The Returning Saviour – Colossians 3:1-4

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Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

The Returning Saviour

When Jesus was ascending into heaven, two angels assured his disciples, ‘This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ (Acts 1:11).  Christians are looking forward to the return of Christ at the time decreed by God the Father.  Perhaps we allow the world’s mockery of the idea of Christ’s return to rob us of the joy and consolation we should have from this great certainty.  Our hope is centred on Christ and today we consider his Second Coming in Colossians 3:1-4  The Returning Saviour.

1. Our union with Christ

The most basic way of describing salvation is union with Christ in his death and resurrection.  When Christ died and rose again, the Bible tells us that those sinners given to him by the Father in eternity in principle died and rose spiritually with him.  This spiritual death and resurrection become our actual experience at our conversion.  Thus in v3 Paul tells us, ‘you died’ – that is a single, decisive event.  So too in 2:20 we read, ‘you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world’.  When we believe in Christ there is a radical, once-for-all break with our spiritual past of deadness and bondage to sin.

The same language of death and resurrection is used by Paul elsewhere.  Thus we read in Romans 6:4-5 ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death…If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.’  Also Galatians 2:20 ‘I have been crucified with Christ…Christ lives in me’.  It is amazing language.  That is how Christians ought to think of themselves.

A total spiritual change has taken place – we have gone from death to life.  We are united to Christ in his death and resurrection.  Paul says, ‘your life is now hidden with Christ in God’ (v3).  We occupy a totally secure positon.  This fact is invisible to the world and is often misunderstood.  The believer has a wholly new perspective, set out in Galatians 2:20 ‘the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God’.  Christ and his will are central.  All we do is for his glory.  Our aim is to reflect his likeness.

2. The glory of Christ

This whole epistle emphasises the glory of Christ.  Hence v1 speaks of ‘Christ…seated on the right hand of God’, the place of supreme exaltation.  This is the fulfilment of Psalm 110:1 ‘Sit at my right hand’, the Father speaking to the Son.  Christ’s present position is the result of his atoning work and so Paul writes in Philippians 2:9 ‘Therefore God highly exalted him’.  The full price of redemption has been paid, hence the reward of glory is bestowed.  No longer is the glory of Christ veiled as it was on earth.  His seat at the Father’s right hand is also one of supreme authority – Ephesians 1:21-22 describes it as ‘far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given…God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church’.

At the God-appointed end of history, that glory will be revealed to every creature – ‘every eye will see him’ (Revelation 1:7).  There will be no concealment – ‘When Christ…appears’ (v4).  Biblical images emphasise the radiance and glory of the One coming to complete the salvation of his people and judge unbelievers.  He ‘will come back again’ – the promise is in Acts 1:11.  It is a day believers can look forward to with anticipation, not trepidation.  We will meet our Saviour face to face.

3. The glory of believers

At present Christians are being transformed into Christ’s image by the Holy Spirit – ‘from glory to glory’, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18.  We are aware of how we fall short and we long for perfection.  By the Lord’s power one day the transformation will be completed.  We are told in v4 ‘When Christ…appears, then you also will appear with him in glory’.  For believers the best really is yet to come, when Christ completes his work.

Salvation includes the body, hence the certainty of resurrection.  The fullest description is in 1 Corinthians 15, including the assurance, ‘we shall be changed’ (v52).  We will be given ‘glorious bodies’ like Christ’s, as Philippians 3:21 tells us.  We will have bodies suited to life in the age to come, in the new heavens and the new earth.

Believers will share in the glory of their Saviour.  Note 1 John 3:2 ‘we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’.  His image will be perfectly formed in us.  We will be free from all sin, beyond the reach of temptation and the possibility of falling.  The process will finally be complete.  All the efforts of Satan will have come to nothing.  There is much about this we cannot now know, but what we do know should stir our sense of anticipation.  This is what awaits every child of God since ‘no-one can snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:28).  We will be as like the Saviour as it is possible to be.

This is not revealed to us for abstract speculation or argument.  It leads to practical results.

4. The responsibility of believers

The final glory we anticipate should shape the way we live now.  It is not just a matter of some event in the distant future.  Note ‘Christ, who is your life’ (v4).  He is the source and sustainer of our spiritual life and the one who means everything to us.  Hence we are commanded (literally) ‘keep seeking the things above’ (v1).  We are also told, ‘Set your minds on things above’ (v2).  The focus of our thinking, desiring and willing must be Christ and the things relating to his kingdom, the things revealed to us in the Bible.  Christ commands us in Matthew 6:33 ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’.  That will decisively shape who we are and how we live.

We are to apply the fact of Christ’s lordship to the realities of everyday life.  We fill our minds with whatever is ‘true…noble…lovely…admirable’ (Philippians 4:8).  We are to do all for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Far from cutting us off from real life, this provides our motivation for living real life for Christ.  We live godly lives in the present because we will share Christ’s glory in the future.  May our hope rejoice your heart today.

David McKay

God’s Gracious Covenant , Leviticus 26:12

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12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.

Leviticus 26:12

God’s gracious covenant

The Bible in one sense is a library of 66 books, but in a deeper sense, it is one book, given to us by God.  Some themes stand out particularly prominently in Scripture and serve to hold it all together.  One of these is covenant, which occurs all the way through the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament.  God tells us that he is a covenant God.  This is a word used to describe the relationship between God and his people.  It is actually not a difficult theological word – its basic meaning is clear in the verse we are looking at today – Leviticus 26:12 God’s gracious covenant.

1. The provision of grace

It is vital to understand that in the relationship between God and his people it is God who takes the initiative.  Note the context of the promises of this chapter.  We read in v13 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt’.  The Lord is reminding them that he set them free and then gave them his law.  The same pattern is evident in Exodus 20:1-2 at the beginning of the Ten Commandments.  The Lord stresses that liberation from bondage preceded the giving of the law.  It is the same in Leviticus 26.  Liberation from bondage is the context for the call for obedience in v3, and that is followed by the promises of blessing for the obedient and of curses on the disobedient.

The whole covenant rests on what God has done.  At a level deeper than the social and political liberation Israel had experienced, the covenant relates to the change of heart and life that is involved in the experience of salvation.  There has to be such a change if the covenant is to be a living relationship.  All sinners, both Jews and Gentiles, are ‘dead in…transgressions and sins’ as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:1.  Salvation is impossible unless God takes the initiative.  Only God’s grace, his undeserved favour, can bring such sinners into covenant with himself.  That is why it is called ‘The Covenant of Grace’.

Notice what Jesus says in Luke 22:20, at the Last Supper: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’.  By his sacrifice on the cross, foreshadowed by the Old Testament sacrifices, he has taken the burden of his people’s sins on himself and has redeemed them.  The price of redemption has been paid by Christ and so Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:7 ‘In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins’.

2. The promise of fellowship

The covenant establishes a warm personal relationship between the Lord and his people.  It is a measure of the greatness of his grace.  He is not a distant God.  He says, ‘I will put my dwelling place among you…I will walk among you’ (v11-12).  God’s walking among his people recalls Eden before the Fall.  God walked with Adam and Eve, but fellowship was lost through man’s sin.  Now God graciously restores the covenant that was broken.

It should never cease to amaze us that this infinitely great and holy God should seek fellowship with us and should make it possible at such a cost.  ‘How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God’ (1 John 3:1).  In the Covenant of Grace God gives himself to us.  He promises, ‘I will be your God’.  We can never exhaust the meaning of those words, but in the full light of the person and work of Christ, we can understand it so much more clearly.  He will be to us everything that we need.  Not only does he save us from sin, he indwells us by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to serve him, and he remakes us progressively in the image of Christ.  All of our spiritual life and growth flow from our covenant relationship with the Lord.

God’s covenant people have real living fellowship with him.  As we use the means of grace, especially Bible study and prayer, we grow in the knowledge of him.  As Jesus tells us in John 17:3 ‘this is eternal life – that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’.  We are addressed by him in Scripture and we address him in prayer.  We are the objects of his infinite love and we respond with a growing love for him.  ‘We love’, we are told in 1 John 4:19, ‘because he first loved us’.

3. The privilege of belonging

We are told in Genesis 1:27 that we are made in the image of God. What does that mean?  The God who reveals himself in the Bible is a Trinity, one God in three Persons, a community.  As those who are made in the image of this God, we are made for community.  It is a denial of our basic nature to live an isolated, solitary life.  Human beings find community in various ways, especially in families, but we find that the craving of the human heart for community satisfied above all in this covenant relationship with the Lord.  That is what we were created to experience.  He promises in this verse, ‘you will be my people’.  He gathers his people into a community, a body.  In the Old Testament, this took the form of the nation of Israel and in the New Testament, it takes the form of the international body of the church.  Together they form one community – as Paul writes in Galatians 3:29 ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’.

As members of this community, we have a place of service.  The nature of our service is stated in 1 Peter 2:9 ‘that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’.  All our work, however seemingly unimportant, is to be done for his glory.  That includes telling others about him and what he has done to save sinners.  Such privileges, of course, entail responsibilities.  Our responsibilities include in particular the pursuit of holiness.  ‘Be holy because I am holy’ is the Lord’s command in 1 Peter 1:16.  That holiness is expressed in the obedience described in v3 ‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands’.  Because we have received his grace, we do not find the Lord’s commands a burden.  In fact, we show our love for the Lord by obedience.  ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments, Jesus tells us in John 14:15.

In this warm, loving covenant fellowship with the Lord and with his people we find life as he made us to live it.  This is the only path to the fulfilment that every person seeks.  And it is not just for this world.  This fellowship will be enjoyed in full in heaven and in the new creation, when Christ returns.  In Revelation 21:3 we read, ‘he will live with them.  They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God’.

David McKay

Four great facts about salvation – Ephesians 2:8-9

video can be found here

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Four great facts about salvation

When somebody is in a difficult situation – maybe financial, or emotional, or of some other kind – family and friends will offer a helping hand if they can.  Their efforts added to what the person himself can do may be enough to see him through the crisis.  Those offering help would expect the person to do as much as he can to help himself.  Then the combined effort will be sufficient.

Often people think that that is how salvation works.  They believe that as sinners we can’t do enough to save ourselves – we need help from God.  They think that we do the best we can and God makes up the shortfall.  The Bible presents a very different view of salvation, as we see in today’s passage Ephesians 2:8-9 Four great facts about salvation.

1. It is by grace

Verse 8 begins ‘For it is by grace you have been saved’.  The word ‘for’ shows that this statement is the conclusion to be drawn from what Paul says in verses 1-7 about the transformation that God has wrought in his people.  He has brought them from being ‘dead in…transgressions’ (v1) to being ‘alive with Christ’ (v5) and he has ‘seated [them] in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (v6).  They have been saved from the guilt and power of sin.

Paul now stresses that this salvation is entirely the work of God from start to finish.  He is sovereign in saving sinners – they do not save themselves.  The same basic principle is stated in Jonah 2:9 ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’.  We find it throughout the Bible.

The key term is ‘grace’.  This is a vital word to understand.  Grace is the love and favor of God shown to the wretched, to the sinful, to those who deserve his righteous condemnation.  It is a love that is determined by nothing in its objects.  It is purely the fruit of God’s own nature.  Psalm 86:15 says, ‘you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God’.  In view of our plight as sinners, this is our only hope.  The gospel is good news because it is a message of God’s grace to helpless sinners like you and me, a grace that saves the undeserving.

2. It is through faith

We need to understand clearly that salvation is not automatic.  It is received only by those who have faith.  This ‘faith’ is not some vague religious feeling or attitude.  The Bible means something very specific by ‘faith’.  Note Acts 16:31 ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’.  Paul is telling us that there is one proper object of saving faith- Christ crucified and risen.  It is the object of faith that gives it its saving power.

Biblical faith requires knowledge of the person and work of Christ.  It also entails assent to the Bible’s explanation of what he accomplished, but it also demands personal trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord.  That’s why in the Bible we have the language of believing ‘on’ or ‘in’ Christ.  It is like leaning our entire weight on him.  Personal trust in him is essential.

What is the result of believing in Christ?  In Romans 5:1 Paul says that we are ‘justified through faith’.  That means we are declared righteous in God’s sight.  Christ is ‘our righteousness’ according to 1 Corinthians 1:30.  His righteousness, in his life of perfect obedience to God’s law and his death on the cross, is counted as ours.

Notice that salvation is ‘through’ faith, not ‘on account of’ it.  Faith is not a contribution we make to salvation.  It is ‘instrumental’, merely the channel God uses to convey salvation to us.  It is like holding out our empty hands for God to fill them.  We must never lose sight of the role faith plays and so become proud of our believing or think that it earns blessing.

3. It is God’s gift

Paul drives home the crucial lesson in verse 8: ‘this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God’.  He could be referring to faith or to the whole of salvation as a gift – it comes to the same thing in the end.  God does not grant salvation as if it were a wage we earn or a debt he owes us.  Calling it a ‘gift’ stresses he is under no obligation to us.

The gift is entirely free to us, but in fact, it had to be paid for.  The gospel tells us that our salvation has been fully paid for.  The only one who could pay the price as our Substitute was the Lord Jesus Christ, one who is both God and man.  By his perfect obedience to the Father in both his life and his death, Christ paid the price fully.  As 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us’.  The whole burden of our sin and guilt was carried by the Saviour in our place.  Jesus ‘gave his life a ransom for many’, as he himself puts it in Mark 10:45.

Notice that Paul says, ‘you have been saved’.  It’s a perfect tense in the original language, used of something that has already happened and whose effects continue.  Although our full enjoyment of salvation lies ahead in glory, we now have full, permanent possession of salvation and it cannot be lost.  That’s a truth that’s full of assurance and comfort for us.

4. It is not by works

Paul stresses salvation is by grace alone: ‘not from yourselves…not by works’ he writes in verses 8 and 9.  We need to stress this.  We are not saved by a mixture of grace and works – that would destroy the element of grace.  That is the error the Reformers had to combat.  They were correct to affirm that we are saved by grace alone.  We cannot and we need not add anything of our own to salvation.  Nothing we could do is able to supplement God’s grace

Our efforts have nothing to contribute, and grace and works are mutually exclusive principles.  All our efforts are covered by ‘works’, including even religious activities.  Salvation does not begin with God’s grace and then continue by our works.  It is tragic when some Christians live as if God’s grace forgave their past sins, but now they have to maintain salvation by obeying God well enough.  That really denies the power of God’s grace.

The truth about salvation by grace through faith in Christ is humbling.  But it is also so liberating.  We are free from the burden of trying to earn our salvation.  If you have not received that salvation from the Lord, let me urge you to trust in Christ as your Saviour today.

David McKay

Prevailing Prayer – Luke 11:5-13

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Prevailing Prayer

One area of the Christian life where we experience most struggle and defeat is undoubtedly that of prayer.  It may seem that nothing could be easier than talking to God, yet often when we come to pray we find ourselves lethargic and uninterested, with our attention wandering.  There may be various reasons for this, including tiredness or anxiety, but above all, it indicates our lack of sanctification.  It is certainly a point where Satan will be especially active in attacking us.  If prayer is a powerful weapon in our spiritual warfare, his attacks should not surprise us.

The Lord, however, graciously gives us all kinds of encouragements to stimulate our praying.  John Calvin said, ‘There is nothing better to stir us to make our prayers, than a firm assurance that we shall succeed in them’.  The Lord Jesus provides the kind of assurance we need in our passage today.  Let’s look at Luke 11:5-13 Prevailing Prayer.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[a] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[b] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:5-13 (NIV)

1. A parable (v.5-8)

After providing an example of the content of prayer in what we now call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (v1-4), Jesus uses a vivid story to illustrate the right attitude to prayer – ‘the parable of the friend at midnight’.  The situation is easy to visualise: ‘a friend of mine on a journey has come to me’ (v6).  Travel would take place at night to avoid the heat, so the host is caught totally unawares by his visitor – ‘I have nothing to set before him’.  We can imagine the reaction of the sleeping friend.  Most of us would say, ‘Don’t bother me’ (v7).  He doesn’t want the trouble of waking his family, who would probably be sharing the room with him, preparing food for the visitor, and generally being burdened.  But the friend at the door will not give up.  He stretches friendship to the limit, and beyond, yet he succeeds.  As v8 says, ‘not…because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness (or shamelessness) he will get up’.

What is Jesus’ lesson here?  He argues from the less to the greater – if a human friend in such circumstances would give ‘as much as he needs’ (v8), how much more will our heavenly Father do so?  Consider the comparison Jesus is making: our relationship with the Father is richer and deeper; there is no night with God and he never sleeps or makes excuses; we are not asking on behalf of strangers, but we are his children, fully known and loved by him; our needs are not small (like the ‘three loaves of bread in v5) but are very great, both physically and spiritually; the Father gives great promises to encourage our asking.  He offers no self-interested excuses for not responding.

On all these grounds we can come and expect a positive answer.  We can be bold, not letting anything deter us.  That does not encourage in us an attitude of presumption or a demanding spirit.  Our praying relates to our needs, not to our selfish wants.  Keeping that in mind, we have everything in our favour when we approach the Lord in prayer.

2. A promise (v.9-10)

Building on his parable, Jesus gives us direct encouragement to prayer.  Notice that the commands ‘Ask…seek…knock…’ are continuous tenses, indicating persistent asking and repeated coming to the Lord with our needs, We do not come with the ‘meaningless repetition’ of Matthew 6:7, but we are to come every time we have a need, with no limit to our requests.

Ask’ implies humility and a consciousness of need.  We have to set aside our pride, unlike the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:10-13, who actually asked for nothing.  Asking implies faith in a God who can and will answer.  Without faith, prayer is an empty ritual.

Seek’ implies action, doing what we can to gain what we seek.  We are not to be passive as the means of answer may be at hand.  Above all we should seek a deeper knowledge of the Lord, making use of Bible study along with our praying.

Knock’ – there needs to be perseverance until the door is opened.  We are often commanded to persevere in prayer: we should ‘always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1), ‘Be faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12).  God sometimes delays in order to stimulate our prayers.

When we obey these commands we meet with a 3-fold promise – ‘will be given…will find…will be opened’ (v9).  These promises are full of encouragement for Christians.  The response will exactly meet our need, and the Lord knows that need perfectly.  It is not a blank cheque so that we ask for anything we think we would like.  In I John 5:14 we read, ‘if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us’.  That is vitally important.  How do we know what his will is?  Sometimes we not sure, but the closer we are to God, the better we understand his will, and so we know better how to pray.  Verse 10 is a great promise to all who come in this way: ‘everyone who asks receives…’  Every Christian can testify to the many ways in which the Lord has kept his promises regarding answering prayer.

3. A pattern (v.11-13)

To clinch the argument Jesus again argues from the less to the greater.  He uses a very homely image that everyone can identify with – ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish…?’ (v11).  Any good parent wants to provide the best for his child.  When asked for what the child needs (bread, fish, egg), he will not provide what is useless (stone) or potentially harmful (snake, scorpion).  A parent’s love moves Him to give what is best for the child.  Verse 13 provides the application of the illustration to our praying.

Human love is inevitably limited and imperfect, even in the best of us.  Jesus mentions ‘though you are evil’ to take account of our imperfection, yet we ‘know how to give good gifts’.  He then makes the comparison with our perfectly loving and all-knowing Father.  Hence he asks, ‘How much more will your Father in heaven give…?’  Already he has given the greatest gift: ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32).  In particular, Jesus mentions that he will ‘give the Holy Spirit’ to those who ask him’.  Does it surprise you that Jesus speaks particularly about the gift of the Holy Spirit?  The Spirit is, in fact, the chief gift bestowed on the Lord’s people, the one through whom all other provision flows.  We should above all be praying for more of the ministry of the Spirit in our lives.

Based on the nature of our heavenly Father and the rich promises he has made, we can be sure of the perfect answer to our prayers and have the strongest encouragement to give ourselves to prayer.  No matter what our circumstances, we can engage in the ministry of prayer.  We may be locked down, but our prayers can circle the world, a world in the palm of the Lord’s hand.

Rev David McKay

God’s gifts of grace and peace, 1 Corinthians 1:3

Video is available here

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:1-3

God’s gifts of grace and peace

We are living in a very challenging time, with a disease which has brought a large part of the world to a standstill, world leaders very perplexed about the best policies to pursue to deal with this crisis and many people facing an extremely uncertain future.  Who could have imagined even a short time ago that we would be living through such days?

As Christians, however, we have resources from the Lord that enable us to face such challenges.  Today we are thinking about God’s provision for us as we consider the words Paul uses to greet believers in 1 Corinthians 1:3 ‘God’s gifts of grace and peace’.

1. Grace

The first element in Paul’s greeting is ‘Grace…to you’.  He carefully specifies the source of that grace: ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  The greeting is set in a clearly and powerfully theological context.  This is not something that the world experiences.  God is immediately at the heart of how Paul addresses believers.  The apostle is not simply expressing conventional good wishes as any letter writer would do – he is speaking about spiritual realities that relate to the people of God and go to the heart of who we are.

Paul begins with the fundamental fact of our Christian identity – we are those who have received grace ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  Notice here:

God’s attitude. 

What do we mean by the word ‘grace’?  Fundamentally grace is the love and favour of God shown to sinners contrary to what they deserve.  It is undeserved, unmerited favour is shown to those who deserved judgment and condemnation because of their sins.

Without compromising his perfect holiness, God shows throughout Scripture that he is a God of grace.  In Exodus 34:6 he says that he is ‘the compassionate and gracious God’.  We find the same truth in the New Testament, where Christ is described as ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).  God is characterised by grace to the unworthy.

Whilst there is a grace shown to all men, providing this-worldly blessings, (what we call ‘common grace’), grace chiefly relates to sin and salvation.  It is bound up with the love of God, since ‘God is love’ according to 1 John 4:8.  Grace is the attitude of God to his people in the face of their sin, and so if we do not understand the nature of sin as an offence against a holy God, we will not understand the nature of grace and we will not appreciate how wonderful it is.  It was in grace that God ‘chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4) and provided all we need for salvation.

God’s action. 

All of Paul’s discussion of grace is centred on Christ.  Already we have touched on this.  Grace leads to divine action – saving action since sinners need salvation.  Note Paul’s words in Titus 2:11 ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’.  It is in Christ that this grace has appeared, it has taken visible form in the Son of God coming into this world for our salvation.

The supreme expression of grace is the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ.  It is his work that provides full salvation for the objects of God’s grace.  Hence ‘it is by grace you have been saved’ (Ephesians 2:8).  Apart from God’s grace we would be lost eternally.  The very centre of the gospel is God’s grace to sinners in Christ.

It is vital to remember that not only does salvation begin in grace – it also must continue by the same grace.  God’s grace enables spiritual growth in Christ’s likeness and also enables spiritual service.  Grace cleanses us from sin when we fail and come to God in repentance.  It is God’s grace that keeps us connected to Christ.  That is why Paul wishes believers ‘grace’ – we need it daily and we always will.

2. Peace

God’s grace provides a multitude of blessings for the Lord’s people.  One of the greatest is ‘peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  This is a profoundly spiritual peace.  Peace in biblical language is far more than the absence of strife – it is the fulness of blessing that we enjoy in the family of God.  Note 2 things here:

A permanent possession. 

We have a wonderful statement in Romans 5:1 ‘since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.  Through the gracious action of God in Jesus Christ, our relationship to God has changed fundamentally and forever.  As sinners ‘we were God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10), but the sacrifice of Christ has satisfied the righteous requirements of a holy God and turned aside his wrath.  Thus Christ is, as John puts it in 1 John 2:2, ‘the propitiation for our sins’.  God’s enmity towards us is ended and we are at peace with him.

This is a truth we need to hold on to.  Satan will try to shake our confidence in it, reminding us of our sins and asking how such a person could be a real Christian.  We must remember that in Christ we have and always will have peace with God.  That is Christ’s accomplishment and so cannot be lost even by our repeated sins.  We remain ‘children of God’ (1 John 3:1).  God will not and cannot reverse his verdict on his people.

A present provision. 

Peace with God is always a fact, but our experience of it varies.  It can come and go.  Sometimes we do not feel at peace with God:

perhaps because of our sins we lose our peace and it is replaced by fear

perhaps because of our circumstances – in hard and testing times we may lose our sense of peace with God.  We may even wonder if he has turned against us.

That is when we need to recapture the experience of ‘the peace of God which transcends all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) – that is why Paul includes it as a wish for believers in his greeting here.  It is a very precious blessing.

How may we recapture our sense of peace?  One obvious requirement is avoidance of sin, which robs us of our peace.  On the positive side, we must use the means of grace God provides so that we grow closer to the Lord.  Notice how Philippians 4:6 puts peace in the context of ‘prayer and petition with thanksgiving’.  Worship, prayer, meditating on God’s Word, fellowship with believers – we need all of these sources of strength.

Peace is a precious blessing that we seek for ourselves and for all God’s people.  In the midst of difficult and trying times, may we know that peace which the world cannot give or take from us.

Habakkuk 3:16-19, Rejoicing in Adversity

video available here

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.
For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:16-19

Habakkuk 3:16-19  Rejoicing in Adversity

Habakkuk the prophet was given a really hard message to deliver.  Because of Israel’s sins, the Lord was sending the pagan Babylonians to devastate their land.  Habakkuk struggled to understand how a holy God could use such unholy people to do his will.  God assured the prophet he would also judge the Babylonians for their wickedness, but it was a hard message to accept and hard to preach.  Tough times lay ahead, but at the end of his book, Habakkuk shows us how a believer is to face testing times such as those we are living through.  Let’s look at Habakkuk 3:16-19.

1. Waiting upon God

In the first part of chapter 3 Habakkuk thinks about the greatness of God and the way in which he has judged evil in the past.  That gives him encouragement, yet as he thinks of what he and Israel are going to have to endure in the near future, he is almost overwhelmed.  His language is very vivid: ‘my heart pounded…my legs trembled’ (v16).  He is rendered almost helpless by fear.  The storm is coming and he can imagine something of what it will be like.

It is good to realise that even a prophet may feel overwhelmed by what God is doing.  He is a man of flesh and blood, just like us.  He is not some cold, unfeeling person, immune to the trials that he and others have to pass through.  He trembles in fear.  At one time or another, we all face such situations, times when we feel we are at the end of our resources and cannot cope.  We may well be fearful about the future, especially in these very uncertain times.  We can identify with Habakkuk.

But notice too he says, ‘I will wait patiently for the day of calamity’ (v16).  He had resources to meet the trials, and we can have the same help in our times of need.

2. Rejoicing in God

In verses 17 and 18 we have a testimony to the power of faith in a fearful man.  Habakkuk is able to overcome his fears because of the strength provided by his God-given faith.  For this reason, he will be able to rejoice, even in the deepest adversity.

First of all the prophet faces up to the worst that may happen – ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine…’ (v17).  He depicts the worst situation imaginable since the fig, vine and olive were staple crops for the Israelites.  If these fail, there will be no food and no income.  The same applies to the flocks and herds he mentions.  It is a picture of economic disaster followed inevitably by famine, and probably starvation and death.  All of this could happen as a result of the Babylonian invasion.  It may not turn out to be as bad as this, but Habakkuk considers the ‘worst-case scenario’.  He does not buoy himself up with false hopes, telling himself ‘it could never happen’.  The hope that God’s people have in dire situations is not some kind of psychological trick, pretending that things will not really be too serious.  As we face a very uncertain future, in both the short term and the long term, we need something better than telling ourselves the worst will not happen to us.

Notice that Habakkuk’s rejoicing is ‘in the Lord’, it is ‘in God my Saviour’ (v18).  That is crucial.  He rejoices in the Lord who keeps His Covenant of Grace with his people in all generations.  However bad circumstances may become, the Lord will not forsake his people, and on both the personal and the national scale his purpose will be worked out for his glory.  Whatever Habakkuk himself may be called to suffer, he is assured that God will be at work in the situation.  For that reason he can not only accept whatever comes – he can rejoice and praise God.

By faith in the Lord, we too can rejoice even in adversity.  We do not know what God in his providence will bring to anyone of us.  It may include suffering, sickness, or even death.  Just because we are the Lord’s people, we are not spared all the hard experiences of life.  We can, however, be assured of his direction of events according to his wise and loving plan, and we can thank him for that knowledge.  This is not ‘keeping a stiff upper lip, nor is it self-deception: it is trust in the God who has saved us by Christ’s redeeming work, and who has committed himself to us in covenant grace.  Only the child of God can respond to crises in this way.

3. Strengthened by God

Habakkuk has not finished yet.  In v19 he makes another great assertion of confidence in the Lord: ‘The sovereign Lord is my strength’.  It lifts him above the present crisis and lets him see beyond it to the fulfilment of God’s purpose.  He is confident that God will give him the necessary strength to endure the test that is coming.  He uses the image of the deer – ‘he makes my feet like the feet of a deer’ – an animal proverbial for its speed and agility.  In v16 his feet were faltering, his legs were trembling, but now the Lord enables him to be sure-footed.  The fearful arrival of the Babylonians will not cause the prophet to stumble in doubt concerning the goodness of God’s plan.

At the end of the verse, Habakkuk expresses firm assurance in the Lord: ‘he enables me to go on the heights’.  His language suggests a degree of control over his situation – looking down on the trials from high ground.  He is also expressing his freedom from fear – if he stands on the high ground, he does not need to hide.  In difficult times it can be very tempting to try and hide from the struggles that confront us.  It may seem safer, but it is misguided.

Habakkuk has found the secret of true strength.  It lies not in self-confidence, but rather in trusting the Lord.  That is why he is confident of coming through his trials with his faith intact.

Here is a lesson every believer needs to learn.  Salvation begins with abandoning trust in ourselves and turning to Christ.  That is how we are then to live the Christian life – depending on the Lord’s strength.  Only thus can we face testing times.  Whatever comes to us – whether fear, anxiety, illness, loss or some other hard experience – we can face it with confidence in the God who gives us all the strength we need.  As the Apostle Paul learned, his strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  May we know that strength in these testing days.

David McKay

Hebrews 4:14-16, Christ Exalted and Compassionate

Video is available here

Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

Hebrews 4:14-16,  Christ Exalted and Compassionate

It is not easy to live the Christian life in our world.  There are many pressures on those who seek to follow Christ consistently.  In our present circumstances, where there is much suffering, uncertainty and fear, we can find our faith tested and we may be tempted to give up.  We need not think we are unique in this respect. The recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews faced many pressures on their Christian faith and some were tempted to give up and go back to Judaism.  The writer has much to say by way of challenge and encouragement. Let’s consider Hebrews 4:14-16 which turns our thoughts to our great Saviour.

1. The exaltation of Christ

The focus of encouragement must always be Christ and what he has done for his people.  Here the writer demonstrates the superiority of his work as Priest over that of any earthly priest.  He writes in v14 ‘we have a great high priest’. There are several reasons for his greatness.

The writer begins with his present position of glory – Jesus has ‘gone through the heavens’.  The Saviour has ascended to the Father, who has ‘seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms’ (as Paul puts it in Ephesians 1:20).  Jesus has been granted the place of supreme exaltation. His exaltation is based on his earthly work as Priest, and so he is referred to as ‘Jesus’, his earthly human name.  As Priest, he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice on the cross for the sins of his people. The price has been paid – that is the good news of the gospel.

Notice also that he is called ‘the Son of God’ – he is a unique High Priest, indeed he is God himself come in human flesh.  On that account, his sacrifice has infinite value.  It is sufficient to save multitudes. It manifests perfect divine love.  His work is fully accomplished and so he sits at the Father’s right hand.  He is not paying a fleeting visit to heaven.  He remains in the Father’s presence to intercede for us (as 7:25 tells us).  That is a tremendous encouragement.

2. Let us hold firmly to our faith

The practical effect of having such a great High Priest ought to be steadfastness in our faith.  To people tempted to give up their faith the writer says ‘let us hold firmly to the faith we profess’.  The essentials of that faith have already been stated in the first part of v14 – a Saviour who is both God and man, who by his death and resurrection has made atonement for sins and who now reigns over all things.  That is the core of the gospel, which is not negotiable.

To an unbelieving world, these truths seem ridiculous – the gospel is ‘foolishness to the Gentiles’ (I Corinthians 1:23), provoking ridicule or hostility.  You may well have experienced something like that. Such a reaction may shake our faith, we may begin to waiver in our commitment. However, we must not give up the truths that determine our eternal destiny.  We know our High Priest personally and we are committed to him and his cause.

The idea of ‘hold fast’ includes a holding forth of the truth of the gospel to a Christ-rejecting world, whatever the response.  People need to hear these truths and in troubled times like ours, some will be more open to listening to the gospel.  We do have new opportunities.

3. The compassion of Christ

Such an exalted Saviour might seem cold and distant.  Does he understand the pressures we have to face? The writer reassures us that we do not need to worry on that account.  Jesus has an unequaled capacity to understand.  It is not the case that he is ‘unable to sympathize with our weaknesses’ (v15).  His exaltation has not destroyed his humanity.

It is marvelous news that he was ‘tempted in every way just as we are’.  Nothing in human experience, except sin, is foreign to Jesus. In fact, he was tested to an extent we will never face.  He spent 40 days in the wilderness battling Satan (Matthew 4:1ff); he was challenged to come down from the cross (Mark 15:30).  Jesus made a public profession before the Jews and Pilate and so he knows the pressures that entails.

Notice too the end of v15 ‘yet was without sin’ – he never capitulated to pressure or temptation.  That does not distance him from us so that he does not understand our struggles and failures.  Instead, it shows how he endured far beyond the point where we would give up and so knows the full force of temptation in a way that we do not.  Our Saviour endured all the kinds of trials we face, including the temptation to give up when our faith is under pressure. Jesus, however, came through it all triumphant and he understands us and our struggles fully.  That should be a great encouragement in our trials, especially when we feel we have reached our limit and cannot carry on any longer.

4. Let us approach the throne of grace

In v16 the writer makes a very practical application of what he has just said about the compassion of the Lord.  We are exhorted to be praying people.  He exhorts us, ‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence’.  What would once have been the throne of judgment for sinners like us is now a place of grace for Christians.  On that throne is a crucified and risen High Priest. We can thus come ‘with confidence’, not rashly or self-confidently, but in humble faith, not fearing rejection or wrath.

What will we obtain?  We will obtain ‘mercy’, dealing with our past failures, and ‘grace to help us’, for present and future needs, whatever they may be.  The Lord’s supply will not fail. He promises, ‘my grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Help comes ‘in our time of need’ – at the right time, not before we need it. Grace is always provided for our present trials.  So we dare not be prayerless. To neglect prayer is to say we can cope without the Lord’s help, and we know we cannot. With such wonderful assurances, let us trust in the Lord and approach the throne of grace daily.

David McKay

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 12-20 “Christ is risen!”

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1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 12-20

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Christ is Risen!

Does the resurrection matter?  It might seem that it doesn’t. A recent survey of over 2000 adults (commissioned by the BBC) found that 25% of those who would call themselves ‘Christians’ do not believe in the resurrection of Christ, against 31% who believe the Bible’s account ‘word for word’.  Among ‘active’ Christians (who attend a service at least once a month) 57% believe in the resurrection. Of all those surveyed, 50% do not believe in the resurrection. Perhaps it really is a matter of opinion, and not that important.

The attitude of the Apostle Paul was very different.  He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14 ‘if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’.  In fact, the resurrection of Christ is crucial to Christianity – a dead Christ means an empty and futile religion.  Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15 and remind ourselves that ‘Christ is risen!’

1. Did he rise?

The whole of the New Testament, including all 4 Gospels, answers ‘Yes!’  The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is overwhelming (however you explain it).  There is no doubt he died on the cross – the Romans made no mistakes about things like that – and equally there is no doubt that on the third day he rose again.

All the Gospels contain accounts of the empty tomb – it is an essential part of their message.  To suggest that despairing, defeated disciples could or would steal his body and pretend he had risen is incredible.  If the authorities had still had the body, they would have produced it and snuffed out the Christian movement at its very beginning.

Notice what Paul says in v5-7 – he provides a list of post-resurrection appearances of the Saviour – to ‘Peter…the Twelve…more than 500 of the brothers at the same time…James…all the apostles…me’.  It is impossible that this could be some kind of psychological hallucination or delusion. Many of the witnesses were still alive when Paul wrote and could be consulted. Our conclusion must be – he has risen!

2. What did he achieve?

Accepting that Christ really did rise, we now ask – what does his resurrection mean?  What did it accomplish? The New Testament clearly leads us to view the resurrection as a victory.  It is a victory in 3 ways:

  1. Victory over sin: Note v3 ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures’.  In fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, Christ in his death took the sin of all who would ever believe in him, along with the punishment they deserve.  All that our sin deserves from a holy God has been taken by Christ. In 1 Peter 3:18 we read, ‘Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’.  God’s Son was a willing sacrifice. All we need in order to be forgiven is provided in him. The resurrection proves that the full payment has been made.
  1.  Victory over Satan: It is sin that gives Satan power over sinners.  If our sin is dealt with, Satan’s claim on believers is destroyed.  Jesus’ death on the cross, therefore, includes victory over Satan. The first gospel promise is in Genesis 3:15 the promise that the ‘seed’ of the woman will crush the head of the serpent – the promise has been fulfilled in Christ’s defeat of Satan at the cross and the empty tomb.  In Colossians 2:15 Paul writes of how God ‘having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’. The resurrection is the guarantee that Christ really won the victory.  Satan’s dominion over believers is broken.
  1.  Victory over death: Death is ‘the last enemy’ (v26).  It is a fearful thing for most people, but the empty tomb is proof that Christ has conquered death.  Death exists because of sin – the sin of Adam (v21) that we inherit.  Christ has dealt with sin and so, in the words of Peter in Acts 2:24, ‘it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’.  Those who belong to Christ will share in his victory – he is the firstfruits (v20), and at his return, the very presence of death will be abolished (v26).

3. What does it mean for us?

  1. The answer to sin: Christ crucified and risen is the answer to our sin.  Note Matthew 1:21 ‘he will save his people from their sins’.  Having taken the burden of our sin, he saves us from the punishment due to us.  As Isaiah 53:5 tells us, he was pierced for our transgressions’.  There is now no punishment due to those who trust in Christ as Saviour.  We are righteous in God’s sight. Christ also saves us from the power of sin as day by day he gives us grace and strength to ‘walk in newness of life’ (Romans 6:4).
  1.  The answer to tragedy: In the resurrection, we have proof of Christ’s victory over all the forces that damage our lives and cause us pain.  The risen Christ is ‘head over everything for the church’ (Ephesians 1:22). All his power and authority are used for the benefit of his people.  Thus he gives us all the grace and help we need to face pain, loss, uncertainty, disappointment, bereavement. For the Christian, Satan is a defeated enemy and so we may, by the Lord’s strength, resist his attacks and temptations.  The Lord always says to us, ‘my grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  1.  The answer to death: Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ share in his victory over death.  As ‘the firstfruits’ (v20) he guarantees that the rest of the harvest will follow – ‘when he comes, those who belong to him’ as Paul puts it in v 23.  Having been raised from spiritual death at conversion, we will be raised from physical death at his return.  Our bodies share in salvation.  Although much must remain mysterious, we know Christ ‘will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body’ (Philippians 3:21).  There is nothing for us to fear in death. On account of Christ’s resurrection, Paul can ask triumphantly, ‘Where, O death, is your victory?’ (v55). We have a glorious hope in the risen Christ.

David McKay

Philippians 4:14-20 ‘My God will supply’

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Reading: Philippians 4:14-20

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

One of the first effects of the arrival of coronavirus was panic buying.  Suddenly supermarket shelves were cleared of a range of goods, sometimes the obvious, sometimes the unexpected.  Whoever thought that toilet rolls would be so valuable? The results were unnecessary shortages and unfair pressure put on the vulnerable.  Most stores have had to introduce some form of rationing to ensure that all customers are provided with the basics.

Uncertainty is hard for most people to live with.  Fear of not having the essentials can be paralysing.  Concern for survival would crowd out most other thoughts.  For the Christian in such circumstances the temptation may be to focus on those needs to the exclusion of spiritual matters.  Our proper Bible-based perspective can be lost and our outlook becomes very like that of the world around us. Paul in prison faced great uncertainties, yet his focus was on the Lord and he was confident God would provide whatever he needed.  In Philippians 4:14-20 Paul shows where our trust is to be placed.

1. Thanksgiving for God’s provision

Sometimes the pressure of trying circumstances makes us forget God’s goodness to us in the past.  Paul does not fall into that trap. He recognises that gratitude for past blessings and past answered prayers stimulates us to depend more fully on the Lord’s provision now and in the future.

‘It was good of you to share in my troubles’ (v14), he writes.  Paul’s certainty that God will supply the strength he requires (v13) does not lead him to despise material help sent from Philippi during his time in prison.  In fact, it is clear this is one of the ways in which God supplied his need. The God who provided manna (Exodus 16) can equally well provide by means of his people’s actions – ‘I am amply supplied’ (v18).  The provision is viewed from three points of view:

(i) Paul.  Their generosity relieved his material needs (v18), but even more important was the expression of fellowship the gifts represented.  Note ‘share in my troubles … shared with me’ (v15) – they expressed love and unity in Christ. That explains Paul’s joyful spirit despite hardships.  Fellowship should be expressed in all kinds of caring actions.

(ii) The Philippians.  They were enriched by their giving – how is that possible?  Note ‘what may be credited to your account’ (v17) – as if by giving to Paul they made an investment of material things that would produce a spiritual dividend.  This is not a crude ‘payoff’ mentality, yet God does bless generosity (Proverbs 11:25). Giving is not to be done for profit yet God blesses the generous.

(iii) The Lord.  The giving of the Philippians pleased God.  Note the very striking words ‘They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God’ (v18).  The act of giving and its motivation delighted the Lord. This emphasises the God-ward dimension of giving – it is to be done as service to him, for his glory.

2. Trust in God’s promise

The Philippians’ gifts are but one example of a general principle stated in the promise of verse 19 ‘my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’. These words are full of encouragement for God’s people.  They help us face difficult and challenging times, such as those in which we are now living. There are several things here to notice:

(i) The Scope.  We need to be careful, of course, that we do not try to make the verse say something that it does not say.  This is not a promise that Christians will receive from God absolutely anything that they request. There are varieties of supposedly ‘Christian’ teaching that suggest we can ‘name it and claim it’ – that if we have enough faith, God will give whatever we ask.  That is not what the Lord promises. He does not offer us a blank cheque that we can fill in however we wish. Often we do not know what would be best for us – we ask amiss or with selfish motives. No good parent will give his child everything he asks for, and our perfect heavenly Father will certainly not do so.  The promise relates to ‘all your needs’ – the things we need in order to live for his glory and to serve him as he has planned.  We are assured unequivocally that these things will be provided, and we can rest content with not having things we think we need or would like.

(ii) The Author.  Paul speaks of ‘My God’ – the God who loves him, who has saved him and who will provide for him.  This is the God who accepted the ‘fragrant offering’ of the gifts made to Paul by the Philippians (v18).  Our God is concerned for both bodily and spiritual needs. The physical is not beneath the notice of the Creator (see Psalm 145:16 ‘You satisfy the desires of every living thing’).  More than that, as Ephesians 1:3 reminds us, God has ‘blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ’. Have we not proved his ability to provide many times?  People make promises that often they are not able to keep, but God is able to supply our needs. Paul says that [literally] God will ‘fulfil all your need’.  His infinite love and wisdom decide what is a need and what is a desire, and he makes no mistakes.  Desires are sometimes granted: needs always are.

(iii) The Source.  Problems have arisen in shops recently when demand has outstripped supply, sometimes by a considerable margin.  The resources of the Lord, however, are unlimited. Paul refers to [literally] ‘his riches in glory’. The resources are infinite and can never run out.  The key to blessing is made clear – the riches are ‘in Christ Jesus’. All God’s provision flows to us through Christ. How is that so? The answer is that his saving work secured every blessing that his people will ever require.  By his death and resurrection, Christ has secured not only forgiveness of sin (wonderful as that is). He has also secured all that we require to live the Christian life, to face every trial that he permits to come to us and to reach final glory.  Christ is now ‘head over everything for the benefit of the church’ (Ephesians 1:22). Our Father has already given the greatest gift – Christ himself as our Saviour – and so all other gifts will certainly follow. Listen to Paul’s assurance in Romans 8:32 ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’  United to Christ, we are in the place to receive God’s infinite provision.

(iv) The Supply.  It is abundant, not just the bare minimum for survival.  Notice that God supplies ‘according to his riches’.  It is not merely ‘out of his riches’, but ‘according to his riches’.  The Lord supplies in proportion to his infinite resources. He is not like a millionaire throwing a few coins to a beggar – that would be ‘out of his riches’.  To those who themselves give generously, God will give ‘A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over’ (Luke 6:38).

Note also the certainty of the supply.  Paul does not use the language of possibility.  He does not suggest that God ‘might’ or even ‘probably will’ meet all our needs.  He simply states that he will meet them. This is not an arrogant statement since it expresses the very opposite of self-confidence.  Our confidence rests on the nature of the God who promises and on the full the provision made in Christ once for all. You can share Paul’s confidence when you look to the Lord and trust in him.

In view of such a promise, Paul bursts out in praise in the doxology of verse 20 ‘To our God and Father be glory forever and ever’.  He ascribes ‘glory’ to ‘our God and Father’ because this is his doing, from start to finish, and all the glory is his.  Evidence of our Father’s provision should fuel worship and praise from his people, even when they are called to endure hardships and trials.  Sitting in prison, writing this letter, Paul knew what it was to practise what he preached. Let us do likewise.

David Mckay

Isaiah 26 ‘The peace of God’

Isaiah 26:3-4 The peace of God

In the current coronavirus crisis it is very difficult to feel at peace.  Almost everything has changed and not for the better. Even the sight of so many closed businesses is unsettling, and our city is like a ghost town.  Nobody knows when it will be any different. If you lack peace – if you are anxious, worried, afraid – all of life is affected. You are not able to focus on the important things, not able to give your best to any activity.  In the spiritual realm, a lack of peace hinders growth and service. How may we have true peace? The answer lies not in closing our eyes to hard reality, but rather in fixing them on the Lord, the one source of true peace. Isaiah ministered in troubled times, when there were many reasons for fear.  God’s provision, described in Isaiah 26:3-4, applies to every Christian.

1. An unwavering trust

This is mentioned first in these verses.  This is where we must begin. It sets out the one route to true peace.  Unless this description fits us, we will never enjoy this true peace of God.  The one ‘whose mind is steadfast’ is the one who ‘trusts in you’ (v3). This can be said only of the Christian.  The unbeliever does not trust in the Lord and so cannot have peace. To have peace we must begin with the total commitment of life to the Lord.

There has to be a looking away from ourselves, recognising the inadequacy of our resources to cope with the difficulties of life, beginning with the problem of our own sin.  The problem of our own sin can be addressed only by trusting in the Lord’s provision of salvation in Christ: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31). Every other source will eventually disappoint us.

Even for the Christian, peace does not come automatically.  We need to be ‘steadfast’, a word that suggests leaning and depending on the Lord.  The whole ‘mind’ is involved – all our thinking, our values and our priorities are to be shaped by our relationship to the Lord, not by the attitudes of the world around us.  To be such a person we need to use the means of grace God has provided, especially prayer and Bible study. Particularly when we cannot meet as a congregation we must be careful not to neglect these sources of spiritual nourishment.  If we neglect our walk with the Lord, we will be like a ship in a storm with no anchor, tossed in all directions.

2. A perfect peace

To those who do rest only on the Lord there is a wonderful promise – ‘You will keep him in perfect peace’ (v3).  This is God-given peace, such as Jesus promises in John 14:27 ‘my peace I give you’. We can have peace because Christ has dealt with our sins and reconciled us to God – ‘he himself is our peace’ (Ephesians 2:14).

Peace in Scripture is far more than an absence of conflict.  ‘Shalom’ means ‘wholeness’, every part of life in godly order, in harmony with the Lord and reflecting his likeness.  Living ‘in the sunshine of God’s favour’ (as one writer puts it) we have a sense of safety and security, whatever life may bring to us, since we are in the Lord’s hands.

This is the spiritual peace of Philippians 4:7, guarding our hearts and minds (the very centre of life) when all around is turmoil.  Literally Isaiah says ‘peace, peace’ – repetition showing how comprehensive it is. Whatever anxieties and fears trouble us, the Lord has the answer.  This peace can be enjoyed in the midst of outward troubles. God will ‘guard’ – see the description of God as a fortress in v1. Surrounded by God’s love and power, no enemy can separate us from him or take our salvation.

3. A secure foundation

It is good to remind ourselves that our trust is in One who merits all our confidence – ‘the LORD is the Rock eternal’.  Isaiah uses the special covenant name for God – this is the God who has shown grace to the undeserving and who has made an unbreakable covenant with us.  He remains faithful despite our sins and failures.

The Rock ‘does not change like shifting shadows’ (James 1:17).  His care and his love for us never change. He is the source of strength we need to face trials.  He endures for ever and our trust in him is not just for time but for eternity. This relationship is full of warmth and love: ‘he is my mighty rock, my refuge’ (Psalm 62:7).

If we fail to trust him we lose our peace, but there is always the possibility of restoration through repentance.  When we stumble, he upholds us so that we do not finally fall away (Psalm 37:24). That is a great comfort when we are conscious of our weaknesses.

4. An urgent summons

‘Trust in the Lord for ever’ – there must be personal action if we are to experience this peace.  We look to the Lord, trust him in daily living, seek his power to live for his glory. We take the focus off ourselves and put it on the Lord.

We must be aware of the dangers of relying on the unreliable.  Although unbelievers may have useful insights into our problems, we are not to rely on them, but must seek help from the Lord and his people.  We should avoid the ‘broken cisterns’ (Jeremiah 2:13) of unbelieving worldviews. We seek the Lord’s help directly in prayer and also through the wisdom of his people.  If we follow the Lord’s direction, walking closely with him daily, we will know the peace that only the Christian can know, even amid restrictions, dangers and uncertainties.  How else can we face the challenges that confront us?

David McKay