Servants of the Word

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3:6)

We are ministers -or rather servants. The word is diakonos or deacon. It implies a necessary humility as befits those who are at God’s beck and call. The trouble with the M word is the we can so easily attach a capital letter and end up with a concept almost entirely opposite to that which Paul intends. The message is always more important than the messenger, and we are only messengers.

But we are messengers of  “a new covenant,” and that covenant is qualitatively different from the old. How? Because the new covenant comes not by the authority of a written law which only brings death, but by the Spirit who brings life. 

That statement is both a reassurance and a rebuke. It’s a reassurance in the sense that this whole new move of God-in-Christ is Spirit-led. The Spirit animates the church in the spirit of Jesus. We are a wave -a tsunami of Jesus-life over the face of the earth. We are scattered servants united in the attitude and mindset of Christ.

But, of course, it’s a rebuke, too. The Bible warns the professing church over and over again that if God’s people persist in sin and abandon close fellowship with him, his Spirit will be quenched and his abiding presence removed. Ichabod will be its new name — ‘the glory is departed’ (1 Samuel 4:21). 

Israel in the Old Testament and some of the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 are striking examples of what happens when God finally gives his lukewarm, lifeless, people over to their own ways — ‘Judgement begins at the house of God’ (1 Peter 4:17). 

The really scary thing is that those concerned sometimes don’t realise! We somehow manage without the Holy Spirit! We have programmes and people and we keep busy. And somehow, what was intended as a mass movement of counter-cultural energy becomes a country club in some sad little redbrick building, half-way between a museum and a fridge. 

The Bible calls such churches ‘synagogues of Satan’ (Revelation 2:9). They are blind to the reality that God has withdrawn his blessing from them. He has removed their lamp-stand. 

The Bible sometimes sounds harsh, but it always speaks the truth in love. I have to know how serious the condition is if I am to find the remedy. “I will come and remove their lamp-stand.” This was the condemnation over churches that had lost the presence of Jesus. How does it happen? It is often due to the failure to maintain a ‘ministry of the Spirit’ (2 Cor 3:8). It is much easier to build a church around a teaching ministry, than around the twofold ministry of Word and Spirit — but we need both. We need Word and Spirit together or we will not grow up. 

Firstly, consider life.

The letter kills but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Cor 3:6). The apostle Paul does not mean that the Word of God is less important than the Holy Spirit. The Word and the Spirit are not in competition with each another. Paul is teaching that both are absolutely necessary for a ministry of life to exist. 

To prove this, Paul points to the source of our sufficiency as new covenant ministers. 

“You are the living letter of the Anointed One, the Liberating King, nurtured by us and inscribed, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God—a letter too passionate to be chiseled onto stone tablets, but emblazoned upon the human heart…. Don’t be mistaken; in and of ourselves we know we have little to offer, but any competence or value we have comes from God.” (2 Cor 3: 3,5). 

The source of our sufficiency is not the Word alone. If it were, Paul would not have said, ‘our sufficiency is from God’ (2 Cor 3:5). Paul ministered Christ to them ‘not with ink’ — that is, not by the word alone — but by ‘the Spirit of the living God’ (2 Cor 3:3). 

If the Holy Spirit failed to give life and power to Paul’s preaching, his words would have fallen on deaf ears. Likewise, if the Word by itself could produce spiritual results then why do we need to cry to God in prayer for the Holy Spirit’s blessing? 

If the Word alone could produce converts, why did Jesus teach that the Spirit’s power was needed to make the gospel effective? — ‘Tarry in Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). 

That term ‘living God’ (2 Cor 3:3) is not a side-issue. The Holy Spirit’s purpose in anointing the spoken word is to bring life out of death — for ‘God is not the God of the dead but of the living’ (Matt 22:32). 

We are called ‘ministers of the Spirit’ because the Holy Spirit plants and perpetuates God’s life in his saints through their public and private ministrations. And without the Spirit’s influence the Word of God produces death, not life (2 Cor 3:7-9). 

Some will misunderstand what we are saying and think we are disparaging the Word of God. On the contrary, we are elevating both Word and Spirit to their scriptural place as the inseparable, God-ordained means of creating and sustaining spiritual life. 

Secondly, consider balance.

Only Word and Spirit together can provide a vital, balanced ministry in the local church. Without this balance the church will become anaemic, deformed, and dead in some or all of its parts. Jesus refers to this need of balance in John 6:63: ‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are Spirit, and they are life’. 

Furthermore, balance is necessary if we are to worship God acceptably: ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth’ (John 4:24). We are striving for a balance here between altar and pulpit. The true believer, who is born of the Spirit and knows God with head and heart, will never be satisfied, edified, and nourished by worship which lacks the Holy Spirit’s presence and ministry. But for God to be pleased with our worship he must be worshipped in truth (sound doctrine) and Spirit. 

How we need both! ‘For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance’ (1 Thess 1:5). 

Thirdly, consider the centrality of Christ.

The Pharisees were experts in the rules and regulations of the Old Testament, yet were almost completely ignorant of its underlying spiritual meaning. 

Jesus told the Pharisees the reason for their unbelief and their ultimate rejection of his teachings and ministry: ‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing’ (John 6:63). 

The Pharisees were teachers and caretakers of the law, but the Spirit had not illuminated their darkened minds to comprehend spiritual truth. Only the Holy Spirit can transform dead letters into ‘living epistles’. 

Thus, having no capacity to see things with ‘spiritual eyes’, the Pharisees had no other sphere in which to perform their duties but the intellectual, religious and physical realms. Their lack of the Holy Spirit’s illumination and power led to the unthinkable — they rejected and crucified their Messiah. They missed the moment. 

The absence of the Holy Spirit cast great darkness on the minds and hearts of these men. Jesus identifies this problem with piercing clarity: ‘You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of me’ (John 5:39). 

They had committed what Adolph Saphir calls bibliolatry (making an idol of the Bible and its doctrines). The Pharisees were professional religionists whose religion, scriptures, system of doctrine and national heritage were ends in themselves. 

Let us beware that we do not become like them. 

God never gave us any gift, benefit, or privilege as an end in itself. All God’s gifts, means and benefits — including the Scriptures, the church, the ministry and every other spiritual blessing — are but servants to lead us to Christ! Bonhoeffer’s sermon for Whitsunday, 1940, includes this paragraph: 

“The Holy Spirit is the living God, not some inert concept. The church community has to trust the Holy Spirit in every decision and believe strongly that the Spirit continues to be present in the community and at work in it. The Spirit will not permit our community to grope about to darkness, if only we are willing to take the Spirit’s teachings seriously…”

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The Holy Spirit empowers evangelists

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The book of Acts provides a textbook study of how the Holy Spirit empowers the evangelist. Let’s read and reflect on these verses together.

1)  Power for bold proclamation of the gospel:

Acts 4:8: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people!…’”

Acts 4:31: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” 

Acts 5:32:  “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

2)  Power for strategic miracles that gain a hearing for the gospel:

Acts 2:4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” 

Acts 4:30: “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus…” 

Acts 10:38:  “… how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 

Hebrews 2:3-4:  “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. 

Romans 15:18-19: “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done– by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.”

3)  Power for courage in the face of vicious persecution:

Acts 4:29-31  “‘Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” 

4)  Power for the Church to grow in numbers:

Acts 9:31:”Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.” 

5)  Power and wisdom to organise the Church with human leadership:

Acts 20:28: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

6)  Power for wisdom in contending for the gospel truth with unbelievers:

Acts 6:9-10: “These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.” 

7)  Power for guidance in mission strategy and direction:

Acts 8:29: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ 

Acts 13:2:”While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 

Acts 16:6-7: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” 

8)  Power for resolution of doctrinal differences:

Acts 15:28: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:” 

9)  Power for taking bold new steps in mission frontiers:

Acts 10:19-20:“While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you.  So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” 

10)  Power for encouragement and even joy during difficult trials:

Acts 13:52: “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” 

11)  Power to compel evangelists to keep going despite immense trials: 

Acts 20:22-23:  “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.”

12)  Power through the Scriptures:

Acts 4:25:  “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David”

13)  Power in prayer:

Acts 4:31  “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” 

The Holy Spirit did immense work on individual Christians and on the Church collectively to get it to move out powerfully in evangelism.  Before the Spirit came, the disciples were huddled in an upstairs room, “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:19)  Even one week later, after they had had numerous encounters with the risen Savior, they still had the doors locked.  They were paralysed with fear, unable to move out.  But the day of Pentecost changed everything, as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples.  They moved out in power, and went down into the streets to preach boldly, totally unafraid of the consequences. 

14)  Power for holiness:

Acts 5:9:  “Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?’” 

There is one more way the Spirit empowers Christians for evangelism:  by sanctification.  Sanctification is the work of the Spirit in the heart of an individual causing that person to walk in God’s Laws (i.e. to love God and neighbor), and to put sin to death.  Personal sin greatly hinders our effectiveness in evangelism, so the Spirit was given to keep us holy.  He warns us against sin, and teaches us to say “No!!” to ungodliness (Titus 2:12).  When we do sin, He convicts us of it, causes us to grieve over it, to hate it, to renounce and repent from it, and to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.  Acts 5 contains the sobering story of Ananias and Sapphira, who decided to lie to the Holy Spirit about some money they were contributing.  Peter told both Ananias (Acts 5:3) and Sapphira (Acts 5:9) individually that they were sinning directly against the Holy Spirit.  When they each fell dead at Peter’s feet, it was clear it was the Spirit who was cleansing His church and keeping it holy.

Paul speaks even more directly about the Spirit’s role in sanctification in Romans 8 and Galatians 5: Romans 8:4  “…in order that the righteous requirements of the Law may be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” 

Romans 8:13-14: “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Galatians 5:24-25:  “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” 

God will use only use vessels that are pure.  This does not mean He can only use perfect people, for then evangelism would never occur.  But it does mean that, if we cherish sin in our hearts and do not fight it with hatred, we will become progressively useless to God.  Eventually we will have disqualified ourselves from service by our sin.  This is precisely why Paul says “I beat my body and make it my slave so that, after I have preached to others, I myself my not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)  The Spirit lives within us to make us holy, and to empower us to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbours as ourselves.  This is essential to a life of fruitful evangelism.

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“Speaking out of the Fire…” (Deut 4:33)

 

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Fire, considered as a metaphor, is used extensively in the Bible, as in all cultures ancient and modern.  The usual Hebrew word is es. The Greek word phos, which is normally translated “light,” is sometimes to be rendered “fire” (as in Mark 15:54, and Luke 22:56), but the common Greek word  is pur  from which we derive pyre, and pyrotechnics!

Most references are literal, of course, but the figurative use generally relates to some manifestation of God’s being or action.

Eugene Merrill writes: “Fire, as theophany of existence, communicates, first of all, the very presence of God.”

This is evident in the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses (Exod 3:2-6). Here fire is a manifestation of God himself, for Moses turned away from the sight “because he was afraid to look at God” (v6).

Similarly, God descended upon Mount Sinai “in fire” ( Exod 19:18 ; cf. Deut 4:11-12, 15, 33, 36). In the New Testament, Paul describes the second coming of Christ as “in blazing fire” (2 Thess 1:7), an appearance that carries overtones of judgment as well as mere presence. Also akin to Old Testament imagery is John’s vision of Jesus with eyes “like blazing fire” (Rev 1:14 ; 2:18 ; 19:12).

So, fire carries the undertone of judgement, as well as presence.

There is, thirdly, the aspect of glory. A number of passages focus on fire in association with God’s glory. For example, to the Israelites at Sinai “the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire” (Exod 24:17 ; cf. Leviticus 9:23, 24; Deut 5:24). I

In the New Testament , fire is connected with baptism. John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would baptise “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11 ; cf. Luke 3:16). On the day of Pentecost, “tongues of fire” rested upon those gathered and they “were filled with the Holy Spirit” ( Acts 2:3-4 ).

The metaphor is used to show how God operates. Think of the “pillar of fire” that led the people of Israel through the desert of Sinai.

Think of the “fire from heaven” that consumed certain special sacrifices. The first of these inaugurated Aaron’s ministry as priest. Having blessed the people, Moses and Aaron witnessed the appearance of the glory of the Lord, a striking manifestation of which was fire that “came out from the presence of the Lord” to consume the sacrifices already placed on the altar ( Lev 9:23-24 ).

Other examples of fire as the expression of God’s acceptance of offerings are those of Gideon (Judges 6:19-24) and of the father and mother of Samson (Judges 13:15-20). In both cases God is present in the person of the angel who touches the altar, causing the sacrifices to erupt in flame.

Because of fire’s destructive capacity, it frequently appears in the Bible as a symbol of God’s anger and of the judgment and destruction that sometimes are extensions of that anger. The psalmist employs fire as a simile for divine displeasure when he asks the Lord, “How long will your wrath burn like fire?” ( Psalm 89:46 )

Isaiah, referring to God’s coming in judgment, sees him “coming with fire” and bringing down his rebuke “with flames of fire” (Isa 66:15). Jeremiah says in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem that Yahweh “poured out his wrath like fire” (Lam 2:4 ). Ezekiel uses the term “fiery anger” to speak of God’s outpoured judgment, especially when speaking of the impending Babylonian conquest (Ezek 21:31 ; 22:31 ). This is also the language by which he describes the overthrow of Gog in the end times. In his “zeal and fiery wrath” he will bring about massive calamity ( Ezek 38:19 ).

In other passages, the anger of God is not only metaphorically represented by fire, but becomes the literal means of its expression. At Taberah in the Sinai desert God’s “anger was aroused” and “fire from the Lord burned among” the people (Num 11:1). And the rebellion of Korah and his followers also resulted in many of them perishing by fire, a manifestation of God’s hot anger (Num 16:35 ; 26:10 ; Lev 10:2 .

A most impressive display of fire as an instrument of judgment is the destruction of the messengers of Ahaziah of Israel who attempted to seize Elijah the prophet only to be struck with fire “from heaven” (2 Kings 1:10, 12, 14).

The same imagery of fire as a sign of God’s anger and judgment continues in the New Testament. James and John asked Jesus whether or not they should invoke fire from heaven in order to destroy the Samaritans ( Luke 9:54 ). Paul speaks of fire as a purifying agent capable of testing the quality of one’s life and works ( 1 Cor 3:13 ). Most commonly, fire is associated with the judgment of hell ( Matt 3:12 ; 5:22 ; 18:8-9 ; Mark 9:43 Mark 9:48 ; Luke 3:17 ; 16:24 ; James 3:6 ; Jude 7 ; Rev 20:14-15 ), or with the destruction of the old heavens and earth in preparation for the new ( 2 Peter 3:10,12).

So we have a metaphor that is continually reshaped, like fire itself, to describe the promise of presence, guidance, power, and judgement. In this context, what does it mean to be baptised with the fire of God’s Spirit? 

The long passages in John 14-17 give us a great deal of information about how the Holy Spirit operates. John begins with the promise of presence, with the familiar verse: “Let not your hearts be troubled…” The promise of the Spirit is a promise to end anxiety. Luke’s narratives in the book of Acts gives us multiple accounts of the Holy Spirit in action.

Second, the Holy Spirit guides. He is our “pillar of fire.”

He guides us to the truthJohn 16:13  “However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth…”

He guides us away from sin: Galatians 5:16 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”

He guides us to our Purpose: When we seek God, He will reveal our giftings; the talents we have to help others, and fulfil our missions. The Spirit was upon Jesus enabling Him to complete His mission from God. Look at Luke 4:18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the bind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

And, of course, the book of Acts is replete with stories of the Holy Spirit operating in power, but there is also mention of judgement too. We enjoy the stories of miracles, but what is our response to the story of Ananias and Sapphire, dropping dead after “lying to the Holy Spirit“?

Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, we are baptised with the fire of God’s Spirit so that we can live for his glory, and share in its radiance.

 

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“With the Holy Spirit and with fire…” (Mtt 4:11)

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“What needs to happen?” It was the question before a seminar of church leaders. It was a given that we all wanted to see God move in power and we knew that it wasn’t a matter of our “forcing his hand.” But still, the question was out there and it seemed to gather a kind of prophetic cogency in the sudden silence. What needs to happen in our lives, in preparation, before God moves in power? There wasn’t very much time to construct a formal response, so I went with my gut.

Seven words:  Repentance. Humility. Expectancy. Prayer. Urgency. Simplicity. Mobility.

I wrote the words in a list down the side of the Flipchart, and we looked at them together, reflecting on these as the necessary parameters of our life together as we see Word and Spirit coming together.

And then it occurred to me that they collectively describe the ministry of John the Baptist, in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. How interesting. 

First, of course, is the summons to repentance

In Matthew 4:11, John the Baptist summons Israel to repentance with the announcement that the coming Messiah will baptise “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”Repentance, or metanoia, to use the Greek word, refers too far more than a simply being or saying one is sorry for past sins, far more than mere regret or remorse for such sins. It refers to a turning away from the past way of life and the inauguration of a new one, in this case initialised by an act of baptism. Something brand new is about to begin.

This is the repentance to which we are summoned.There is also the possibility of dealing with the theme of our being like John, and of asking the question, in what way are we preparing the way of the Lord, and making straight a path for our God in our own and other’s lives? 

Second comes that tricky word, humility.

It’s a strong theme in Matthew 4. John the Baptist is portrayed as strong and confident, and yet completely humble, knowing there would be the One who comes after him whom he knows he is not even worthy of being the household servant of (the task of unlacing the sandals was left to the household slave).

Notice, as well, the contrast between John’s baptism and that of Jesus’ in verse 11. So far as we know, Jesus never baptised anyone (see the clarification in John 4:1-2), though even his earliest disciples, perhaps especially those who had previously followed John, did. Jesus, according to John, would baptise people with the far more potent and life changing Holy Spirit. So John remains content with his lesser place, and “decreases” even as Christ “increases.”

Third, expectancy

This is, perhaps, the central and most obvious trait in the teaching of John. It is all about expectancy. And not just about the expectation of the Messiah. There were a series of expectations associated with the Coming Age which John heralded in.

The coming of the Spirit was anticipated with the arrival of the messianic age (cf. Joel 2:28-29; cf. also Isa 44:3). Fire was associated with the coming day of the Lord, a means by which God would purify his people (Amos 7:4; Mal 3:2). When the Messiah comes, the time of preparation will be over. It will be a day of judgment, and the act of judgment will be as swift and certain as winnowing, harvesting, gathering into barns, and burning what is to be discarded (3:12). The Messiah will come, judge, and create a purified community.

Fourth, prayer; Fifth, Simplicity ; Sixth, Urgency; and Seventh, Mobility

Earlier in Matthew 4 (in vv1-4) we are introduced to these traits in the life of Jesus, before we rediscover them in the ministry of John. And they are securely fastened to the dual concepts of Word and Spirit. Here’s the passage:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Let’s go into a time of prayer.

Our real hungers are fed by the meaning and the love of the word of God. One form of prayer is to allow ourselves be addressed in the heart by the word of God. Let a phrase or word from this scripture echo in your mind today.

Jesus was tempted by the devil to put three values above the love of God : pleasure (bread standing for food, money, other such comforts), power (all the kingdoms of the world), and security (presuming on God to work miracles for him). What are my temptations, the indulgences that pull me from God? Most of us fall into one or two traps repeatedly.

Lord, open my eyes to my weaknesses, to the things in me that exasperate others; and if others criticise me, may I learn from them instead of resisting angrily. 

In our desire to serve God and to live as Jesus did, there will be temptations, as there were for him. He was tempted to abandon his chosen mission, to use all his power for himself, to trust in himself alone. Our temptations may be different, but the reality is the same. We will find ways in which attractions other than the way of Jesus will demand our focus and activity. We know Jesus as one who knows the reality of temptation. The side of ourselves which wants to follow Jesus faithfully can be strengthened in prayer. 

I may not be tempted by loaves of bread, but I may have come to believe that my identity is formed by what I consume and possess. I consider how I might be distracted by the objects that I enjoy, by confusing the things I need with the things I want.

Knowing of God’s goodness and care, I may sometimes become careless or lazy. I allow myself to be drawn into a greater awareness of God’s forgiveness as I think of how little I appreciate how much God already provides for me.

Being human as I am, Jesus was tempted by the attractions of fame, honour and power. Living fully in and awareness of God’s presence, he saw the temptations and drew life from the Word of God. I think of how I, in resisting temptations, embrace the Word and allow God’s angels to wait on me.

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Word, Spirit, Fire

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The logo has three components: Spirit, Word and fire. The eye is drawn first to the central image of the dove descending, its beak penetrating to the centre of the opened Bible. So, second, the eye takes in, subliminally, the book with its “holy”marker. And then, the eye travels back up from the book, to reconfigure the lines of the dove into flames of fire. A parabola.

Spirit. Word. Fire.

What’s important, however, is the combination, not the components. They are individually important, of course, but only in combination do they realise their full potential in us.

In combination, one no longer asks the question: “Which is most important?” Or, “Yes, but what weight does each have?” It’s a matter of balance, I know, but the suggestion here is that the combination – the consequence of balance- is a new thing, a desirable outcome.

It’s like a hypothesis: What would happen if the Spirit invaded the Word? An explosion.

But what about us? Where do we locate ourselves in the logo? It’s very conceptual, isn’t it? Perhaps the whole of the logo is to be interiorised. Perhaps it is a picture of how God intends us to live. The Spirit comes upon us, and the Word that we read explodes in visible energy as the Word is lived out in action….?

Table of Contents

Introduction: R.T.Kendall and the “Silent Divorce”

The Purpose of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1)

Ministry in Word and Spirit (2 Cor 3:6)

Preaching (1 Cor 2: 2-5)

Sacraments  (John 6:63)

Prayer (Jude 18-25)

Spiritual Warfare (Ephesians 6:17)

Church-Planting

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Praying in Word and Spirit

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But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. 24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 15-25)

How do we pray in Word and Spirit? Prayer is the breath of the Christian life and nothing decays so fast in the fallen human heart as the desire to pray. In other words, nothing is more vital than prayer in Christian existence, and few things are more vulnerable to neglect.

So consider:

  • prayer in your private time with God each day over the Word,
  • prayer with your family at meals and in devotions,
  • prayer with husbands and wives,
  • prayer with roommates and friends,
  • prayer in small groups,
  • prayer on our daily prayerline,
  • prayer in worship services,
  • and all the hundreds of prayers that ascend during the day as you walk by the Spirit and breathe out your dependence on God and he breathes into you the grace of faith and life and love and joy and obedience and witness.

Remember Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez? The text was 1 Chron 4:9-10, in the middle of all those genealogies. Jabez is a virtual nobody in Biblical history. But if you were going to get only a two-verse biography, what would you want written of you? Let it be this.

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, “Because I bore him with pain.” Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested.

Bruce Wilkinson said: “If you ask me what sentence – other than my prayer for salvation – has revolutionized my life and ministry the most, I would tell you that it was the cry of a gimper named Jabez who is still remembered not for what he did, but for what he prayed, and for what happened next.”

What are you praying over and over to God in the name of Jesus that he will make of your life? What are you asking God to make of you and your time on this earth? What thing do I want God to do so much that it is there in my prayers every day?

Well. Me. My family. My kids…

But what about the bigger picture? God is the God of the whole earth and all the nations and all of history and all of life and culture and all the universe from one end of the galaxies to the other. Each of us was created to have a significant place in that great scheme. What is it? What do you pray for day in and day out about how you fit into that?

“God only give me life – only keep my heart beating – if it will cause people to hallow your name. Let your name be hallowed by my life!”

Plan to pray. Pray. Read and think and pray and plan – and then pray this year as you never have before.

In word. In Spirit.

Jude 20-21, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”

Thomas Manton, the Puritan, has twenty-three pages of commentary on these two verses. He concludes with this: Prayer is a means of God’s grace designed to keep us from falling into disbelief, and to bring us safely to eternal life.

If the term “means of grace” is not part of your spiritual vocabulary, to be specific in this case: how God’s sovereign governing of all things relates to human prayer. If God runs the world according to his own holy and inscrutable wisdom, why pray for him to do one thing and not another thing?

Consider the context of this word about prayer in verse 20. There it says that we are to “pray in the Holy Spirit.” “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God…” What you can see from this immediate context is that building yourselves up on the foundation of faith and praying in the Holy Spirit are the way Jude wants them to keep themselves in the love of God. “By building yourselves up and praying, keep yourselves in the love of God.”

Now keeping Christians safe for eternal life is what this book is really about. That is, this little letter from Jude is about perseverance – it’s about how to fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12), and how to finish the race and keep the faith (1 Timothy 4:8), and how to endure to the end and so be saved (Mark 13:13). And verses 20-21 say: This perseverance is something you do. You build yourself and others up on the foundation of faith. You pray. You keep yourselves in the love of God.

But that is only part of the context. At the beginning and the end of this little book, there is another truth, a deeper truth about perseverance – or about “keeping.” Look at verse 1: “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” Notice the word, “kept.” Here is the idea of perseverance again, only here at the beginning it is not the Christian who is keeping himself. He is being kept.

But Who Is the Keeper?

Sometimes you need the end of the story to know the full meaning of the beginning. So look at the famous doxology in verses 24-25. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy. . .” Now we have our perseverance attributed not to ourselves, but to someone else. Who is this? The next verse makes it crystal clear. Verse 25: “. . . to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

So the one who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make sure you arrive in the presence of God blameless and with great joy is “God our Savior through Jesus Christ.” So God the Father is the ultimate keeper and he acts “through Jesus Christ” because the death of Jesus is the purchase price and foundation of all grace, including the grace of keeping us – that is, the grace of perseverance.

So back to verse 1. “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ.” The main thing to see here is that it is not we who are keeping in verse 1 or verse 24. It is God the Father through Jesus Christ. God called us, God sets his saving love upon us, and God keeps us. So now we have two truths about our being kept safe for eternal life as Christians – just as we saw last week from Romans 6:22-23. There we saw that sanctification was something we do. Here we see that our perseverance to eternal life is God’s doing (we are “kept,” verse 1; God is able to keep us, verse 24; and it is our doing – verse 21, keep yourselves in the love of God).

Over and over in the Bible we see this: God’s action is decisive; our action is dependent. And both actions are essential. So I urge you again to resist the mindset that cynically says, “If God is the decisive keeper of my soul for eternal life (verses 1, 24), then I don’t need to ‘keep myself in the love of God'” (verse 20). That would be like saying, since God is the decisive giver of life, then I don’t need to breathe. No. His keeping is decisive and our keeping is dependent on his. 

The Life Breath of Prayer

Which brings us now to prayer. Prayer is the breathing of the Christian life.

Notice in verses 20-21 that prayer is one of the ways we are to keep ourselves in the love of God. “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God.” Shortened down, it says, “By praying, keep yourselves in the love of God.” So the effort to “keep ourselves in the love of God” (verse 21 is the means God uses to keep us safe for eternal life. And praying is one way we keep ourselves in the love of God (“praying, keep yourselves in the love of God”). Therefore, prayer is a crucial and essential means of grace that God ordains to keep us safe for eternal life.Prayer is utterly crucial to your life. Jesus said in Luke 21:36, “Keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Pray that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man at the Last Day. Prayer is a means of persevering to the end in faith and standing with joy before the King of the universe.

Consider whether your life of prayer this past year has reflected the seriousness of these verses and what changes you might make. Take the challenge of Bruce Wilkinson and be like Jabez. Lay hold on God for some great biblical vision for your life on this earth and don’t let go until you have it from his merciful hand.

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Spirit, Word, Life (John 6:63)

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John 6 is a long series of misunderstandings and confusion. In v60 we hear from the “disciples” (in John not to be equated with “the twelve”; see verse 67). We may expect better things from them. After all, they were the ones who sat together with Jesus at the beginning of this text, who followed Jesus’ instructions in gathering up the leftovers of the bread and fish, and who were rescued from the storm at sea by Jesus. Perhaps most importantly, we expect that “the disciples” belong to “us,” and not to “them.”

But they are now the ones who are bothered by what Jesus has said. We may have been tempted to simply write off the rest of the crowd as stubborn and obtuse, but the reference to “the disciples” sounds uncomfortably close to home. In verse 61, the disciples begin to grumble (“complain”), just as “the Jews” did in verse 41. Here, the problem seems not so much that the disciples have difficulty understanding what Jesus is saying; they understand quite well, but cannot believe and follow what Jesus has said.

How often do we find the same to be true about ourselves?

But Jesus -inevitably- meets objections by sharpening the point, raising the offence rather than softening it, and thereby bringing the conversation to a crisis. In verse 62, Jesus points to his “going up” (“ascending”). We may think first of Luke’s ascension scene, but we need to remember that this is John’s story, and in John’s telling Jesus returns to the Father by being lifted up on the cross. If the disciples have been scandalized by what Jesus has said, what will happen when Jesus “goes up” via the cross? Will they be able to see the glory of God there?

Jesus’ statement that the “flesh” is useless (verse 63) isn’t a rejection of bodily life or a denial of creation’s goodness. After all, this is the Gospel which joyfully declared that “the Word became flesh” (1:14). Rather, “flesh” here indicates the normal way of seeing reality, the way of viewing life judged to be “sensible” by the world, which cannot see that eternal life comes through the exaltation of Jesus on the cross, and which cannot believe that the way to life is by participating in the death of Jesus. It is only the Spirit that can give life by making faith possible.

Luther boldly reflects this same reality in his Small Catechism: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith…”  In verses 63-65, Jesus points to his own words as life, to the Spirit as the one who gives life, and to the Father as the one who brings people to Jesus. Faith itself is here presented as the work of the Triune God.

The issue raised in this text revolves around a division between those who believe and those who do not.

The text makes clear, however, that unbelief can be found not only among “them” on the outside, those we so easily forget or write off. The pain of unbelief is found among us (and within us!), reflected in this text both in those disciples who leave and in the one who stays to betray Jesus. Where will we find ourselves in this narrative? Are we the disciples who turn and leave, or those who with Peter confess that Jesus is the one – the only one – with the words of eternal life?

Chapter six begins with a huge crowd that needs to be fed and is interested enough to track down Jesus across the lake, but soon becomes disenchanted and grumbling. Even many of his disciples who stay around through the long sermon, in the end, cannot accept it. At the end of the chapter, only twelve are left, and even one of them will betray Jesus. The direction of chapter 6 is not, as far as “flesh” is concerned, a promising trajectory.

Yet God is working life in the midst of apparent failure and rejection. The church is still called to see that it is in such places that the Word of Life is doing its work around us, among us, and within us. The presence of Peter the denier, and even of Judas the betrayer, at the end of this text is a striking note of hope. Our natural inclination is to turn and leave, to avoid the difficult call and above all to avoid the cross. Yet the Word, the Spirit, and the Father continue to call, and enlighten, and draw us to life.

Peter’s response to Jesus is not a word of despair or a statement that they will have to settle for Jesus because there is nothing else. Peter and the others who remain have been given the gift of knowing that Jesus is the one who can give genuine life. Here, as elsewhere in this chapter, the paradox remains: faith only comes as the Father draws us, and yet Peter and the others (and we too) are asked for our response. Peter and the other twelve “choose” to remain, and yet the greater and prior reality is that they have been chosen (verse 70). The mystery of faith and unbelief is not answered by supposed solutions to the paradox, but by grateful confession that the Father has indeed drawn us to faith in Jesus, and thus to eternal life.

It is the mystery of Trinity.  The Father gave His Son to die for us, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and the Holy Spirit transforms us. In John 6:63 Jesus stresses the role of the Spirit in our salvation. He said, “‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.‘” So what does this mean for us?

One, we must receive life from the Spirit. 

Jesus says, “‘It is the Spirit who gives life.’” The Holy Spirit quickens the believer and gives life. He communicates the life of the Person of Christ. This makes the new birth and life in Christ possible. In John 3:5 where Jesus told Nicodemus, ‘Truly truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’” When we believe in Christ, the Spirit does His work. The Spirit regenerates us. We become transformed sons of God. Our new life in Christ begins. All of this is through the gateway of faith. So let us believe in Jesus. The Spirit will do the rest! 

Two, we must realize that we cannot rely on the flesh. 

Jesus says, ‘the flesh profits nothing.‘” The issue here is, “What does Jesus mean by flesh?” In my view Jesus means flesh in an unqualified sense. In other words Jesus states a general principle about flesh; that is, human flesh and human nature do not profit. They cannot do anything to bestow eternal life. Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:6), “‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.'” 

Our tendency is to rely on everything but the Spirit of God to gain life. Many rely on wealth and possessions, physical pleasures, relationships with the world, and many other factors. The idea that salvation is the free gift of God through faith is difficult to grasp. However, true salvation comes through the Spirit. We cannot rely on anything or anyone else. We need an entirely new heredity, and that heredity comes from the work of the Spirit. 

Three, the flesh of Christ has a special role in our salvation. 

When Jesus died on the cross, His entire Person was involved–body, soul, and spirit. The flesh of Christ included His body and His human nature. Thus, His flesh was involved in our salvation. The flesh of Christ was uniquely imbued with the Spirit. The flesh of Christ by itself would be insufficient for salvation, but with the Spirit His sacrifice gives life. 

Earlier, Jesus said (John 6:54), ‘He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.‘” We eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ by believing in Him. When we believe in Christ, we exalt Christ. And, when we believe in Him, the door is opened for the Spirit to do His work. At this moment the Spirit gives life. 

Four, the words of Jesus are vital to our spiritual life. 

Jesus declares, “‘the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.‘” The life of the world-to-come, eternal life, has to be communicated to us. God communicates Spirit and life through the words of Jesus. Unless we hear and understand His words (Rom 10:14), we will not have eternal life. So note the principle:

Jesus speaks the words of God. He said (John 7:16), “‘My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.‘” Jesus speaks the about God’s life, character, and qualities. He makes known God’s intent, desires, and will. The words of Jesus reveal God. All of this is included in life. Thus, the words of Jesus are life. 

The words of Jesus are Spirit. According to Godet (p. 45), the meaning of this verse is: “My words are the incarnation and communication of the Spirit; it is the Spirit who dwells in them and acts through them; and for this reason they communicate life.” 

The words of Jesus are life. In John 5:26 He declared, “‘For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.'” When Jesus speaks, He communicates His life to us. The life given to us by the Spirit is the life of the Son. 

It is the Spirit that gives life. The Spirit draws us to Christ, exalts Him as the living Lord, empowers His words, and regenerates us when we believe. We worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Together, they provide our full salvation.

Today let us warmly receive all that the Spirit does in us.

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