Category Archives: Big Words for Little Saints

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Sanctified through and through

It’s no good STARTING WELL. But then not SEEING IT THROUGH TO THE END. Like those runners at the start of the City to Surf. Who SPRINT AS HARD AS THEY CAN… for the first 200m. Then they collapse. Perhaps they don’t even make it to Bondi. But at least they can say they were winning the City to Surf. But there’s no prizes in being first to the first set of traffic lights.

It’s no good STARTING WELL. But then not SEEING IT THROUGH TO THE END. Like choosing a beautiful cross-stitch to embroider. Buy the kit. You organise all the colours. Put the backing material onto the frame. You begin the cross stitch. But then it all gets too hard. And it sits in the closet for the next 10 years.

Or what about this one? A while ago, we were inspired to grow our own veges and herbs. So I built a great garden bed. Good foundations. Nice and sturdy. I filled it with soil. Even forked manure and fertiliser through it. I’ve bought the seeds. All the things we need to enjoy fresh, home-grown veges.

But do you think we’re ENJOYING fresh home-grown veges yet? No! Because WE NEVER GOT AROUND TO PLANTING THE SEEDS!

It’s no good STARTING WELL. But then not seeing it through to the end. You’ve got to FINISH WELL.

Blameless and Holy

And it’s the same with the Christian life. Paul’s planted the Thessalonian church. He’s preached the gospel, and people have become Christians. He stays for a while, working night and day, so he can nurture them. Chapter 2 v7 Paul says he was like a mother caring for her children.

But eventually, he has to move on to other places. And he leaves the baby Christians there, all on their own, except for God’s care.

While he’s away, he hears reports of persecution. He’s concerned they’ll just give it all up as too hard. Return to their old way of life. Blend back in, and be just like everyone else. Waste their good start. He wants to drop everything and head straight back. Look at 2:17

17 But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you-certainly I, Paul, did, again and again-but Satan stopped us. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

You can just hear the worry in Paul’s voice as he dictates those words. So, in ch 3, we read he sends Timothy, one of his deputies, to strengthen and encourage them. So they wouldn’t be unsettled. And so all the hard work wouldn’t be wasted.

And, 3:6, Timothy sends good news. They’re standing up well. Paul’s overjoyed. 3:8

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

And he goes on to pray that God would enable them to KEEP GOING. All the way to the end. 3:13

13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be BLAMELESS AND HOLY IN THE PRESENCE OF OUR GOD AND FATHER when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

That’s the finish line Paul’s got his gaze fixed on. The end of this world. The day of justice. When all wrongs will be righted. All sin punished. And all God’s people found BLAMELESS and HOLY. (Keep those two words in mind, because we’ll come back to them.)

And so Paul goes on, in ch 4. How they’re to run the race NOW, so they’ll be found holy and blameless THEN. How to RUN WELL, so they can FINISH WELL. Plenty of practical advice on how they’re to be DIFFERENT. Like v3.

3 It is God’s will that you should be SANCTIFIED: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is HOLY and honorable,

Holy and sanctified come from the same word. To be SANCTIFIED means to be set apart, or to be made holy. To be DIFFERENT. To be PURE/ in contrast to IM-purity. V7.

7 For God did not call us to be IMPURE, but to live a HOLY life.

And then in the next two chapters we see the sort of behaviour that should SEPARATE Christians from non-Christians. That shows them to be pure and different. The colours of their supporters gear. V11 of ch 4.

11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Or jump down to ch 5 v12. More of the same. A whole series of instructions about RESPECTING those over you. And living at peace with each other. Encouraging the timid, being patient with everyone. Not seeking revenge. Being kind. Being joyful always. Not grumbling.

Do THOSE things. And you really WILL stand out from the crowd. Your colours will be clear.

And finally, in v21 and 22. (Have a look at it). Summing it all up. First in the POSITIVE. Then in the NEGATIVE.

Hold onto the GOOD. 22 Avoid every kind of EVIL.

Hold onto the GOOD. Cling to it. Search it out. Go hunting for it. APPLY yourself to it. Stick at it over time. Don’t give up when you fail. Jump back on the horse.

Hold onto the GOOD. Good thoughts and attitudes. Good influences. Good motivations. Good actions. Good responses. Good words. Good relationships. Good priorities. Good use of your time. Hold onto WHAT’S GOOD.

And avoid every kind of evil.

FLEE it. Put some DISTANCE between yourself and it. Walk out of the room. Leave the pub. Quit the team. Find a new job. Smash the modem. Burn the books. Avoid EVERY kind of evil. That’s the way to be holy. Different. Sanctified.

I was talking to a friend last week about a young guy in his church. He says he’s a Christian, and WANTS to be following Jesus. But his problem is he’s a really talented rock star. Got a manager, and a contract, and a great band. Which doesn’t SOUND like a problem. Except that it’s a lifestyle that’s leading him into so many temptations, and all sorts of bad influences, and upside-down priorities. That he’s just drifting further and further from Jesus. And my friend’s really WORRIED for him. Worried that he won’t finish the race. But this guy can’t SEE it.

God’s will is for us to be blameless and holy. To cling to what’s good. And to flee every kind of evil.

And so, Paul reaches his conclusion. His closing benediction. The BIG WORDS we’re focussing on today. V23.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, SANCTIFY you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be KEPT BLAMELESS at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Sanctified through and through

The first idea to think about is SANCTIFIED THROUGH AND THROUGH. Hopefully, by looking at what Paul’s ALREADY said, we can see what he means by it. It’s a prayer that God would make us HOLY AND DIFFERENT AND SEPARATE.

There’s a sense in which EVERY CHRISTIAN is ALREADY sanctified. We’ve been SET APART by God to be his people. Like in Acts 20:32, where Paul says to the Ephesian elders.

I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance AMONG ALL THOSE WHO ARE SANCTIFIED.

Or 1 Cor 6:11. Talking about the whole Corinthian church.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

That’s a POSITIONAL sanctification, if you like. ALL Christians have moved from ONE team to the other. Set apart into GOD’s team.

But there’s also a PERSONAL sense. A growing holiness. A gradual process. Each day and week and month and year, becoming more and more like Jesus in your thoughts and words and actions and motivations and priorities. And that’s the sense Paul’s thinking about here. That’s why his prayer is that God would sanctify them THROUGH AND THROUGH. Completely.

Your on God’s TEAM, but over time, you need to be getting more and more of the team UNIFORM. What SEPARATES you from the OTHER team. First the jersey, then the beanie, then the flag, then the face paint, then the tattoo.

Some things are EASY to put on, and others incredibly painful. But the point of it all is to distinguish which team you’re on/ when that FINAL day comes. GRAND final day. When JESUS’ team will be declared the victors. And all those wearing HIS colours declared BLAMELESS.

And the more of the TEAM GEAR you’re WEARING, the more OBVIOUS it will be. And so Paul’s prayer is that God would sanctify his readers “THROUGH and THROUGH”. Thoroughly. Completely.

It’s an interesting word. Only time it’s used in the New Testament. Made up of two parts. HOLO-TELEIS. Wholly – To the end. Or, wholly – to COMPLETION. It’s not just fully, but fully – with a TARGET in mind. A DESTINATION.

It’s an idea spelled out in the NEXT part of the prayer.

May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can you see the two ideas there? Wholeness, and completion?

Your WHOLE spirit, soul and body kept blameless. That’s every aspect of who you are – as you relate to God, the aspect that’s eternal, and the aspect that’s physical. ALL kept BLAMELESS. Without accusation or fault.

It’s an idea that connects with the previous verse. “Avoid EVERY kind of evil”. If you do that, then your WHOLE spirit, soul and body will be kept blameless. Avoid the evil that drags down your spirit – that undermines your relationship with God. Avoid the evil that pollutes your soul – that distorts your identity as a person of value and purpose, created in God to be his image in the world. Avoid the evil that pollutes your body – like sexual sin, that elevates GOOD things into IDOLS. Things made to be ENJOYED, but that we take TOO FAR, and replace God with them.

“Your whole spirit, soul and body kept blameless.”

And the TARGET? The GOAL? “At the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. GRAND final day”. When life histories are replayed, when charge sheets read out. And when God’s people will be found BLAMELESS, easily identified by their lives. The degree to which they’ve been SANCTIFIED THROUGH and THROUGH.

Jesus or Me?

But perhaps there are TWO questions running around in your head. First. “I thought salvation was about JESUS doing the work on my behalf. His death in my place. It sounds like it’s about MY performance. If I’m good enough – blameless – then God will save me on Judgment Day. Which is it? Jesus or me?

The answer is Yes, we ARE saved ONLY by Jesus. His death in our place. And Paul SAYS exactly that. Back in ch 1 v10. Paul’s heard how the Thessalonians

turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, WHO RESCUES US FROM THE COMING WRATH.

See, it’s Jesus who RESCUES us. HIS work, not ours. And our RESPONSE to that/ is to SERVE the living and true God. And this blameless living. This holiness. This sanctification. Is what that service LOOKS like. Look at the order of things back in v3 of ch 1.

3 We remember your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ work comes FIRST, then OURS. Faith comes FIRST, then work produced by it. Love comes first, then labour PROMPTED by it. Hope in Christ comes first, then endurance INSPIRED by it. You’re MADE part of the team by Jesus, then you set about putting on the uniform.

John Calvin said: “We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone.”

God or Me?

But perhaps you’re asking a SECOND question. “Sanctified through and through” and “wholly blameless” is a pretty tall order. Dave. I just don’t think I’m capable of becoming holy like that. I keep failing. Does that mean I miss out?”

To go back to the footy idea. Perhaps it seems to you a bit like grand final day? There’s the TALENTED ones – the ATHLETES, out there in the middle, with everyone cheering them on. Performing the super-human feats.

And then there’s YOU, looking on from the grandstand, cheering. Sure, you’ve got SOME supporters gear on, but you’re NO CHAMPION! You’re dressed in the same gear, and no one’s going to mistake you for being on the other side. But you’re never going to perform the same sorts of deeds as the PLAYERS!

But this isn’t an expectation for ELITE ATHLETES ONLY. It’s God’s will for EVERY Christian. To be growing in holiness. To be WORKING HARD AT IT. To be putting on more and more of the team’s colours. That’s why he gives us TRAINING TOOLS to help us. At least FIVE I can find.

1. Like THE BIBLE. God’s commands to US. Like Paul’s letter, this one we’re reading, written to encourage us to work hard. Giving us specific COMMANDS about good things to hold onto. And evil things to avoid.

2. And God gives us the EXAMPLE OF JESUS. Ch 1 v3. As we dwell on all Jesus has done for us, our faith, love and hope in him, inspire and energise our work for him.

3. And God gives us HIS SPIRIT. Ch 1 v7. Paul describes how his readers were able to respond in the face of severe suffering. “You welcomed the message WITH THE JOY GIVEN BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.” That’s, literally, a super-human effort. Suffering doesn’t produce JOY, unless it’s God’s Spirit working his sanctification in you. Same with all the other equipment – love, joy, patience, kindness, perseverance. All the work of God’s Spirit. Impossible to generate without him.

4. And finally, God’s given us PRAYER. That’s exactly what the verses we’re looking at today are. A prayer that God would sanctify us. If you struggle to measure up to this picture. If you constantly fail. If you’re indistinguishable from those around you. Perhaps you even struggle to WANT to be different. Then PRAY. Pray for the DESIRE to be holy. Pray for the strength to change. Pray for the vision and the faith to trust Jesus. Pray for team-mates to HELP you in the fight.

5. And God’s given us his PROMISES. Promises to LEAN on. Promises to push back against. Promises that he’s dealt with our sin. That Jesus will come back and take us to himself. That justice and truth will rule. That pain and sickness will end. Promises like v24.

24 The one who calls you is FAITHFUL AND HE WILL DO IT.

God’s given us his PROMISES to equip us to become holy.

But, of course, it’s not just US struggling. God giving us five training tools still sounds like it’s US doing all the work, with God lending a helping hand here and there.

The reality is, as v24 makes obvious, it’s GOD WORKING. In partnership WITH you. That’s what PRAYER implies. That’s what the gift of God’s Holy Spirit is. That GOD can equip you, and sanctify you.

It’s what v23 itself makes obvious. “May God HIMSELF sanctify you through and through.” Ultimately, he’s the one who does it. Humanly speaking, we’ve got to do all WE can. But only God can bring the holiness, the blamelessness. The true fruit that pleases him. That DISTINGUISHES us from the rest.

God is faithful

And that’s where the promise of v24 comes in.

24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

God never HALF-does a job. If he CALLS you, he’ll make sure he sees you through to the end. His plans ALWAYS comes together. He called you with that one goal in mind, that you be kept blameless at the coming of Jesus. And, if God is ANYTHING, he’s FAITHFUL. True to his word. Trustworthy. And so, he’ll make sure he sees you through to that end.

HE will do it.

God is faithful. Will YOU be faithful?

The year was 155 AD. The place was Smyrna, a city in modern day Turkey. The elder of the church there, Polycarp, was put on trial before the Roman consul. The consul gave Polycarp a choice: Burn incense and worship the Roman Emperor. Deny Christ and you’ll be freed. Or remain silent, and die.

Polycarp remained faithful, and was sentenced to death by fire. As the flames were lit, he was given one final chance to deny Jesus. He replied, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and HE HAS NEVER DONE ME WRONG. How can I deny him now?”

That’s FINISHING WELL! The one who CALLED YOU IS FAITHFUL and he will DO IT. Trust him. Lean on him.

May God sanctify you through and through, and keep you blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jude 24-25: Kept and presented blameless

These days we’re not much for MEMORISING things. But kids in generations past grew up memorising things like “The Westminster Shorter Catechism”. A whole series of questions and answers about the Christian life. Written hundreds of years ago.

And the best-known question is the FIRST one. “What is the chief end of man?” In other words, what is the number one task, the goal, the purpose, of humanity? What are we here for?

And the answer? Does anyone know it? “The chief end of man… is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever. TO GLORIFY GOD, AND ENJOY HIM FOREVER. That’s what you were made for. GLORY, JOY, FOREVER.

And I hope these last few weeks have helped you to DO that. As we’ve looked at the closing prayers and benedictions and doxologies from some New Testament books. Helped you to get a picture of who God is, and what his purposes are in his world. And how you fit into that.

And today’s little passage is no exception. Jude 24 and 25. It helps us to GLORIFY GOD. Because it gives us FIVE REASONS to glorify him. And it shows us that when we DO that, there’s JOY involved. And it shows us that it will be something we’re doing FOREVER. Not just for the next few decades. To glorify God and enjoy him forever.

So that’s the question to be answered. WHY GLORIFY GOD? Why should we praise him and honour and respect him?

1. He is able to keep you from falling

And the first reason is there at the start of v24. We should glorify God because he’s ABLE TO KEEP YOU FROM FALLING. It’s GOD’S power that enables you to persevere. To stick at following Jesus.

Jude’s spent the whole letter talking about being on your guard against false teachers. About being led astray into immorality. And he’s used some pretty colourful language to describe the danger.

And so it’s only natural to be concerned. Worried about being led astray. Wandering off the safe path. But Jude wants to finish his letter by reminding us that it’s GOD who’s able to keep you from falling. He’s the One who works all things for your good. Who leads you through the valley of the shadow of death. He’s the One who holds you fast. Even when you’re weak and wandering.

It’s a lovely little phrase – the One who is ABLE. He’s got it covered. He’s got the POWER. Nothing’s above him, or beyond him.

We saw the same phrase in Romans 16 a few weeks back. “To the One who is ABLE to establish you by my gospel.” In Eph 3:20 Paul says, “To him who is ABLE to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that’s at work in us.”

Which is right where the encouragement’s needed. Jude’s spent the letter giving commands and warnings. “Keep watch. Remember. Build yourself up. Be merciful. Snatch wanderers from the fire.”

And right at the end of the letter he gives us the only WAY we’ll be able, ultimately, to do those things. THE POWER OF GOD. Yes, we’re to be WATCHFUL. Yes, we’re to be actively fighting this good fight. But in the end, what is it that keeps us from stumbling? – “Him who is able.” That’s who. God alone is our hope and our refuge. It’s ultimately God who keeps and guards us. That’s the FIRST reason to glorify him.

2. He is able to make us stand before him blameless and with great joy.

And the second reason comes straight after it in v24. Because he’s able to make us stand before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.

There’s a PRESENT aspect to that power. And a FUTURE one. Sanctification AND glorification. God’s able to work in you NOW/ to KEEP you. To change you and break you and make you like Jesus. To protect you from stumbling. All so that in the FUTURE you’re presented before him blameless.

Jude’s thinking about the great Day of Judgment. On that day, when everyone stands before the living God, it will be HIS power that stands us before Him. Not our own efforts, not our own merits, not our own innate loveableness or our own love, but it will be God’s power.

And notice that God won’t stand us before Him on the last day in the JUDGMENT OF CONDEMNATION. No! We’re going to stand before Him in VINDICATION, in joy, in glory. BLAMELESS WITH GREAT JOY. On that day there’s going to be no flaw in you. He will have transformed you. Washed clean, sins wiped out. Forgiveness won by the death of Jesus in your place.

There’ll be GREAT JOY. YOUR joy at being with God. And God’s joy at welcoming you home. GREAT JOY.

And the other part of the description, I’m afraid I can’t help you with. BEFORE HIS GLORIOUS PRESENCE. No wonder we’ll be joyful. But I don’t have words to explain that one. It’s BEYOND telling. Perhaps go to the Book of Revelation, and meditate on some of the passages there. I can’t tell you in words what it’s going to be like in the presence of his glory… But you’re going to BE there. If you belong to Jesus.

You’ll be there because GOD is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before his glorious presence. That’s why God deserves our glory.

But what’s that MEAN for you NOW? What difference will these first two truths make for you this week?

One, it will give you CONFIDENCE as you face the week ahead. It’s GOD’S strength that will get you through, not your own goodness or perseverance or maturity. Your own application to detail, or preparation. HE’LL keep you and present you. He’s the rock you can lean on. The shelter you can rest in. So, be confident.

Second, you can STOP WORRYING. Perhaps about your kids – whether they’ll make good decisions, or whether they’ll keep following Jesus. Or about your own failures, and mistakes. Or the choices you make tomorrow.

Worrying is nothing more than a lack of faith. It’s saying to God, “You’re not big enough, or loving enough to LEAN ON!”

But he IS able to KEEP you and PRESENT you, so don’t worry!

Third, you can be JOYFUL in the face of trials. James 1:2

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Tough times won’t CRUSH you. Tough times are God’s design to strengthen, discipline, and shape you. The firm hand of a LOVING FATHER. God can see the final goal. With you presented without fault before his glorious presence with great joy. And whatever you go through this week/ is designed with that goal in mind. So be JOYFUL.

And finally, these truths make us PRAY. If it’s GOD who’s able to keep and to present, then we need to be ASKING him to do it. To keep and present our children, our family members. Those people from church who are slipping away. We need to do what WE can, but it’s GOD who’s able to do it, so let’s PLEAD for him to DO it. Pray consistently, and specifically, and faithfully.

3. He’s the only God and Saviour

Let’s move on. V25. The THIRD reason to glorify God is because he’s the ONLY God and ONLY Saviour. The God of the Bible, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Is the ONLY God.

It’s not a very politically correct thing to say. We’re rubbished in the media as intolerant bigots. Or mocked. Because the culture says that everyone can follow their OWN god. Choose their own path.

But the clear message of the Bible. Of God himself. Is that there’s only ONE LIVING GOD. It’s not popular. But it’s TRUE. One eternal, powerful, Creator. One living and active and involved Father. One pure, trustworthy, and loving Saviour.

And that’s why he DESERVES our glory. Rev 4:11

11 “You are WORTHY, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

And I want to say that if you’re here today, chances are you already believe that. Chances are you walked into these doors BELIEVING there was one true God, and you came to worship Him. But the challenge for us is to LIVE that way. Do we WORSHIP the one true God ONLY? Or do we worship our job, or our family, or popularity, or power, or prominence, or pleasure, or money? We might say one thing with our LIPS. But do we say the SAME THING with our LIVES?

God begins the Ten Commandments 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me”. You BELIEVE it. But do you LIVE it?

Not only is he the only GOD, but the only SAVIOUR. We normally think of JESUS as our Saviour. But Jude’s reminding us that God the FATHER is the source of our salvation. John 3:16 GOD loved the world so much he sent his only son.

He BEGAN the letter (v2) addressing it to those who’ve been CALLED and LOVED by God the Father. And He’s the one who SAVES us. And the one who keeps us and presents us faultless. He BEGINS the process, and sees it all the way through to the end. Cradle to the grave care. Actually BEFORE the cradle and AFTER the grave. It gives a new meaning to the phrase TOTAL PROTECTION PLAN.

And that’s the THIRD reason to glorify God. He’s the ONLY God and Saviour.

4. He saves us THROUGH Jesus Christ.

And the fourth reason is a bit further on in v25. God saves us THROUGH Jesus Christ. “To the only God our SAVIOUR be glory, majesty, power and authority THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD.”

There’s some debate about what that last bit refers to. Is Jude saying that God SAVES US through Jesus? Or does God receives GLORY AND MAJESTY through Jesus? Well, they’re both TRUE. And grammatically, either could be correct.

The word order in Greek is actually;

To the only God our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord – glory, majesty, might and authority

In the end, I don’t think it matters. Because they’re really not that different. God SAVES us through Jesus. Through his birth, his obedient life, his willing death, his resurrection, his ascension to heaven, and now his reigning with his Father.

But it’s also THROUGH THOSE SAME EVENTS that God RECEIVES glory. As people RECOGNISE in Jesus / God’s love and holiness and justice and wisdom, they give him the glory and majesty and power and authority he deserves.

Jesus says “Whoever has seen him has seen the Father”. He’s the visible representation of the invisible God. It’s in seeing the sacrificial love of Jesus, we praise the love of God. In his suffering, we praise God’s justice and mercy. In Jesus’ resurrection, we praise God’s power over death. In Jesus’ ascension and reign, we see God’s wisdom and sovereignty over the Universe.

God hasn’t just left us to work out what he’s like for ourselves. He hasn’t even just delivered us a MESSAGE through a prophet. He sent us HIS SON, so we might know him, and give him glory.

Our praise of God isn’t simply emotional. We don’t SWITCH OFF OUR MINDS to have a religious and joyful experience. We glorify God, and enjoy him MORE, when we specifically and deliberately and intelligently recognise his qualities as they’re revealed in Jesus.

So what will that LOOK LIKE this week?

It will mean getting to know Jesus better. Reading the Bible, and Christian books, Listening to talks, or music. The more INFORMED you are about what Jesus is like, the better you’ll be able to give glory to God. The better you’ll enjoy him.

It will mean living for Jesus as Lord. Following his example. Making tough decisions because Jesus is WORTH IT. Putting sin behind us, because it meant so much to Jesus he DIED for it.

We show our appreciation for the WORTH of Jesus by VALUING him. Valuing his example, valuing his teaching, valuing his sacrifice. Living for him, loving him, and put him first.

Romans 12 says that IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES, we’re to offer our bodies as living sacrifices which is our spiritual act of worship. That’s what shows the value we place in him.

That’s the fourth reason to glorify God. Because he saves us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

5. He is eternally worth it

And the FIFTH reason to glorify God is there right in the last verse of the letter. Because he’s ETERNALLY WORTH IT.

25 to the only God our Savior be GLORY, MAJESTY, POWER AND AUTHORITY, through Jesus Christ our Lord, BEFORE ALL AGES, NOW AND FOREVERMORE! Amen.

When we glorify God, PRAISE him. We’re not giving him something he doesn’t already have. We’re simply acknowledging something he already IS. Something he’s been for all eternity. God is inherently and ETERNALLY glorious and majestic and powerful and authoritative. We simply catch a glimpse of it, a snapshot in time, and DECLARE IT AS WE SEE IT. Just tellin’ it like it is!

That’s worship. Declaring the WORTH-SHIP of God to receive all our honour and praise.

God’s GLORIOUS. He’s brilliant and magnificent. Visibly magnificently valuable. The greatest treasure there is.

And he’s MAJESTIC. That’s to do with his kingly power. He rules over creation. The visible and invisible. Over natural and human things. Over individuals and nations.

And he’s POWERFUL. He controls it and sustains it all. Nothing outside his control.

And he’s AUTHORITATIVE. It’s HIS world, and not ours. He’s got the right to do things as HE sees fit. He’s the potter, we’re the clay. He’s the One who breathes life into US. It’s his right to decide when that STOPS.

And that’s something he’s had from before time began. Before the Universe had even begun, God was ALREADY all of those things. And when this world has been transformed into our eternal home, and a million, million years into eternity. We will STILL be recognising in him his glory and majesty and power and authority.

God is the gospel. The good news. It’s the title of a book by John Piper. It’s on the bookstall. And the point of it is this: If the good news we tell ourselves about being a Christian is that we escape hell, or that we have a purpose, or that we get to be with our loved ones in heaven, or that we don’t feel guilty, then we’ve MISSED THE POINT.

The good news, the gospel, is that, through Jesus, we receive GOD HIMSELF. HE is the treasure, the good news, the pearl of great price. All the other things are TRUE, but they’re fringe benefits of having GOD. Of knowing him. Of enjoying him.

An enjoyment that begins NOW. But that we’ll only FULLY appreciate into eternity.

It’s what you were made for.

What is the chief end of man? Can you remember? “The chief end of man (say it with me) … is TO GLORIFY GOD, AND ENJOY HIM FOREVER.

May these verses, this doxology. help us to DO that.

1 Peter 5:8-11 Restored and made strong, firm and steadfast

My son Lachlan was about two. He’d fallen from the top of a slippery slide, and had a gash in his mouth that needed a few stitches. At the medical centre, he was completely hysterical. I’m not even sure it was much to do with his mouth actually hurting. More to do with not knowing what was going on, and what was going to happen. More concerned with being the centre of attention, with a whole bunch of adults looking at him with frowns on their faces.

We had to try and hold him still while the doctor put a pain-killing needle in the gash, and then stitched it up. But he squirmed around so hard, it was like trying to grab a fish jumping around in the bottom of the boat. In the end we wrapped him in a sheet, and three adults had to almost sit on him to keep him still.

And all the time, with his eyes wide with fear, I was saying to him. “It will be alright. Daddy’s here. Daddy loves you. It will all be over soon. It’s going to hurt a little bit, but it’s going to make you better again. And then it won’t hurt any more. Daddy’s here. It’ll be over soon.”

I’m sure those of you who are parents have had similar experiences. Trying to reassure your kids that, despite appearances, the pain was actually for their good. And that it would be over soon.

And that’s what the letter of 1 Peter is. It’s God’s soothing comfort to his suffering children. The gentle whisper of our heavenly Father, “It’ll be alright. I’m here. I love you. It hurts now, but it will be over soon, and then you’ll be fixed up.”

The book of 1 Peter is all about SUFFERING AND PERSECUTION. About how God’s ultimately behind it. Bringing HIS purposes to pass. And about how we’re to live in RESPONSE to that truth. Like right back in ch 1. Verse 3 talks about the new life we have in Jesus. The inheritance we’ve been given. And then, v6.

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now FOR A LITTLE WHILE you may have had to suffer grief IN ALL KINDS OF TRIALS.

And then we catch a glimpse of God’s purposes BEHIND the trials.

7 These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-MAY BE PROVED GENUINE and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Just like fire purifies gold, trials can PURIFY our faith. Make it stronger. Burn off everything else we trust in, until only God remains. A short period of PAIN for long-term GAIN.

And as we keep reading, we see more of both God’s PURPOSES in suffering, and what our RESPONSE should be. Like 2:12

12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Your RESPONSE to persecution testifies about God’s character, and leads to people recognising him. All part of God’s plan.

And, in case you think you didn’t sign up for this when you decided to follow Jesus, think again says Peter.

21 To this you were CALLED, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Don’t be surprised, because it’s there in the job description. More of the same through chapters 3 and 4. About showing our trust in God by the way we respond to insult and hurt. About following Jesus’ example.

Jump down to ch 4 v19. Summing it all up.

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will SHOULD COMMIT THEMSELVES TO THEIR FAITHFUL CREATOR and CONTINUE TO DO GOOD.

That’s the response to suffering in a nutshell. Commit yourself to God. Trust that he knows what he’s doing. That he’s in control, and working all things for good. And SHOW that, by continuing to do good. By living as normal. As if there WAS no suffering.

A command

And so we come to ch 5, and Peter’s concluding remarks. And, in particular, the two paragraphs we’re looking at today. The first a COMMAND, and the second a PROMISE. From v8. The COMMAND.

8 Be SELF-CONTROLLED AND ALERT. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Suffering: The devil’s roar

And in the context of all that Peter’s just been saying, it’s easy to see what he means by the devil prowling around like a roaring lion. He’s talking about SUFFERING.

Suffering and persecution are the devil’s roar. The OBVIOUS ways he works. (Sometimes he’s A SNAKE – subtle and deceptive. Weaving lies into half-truths. Lulling them into a false sense of security. Encouraging them to think he doesn’t exist.)

But that’s not what Peter’s talking about here. Here, Satan’s like A ROARING LION. Big and noisy and scary. He roams around inflicting all sorts of PAIN on people, roaring at them. You can see that connection between the devil and suffering in v9. We’re to resist THE DEVIL because our brothers around the world are experiencing the SAME KIND OF SUFFERING.

It might be government legislation, forbidding Christians meeting together. Or to register their children’s birth as Christian – like in Iraq. It might be discrimination in the workplace, like in Pakistan, or Egypt, where Christians are banned from promotion, or working in government jobs. Or tribal violence like in Sudan. It might be the burning of Bibles, the rape of women, the imprisonment of pastors.

All ways Satan ROARS at Christians. He wants them to SUFFER.

But that’s ALL the suffering is. The devil’s ROAR. Can a LION’S roar hurt you? No! It can SCARE you, but it can’t hurt you. It’s not the ROAR you have to worry about, but THE TEETH!

The Aussie soccer team in South Africa stayed on a game reserve. And they could, apparently, hear lions roaring from the safety of their rooms at night. Were they safe? Of course! Were they scared by the noise? Perhaps! But that’s ALL that could happen.

The roar might be DEAFENING – the lion right outside their window. But as long as they STAYED INSIDE. As long as they checked the locks and the windows, they were SAFE.

And it’s the same with Satan’s suffering. It’s only A ROAR. It can only SCARE you, but it can’t, ultimately, HURT you.

The worst that Satan can do, is KILL YOU. Which sounds like a funny thing to say. But from the perspective of eternity, it ISN’T much. It’s only a roar.

YESTERDAY, somewhere in the world, people probably died simply for being Christians. But TODAY they’re with Christ, and pain and suffering’s ended. UNHURT. Which is better by far. Listen to what Jesus promises to the believers in Smyrna. Revelation 2:10.

10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, EVEN TO THE POINT OF DEATH, and I will give you the crown of life.

Suffering’s only a roar. Even when it leads to DEATH. Satan can’t ultimately HURT you with it.

The devouring lion

He ROARS through suffering, but what Satan WANTS to do. And what’s worse by far. Even worse that DEATH. Is to KEEP you from receiving the crown of life. It’s there in v7. He’s the devouring lion. Looking for someone to GOBBLE UP. Someone to drag away into the eternal destruction HE’S headed for.

He’s searching out someone to give up on Jesus. Who’ll decide it’s all too hard. Who’ll turn away from him in despair, or anger, disappointment, or pain.

I want to stop for a moment and consider the question of who CAUSES the suffering? Is it the devil, or is it God? A few minutes ago I said Satan brings suffering to drag down Christians. And that’s TRUE.

But I ALSO said God USES suffering to refine your faith. (That’s 1 Peter 1:6-7).

And then in 4:19 we read that those who suffer ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL, should commit themselves to him. Suffering is God’s will!

So, does Satan cause it, or God? Well, the answer is … YES. In a sense, they BOTH do. We see it like that in the life of Job. Satan ASKS PERMISSION of God to test Job with suffering. Satan wants to DESTROY him, God has DIFFERENT plans.

And we see it most clearly in the death of Jesus. It was SATAN who entered Judas, persuading him to betray Jesus. Satan wanted Jesus DEAD. But so did God. For totally different reasons. He worked through the evil choices of Satan, and humans, so that his good purposes were brought about. He’d planned it like that from eternity, and then brought it to pass. Acts 2:23 puts it like this (Peter’s preaching to the Jerusalem crowd)

23 Jesus was handed over to you BY GOD’S SET PURPOSE AND FOREKNOWLEDGE; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

And it’s the same thing with the suffering Christian’s experience. Satan brings it about to DEVOUR Christians and crush them. GOD brings it about to discipline and train and purify and correct us. He brings it about to bring glory to himself.

Be alert, resist him, standing firm in the faith

That’s the THEORY. What about where the rubber meets the road?

To make sure GOD’S purposes are brought about through the trials, we need to follow his COMMAND. And trust his PROMISE. THOSE WHO TRULY BELONG TO GOD WILL FOLLOW WHAT HE SAYS, AND STAND ON HIS PROMISE. AND SATAN’S PLANS WILL BE FRUSTRATED. All he’ll be able to do is ROAR at you.

So let’s look first at the COMMAND. The trick to not letting the lion DEVOUR you, is there in v8. “Be self-controlled and alert”. Be AWARE of Satan’s prowling. Of his roaring. And then, v9, RESIST him, standing firm in the FAITH. Ephesians 6 says it’s the shield of FAITH that extinguishes the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Suffering and persecution ROAR in your ear, “God doesn’t love you. He’s abandoned you. This suffering’s too big for God. He can’t handle it. You deserve better. It’s not fair. God has no plan – no purpose. He wants to crush you, not keep you.”

But the shield of faith clings, instead, to God’s promises. And puts out those flaming arrows. Promises like those in v10 and 11 that we’ll get to in a moment. Faith clings to promises, despite the lion’s roar, and enables us to declare

“God loves me. He’s called me, rescued me, and made me his friend when I used to be his enemy.

He’s got an eternal inheritance prepared for me.

He’s disciplining me because he loves me – because I’m his child.

He’s refining my faith, making it more pure.

He’s working all things for good because he’s got a plan and a purpose.”

The eyes of faith see the future with long-sightedness. They see THE BIG PICTURE. Faith says, with Paul in 2 Cor 4:17-18, “These trials are only momentary troubles. They’re achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Faith sees suffering simply as following the Master. Faith takes seriously Jesus’ words, Jn 15:18

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. … you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

And faith sees YOUR suffering from a world-wide perspective. You’re NOT alone. You’re NOT the first. And you won’t be the last. In fact, there’s a worldwide brotherhood of those going through exactly the same things says v9. Following after Jesus. Suffering for his name. Brothers in arms. There’s strength in numbers. Strength to resist. To stand firm in the faith.

2. A promise

That’s God’s COMMAND to deal with the devil’s roar. Then he gives us a PROMISE. V10.

10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

Satan might seem like the lion who roars around. It might seem like he rules the jungle. But there’s ANOTHER king of the Jungle. God. HE’S the king of the jungle.

He’s the GOD OF ALL GRACE. The whole letter of 1 Peter paints the huge panorama, in broad brushstrokes, of all the gifts God’s LAVISHED on us. And that’s the BIG picture. The CONTEXT we should place these few short, trials in. Look at 1:3 for example

1:3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you,

He’s the God of all grace.

And part of that grace is that he CALLED US FOR A PURPOSE. To an eternal glory. He’s got AN END GAME in mind. It’s all part of the plan. Despite what things look like at the moment.

V10. The end game is about GLORY, in contrast to SUFFERING. About appreciating GOD’S glory, recognising his goodness, understanding completely his love and power and grace and mercy and goodness and holiness and justice. And REJOICING in that. In a way that’s DIFFICULT when you’re in the middle of suffering.

And the end game’s about US being part of that glory too, in contrast to suffering. Romans 8:18 talks about glory being revealed IN US. About glorified bodies. About pain and tears and mourning and brokenness being destroyed. That’s our destiny. That’s God’s promise!

(The end game’s about GLORY in contrast to suffering). And, also in v10, the end game’s about ETERNITY, in contrast to a LITTLE WHILE. We’re so short-sighted. A flu that lasts for A WEEK seems like an age. Persecution that lasts for a year, or sickness that lasts for a decade, or suffering that lasts for the rest of your life seems like FOREVER. But only ETERNITY is forever. And everything else is a blink of an eye in comparison. That’s God’s promise.

And what’s more, the God of all grace, who’s given so much, with that eternal view in mind, WILL HIMSELF RESTORE YOU. Yes, he commands YOU to be self-controlled and alert. He commands YOU to resist the devil, standing firm in the faith.

But, on our own, we CAN’T do it. On our own, we’re broken, weak, shaky, and wavering.

But God’s promise is that HE HIMSELF will restore you, after you’ve suffered a little while, and make you strong, firm, steadfast.

“Restore” is a lovely word. It’s about MENDING – like fishing nets. It’s like buffing something up. Silverware, or an old car’s paintwork. Bringing out the shine that was always there, but that had been dulled and hidden underneath layers of grime from a hard life.

And God’s promise is to bring us through that short period of pollution and grime. And restore us to the glory he designed us for. Restored body, restored mind, restored emotions and relationships.

And instead of being weak, broken, and wavering. He’ll make us strong, firm and steadfast.

That might be IN THIS LIFE. He might bring us through a period of despair, or sickness, or unemployment, or aching loneliness. It might take days, or weeks, or even YEARS. And bring us into a restored EARTHLY experience of his goodness.

And actually USE those experiences to DO it. To discipline us. To refine our faith. Like fire purifying gold. USE that stuff as the INSTRUMENT that actually CARVES OUT strength, firmness and steadfastness in our lives. James 1:2-4 puts it like this

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

And yet for SOME of God’s children, they DON’T see any of that restoration in this life. They LOSE THEIR LIVES still experiencing the suffering they endured. Some people in our congregations will NEVER experience, in THIS life, the restoration we pray for. They’ll go to glory still suffering the pain they endured for years.

And around the world, TODAY, our brothers are killed because they remain loyal to Jesus.

Does that mean God’s promise for them has FAILED?

(slow) Of course not! For them, their restoration is MORE complete, their suffering MORE relieved. Their experience of God’s grace and glory MORE real. Because God has made them strong, firm and steadfast FOR ETERNITY. Secure with him.

For them, the promise of Jesus in Revelation 2:10 we read earlier rings true:

10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

God is ABLE to do it. He WILL do it. HE is faithful and true. And so, we echo the words of Peter there in v11. “To him belongs THE POWER for ever and ever.”

Big Words for Little Saints Introduction

Doxologies and Prayers

One of the characteristics of the letters of the New Testament are that many finish with short, pithy doxologies or prayers that summarise the main themes of the letter. The letters of Paul, Peter, Jude, and the writer to the Hebrews all contain this feature.

A detailed study of these verses uncovers the sweeping themes of whole letters: themes of election, salvation, sanctification, perseverance, equipping, restoration and eternal glory. Although small, these verses are like the eyepiece of a gigantic telescope that enables us to see the incredible size of God and his purposes for his people.

2 Peter 3:17-18 Growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus

Last week fierce storms lashed the South Coast of NSW. Winds up to 130 km/h whipped up huge seas, blew down power poles, and uprooted trees.

A tall tree, with huge branches and lots of leaves, might look impressive ABOVE GROUND. But in the face of A STORM, if its ROOTS are shallow it’s as weak as a seedling.

The trees that survived the full force of the winds were those whose roots grew down deep into the ground. Deeper and wider BELOW ground than the branches ABOVE ground.

The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree, and the greater the storms it can withstand.

1. v17 Don’t be carried away

And Peter knows that’s true, not just for TREES and storms, but for CHRISTIANS and storms. The sorts of storms that can destabilise them, unsettle them, even undermine them or carry them away. Storms like false teaching, or suffering. Like financial ruin, or marriage breakdown. Storms like temptations, or unrepentant sin. Storms like worry, or doubt, or pride, or envy.

I’m almost CERTAIN you all know people just like that. People living the Christian life. Seem to be doing well. Who get knocked over by a storm. And they just don’t get back up. They’re WASHED UP. Their faith WRECKED, RUINED. It’s a tragedy! There’s nothing WORSE that can happen to someone!

And for Peter, the storm he’s been PARTICULARLY concerned about as he writes his second letter is FALSE TEACHING. And so he says, in Ch 3 v17, summing up the whole letter.

Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.

Can you picture the image? A tree that’s rooted in a strong, secure position. Solid. But then the huge winds come along. Bend it back, The rain soaks the ground and softens the soil. The wind continues to blow, the flood waters roar. The storm’s relentless. And then the tree’s gone. Uprooted, carried away. Destroyed.

For the Christian, it’s the danger Peter’s colourfully described in Chapter 2 of this letter. This error of lawless men. In ch 2 he calls them FALSE TEACHERS, with destructive heresies, and shameful ways. They’re greedy, telling made-up stories. That’s all by verse 3. But he’s only warming up. Jump down to v10. They’re bold and arrogant. Or v12. Like brute beasts. Carousing in broad daylight. Eyes full of adultery, experts in greed.

Then he starts on how POISONOUS they are. V18. They mouth empty boastful words, appealing to the lustful desires of human re, enticing people who are just escaping. Not content with heading to destruction themselves Dragging people WITH them.

A rotten message AND a rotten lifestyle. ly.

It’s hard to imagine people like that fooling ANYONE that they’re Christians. That they’re TEACHERS of the TRUTH. Enticing ANYONE to follow them. Perhaps they were good at DISGUISING what they were really like. Perhaps their true re wasn’t OBVIOUS.

But PETER can see it. And that’s why he warns his readers to BE ON THEIR GUARD. Be CAREFUL.

And things haven’t CHANGED. False teachers are JUST as dangerous. And JUST as deceptive. And Satan LOVES to use them to drag unsuspecting people to ruin.

Let me point out some MODERN versions to you.

Like RELIGION. Satan LOVES religion. That is, a humanly-constructed set of behaviours. He loves it because people put their trust in IT, rather than in Jesus. He loves the opinion that calling someone “FULL-ON” or a FANATIC is an insult. The opinion that a LITTLE religion is a good thing. But you don’t want to go overboard. Don’t want to become ZEALOUS about your faith. He LOVES that sort of religion.

And he LOVES the politically-correct, morally-relativistic quicksand of the media or the university that says anyone making ABSOLUTE TRUTH CLAIMS is bigoted and intolerant.

And he loves the side of MULTICULTURALISM that sees religion as a smorgasbord, where no one is wrong. Where you can fill your plate with a little of this, and a little of that. Try things out. Add things and take them away. Because it’s all about what works for YOU. Since YOU are the centre of the Universe.

And that’s just false teaching about God OUTSIDE the church! What about INSIDE the church?

Satan rubs his hands with glee whenever we take our eyes off Jesus and fix them on ANYTHING ELSE. He applauds when he hears people teaching that you’re saved by good works, or by respectability, or by social relevance, social action. Or by recycling and environmental action.

He loves it when we stop trusting Jesus for our ACCESS to God, and start trusting OTHER WAYS INSTEAD. Like praying through Mary or the saints. Or approaching God through an emotional worship experience. Or only in a certain PLACE.

And Satan loves it when we move beyond FAITH because we think we’ve outgrown it. He loves academic rationalism and scepticism; critical scholarship, and intellectual pride. He loves a faith in technology, or buildings, or heritage, or programs, or budgets.

It’s all false teaching that takes our eyes off Jesus. That wants to ADD to him. Or TAKE AWAY from him. That undermines our dependent trust. And jeopardises our secure position.

And Peter says, BE ON YOUR GUARD (v17) against those sorts of ideas. Be CAREFUL you don’t fall from your secure position.

That’s always the job of FAITHFUL teachers of God’s truth. To STABILISE, rather than DE-stabilise. To strengthen, rather than WEAKEN.

And that word for SECURE POSITION. That place Peter wants ALL Christians to be. It’s a particularly SPECIAL one for Peter. You see, he’d nearly been carried away HIMSELF. Nearly fallen from HIS secure position. Jesus had PRAYED for him PERSONALLY. Even WARNED him. Luke 22:31. Jesus says

“Peter, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, STRENGTHEN your brothers.”

It’s a form of the same word Peter’s using here. SECURE your brothers, says Jesus. Make sure they’re SOLID. You’re going to stumble, but make sure you get up. And when you DO, make your brothers SECURE.

But Peter’s not ON HIS GUARD. He’s too PROUD to see the danger. “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to . Everyone else might desert you, but NOT ME.” To which Jesus answers “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you WILL deny me three times.”

And it HAPPENS. Peter nearly throws it all away in a moment of weakness and fear. But Jesus has PRAYED for him that his faith wouldn’t fail. And it DOESN’T. Peter repents. Jesus forgives. And Peter becomes the ROCK on which the Christian church was built.

And that commissioning from Jesus sticks with him. “When you’ve turned back, STRENGTHEN the brothers. SECURE them. Make sure they’re STRAPPED IN TIGHT, so they don’t slip like YOU did.”

And so that warning is burned into his soul. BE ON YOUR GUARD so you’re not carried away by lawless men, and fall from your secure position.

What’s “SECURE” look like? What’s the state that Peter’s thinking about? The one that’s strong and safe? It means that when storms come, you don’t get moved.

Let’s pick just ONE STORM by way of example. Storms like SUFFERING. Perhaps sickness, or persecution, trials, or relationship breakdown. They can carry you away unless you’re SECURE.

And above all, I reckon, secure means remembering that GOD IS KING. He’s SOVEREIGN over ALL OF LIFE. Everything happens according to God’s plan. That he works all things for good. That God disciplines those he loves. That God wants us to fix our eyes on HIM, and not on our surroundings. To be CONTENT. To be CALM in the midst of a storm. To have a peace that the world can’t understand. That’s SECURE.

2. v18 But Grow

But how can you GET that assurance? How can you MAKE yourself secure? Because it’s not simply enough to be AWARE of the danger, you’ve got to TAKE PRECAUTIONS to protect yourself. To be STRENGTHENED.

Peter gives us the answer in the final verse of his letter. Really, just summing up the whole letter. The SOLUTION to being carried away. The CONTRAST. HOW TO be on your guard, and avoid falling.

Don’t be carried away and fall (v17). INSTEAD (v18) But GROW.

18 But GROW in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The WAY to remain in a secure position. To AVOID being carried away or falling. It’s NOT to STAY EXACTLY AS YOU ARE. Which seems a bit counter-intuitive. But, like many things, STANDING STILL in the Christian life, is actually going backwards. Stagnant water is water. Lifeless. It’s dangerous.

A tree that’s not GROWING is . No good having strong roots if there’s no LIFE in them. roots are quickly uprooted.

It’s no good having anti-virus software installed on your computer, unless you UPDATE IT. Without regularly renewing the database of virus sig res, you’ll be unprotected. Exposed to attacks from all sorts of malicious viruses and Trojans.

And, in the Christian life, you’re exposed to all sorts of threats and storms, and the dangers of falling. If you rest in the knowledge you BEGAN with. If you STAY WHERE YOU STARTED. If you’re content to remain a baby, digesting pureed apple, and gumming away at rusks. Then you’re cruising for a bruising. Running the risk of a crash. You’ve got to continually update your database.

Michael Green puts it like this in his commentary.

“Now matter how long we’ve been Christians, we cannot rest on years of Sunday School lessons, sermons and quiet times. Every day represents a fresh challenge, when we will be tempted to forget everything we’ve learned over the years, and trade it in for a novelty item.”

You see, the Christian life is LIKE RIDING A BIKE. There’s got to be forward progress, or you fall over. That’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way when it comes to cycling. In the last few years I’ve discovered cycling shoes, with cleats that clip you into the pedals. Great for giving your extra power and control while you’re riding. But a bit tricky when you STOP. You’ve got to think about it beforehand. As you’re slowing down. You can’t just take your feet off the pedals, you’ve got to unclip them with a tricky sort of ankle twist.

Or else you can embarrass yourself at traffic lights. I KNOW! Been there, done that. It’s a wobbly sort of slow motion fall. You can see it’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do. Hurts your KNEES, as well as your PRIDE.

The trick is to keep MOVING. Doesn’t matter how slowly. But there’s got to be PROGRESS. And it’s the same with the Christian life.

And, in particular, says Peter, Growth IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. If v17 has been a summary of chapter TWO of his letter, then THIS verse is a summary of the message of chapter ONE.

Right back in v2 of ch 1 Peter expressed this hope for them.

2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Peter wants his readers to have the grace and peace that God gives IN ABUNDANCE. In other words, he wants them GROWING in the good things God gives.

And then he says where that COMES FROM. Through the KNOWLEDGE of God, and of Jesus our Lord. Knowing God, through his Son Jesus, is the way to live the ABUNDANT life he WANTS for you.

Then in the next verse. Ch 1 v3. He expands on what that life looks like.

3 His divine power has given us EVERYTHING WE NEED FOR LIFE AND GODLINESS through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

God wants to give us all the resources for the godly life he’s designed. And it comes through KNOWING about him. Peter gets specific. It’s about knowing HIS PROMISES (v4). Claiming the promises of God – trusting them and then practically leaning on them daily. That’s the way to build the sort of character and qualities that will make you useful for serving Jesus.

And so, Peter challenges us in v10.

10 Therefore, my brothers, BE ALL THE MORE EAGER TO MAKE YOUR CALLING AND ELECTION SURE.

Make sure you’re GROWING. Make sure there’s PROGRESS. Work hard.

For if you do these things, YOU WILL NEVER FALL,

That’s what Peter wants to avoid. The storms that carry people away. That make them FALL from their secure position. Be all the more eager to make your calling and election SURE.

And back over at the end of the letter, in conclusion, Peter’s saying to grow IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE of Jesus.

One school of thought sees them AS PERSONAL QUALITIES. Growing in graciousness, in your behaviour and character. As well as growing in knowledge (in your theological learning). Hands and head. And Peter’s certainly interested in that. Back in ch 1 v5 he talks about making every effort to add goodness and knowledge and self-control and perseverance to faith. All personal qualities that will make a Christian effective.

But there’s another school of thought that sees this growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus as the GIFTS OF GOD. Grow in your experience of God’s GRACE. And Peter certainly wants THAT for his readers TOO. That’s the emphasis of ch 1 v3 “Grace and peace BE YOURS IN ABUNDANCE through the knowledge of God.”

John Piper says

“Peter’s great desire for these people and for us is that we might experience LOTS AND LOTS OF GOD’S GRACE; that we might SUCK IT UP THROUGH OUR ROOTS and grow by it; that we might SOAK IT IN LIKE SUNSHINE through our leaves and grow by it.” Grace is the greatest unused resource in all the world. It is the wealth of God’s kindness; the riches of his mercy; the soothing ointment of his forgiveness; the free and undeserved, but lavishly offered hope of eternal life. Grace is what we crave when we are guilt-laden. Grace is what we must have when we come to die. Grace is our only ray of hope when the future darkens over with storm clouds of fear.

That’s what Peter says we’re to GROW in.

But it’s not a case of either/or. God’s grace or our gracious character? There’s a connection, of course. 1 Peter 4:10 says;

10 Each one should USE whatever GIFT he has received to serve others, FAITHFULLY ADMINISTERING GOD’S GRACE IN ITS VARIOUS FORMS.

God hands out GIFTS. By his grace. And we’re to USE those gifts. ing them out. Maximising their effectiveness and goodness.

And Peter says grow in grace and KNOWLEDGE of our Lord Jesus Christ. UNDERSTAND the lavish riches God’s showering on you in Jesus. Know it more and more. AND THEN WORK THAT OUT IN YOUR OWN LIFE. And in those around you, as you REFLECT God’s grace by using his gifts to strengthen others.

That’s the key to not being carried away. To not falling from your secure position. But that’s no passive, easy thing. There’s no magic pills. No downhill sections after you make it to the top of the mountain.

Make every effort, says Peter. And that will be FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Praying and reading the Bible doesn’t get any EASIER. Nor does being patient, or watching my tongue. Or putting others first. I’m only THIRTY YEARS into being a Christian. Some of you are much longer.

But we need to KEEP WORKING AT IT.

Keep meeting together. Keep reading and listening and singing and praying. Keep being fed from God’s Word. Keep putting of the old re, and putting on the new one. Keep saying no to false teaching, and no to sin. Keep loving the brothers, reaching out to the world.

Are YOU growing? How are you different from 12 months ago? Think about this time last year. What PROGRESS have you made? Where do you NEED to make progress in the coming 12 months?

(pause) Keep growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Glory to Jesus Christ now and into the day of eternity (Ch 3)

And Peter gives us one final incentive. To Jesus be GLORY both now and forever. It’s actually a bit clunky in the original language. It says something like “To him, GLORY, both now and INTO THE DAY OF ETERNITY.”

The day of eternity. It’s a phrase we don’t find anywhere else in the Bible. Peter’s probably thinking about JUDGMENT day. When eternity BEGINS. The day when Jesus’ glory will be revealed. His glory as SAVIOUR for those who’ve remained in their secure position. As well as his glory as JUDGE against the lawless men who drag others down. As well as JUDGE against those who haven’t BEEN on their GUARD. Who HAVEN’T been GROWING in grace and knowledge. Who haven’t made every effort to make their calling and election sure.

It will be a GLORIOUS day. MAKE SURE you’re experience it from a SECURE POSITION.

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

Hebrews 13:20-21 Equipped with everything good

When COVID-19 first struck, one of the biggest problems was sourcing enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, especially for health care workers. (Do you remember how hard it was to buy face masks? It took a few months before manufacturing and distribution networks caught up with demand.) Now, we see EVERYONE wearing the proper equipment.

Being PROPERLY EQUIPPED. It’s important for health care workers. But it’s even MORE important for SPIRITUAL health care workers. That’s US. Seeking to bring Jesus’ cure for sin to an infected world. A world suffering under the effects of sin – something far worse than a virus.

There are dangers all around us. Risks of infection. We’re attacked with different priorities and moralities on all sides. In the media, in politics, in movies, from our friends and neighbours. A constant, nagging pressure to think and behave differently in relationships and business and personal ethics and decision-making.

The Christian needs to be PROPERLY EQUIPPED. In the language of Ephesians 6, there’s a BATTLE going on, and we better not be un-equipped, or even UNDER-equipped. It says

11 Put on the FULL ARMOR OF GOD so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

It’s GOD’S armour. And he wants us wearing it. His armoury is fully stocked with the best equipment. Perfectly suited for the task. Fail proof, and effective.

And the writer to the Hebrews puts it like this in his closing words. Hebrews 13:21. “May the God of peace… EQUIP YOU WITH EVERYTHING GOOD FOR DOING HIS WILL.

It’s God’s WILL, and God’s PROMISE. That every believer be THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED to do what he wants us to do.

We’re going to think about what that means in THREE WAYS. Equipped BY, equipped WITH, and equipped FOR.

  1. Equipped BY

The God of peace

Firstly, equipped BY. Who’s doing the equipping? From v20. The God of PEACE. The God who IS peace, and who MAKES peace. It’s a phrase that summarises the way the whole book of Hebrews describes God.

Way back in Ch 1 v3. Through Jesus, God provides PURIFICATION FOR OUR SINS.

Or ch 4 v15 (as well as lots of other places). He’s provided Jesus, the great high priest, SO THAT WE MIGHT APPROACH THE THRONE OF GRACE WITH CONFIDENCE.

Flip over to Ch 7. v18. The old law was weak and useless. It couldn’t bridge the gap, so God SET IT ASIDE, and introduced a better hope by which we DRAW NEAR TO GOD. Removed a barrier, AND built a bridge. (He’s the God of peace.)

Or in Ch 8 v8. Quoting from Jeremiah 31. God LONGED for the time when he would make A NEW COVENANT, and write his laws on his people’s hearts. A time when he could be their God, and they could be his people. And that’s available for US, NOW.

We could go on. But you get the idea. Now jump back to Ch 13. Here at the end, the writer prays. “May the GOD OF PEACE equip you with everything good for doing his will”.

In other words, THIS is the God who wants to equip you. If he’s already done ALL THAT in THE PAST, you can have COMPLETE CONFIDENCE he’s going to equip you into the future.

Raised Jesus from dead

Let’s move on to the next aspect of who’s equipping us.

20 May the God of peace, WHO THROUGH THE BLOOD OF THE ETERNAL COVENANT BROUGHT BACK FROM THE DEAD OUR LORD JESUS,

A couple of ideas here. As we’ve already seen in Hebrews, God’s replaced a temporary, ineffective covenant with a PERMANENT, POWERFUL one. And he’s SEALED the contract with the blood of the perfect sacrifice, his Son Jesus. In other words, the God who wants to equip you is completely TRUSTWORTHY and RELIABLE. He’s written his promises IN BLOOD. Promises that can’t be undone.

And he’s also POWERFUL. He brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus. He RAISED him. And he’s now REIGNING WITH God. That’s the power at work in the equipment he supplies us with!

The Great shepherd of the sheep

And another aspect of what God’s like is that he’s COMPASSIONATE. The Jesus he raised from the dead is THE GREAT SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEP.

The God who wants to equip us is the One who provided us with A GREAT SHEPHERD.

Which is just what we need. We’re wandering, dumb animals. Who easily get lost. Wander off the safe path. Who need a great shepherd. To lead us beside quiet waters, to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, as Psalm 23 puts it. We need A GOOD shepherd, says Jesus in John 10:11 who LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE for his sheep.

That’s the sort of shepherd our COMPASSIONATE God has given us. 1 Peter 5:4 calls Jesus the CHIEF Shepherd. Which is great news for those of us who are UNDER shepherds. Who care for a small portion of God’s flock. We’ll never do the job as well as the CHIEF shepherd. We WILL fail, we WILL fall asleep on the job. And that’s because we’re SHEEP FIRST. (Sheep who need a SHEPHERD, TOO). But we have a GREAT shepherd over US, as well as over our flock.

The point of all these descriptions is THIS. The God who wants to equip you with everything good is not some fallible, mismanaged, under-funded, over-worked government department. But the powerful, trustworthy, compassionate God who paid the ultimate price to secure our peace.

  1. Equipped WITH

The second point. What are we equipped WITH? The word for equip has a few ideas connected with it. It can just mean to MAKE or FORM. God FORMED the world in Hebrews 11:3.

The word also has the idea of MENDING or RESTORING. In Matthew 4:21, the disciples are MENDING nets. EQUIPPING them for their original purpose. And in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul wants to see his readers again so he can SUPPLY WHAT IS LACKING in their faith.

It’s why God gives gifts to the church in Ephesians 4:12, so that his people might be PREPARED for works of service. (Same word again). And that’s the idea here. That God equips us so that we might be COMPLETED, FILLED UP with what we’re lacking. And ready for his purpose.

So, what are we equipped WITH? The SHORT answer, from v21: “equipped with EVERYTHING GOOD FOR DOING HIS WILL.” In other words, whatever’s needed.

And perhaps the key to that is found in the verse before. God’s given us THE LORD JESUS, THAT GREAT SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEP. HE’S what we need in every situation.

His victory over sin and death means he has the full arsenal of weapons to deal with any situation. Whether it be the spiritual WEAPONS of Ephesians 6. Like faith, truth, righteousness, salvation, and the word of God. Or the spiritual GIFTS of Ephesians 4, or Romans 12. Like pastoring, evangelising, encouraging, leading, giving, or governing. All for building up God’s people. Or the spiritual FRUIT of Galatians 6. Like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, humility, self-control.

Jesus, our great shepherd of the sheep. Will PROVIDE for us, and PROTECT us, and LEAD us. He said THIS to his disciples in Luke 21:14. He warned they’d be persecuted, arrested, and brought to trial. Then he said.

14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 FOR I WILL GIVE YOU WORDS AND WISDOM that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

That’s a GREAT shepherd who provides for his sheep!

Jesus promised to equip us. (That he’ll give us WHATEVER we need, in whatever SITUATION we need to do his will). PAUL know that equipping. I wonder if you’ve ever EXPERIENCED that?

A few months after I’d started in ministry, I got a call from Blacktown hospital about 11 o’clock at night. I’d never been to the hospital, and done very little hospital visiting at all. The nurse said a guy was dying, and wanted a Presbyterian minister to visit. To be honest, I was trying to think of someone else to do it instead. But I agreed to go.

In the car on the way, I was praying for God’s help. I felt completely ill-equipped. I walked into the room at the hospital, still not knowing what I was going to do. The guy was still alive. His family was surrounding him, looking devastated. Everyone was looking at me, as if I had the tools to deal with the situation!

I don’t remember exactly what I said. But I introduced myself. I read a Psalm. I talked about the hope we have in death because of Jesus. And I prayed. Only took about ten minutes. And when we opened our eyes at the end of the prayer, the guy had just stopped breathing. Like he’d been waiting for that. It was quite extraordinary.

I don’t know what the outcome was for that guy, or for his family. But, somehow, I’d felt EQUIPPED for the TASK.

The feeling of not knowing what I’m going to do is a fairly common one for me in this job. And that’s OKAY. Because I DON’T have all the answers. I’m a sheep who needs a great Shepherd. On my own, I’ve got nothing. God promises to equip us with everything good for doing his will.

And to comfort a family, to point them to Jesus, and to pray with them – that’s God’s will. So he’ll equip me.

Or what about THIS? Your kids are growing up. Situations come up that you feel completely unequipped to deal with. Bullying, boyfriends, or alcohol. Driving, learning difficulties, or not wanting anything to do with Jesus anymore. No friends, or the wrong friends.

God promises to EQUIP you with everything good for doing his will. And it’s God’s WILL to raise your kids healthy, well-adjusted, and following Jesus. So he’ll EQUIP you for it. So look to him with trust. ASK him. Pray these verses for yourself.

Or perhaps it’s ENDURING A DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP. With a spouse who’s either cold, or hostile. Or judgmental parents or in-laws, who can never say a positive word to you. You feel like giving up. You just don’t have the STRENGTH any more.

But God promises to equip you with everything good for doing his will. And it’s his WILL for you to be faithful to your marriage vows. It’s his will to honour your parents. So he’ll equip you for it. So look to him with trust. ASK him. Pray these verses for yourself.

Or perhaps you’ve been dreadfully HURT. Cut to the core. Someone’s BETRAYED you. And it’s just eating you up inside. And you just can’t imagine how you can love them. How you can move on.

But God promises to equip you with everything good for doing his will. And it’s his WILL for you to love your enemies. And to FORGIVE as you have been forgiven. His will for you to LIVE IN PEACE with everyone. So look to him. He’ll equip you for it. ASK him. Pray these verses for yourself.

Or, let’s try one more. It’s been a shocker of a day at work. Deadlines missed, stuff-ups galore. Some major dummy spits. The drive home was a nightmare. You pull into the driveway. And the first thing you can hear are the arguments and screams. It sounds like the kids are tearing each other apart. You hope it’s next door. But no, it’s YOUR family. You can only imagine what state your wife is in. You feel like turning around and going straight back to work. You just don’t have the energy to cope. The tool kit’s empty.

But God promises to equip you with everything good for doing his will. And it’s his WILL for you to lead your family by serving them. To support your wife. To love them like Jesus. So look to him. He’ll equip you for it. ASK him. Pray these verses for yourself. Toughen up. Turn off the music, get out of the car, and get into it.

Working in us

But perhaps you think you just haven’t got the strength. Then listen up, because there’s more! Not only is God the God of peace who provides the great shepherd to guide and lead us. And who equips us with everything good for doing his will.

He works WITH us to achieve what’s pleasing to him. He doesn’t just hand out the equipment and leave us on our own. He’s the ENERGY SOURCE, the PARTNER and CO-WORKER, as well as the PROVIDER. See it there in v21?

God equips you with everything good for doing his will, WORKING IN US WHAT’S PLEASING TO HIM.

It actually repeats the same word for DOING. He equips US for DOING HIS WILL, then DOING IN US what’s pleasing to him.

There’s a COOPERATION, God AND us working together. To do what pleases him. But it’s not like riding a tandem bicycle. If God’s doing the pedalling, we can just put our feet up and enjoy the ride. No, when God is doing in us what’s pleasing to him, that should MOTIVATE us, EMPOWER and ENCOURAGE us, to work all the HARDER. Because there’s A POINT to it. REAL CHANGE is POSSIBLE. In yourself, and in the situations you’re working for.

Paul puts it like this in Colossians 1:29.

28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 TO THIS END I LABOR, STRUGGLING WITH ALL HIS ENERGY, WHICH SO POWERFULLY WORKS IN ME.

US working hard, BECAUSE we know God’s at work in us, making our work EFFECTIVE. That’s the sort of equipping we’re thinking about in these final verses in Hebrews.

  1. Equipped FOR… to give Jesus glory

Finally, let’s think about what we’ve been equipped FOR. Short answer. Obviously, it’s there in v21. We’ve been equipped with everything good FOR DOING HIS WILL. FOR WHAT’S PLEASING TO HIM. Which is all sorts of things. In all sorts of areas. In all sorts of ways. And we’ve thought about a few of them already.

But let me focus on just ONE ASPECT of what we’ve been equipped FOR. To give GLORY to Jesus. See it there at the end of v21?

through Jesus Christ, to whom BE GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER. Amen.

God equips us with everything good. And works all these pleasing things in us THROUGH Jesus Christ, our great shepherd. (BECAUSE of him. At his initiation and by his authority.) AND SO ALL GLORY BELONGS TO HIM. FOREVER. That’s your PURPOSE in LIFE. (It’s why God elected you, called you, saved you, reconciled you.) It’s the goal of your church ministry, the goal of your work life, your family life, the goal of your marriage, your friendships. The goal of your education, your recreation, your retirement. It’s the purpose of your words, your actions, your thoughts. And, when you die, it’s what your purpose will be for all eternity. TO CAUSE ALL GLORY TO BELONG TO JESUS.

In one glorious sentence in Ephesians 1, from v3 to 14, Paul paints a huge picture of the meaning of life. What we’re here for. V5 of Eph 1. God predestined us to be adopted as his sons TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORIOUS GRACE. Or down to v10. Actually still the same sentence in Greek. The mystery of his will is TO BRING ALL THINGS TOGETHER UNDER THE HEADSHIP OF Jesus. In other words, that everything might give JESUS ALONE all the honour and glory. Or finally, down in v12. We were chosen so that we MIGHT BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

That’s what God’s equipped you FOR. For the praise of his glory.

Is that what you’re DOING? Are people looking at YOUR LIFE, and saying “Praise Jesus for what he’s doing in … David’s life! How GOOD is Jesus!? How powerful, and precious, and lovely, and gracious and forgiving, and loving?!”

Let me send you out into this week with THAT GOAL in mind.

20 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, TO WHOM BE GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER. AMEN.

Romans 16:25-27: Established by the gospel

Telescopes are designed to look out into space, focus on an object a long way away, then produce a clear image of it. And the BEST telescopes gather in the greatest amounts of light. They produce the greatest magnification, and the clearest image. And the best way to DO that is simply to make the telescope as BIG as you possibly can.

Which means MIRRORS, rather than lenses. And the largest telescope at the moment is on the Canary Islands in Spain. It’s main mirror is 10.4m in diameter. It’s appropriately called the Gran Telescopio Canarias. Which I’m assuming translates to Big telescope of the Canaries. (Not the most CREATIVE name around!)

But there’s a NEW telescope being built in Chile, and it’s going to have a main mirror that’s 40m in diameter, made up of 798 hexagonal smaller mirrors. And, rather unimaginatively, it’s called the ELT. Which stands for (any guesses?)… extremely large telescope. You’d think they could have come up with something exciting wouldn’t you? Like Gigantor, or Hercules, or Brutus!

And the little passage we’re looking at today is like a huge telescope. THE HUGE STORY of God’s saving plan in history through Jesus is like the night sky. And Romans looks at God’s salvation plan in history, and tries to concentrate that down into a size we can begin to understand.

And then we come to these FINAL THREE VERSES of Romans. And they concentrate the argument of Romans down even FURTHER. Pick up the big ideas, summarise them, bring the whole thing to a conclusion. Reducing it into a few hugely significant phrases. Sharp and concise.

But WHY? What’s the point? Why does the letter finish THIS way, rather than just say GOODBYE?

First thing to point out, these verses are sometimes called a DOXOLOGY. Doxa means glory. Logos means word. A word of glory. A word that ascribes glory. See it there at the start of v25. “Now to him…” Now jump down to v27. “To the only wise God BE GLORY FOREVER.

In other words, “May God receive RECOGNITION and ADORATION for his power and holiness and strength and love. Paul wants us to look at God’s plan to save people through Jesus. Recognise it, understand it. And then to PRAISE GOD for it.  And that’s really my prayer for you today. That you’ll see more of God at work through his Son, and GIVE HIM GLORY.

To the God who strengthens

God’s doing A NUMBER of things in these verses (he’s HIDDEN things, REVEALED things, COMMANDED things). But the one Paul wants us to take notice of is there at the start. “Now to him who is able to ESTABLISH you. Or STRENGTHEN you.”

He’s never met the Christians in Rome, but he knows what they’re going through. And what he wants for them above ANYTHING. In light of the pressures from the Roman authorities. Pressures to conform, to fade away. Pressure to give up. To stop trusting. Is to be ESTABLISHED. To remain GROUNDED. To be STRONG.

Australian culture today applauds STRONG people. Whether it’s strong sportsmen and women. Or strong LEADERS. Or, from our history, the strength of pioneers who travelled and discovered and subdued Australia.

But God’s not interested in THAT sort of strength. Instead it’s an established FAITH he wants to develop. It’s more about the strength of the ONE WE PLACE OUR TRUST IN. A rock-solid trust in God’s reliability. That’s what will keep you strong. A faith that cheerfully and confidently copes with all sorts of discouragements and opposition and failures.

You can see the connection between STRENGTH and FAITH. Back in Ch 1 v11.

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you STRONG- 12 that is, that you and I may be MUTUALLY ENCOURAGED BY EACH OTHER’S FAITH.

That’s why Paul WRITES, and why he wants to MEET them. So they can all be encouraged in their FAITH. Established, strengthened. The thing Paul’s focussing on in these final verses is that God wants, above everything else, STRENGTHENED, ESTABLISHED followers.

And notice that it’s GOD who does the strengthening. It’s NOT a command to HIS READERS to be strong, a final command TO DO BETTER. But a reminder that GOD will keep them strong. Notice how God is described. The One who is ABLE. Who has POWER and CAPACITY. We are LIMITED but God is LIMITLESS. He’s the PERFECT one to make us strong.

Which is great news for us, who want to encourage others. As well as for those BEING encouraged. (On the RECEIVING end). It’s not all up to us. GOD’s the one, ultimately, who does the strengthening. We can till the ground, plant the seed, water it, fertilise it, weed it. Protect it. But in the end, only GOD can make it grow.

In 1953 China Inland Mission was expelled from China. A thousand foreign missionaries left behind a relatively small band of half a million Chinese Christians. Their future seemed shaky and endangered under the black clouds of communism and the cultural revolution. How would these baby Christians survive without the wisdom, guidance, and evangelism of the Western missionaries? Who would strengthen them?

But when Western Christians were allowed back in many years later, they were astounded. The numbers of Christians in the house Church movement had exploded. The organisation Asia Harvest calculates in 2020 there are nearly 130 million Christians in China. Despite the growing persecution of Christians by the government. And the expulsion of Western Christians.

On a HUMAN level, that sort of growth just DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. But it does from God’s point of view. Because, as Paul says here, it’s GOD who establishes Christians. Who makes their faith STRONG.

By my gospel…

But that’s not to say God works completely INDEPENDENTLY of us. (That we can just sit back and put our feet up). His normal method of strengthening believers is using OTHER BELIEVERS. Notice how v25 continues.

25 Now to him who is able to establish you BY MY GOSPEL AND THE PROCLAMATION OF JESUS CHRIST,

That’s really what’s happening in this letter. (God establishing people by the hearing of Paul’s gospel.) The letter of Romans itself is a summary of the gospel Paul preaches. He says in 1:15

15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, BECAUSE IT IS THE POWER OF GOD FOR THE SALVATION OF EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES.

The gospel is the MEANS of God’s power saving people. Whether Paul preaches in person. Or by LETTER. As they hear his letter being read, God SPEAKS to them, and STRENGTHENS THEIR FAITH to TRUST the good news about Jesus.

If the FIRST part of the verse is a COMFORT to us (that it’s GOD who strengthens), the SECOND part is a CHALLENGE. We’ve got extraordinary, earth-shattering, life-changing news to declare. And God calls us to PARTNER with him in his strengthening and establishing work in the world.

Now Revealed

Paul goes on. It’s a message that’s NOW REVEALED. Follow from halfway through v25.

my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God,

The news about Jesus was HIDDEN, but now it’s BEEN REVEALED. Proclaimed. The curtain flung open. It was there in the Old Testament. Not OBVIOUS, but STILL THERE. Written in shadows and pictures and promises. HINTED at by the prophets. IMITATED by priests and kings. But now it’s CLEAR. There for everyone to see.

For all the nations

And what’s of particular interest to Paul. One aspect of the message that’s been HINTED at but NOW REVEALED. Is that it’s a message FOR ALL THE NATIONS. See it there at the end of v26? “So that ALL NATIONS might believe and obey him.”

It’s HINTED at in the Old Testament. That Abraham was blessed by God so that he might be A BLESSING TO THE NATIONS (that’s Genesis 12). And then Israel was to be a light among the nations (that’s Isaiah). That the surrounding peoples might recognise how good God was to call a nation for himself like Israel.

But Israel never WAS the blessing to the nations they were designed for. (The light to the Gentiles.) It took the coming of Jesus to bring that blessing to the whole world.

And it’s the basis for Paul’s whole ministry. Taking that message to the WHOLE WORLD. And he’s sprinkled that idea all through Romans. From start to finish. Like 1:5. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among ALL THE NATIONS to the obedience that comes from faith.

Or 1:13 I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, JUST AS I HAVE HAD AMONG THE OTHER GENTILES. 14 I am obligated both to GREEKS AND NON-GREEKS, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: FIRST FOR THE JEW, THEN FOR THE GENTILE.

And then the whole of chapters 2 and 3 is about how THE WHOLE WORLD is guilty before God. Until we get to 3:22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to ALL who believe (Jew or Gentile). THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE, 23 for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

(Everyone needs saving). Then jump down to v29. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify THE CIRCUMCISED by faith (ie the Jews) AND THE UNCIRCUMCISED (ie Gentiles) through that same faith.

That’s the earth-shattering news that was HIDDEN, HINTED AT, in the Old Testament. But that Paul, the JEW, is revealing to NON-Jews all over his world. That God puts ANYBODY right with himself, WHATEVER their race, simply by trusting Jesus.

And it’s here right at the END of the whole letter as well. Verse 26. “Revealed so that ALL NATIONS might believe and obey him”.

For the obedience of faith to all nations

A better translation of that phrase is “revealed for the OBEDIENCE OF FAITH for all nations.” It’s important to understand the connection between obedience and faith. God’s not interested in faith that’s empty – that’s intellectual assent. It’s DOING faith he loves. ACTIVE faith. Faith that LOOKS DIFFERENT in someone’s LIFE. That’s really what the Christian life IS. The OBEDIENCE of faith. The obedience that COMES from faith.

It’s an idea Paul’s been on about through the whole letter. Way back in his introduction, he describes his ministry. 1:5. We just read it.

To call people from among all the nations to the OBEDIENCE THAT COMES FROM FAITH.

And then in chapters 1-3 we see what FAITH looks like. To trust the righteousness God offers us freely through the death of Jesus in our place. And OBEDIENCE means responding to God’s offer of righteousness by ACCEPTING the gift.

And then in chapter 4 we see an EXAMPLE of faith. And the obedience that COMES from faith. Abraham.

And then in chapters 5-8 we see what OBEDIENCE looks like. It’s peace and joy. It’s dead to sin, but life in Christ. It’s slavery to righteousness, it’s life in the Spirit, it’s the hope of glory.

Then chapters 12-16 show us, in SPECIFICS, what the obedience of faith looks like. Down to the small details of life. Ch 12 – it means LIVING SACRIFICES. Your whole life in response to God’s mercy. Using your gifts to serve others in love. Or Ch 13 – it means submitting to all authorities. Or Ch 14 – it means accepting each other.

That’s the picture of the obedience of faith Paul’s painted. It’s the sort of follower God LOVES to develop. It’s why he’s revealed the gospel through Paul. The gospel he uses to establish and strengthen believers from all nations.

But HOW does the gospel establish people? How does it strengthen our faith? We sometimes think the gospel is something you only have to hear ONCE. When God first calls you, offers you his grace through Jesus, and you repent and turn to him. And that’s TRUE. But it doesn’t stop there. God wants to CONTINUALLY establish you BY THE GOSPEL. We need to KEEP hearing the gospel to strengthen our faith. Let me give you some examples of how that might work.

You’ve been a Christian for a while, but nothing much is happening. You take your eyes off Christ, and focus on yourself. You wonder whether your prayers are doing anything. YOU START TO WONDER WHETHER YOU’RE REALLY SAVED AFTER ALL. You lack assurance of salvation… What you need is SOMEONE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO YOU. The message that God offers everyone the free gift of righteousness. By grace alone. God demonstrated his love for you in this: it was WHILE YOU WERE STILL A SINNER Christ died for you. Now you’re his FRIEND. How much more will he save you from judgment? That’s the gospel God strengthens you with.

Or, you’ve slipped back into some sin you just can’t seem to shake. It all seems too hard… What you need is SOMEONE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO YOU. That your old nature is gone, and the new nature is here. Christ’s Spirit has washed you clean. He’s given you a new heart and new power. Victory over sin is possible in his strength. THAT’S the gospel that God strengthens you with.

Or, you’re tempted to boast. You reckon you’re doing better than others around you. You’ve got the position and the title and the respect of those you deal with… What you need is SOMEONE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO YOU. We’re ALL sinners. No one deserves the gift God offers. That’s why it’s a gift. A gift you can’t earn or buy or repay. Not by works, so that no one can boast. You were created for good works, so get on with them. That’s the gospel that God strengthens you with.

Or, you’re being persecuted for Jesus’ sake. A boss at work, the authorities, your neighbour, your family. You’re tempted to hide it, tempted to be bitter, and retaliate… What you need is SOMEONE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO YOU. Jesus has been crowned with glory and righteousness because of his obedience to death. He reigns over every power and authority. One day he will judge perfectly, and bring in a new kingdom without injustice or pain. That’s the gospel God strengthens you with.

Or a dark cloud hangs over you. Chronic illness, or poverty, or imminent death… What you need is SOMEONE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO YOU. Jesus has defeated sin and death. Your present sufferings aren’t worth comparing with the glory to be revealed in you. Even creation is waiting eagerly for the sons of God to be gloriously revealed. His kingdom of perfect righteousness has begun. You’re PART of that kingdom. Expectantly HOPE for it. That’s the gospel that God strengthens you with.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

To him be glory

One final point to make. “To him who strengthens you by the gospel BE GLORY FOREVER through Jesus Christ” says Paul. What he’s saying is that God RECEIVES the glory/ WHEN people are strengthened in faith, and live out the obedience of faith.

That’s the way it worked with Abraham. Back in 4:20

20 Yet Abraham did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was STRENGTHENED IN HIS FAITH and GAVE GLORY TO GOD,

We GIVE glory to him as we show by our lives that he’s WORTHY of our praise. As we TRUST him, we show him TRUSTWORTHY. As we OBEY him, we show him wise and loving and mighty. As we PROCLAIM HIS GOOD NEWS, we show him to be infinitely GOOD and WORTHY of rejoicing in.

It’s so contrary to the way EARTHLY rulers work. They seek to make themselves glorious by MAKING THEIR PEOPLE LITTLE. (Keeping them WEAK and down-trodden. Look at North Korea. Or China.)

But God is glorified when he establishes HIS PEOPLE through the gospel. When he makes THEM strong. God is glorified when he puts his eternal plan into action. When he shows his great love for humanity in sending his only Son to die in our place. God is glorified when, at the cross, he demonstrate himself to be both JUST, and the one who JUSTIFIES. God is glorified when he calls people from EVERY NATION on EARTH to the obedience of faith.

And God is glorified when you and I LIVE OUT that obedience of faith joyfully and consistently and hopefully. When we’re ESTABLISHED by the gospel. Solid. Immovable. As we proclaim that gospel to each other.

25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him- 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.