Leaders like this – 2 Corinthians 10. RBT Notes, 14th November

You can serve people, but you don’t need to be smiling. You can speak truth to people, and you don’t need to tiptoe around their feelings. You can love them deeply, and you can be totally justified in showing that you feel exasperated, even irritated and at your wits’ end. In this explosive chapter, Paul shows the Corinthians just how frustrated he is with this worldly church. And this is just the beginning.

But Paul refuses to resort to the world’s weapons in his ministry. No rhetorical razzmatazz or mind-games in his ministry. He has the Gospel, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, and they are more than enough for achieving God’s work (vv.4-5). And for a worldly church, fixated with the impressive, and dismissing the authentic, Paul warns that he means to come to punish disobedience (v.6).

Paul gets little pleasure from talking about himself, but he needs to underline that he has been given authority by Christ (v.8). Then, with more than a tone of gentle mockery, he doesn’t “dare” to rank himself with the so-called leaders the Corinthians make so much of (v.12).

Although Paul is speaking into the tensions of his relationship with the Corinthians, the parallels are obvious wherever there are churches and leaders. Leaders are tempted to appear impressive. They long to seem omni-competent, omniscient, and omni- everything else. And church people are tempted to demand an excellence from leaders which is totally unrealistic, and unhelpful. The Corinthian mistake was to believe that their so-called “super apostles” really were dazzling stars which they pretended to be. No wonder, then, that when the real leader Paul did show up, complete with his failures and shortcomings, and excelling only in mere love, they failed to recognise his credentials. God give us grace to accept those who minister the Word of God to us, and serve us in Christ’s love. We might just need them.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, our world demands show and spectacle, but teach me to be a sceptic. Teach me to look beyond appearances, and to know when I’m putting on masks to impress, or maybe to mislead. Form me to be a man of humble love, striving to serve others, but not faking it when I get it wrong. Give me grace to point to the Perfect man, Jesus, and to be content to be a servant in His Name. Amen.

 

Open Hearts – 2 Corinthians 7. RBT Notes, 9th November

Every true Christian hates differences or misunderstandings to come between them and fellow believers. We’ve all lost sleep as we’ve worried over whether someone in church is avoiding us, or talking about us behind our backs. And no, this sort of worry doesn’t necessarily mean that we are weak people-pleasers who need to grow some backbone – as well as a stronger faith. This could actually be the sign of a Spirit-given love for other people, which hates to see precious relationships grow cold.
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Paul sees it like that. “Make room in your hearts for us” (v.1) isn’t the trickery of a con-man, nor the whimper of a needy man. Paul declares his love and integrity (vv.1-7), because he wants the Corinthians to love and trust him. When trust breaks down in churches, love soon goes the same way. And when love goes, well, then we may as well just close the doors and give it all up.
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Notice, that love for Paul doesn’t mean that he avoids confrontation, nor should it for us. He refers to a letter where he had told some hard truths which hurt them (v.8). He’s not feeling guilty for that, though it can’t have been easy for him. In fact, he takes comfort that the truth led to repentance and change in the church, which was Paul’s purpose (vv.9-13). The challenge to us is clear: do we love people enough to that we speak the truth in love, when those words might be rejected, and when we might be rejected, too?  Avoiding saying hard things when they’re needed, isn’t love, it’s insincerity, and it’s verging on a form of hatred, as we put our own peace and comfort at the top of our priority list. Does this uncomfortable truth give us anything to repent of?
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A Prayer to Pray
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Lord, I am a man of unclean lips. I listen to how I often complain and criticise, boast and serve myself with my words. And I listen for brave words where I say hard but necessary things for Your our honour – but I hear so few. Cleanse my sin, Lord, it is great. Pardon me, and put truth and love on my lips. Make me a servant of Your grace, for Your sake. Amen.

No Easy Road – 2 Corinthians 1. RBT Notes, 1st November

“Called to be an apostle” (v.1). Paul needs to remember that, when it comes to the Corinthians. This church, dearly loved and gifted by the Lord (1 Cor. 1.4-9), are a tough crowd. They’ve not mellowed since Paul wrote to them in his first letter, and this epistle shows them with the same besetting sins – they are proud, cold and difficult. Paul longs that they would remember that he is an apostle, sent by the Risen Christ. He has truth to tell, and love to share. They need to open their hearts to him, if they are to be open to the Lord who sent him.

He is suffering for the Saviour, and has no shame in it (vv.1-11). So many believers, then and now, see suffering as failure. Paul doesn’t. Nor does he want his suffering to be a failure in his own life, leaving him bitter or discouraged. Rather, he is learning to find God’s comforting grace in his trials, and is eager to share that comfort with others (vv.3-7). he is convinced that God is utterly trustworthy (vv.8-11). So how are you doing? Is your suffering making you hard-hearted, or growing in humility and gentleness? And will you allow the Lord to use your knowledge of grace to reach out to other struggles with? that is His will for you.

He is committed to the Corinthians, even if it might not look like it (vv.12-24). Sometimes Christian leaders have a really hard time of convincing those they serve that they really do love them. Paul does. Leaders need to say hard things, make unpopular decisions, and don’t have all the time they would like to give to people. Paul feels he needs to defend himself against the suspicion that, because his travel plans have got messed up and he hasn’t managed to get to Corinth, that he’s not a true friend of the believers there (vv.12-22). Not at all!, he’s saying.  He is their committed servant. He is, afterall, “called to be an apostle”, and every commissioned servant of Christ has a mandate of love. Reflect on the gorgeous statement of ministry intent, in v.24. Then ask yourself, do you trust your leaders? Are they working for your Gospel joy? And will you allow them to love you, in saying the things you like, and the things you don’t? It may well all be for your own good.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord Jesus, Head of Your church, thankyou that in You all of God’s promises are true and trustworthy. Empower me by Your Spirit to believe them, and change my heart to seek the joy of others in You, with transparent love and perseverance. Amen.

A Father’s Grief – 2 Samuel 18. Reading the Bible Together, 24th October

At last, David leads in battle. Or he plans to, only meekly to submit to his subjects when pressed not to (vv.2, 4). They ride out with his pleas that Absalom be treated with mercy (v.5). And then it isn’t David’s men who grab Absalom, but, bizarrely, the branches of a tree (v.9). The lengthy exchange recorded between the unnamed warrior and Joab underline the dilemma that both men should have – how do they handle their leader’s son (vv.10-13)? There is no dilemma for Joab, though, and he spears Absalom. That blow is effectively the end of the battle, and the coup. Absalom’s life is sealed with the mention of a monument which is as sad as both his life and his eventual death (v.18).

Can David’s heart take any more misery? Joab isn’t sure. He won’t risk the the son of the priest Zadok taking the news of Absalom’s death in case David rages at the bringer (remember his reaction to Saul’s death?). Instead, he sends an unnamed and probably unknown African to be messenger (vv.19-21). Ahimaaz, in a misguided longing for glory or reward (or both) also runs off to David. The irony of Ahimaaz’s declaration “all is well” (v.28) isn’t lost on us, and will break David’s heart. All for him is lost, because Absalom is dead, however much more bloodshed is averted, and the coup is over. When the original messenger brings the clear word, David must weep his bitter tears in private (vv.31-33).

A horrible, horrible loss. David’s tears must have been as much for his own failures as for the life of his misguided son. What wreckage sin has made of this family. How many parents today, Christian parents, too, weep for their children’s sins and their own? Our Gospel doesn’t bring us all the answers in the face of sin, nor does it mean that we will be delivered from all our temptations and disasters. No true Christian father goes to heaven without aching tears for his children. No true God is unmoved by the sins of His children. Certainly, ours isn’t.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Merciful Father, You tell us that there is a time to weep, and a time to mourn. This short, sad life so often breaks me, and the needs and troubles of those I love most dearly break me most. Father, You Who lost Your beloved Son, comfort me in my sorrows by Your Spirit. Deliver me from temptation, both to stop loving, or to lose myself in self-pity. Guard this weary, tender heart. I give it to You. Amen.

A Seal over your heart – Song of Songs 8. RBT Notes, 23rd April, by Graham Thomson

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1. In what ways does this chapter show us the joy of loving, and being loved?

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2. How do vv. 5-7 show us the way love unites the Lover and the Loved?  How does this help us to persevere when it’s hard to love others?

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3. In what specific ways does the love between Lover and Loved point us to God’s love for us in Jesus?
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A Prayer to Pray
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Thankyou, Father, that You have blessed me with the joy of loving and being loved.  Thankyou that this love points ultimately to your love for me in Jesus.  Thankyou that in Him You have loved me with a love that goes beyond even death.  Give me grace to love You and to love others as I reflect Your love for me.  Amen.

Captured – Song of Songs 4. RBT Notes, 19th April

 

  1. “What you love you can’t keep silent about.” How is this true of the Lover speaking of his love in vv.1-7? What or who do you love to speak about – to yourself, to God, or to others?

 

  1. The Lover is totally captured by his Love (vv.9-15). How does this image speak of you of being taken up with Jesus Christ?

 

  1. Love demands intimacy (v.16). What does intimacy with Jesus look like for you at the moment in your discipleship? Are there practical steps you could take (sins to repent of, habits of reading, prayer and service to put on)  in order to deepen it?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord Jesus, You are the fairest of ten thousand, and yet I so often and eagerly give my heart to loves which turn out to be ugly, and frustrating. Please, capture my heart again, teach me Your love, and lead me into deepening and delightful intimacy with You. Amen.

 

 

The Garden Enclosed