Kingdom of Priests

He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.”
Revelation‬ ‭1:6 ‭NLT‬‬

This verse mixes adoration and worship with an affirmation of who we are, and a declaration of praise and worship to God for all He has done.

Let’s start with where we should always start, proclaiming the wonder and majesty of Jesus. John declared that all glory and power should belong to Jesus for all eternity. And so it should be. What other religion has a God who leaves His throne and comes to earth as a human being, born in humble circumstances, living a peasant life and ending up crucified on a Roman cross? And why would He want to do such a thing? So that you and I would have the opportunity to embrace His loving sacrifice, in grateful acknowledgment that what He did, He did for us, to forgive us our sins, and give us His righteousness so that we can enter His Father’s presence. All because of His love for us, a love that knows no bounds. So we echo John’s words and proclaim, “All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen”. We can do nothing else!

With our elevated status as God’s children, comes a new role, that of being a priest. Immediately, we get an image of a person, usually a man, wearing strange clothes and an odd-looking hat. Or perhaps someone dressed in black wearing what has become to be known, a “dog collar”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Traditionally, a priest acts as a representative of God, acting as an intermediary for a people who do not feel they have direct access to God. But in our Christian context, the coming of Jesus, God’s Son, changed all of that. Because of Him we can go fearlessly into God’s presence, as it says in the book of Hebrews. In the old Jewish religion, there was a very heavy and thick curtain that separated the place where the ark of the Covenant was located and where the Jews believed God resided, from the people. And once a year, the High Priest entered God’s presence behind the curtain to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. Such was their reverence for, and fear of, God, that a chord was tied to the High Priest’s ankle, so that in the event he did something to offend God, his dead body could be pulled out by those outside the curtain. But coincident with Jesus’ final act at Calvary, the curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom, signifying that all people, through Him, could now access God directly.

Our role in the Kingdom of priests, is simply to introduce others to Jesus. We share the Gospel message, and our stories of what He has done for us, with the world around us. And we do it all for our Father God. Because he loves us, and we love Him. So no extended period of training in a seminary. No funny clothes. No regrets that we can’t access God directly. We have all become His children, adopted into His family. Given a new role as priests in His Kingdom. And there’s more. It says in Galatians 4:6, “And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father””. Folks, we can call our loving Heavenly Father “Abba”, or in our language, “Daddy”. That somehow seems a long way from the separation of God and man, before Jesus came to this world. No wonder John couldn’t continue with his writings without offering his praise and worship to God.

Dear Father, we thank You that You loved us so much that You put in place a plan to enable us to enter directly into Your presence. All through Jesus Your Son. We’re so grateful and we give You all the glory and power, forever and ever. Amen.

Greetings

“John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood,”
Revelation‬ ‭1:4-5‬ ‭NIVUK

John starts his writings with an introduction explaining who the letter is for and who it is from. It is addressed to “the seven churches in the province of Asia“. They are all listed later in the book. And then we have a detailed explanation of the contributors to his Revelation. For me, John’s words describe the everlasting God, because His throne is mentioned. And then we have the seven spirits. That can only be the Holy Spirit, the number “seven” denoting perfection or completeness, as it does in other parts of the Bible. And then we have a reference to Jesus, acknowledging Him as the faithful witness behind John’s Revelation. For good measure, we then are reminded of His death and resurrection, and His status as Lord of all.

John starts with announcing God’s grace and peace to “you”, who are the churches, the fellowships that he founded or spiritually fathered in the “province of Asia”. Again, the number “seven” is mentioned, perhaps indicating that it applies to all churches everywhere. There is no better introduction than speaking out a blessing of grace and peace. Oh, don’t we need both these qualities in our war-ravaged world. We need all the grace and peace that God has for us. Starting a letter or, to bring it up to date, an email or message, using a greeting, especially one including the words “grace and peace” is not a usual convention these days. But what a wonderful way to start. At a stroke of the pen, or tap of a key, it sets the scene for what is to come in the communication. It elevates the subject matter into Heavenly places, away from the mundane worldliness burdening our lives. Perhaps I’ll break with convention and start to use it more in my emails and messages, smiling at the thought of the quizzical smiles that will appear as the missive is read.

John finishes his greeting with a dedication, “to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood”. We must never forget to dedicate all we do in our service to God to Jesus and all He has done for us. His love knows no bounds. His willingness to die for each one of us echoes through past, present and future generations, bringing salvation to all.

Heavenly Father, we pray for more of Your presence in this sinful world, bringing grace and peace where there is anger and strife. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Workers (1)

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you.
Ephesians‬ ‭6:5-6a ‭NLT‬‬

Thankfully, slavery has been abolished in the UK. But these verses apply very well to those involved in the workplace. Employers and employees. Bosses and workers. The principle of slavery is of course not applicable because the “earthly masters” have no hold over their workers in the way a slave master or slave owner would have had, but there is the expectation that the workers do a job in return for monetary payment. A job that furthers the business aims of the employer.

So Paul writes to the slaves about how they should do their job and treat their owners. Treating my employer with respect was always something instilled within me, from my earliest job experiences. Sometimes the manager above me, representing my employer, wasn’t worthy of due respect because of his or her behaviour, but their position as a manager was. Something I often had to remember. 

Paul was right when he used words such as “obey” and “deep respect“. “Serve” and “please“. Such qualities exhibited in the employer/employee relationship mean the job gets done efficiently and in a cohesive and harmonious atmosphere. The word “fear” doesn’t, or shouldn’t, apply in the workplace today, though there can always be the thought that if we don’t shape up and do well for our employers, we could lose our jobs. A fearful event for many, probably.

In the workplace, do we try and please our employers? Even when they aren’t watching? I have been in workplace situations that deteriorate into chaos and mayhem when the boss has been absent, and it’s not a nice place to be. In such industries where manual labour is employed, many companies put in place bonus schemes to incentivise their workers, or instal cameras to check up on them. Paul was obviously aware that the slaves of his day would try and skive off, given the opportunity. And it can be the same in our workplaces. 

Most pilgrims today will be employed, and in the workplace they will do a job to earn money. But Paul encourages them not just to serve the employers, but to serve them as to the Lord. In other words, we pilgrims work for Jesus. Would we do that in a way that is less than 100%? Would we skive off from our service to God? In their seats in the Ephesian church, you can perhaps feel the guilt rising from those who were slaves. They would have listened and compared, and resolved to do better. In our workplaces, perhaps we too should listen to Paul’s words. Inviting Jesus to join us in the seat next to us in the office will perhaps make a difference to the way we do our jobs. After all, He’s there in Spirit.

But this is not a legalistic instruction from Paul. A “do it or else” reminder to unwilling listeners. We do our work well because of our love for God. As we read earlier in this epistle, God lavished His love on us. A love that is transforming and life-changing. A love that changes our lives and the lives of those around us, as we allow that love to spill out into their lives as well.

Submission

“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Ephesian 5:21

Here’s a difficult verse. At the very mention of the word “submission” people’s hackles start to rise. We ask ourselves did Paul really get this right. Did he really mean that we should submit to someone else in the church family, perhaps someone who might be younger or less experienced than us? Mutual submission is an important component in church unity, because it takes out the “it’s all about me” factor. Instead, selfishness is replaced by an appreciation that, regardless of how we perceive another person, we treat them with respect and courtesy, listening to what they have to say and considering it carefully. After all, what they say could be the Holy Spirit speaking through them. A poet called John Donne is reputed to have written, “No man is an island, entire of itself“. And that is particular true in our church communities – we individually don’t have all the knowledge and abilities required to build the church. Corrie Ten Boom once said (my paraphrase), “I can do things that you cannot, and you can do things that I cannot. But together we can do great things for God“. And that is really the essence of why we must submit to each other. The church model where the minister does everything and the congregation sit in the pews will never be able to build the church of Jesus Christ. As we submit to one another, different gifts and abilities come together and generate a powerful community. 

But there are two other phrases in the verse worth considering. The first is “one another”. This two word phrase crops up about 100 times in the New Testament, and almost always in a context of relationships. How we relate to each other in extremely important. Modern television presents a corrupted view of relationships, with fighting, verbal abuse, suspicion, manipulation, lies, slander, divorce, and gossip as the norm. But as God’s “one anothers” we know a better way. A way based on love and mutual submission. A way of looking out for one other, helping one another, praying for one another, being a true “one another” to our Christian brothers and sisters.

And then we have a second phrase in this verse that is very important. That is, we submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ“. We submit to one another because Jesus wants us to. That’s good enough for me.

Worthless Deeds

“Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible…”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:11-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In the work place I made no secret of my faith. There was a cost involved of course – I was no longer included in the social set, you know, the “cool” group, that got involved in chats around the coffee machine or the photocopier, chewing over “the worthless deeds of evil and darkness”. Sometimes there was an awkward silence in a meeting room when I arrived. The occasional apology when an expletive was inadvertently uttered. I often wondered that my work colleagues somehow felt that their behaviour was incompatible with my faith in Jesus. It was of course – they obviously knew what the “light” was. And that they behaved in a way that was different. But I sometimes had an opportunity to include myself in the office chatter – I can remember a discussion on life insurance where costs and benefits were being discussed. My contribution was to remind them that worldly life insurance, was costly, and only paid out in death, but eternal life insurance was far more important, it was free, and paid out with life. There were a few embarrassed coughs followed by a change of subject. Light exposing “worthless deeds” perhaps? I suppose I was grateful to be excluded from the sordid discussions about things of a dark world that I once knew, but had been redeemed from, by the blood of Jesus.

But how should a 21st Century pilgrim allow God’s light to shine out into the dark and evil world around us? Over the past centuries, there have always been a small number of men and women who have cut themselves off from society, to avoid contaminating themselves by contact with the darkness. They live in monasteries and nunneries, spending their time in prayer and working in their gardens, in a life devoted to God. But is that the answer to God’s call to holiness? In 1 Peter 1:15-16, we read, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”“. A monasterial lifestyle may be the way for some, but for me there is that difficult balancing act between being in the world but not of the world. In Jesus’s amazing prayer to His Father in Heaven, in John 17, He said, “I have given them Your Word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking You to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.” We pilgrims have a mission in life, folks. In this dark world, not apart from it. Our service to God includes telling those who live on the dark side about the hope we have for a future with God in Heaven. It includes being a light shining in the darkness around us (Matthew 5). We are salt savouring a tasteless society. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, when Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy these wicked towns if any righteous people lived there, is perhaps a warning that God’s patience with a dark society will one day expire. Perhaps our presence in the darkness of our age is turning way His wrath.

But on a more positive note, we know the love of God. We know what He has done for us. We know that one day we will be in His presence. And as we trudge through life we share our messages of hope, our testimonies of what God has done for us, with those around us. Sharing in the dark places where we find ourselves, our schools, workplaces, communities and families. But all the time being conscious of our call to holiness and the love of our wonderful God.

A Hint Too Far?

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Ephesians 5:3-5 NIVUK

These three verses need a bit of unpacking. Paul covered a lot of ground in the theatre of human behaviour when he wrote them. It’s all very well for him to be writing about things like “sexual immorality” but what did he mean, specifically? Similarly, with “impurity”. Can we, or should we, develop a set of rules and regulations, a sort of New Testament version of the Jewish Halakha? The questions continue with “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking”. Again, what was the Holy Spirit saying to him as he wrote this? And how can we avoid violating these “must nots” and “should nots”? The last verse today ends with a warning – “no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” I think we can all agree that there is something important, no – essential, in these verses. 

But before we head for Google to try and throw some light on the dilemma, here are a few thoughts for today’s pilgrims. Firstly, regarding sexual immorality, is what we are doing based on and grounded in love? Not love of ourselves, but love of another? Is what we are doing or saying honouring the other person? Thinking about their highest good? And are we aware of possible consequences further down the roads of life? Scriptures that come to mind are 1 Corinthians 13. But also, how about 1 John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters”? There have been many examples where the short term seeking of pleasure has led to long term grief and distress. The act of sex is a wonderful God-given gift and not one to be abused, distorted and violated. Instead, it is an essential part of humanity, to be enjoyed in God’s presence and in accordance with His guidance.

Paul continued to write about impurity and greed. Impurity is the opposite of what God demands of His people – Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Impure people, it seems, won’t get into God’s presence. In a chemical sense, impurities can corrupt and reduce the worth of a compound. And so it is with us; if we allow anything into our lives that corrupts and destroys our integrity, we become impure. A lie perhaps. A slanderous comment about someone we know. The potential for impurity is limitless. We need to be on our guard at all times.

Greed is normally associated with the excess consumption of food but it can apply to anything we do. A hoarder of money perhaps? Greedy people grab what they can, often to the detriment of those around them. The last sandwich on the plate. Or chocolate in a box. Buying two hamburgers when one would have been sufficient. But in the process of greed, we can become corrupted in our behaviour, always looking out for ourselves and not putting the interests and needs of others first.

But in everything we do, we should shine on it the light of God’s perspective. I remember rubber wrist bands being handed out at a youth conference some years ago, with the letters WWJD written of them. The letters forming an acronym, “What Would Jesus Do”. Perhaps the best advice of all. Because Jesus loved everyone. He had compassion on all those He met. His grace for others knew no bounds. He knew the right way to behave and live a life to purity.

Paul finally wrote that thanksgiving should replace “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking”. This is a hard one, especially in the work place, where group talk can quickly descend into a negative place. But such difficulties can occur anywhere in society around us. And as pilgrims we have to develop the skills to step back from such offence, instead elevating ourselves into a zone of thankfulness.

Summing up, impure behaviour at any level moves us into a sin-zone. Into dangerous territory. But thankfully, our loving Heavenly Father knows our human frailties and will always welcome a repentant sinner home.

A Special Gift

“However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.””
Ephesians‬ ‭4:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Jesus, the Son of God, is generous. I would say infinitely generous. There is no limit to His generosity. We read in our verses today that each of us has been given a gift through the generosity of Christ. But can you imagine being given a gift-wrapped package? Straight away, you notice that the wrapping paper isn’t that cheap stuff so thin that it tears as you look at it. This wrapping paper is of a quality fitting for a royal person. It looks as though it has been made of pure gold, sparkling with precious stones. But then you notice that in places on the package there are drops of blood. Before I get carried away any further with my analogy, Jesus’ generosity started with the greatest gift of all time at Calvary. There He gave His life for me, the very Son of God dying a horrible, blood-soaked death for the forgiveness of my sins. What a gift! What a Saviour! But I now stand before God as His child. A royal child of a Royal King. And I have this package in my hands. Jesus has just given it to me. Tremblingly, I start to open it, knowing that within is something special. It has to be so, because Jesus’ first gift was infinitely precious. Surely this gift will be something equally mind-boggling. And it is. 

I should say straight away, that this is no worldly gift. It’s not a gift-wrapped Rolex watch. Or some other such trinket. This is a special spiritual gift that dovetails into my natural giftings. What is it? Well, in three places in the New Testament there are lists of spiritual gifts.  Romans 12:6-8 lists prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 contains wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:28 includes a few more – healings, helps, leadership, speaking in other tongues. And for good measure, there are gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11, gifts given to the church including the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers, but more about them in a future blog.

When we open our package, what do we find? Perhaps our expectation is to find a golden key and a box marked “Spiritual Gift”. Opening it will tell us what our gift is. Or perhaps we hope to find something like a spiritual cheque book, with blank cheques signed by Jesus Himself. An impressive gift enabling us to go out and do amazing things for God. Or perhaps we open it and find nothing there. Disappointed, we turn to Jesus and ask the question – “Where is my special gift”? 

Spiritual gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:11 says, “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have”. However, it is no good sitting back waiting for our spiritual gift to arrive via some Heavenly postman, spending our time unproductively complaining that we can’t serve God because we don’t have the right gifting. We all have a primary calling, which is to serve God in the ways He has ordained. And strangely, as we faithfully and willingly serve Him in every situation that comes our way, He will supply the gifts we need. So if we find ourselves in a situation where someone is sick, we can in faith reach out to God for the gift of healing. If we find someone in a quandary about an important decision that has to be made, we can in faith reach out for a word of knowledge, or wisdom. At other times, as we faithfully use our natural gifts to do what we do well, He will supply that additional spiritual tools we need. 

Let us be a thankful people, thanking God for all He has given us. The unlimited gifts of a generous and loving God, so freely given to those with the faith to ask.

Four One’s

“There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”
Ephesians‬ ‭4:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians continues the theme of unity. And in these two verses he presents a fundamental view of God. Paul sets out the bottom line. The bedrock of our faith. A picture of God that is total and complete in every way. I see a picture before me today of an onion, and Paul is peeling away the layers, exposing truths that are seismic and fundamental to our beliefs. We have to peel away each layer to be able to appreciate the next. This view of God is so profound and true that if we cannot accept in turn each of Paul’s statements, then there is no point in continuing. This is a creed with five truths that underpins all other creeds. 

So for the first layer, Paul says there is “one Lord“. Believe it or not, in the world today there are many “lords”. And all except one are the wrong lord. We can make a loved one “lord” of our lives. Or even the devil. We have a privileged class in the UK of “lords”. And a part of our government here in the UK is the “House of Lords”. Many people make a “lord” out of their hobbies, or jobs. But Paul said there is only one Lord who really matters and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. If we hold a view that Jesus was anything other than the Son of God, a Member of the Holy Trinity, both human and divine, then there is no point in proceeding to the next layer of Paul’s “onion”.

The next layer refers to “one faith“. A sad phenomenon in some established churches today is the willingness to have “multi-faith” services. The bizarre spectacle of a Rabbi, Imam, Priest, Buddhist monk,  and a Clergyman holding joint prayers is directly at conflict with the God-truth of there being “one faith”. But is this what Paul was bothered about? No. I believe Paul was pointing out that true faith was not only believing that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God, that He died for our sins and that He sent the Holy Spirit to be His representative here on Planet Earth, but Paul was also pointing out that the faith we have extends to an unshakeable belief and assurance that God knows what is best for us, and regardless of our circumstances we will continue to have faith in Him. For an example, Abraham showed true faith when he placed his son on the altar as a sacrifice to God. True faith involves obedience to God regardless of the circumstances.

We continue to the next layer by considering what “one baptism” means. The New Testament mentions two types of baptism – baptism in water (Acts 8:36-39) and baptism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16). The fact that Paul mentions baptism here is therefore significant. It is an essential, non-negotiable, part of what being a Christian is all about. In Acts 2:38 we read, “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“.

The next layer of our onion is the all-encompassing declaration of who God is. There is only “one God“. I can remember a Muslim man I worked with telling me, some years ago, that we both worshipped the same God. But the God of the Christians, Paul’s God, our God, is different to Allah, the Muslim God. very different. Sadly, even amongst Christians there are different views of who God is. Some Christian denominations worship a God that is different to the One described in His Book, the Bible. But one thing is very clear. God is a God of love and grace. He is infinitely patient and kind. “The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” (Psalm 145:8).

Finally, Paul continues with the statement that God is “Father of all“. God is our Heavenly Father. We are His children. And as with any family, children can be naughty and rebellious. Well, that is how we started off in our natural lives. The religious jargon is that such behaviour is “sin”. Sadly, most people deny that they have a Heavenly Father. But saying we don’t have a Heavenly Father is the same as saying we don’t have a natural father. One day everyone will stand before God to give an account of their lives – most people will get a nasty shock if they continue to deny He exists! But it is so sad for those who don’t believe in God’s Fatherhood. He is the perfect Father. Loving. Fair. Helpful. A Guide when we need Him. Gracious. Merciful. God’s parental attributes could fill a book – well they do – His Book, the Bible. And the more we read it, the more we find out about Him. Imagine what it would be like to be in a situation where we never knew our natural father. But he left us a book about his life. I can guarantee we would read, and re-read the book he left us, to try and find out as much as we could about him. So it is with our Heavenly Father. He left us a book all about Him. And just for good measure, He threw in a shedload of information about our elder Brother, Jesus. Oh – and don’t forget the Holy Spirit – there’s a lot about Him in there as well. Three for the price of one?

The rest of these verses describe God as being, “over all, in all, and living through all.” Paul included these words just to make sure that what he had been saying was total. Complete. Nothing missed out. The word “one” is mentioned four times in these verses. Someone once said that if God said something once, we should take note. If He said it three times then we had better sit up and do something about it. Well, here is Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying something four times. Something important, don’t you think?

Spreading the Good News – 2

God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. 
Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.”
Ephesians 3:5, 8-9 NLT

So imagine the scenario. We have an amazing secret that we now want to go public on, revealing a bombshell of life-changing information to a fractious and divided population. How would we go about it? Obviously, we would need to choose men and women of good standing in the community, with a reputation of being experts in their particular field of science, medicine or theology that the information was related to. People who would be well respected. It would be hoped that they would be listened to and their information and advice therefore followed. We see such an activity today – someone, for example, stands up and announces a new diet that, if followed, would prevent our risk of this illness or condition, or other benefit, usually for the bottom line of some corporation or other. 

But not so with God. Firstly, his “bombshell of life-changing information” was infinitely greater than any man-made quackery. God’s secret plan was so life-changing that human plans paled into insignificance in comparison. Secondly, God did not choose to announce His plan with the help of the religious experts of His day. Those mighty theologians who dominated Jewish thought and teaching. No. He used ordinary men and women to announce His plan. Fishermen, a tax collector, a doctor, a tent maker. The human response would be that it would be bound to fail. But. There’s always a “but” when God is involved. We read in Acts 4:13, “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” In 1 Corinthians 1:27, we read, “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” God didn’t need the experts and educated people of the first century to disseminate His plan. Just Spirit-filled men and women who were bold enough to turn to God and say “Yes, Lord”. Like a young peasant girl did when an angel asked her to bear God’s only Son, Jesus. God doesn’t need educated people. He doesn’t need university degrees, or long years spent in a seminary. Just people who have “been with Jesus“. God has turned our world values upside down. So on our pilgrimage through life we may be considered fools for believing what we believe. But God thinks we are wonderful and He has entrusted to us the privilege of sharing His message of hope with the dying world around us. What an amazing God we serve.

The Prisoner

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –”
Ephesians 3:1 NIVUK

Paul is in prison. Not a pleasant experience in those days. A dirty, rat-infested and cold cell of misery. No sanitary arrangements worthy of the name. So why is he there when he needn’t be? Paul was probably arrested and imprisoned several times and we have accounts, brief glimpses of his penitentiary experiences, in Acts 16 and again in Acts 21. And all because Paul was an active and effective preacher of God’s Word, the Gospel of Good News. He refused to keep a low profile and ended up arrested, imprisoned and beaten. His life story is recorded in the Bible and through scraps of history from other sources. 

So Paul was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. The problem is because the Gospel, the message of Good News about the Kingdom of God, confronts the status quo. It encourages people to face the fact that “all have sinned” and points out the consequences continuing to live in sin, in the darkness of the devil’s ways. This counter-cultural view upset the Jews of Paul’s day – they thought that the only way to God was through them and their religious culture and customs – and because the Gospel also reached and included the non-Jews, the Gentiles, who the Jews despised. But Paul wasn’t fazed by any of this and continued to preach the Gospel regardless, to the detriment of his freedom. But we should be clear – Jesus Himself, the Son of God, lost His life for the same cause. And He warned His followers that they would be treated in a similar way. In Matthew 10 we read His words, “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you….

What about preaching the Gospel in a public place in 21st Century Western societies? “Free speech” is a hot topic in the UK in these days, with people and lobby groups constantly wanting to “cancel” any messages they disagree with. And Christians are increasingly being attacked for their faith. There is even legislation before the UK parliaments that would seek to make preaching the Christian message illegal. 

Would we be prepared to go to prison, to be persecuted, for our faith? Many Christians throughout the world are facing into the consequences of openly being a Christian, especially in places like North Korea and Afghanistan. Pushing back the frontiers of the enemy, the devil, will invoke a violent reaction. At the present time in our Western societies, we are free to hold church meetings and bring our message of hope to our streets. But it may not always be that way. We must pray for our communities, our nations, our families, that God will have mercy on us and graciously and lovingly support us in His mission of reaching the lost. While we still have time. But one day we might just have to choose between freedom and imprisonment, between keeping quiet or denying the Gospel, or preaching it regardless, to whoever will listen. Hmmm…