are willing to risk everything for His sake. Stick with them, and their Gospel.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, how precious Your Gospel truth is. Yet how casual my grip on it is. Teach me to love more deeply what I know to be true. Teach me to be truly faithful to Your Gospel, since the One who called me is faithful. Keep me believing, loving, sharing, sacrificing and challenging others to do the same, all the way til the end. Amen.

Walk in His Ways – Micah 4. RBT Notes, 23rd November

Noone is safe from disaster, if God decrees it (3.11-12). Equally, noone is beyond blessing, if it is the Lord’s will. Micah has a vision of unimaginable blessing. Our command is to strive to see that vision, to believe its promise, and to come into the blessing, since it’s offered to us in Christ.

Micah sees a future bright with God’s promises. The city of God, which faces God’s judgement and will become a heap of rubble (3.12), will one day be rebuilt and raised up. In language which the great Isaiah was to echo (Isaiah 2), “peoples will stream to it” (Mic. 4.1). And yes, he’s talking about you.

Hard as it was for Micah’s hearers to understand – and they would not – the actual city of God Jerusalem was never central to God’s plans. It was a centre, granted, but its time would be limited. Jesus saw it that way, clearly predicting that God’s wrath would one day fall decisively on City and Temple (Mk. 13.1-2), an event which fell on that generation in the Roman massacre of AD 70. Jesus said that He, in fact, was the centre. Though the buildings of Jerusalem would pass away, His words – and the purposes of God in them – never would (Matt. 25.34). He is the meeting-place of a merciful God and a lost humanity where the two are reconciled, and which the Temple foreshadowed. He is, we could say, the City of God, where God’s people live with their God.

To “go to the mountain of the Lord” (v.2) is, in the fullest sense, not to go to a place, but to a Person. By grace, people all across the world are recognising that Jesus is the Person of wisdom and mercy, as they discover Him through His Gospel. Yes, the Lord’s word went out of Jerusalem in power at Pentecost (v.2), but the Gospel is the Word about Christ, and comes from Christ. He is our grace-bringer, and He empowers us by His Spirit to keep the Law of the Lord in our daily discipleship. In Him, and in no other person, power or place, is there life, and life eternal.

The blessings Micah foretells are ours to enjoy in part now, but we look forward to enjoying them most fully in the future, when Christ takes us to be with Him: justice (v.3), peace (v.3), contentment (v.4) and freedom (v.5).

Just think: when Micah’s news could not get any worse, suddenly, it can’t get any better. You may be struggling with some hard things right now. The present might feel miserable, and the future might look even harder. Take heart: grace never mocks you, is always real, and is always there for you to take hold of. Come to Jesus. Fill your sight with the vision of His majestic love, enter into the Gospel’s blessings once more. In Him is life for evermore.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Loving Lord, I deserve nothing from You but condemnation for my sin. Through Your Son I receive nothing from You but welcome, and all because Jesus paid for my sin. Teach me, teach me. Teach me that in Jesus is all that I need. Teach me til my heart overflows, and my life shines with His glory, and I walk in His ways. Amen.

 

 

The Transforming Gospel – 2 Corinthians 3. RBT Notes, 3rd November

What is the proof of an authentic servant of God? Popularity in church? Approval from his ministry colleagues? Dazzling ministry growth? A suffering-free life? Zen-like calm in the face of adversity?

Be careful. Paul had few if any of these. You might also notch up very few, if you go the way of the cross. The marks of Spirit-wrought authenticity are surprising, but far more wonderful. Allow Paul to show you.

Grace in those who are served. “You yourselves are our letter” (v.2), meaning, “you’ve received the Spirit of God through our ministry, and are undergoing the glorious reality of Gospel transformation.” Paul doesn’t want to count numbers, boast in his gifts or CV, wheedle a fat salary out of believers, or any of the nonsense which passes for ministry today: he is content that grace is at work through his ministry, whatever the problems along the way. And he never loses his sense of amazement in the grace of God. God called even him, and grace works in even them! (vv.4-6). You’ve not lost that wonder, or that experience of transforming grace, have you?

Focused service of a glorious Saviour. The Old and New Covenants are presented here as a study in contrasts. The Old, represented  in the Ten Commandments at Sinai, was given on stone, was terrifying for those who received it, brought condemnation, and any glory it had was already fading (vv.7-16). Not so the New! Christ comes to us in the Gospel, bringing His message to our hearts, bringing righteousness, unfading glory, the Spirit Himself,  freedom, and the transformation which only He can (vv.9-18). The proof of a true servant of God? He believes this Gospel, preaches it, and sees it at work in those he serves. That’s Paul.
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Look back at v.1, in the light of all this. He could Paul ever want to commend himself, if the Gospel is this beautiful and this powerful? How could he ever want to win a fan club, when he is called to bring people to this glorious, life-changing Jesus, so that they fall in love with Him? And what do you want from your leaders, or your Saviour? Demand the Gospel and nothing but the Gospel from them. That will be to God’s glory, and to your eternal good.
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A Prayer to Pray
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Lord, Your Gospel is power! Open my eyes to see where I’m actually looking for peace, power or identity in anything other than Your Gospel. Fix this transforming Gospel glory deeply in my heart. Amen.

 

No Easy Calling – Psalm 95. RBT notes, 17th May

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1.    Who or what do you want to sing about, right now? Examine your heart – what or who makes it delight?

2.    What are the reasons in vv.1-7 for praising God? How are these reasons seen clearly in the Lord Jesus Christ?

3.     What is every believer’s danger, in vv.8-11, and how can we guard ourselves against it? Check Colossians 1.22-23 to remind yourself of God’s calling in Christ to us.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I barely know my heart at all, but what I do know scares me. I am full of greed, self-centredness and a terrifying ability to hide from the unpleasant truths about myself. And yet in Christ I find You to be the Lord who speaks His truth in love, and always for my good. Please teach me to tremble at Your Word. Please teach me to know that I need the Gospel. May Your Son grow increasingly glorious in my sight, that I may esteem Him above everything and everyone, and so arrive safe in Heaven, through His power. Amen.

Searching Issues – Acts 15. RBT Notes, 17th March

Spotlight

 

Everyone likes the idea of church growth, until the reality kicks in. New faces at church bring new needs, different lifestyles, other perspectives, differing cultural backgrounds, and the inevitability of convictions being shared which don’t square with the Bible. Are these visitors from Judea to the church at Antioch real but misguided believers; or are they were unconverted troublemakers, seeking to destroy the work of God (v.1)? One thing is sure: church growth brings difficulties, from people in their sheer complexities, as well as from Satan, with his one aim of opposing the Gospel.

True leadership means handling problems. In fact, leadership that can’t or won’t deal with problems isn’t leadership at all! This new debate about circumcision catches Paul and Barnabas off-guard, and after some tense debate, they realise that they need help (v.2). They have great news of gospel growth in pagan territory to share with believers, and then their hearts must have sunk as they had to face the issue of Gentile Christian identity, now fast becoming Jerusalem’s hottest potato (v.5).

What follows is a beautiful harmony of biblical convictions about God’s mission in His Son to the world. Peter, Paul, Barnabas and then James all speak up. They’ve all come to learn from Scripture, as well as to see in the church, that God loves the nations, and is reaching them in His Son (vv.6-18). They’re realistic, too, that a mixed Jew-Gentile church must be a place for accommodation of backgrounds. Jews must deal with their own cultural conditioning, and not “make it difficult for Gentiles who are turning to God” (v.19 – maybe the church breakfast could possibly serve bacon rolls?); just so, converts from paganism must leave those practices in their old lives, and not bring offence to Jewish background believers (vv.20-21 – no church lunch offerings straight from the pagan Temples, then). The Jerusalem church agrees on this plan, and send their message and workers off (vv.22-35). On this nothing less than the future of God’s work depends.

If the church is to succeed in its mission in any age, it must be deliberately careful about serving its people, whoever they are. There is no room to erect cultural barriers, just because some believers enjoy living behind them.  How we dress, what we sing, when we meet, the personal lifestyle choices we parade as being “true discipleship”, can so easily become our gospel essentials, which cause confusion and bring offence. The church will always be a place where there are disagreements – even amongst Spirit-filled leaders of the highest calibre (vv.36-41); but our calling is to do everything we can to remove difficulties. God’s truth in Jesus is for all.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, please show me where I am getting in the way of Your work. Show me where my preferences are not Yours. Give me the integrity to get rid of what does not promote Your truth in the church. Help me to serve others in love. Amen.