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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

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April 2015

Daily Bible thoughts 867: Thursday 30th April 2015: Philippians 4:21-23

 Philippians 4:21-23

‘’But God’s word is not chained.’’ (2 Timothy 2:9b).

The final words in Philippians disclose the amazing insight that the gospel had penetrated as far as ‘’Caesar’s household.’’ It is believed that this letter was written from Rome, where Paul was a prisoner. As Romans 16 shows, the church in the capital city of the Empire was made up of a diverse group of people. There were Jews and Gentiles in the congregation; the wealthy and the poor; those who were influential (in worldly terms) and those who were slaves. Here we see that there were even believers in the Emperor’s own household. We can add this titbit of information to what we already saw in (1:12, 13): ‘’I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him.’’ The Message.

There are no locked doors to the risen Jesus (see John 20:19-23). The gospel is unstoppable. It will triumph in this world (2 Timothy 2:9).The Romans had not actually conquered the world, only a part of it. They ruled over the then known world we might say. But here are the first fruits of what is to come. ‘’Caesar’s household’’ and all it represents (i.e. every other world power system) is going to be replaced by the Kingdom of God. His Word and His will are going to prevail, while everything else crumbles to dust Daniel 2:34, 35, 44 and 45).

As we come to the end of our journey through the ‘epistle of joy’, I want to share in Paul’s closing greeting and speak it to you:

‘’The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.’’

‘’Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.’’ The Message.

Only by God’s grace will we be able to live out the truth we have discovered in Philippians, and be a joyful people in all circumstances. Thank God for His amazing grace, because it is available to you and me.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that out of Paul’s suffering you brought something as beautiful as this gem of a letter. It sparkles with joy and makes me want to be a praising, thankful person always.

Daily Bible thoughts 866: Wednesday 29th April 2015: Philippians 4:14-20

Philippians 4:14-20

‘’You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours….’’ The Message.

I had often heard the famous nineteenth verse quoted out of context, but a light came on for me when a lecturer in Bible College pointed out that we must not take this ‘jewel’ out of its ‘setting’. It is not a carte blanche promise to all Christians. It was, in the first instance, a statement made to generous Christians; those from Philippi who had given bountifully to help Paul (18; see also 17).

Jesus Himself said:

‘’Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’’ (Luke 6:38).

‘’Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.’’ The Message.

A man who gave away a lot of money, but still had a lot was asked by someone how this could be. ‘’Well,’’ he replied, ‘’I keep shovelling it into the Lord’s garden and He keeps shovelling it back into mine. But He’s got the bigger shovel!!’

Here are some further thoughts on today’s Philippians passage:

  • If people have blessed you let them know you appreciate them (14; see also 15, 16). Gratitude should not go unspoken. As God remembers our good deeds, so let us hold in mind the goodness of others towards us (Hebrews 6:10). Expressions of appreciation oil the wheels of social interactions. People can feel taken for granted more quickly and easily than you may imagine. Paul wanted his benefactors to be blessed and rewarded for what they had done (17). ‘’Not that I’m looking for handouts, but I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity.’’ The Message.
  • We can ‘’share’’ in people’s troubles by helping them in practical ways. (It doesn’t necessarily mean that we will have the same troubles.) Here is a way to get alongside people and help them. We can put our hands into our pockets and give.
  • Realise that missionaries need support (15, 16). (At the same time, we know that Paul learned to prove the sufficiency of Christ in such lean times: 10-13.)
  • Christian giving is an act of worship (18b). They had given to Paul, but fundamentally they were giving to God. He was pleased with their ‘’sacrifice’’. It smelled good to him. ‘’The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end.’’ The Message.

A Bible text is like a grand old house. We need to view it in relation to its grounds; its surroundings. We cannot expect to prove the truth of (19) if we are stingy!

Prayer: Help me Lord to be a generous person, worshipping you with my giving.

Daily Bible thoughts 865: Tuesday 27th April 2015: Philippians 4:10-13

 Philippians 4:10-13

The Philippian church had supported Paul financially, and this letter was, at least in part, a ‘thank you’ note to them.

The Christian life does not necessarily move in a straight line. We can have ‘ups and downs’ on the chart. I realised a little while ago that I had always thought about Paul as a poor man. But in fact he said, ‘’I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.’’ (12) ‘’I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little.’’ The Message.

Now I’m sure that Paul’s ‘plenty’ was significantly less than mine, and that his ‘need’ was more severe than anything I have ever known. But I resonate with his words to some extent. Like many, I’ve known times when it was a struggle to ‘make ends meet’. One church I served could give little financial support. It was a joy to serve them, and as I was a single man, living in a small one room bed-sit, I didn’t need much at all. In later years God has blessed in ways I could never have asked or imagined. But in some ways I found it easier to be the relatively poor man with little than the more affluent person with plenty. Paul says here that whatever our financial or material circumstances, whether we are abounding or in shortage, the only way to face the situation is ‘’through him who gives me strength.’’ (13)

If you’re in a place in life (or a ‘season’) where money is tight, you can look to Christ to be your sufficiency, and to provide what you need (18). You will face those tough times in and with Jesus. You’re not alone.

But if we have an abundance (and let’s face it, most of us in the West have) we need the help and strength of Jesus to steward it wisely; to use it as He directs. The challenge is to live generously, sharing our bounty so that we can glorify God and help build the church. We don’t have to apologise for what God has given us, but we do need to realise that we will be held accountable for its use. So may Jesus strengthen us to invest His money wisely.

Paul was grateful for the Philippians’ concern for him. He didn’t want them to think otherwise. But he wanted then to know that whether they were able to get gifts through to him or not, he was ‘’content’’ in the Lord Jesus. But contentment doesn’t come naturally. It is something we have to learn. Such learning comes through the help of Christ.

‘’But godliness with contentment is great gain.’’ (1 Timothy 6:6.)

Prayer: Thank you Lord that whatever my outward circumstances, you are always there.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 864: Monday 26th April 2015: Philippians 4:4 -9

Philippians 4:4 -9

In a French lesson, at school, we read a story entitled ‘the naïve peasant.’ It was about a simple man who was walking down a lane, carrying a heavy pack on his back. A passer-by, on horse and cart, offered him a lift. After a while of travelling along in silence, this kind man turned to his companion and saw that he still had the bag over his shoulder. ‘My friend, why don’t you take that heavy load off and lay it on the cart?’ The peasant replied, ‘Because I do not want to tire your horse!’ We can be like this with prayer; giving our burdens to the Lord, yet retaining them at the same time. (See 1 Peter 5:7. You can’t ‘’Cast’’ your anxiety and keep it at the same time. If you’ve ‘cast’ it, then you’ve let it go.)

This passage shows important ways in which we can overcome anxiety:

  • The most obvious way is by thankful prayer (6, 7). The message seems to be, ‘Give God your heavy load of cares and He will give you His own indescribable peace. ’’Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.’’ The Message.

However, there are other verses around this that indicate how we can live peacefully:

  • Choose joy (4): We can’t necessarily choose our circumstances, but we can choose attitude. Choose a ‘count your blessings’ kind of life. Cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’. This message is so important it is worthy of repetition (see 3:1). ‘’Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! ’The Message.;
  • Be gentle (5a): You tend to reap what you sow, and gentle people don’t normally trigger storms around them. Some people create lives of stress and tension for themselves by being aggressive and belligerent and harsh. They live in ‘bad weather’ conditions because, to a large part, they create them;
  • Recognise the closeness of Jesus (5b): His presence is near; His coming is near;
  • Think clean (8): Your mind matters. As you think, so you will be. Watch where you allow your thoughts to alight. ‘’Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.’’ The Message.
  • Live right (9): Choose holiness; follow good examples. Godliness and peace go together (Romans 8:6)

There is a way to cruise, free of turbulence, in blue skies, above the storm clouds of worry. We don’t find it easy to reach that ‘altitude’, but the Bible says we surely can.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your prescription for living without worry. Help me to use it.

Daily Bible thoughts 863: Friday 24th April 2015: Philippians 4:2, 3.

Philippians 4:2, 3.

Diversions in the church!

Many years ago, somebody spoke to me about ‘’the diversions in our church!!’’ Well, she meant divisions of course. I wasn’t aware that we had a significant problem, but I do recognise how trouble between members of a congregation can divert us from our true work.

There is some indication that there was division in the church at Philippi. At least it was there to a degree. It would appear that two key women were involved. Perhaps there was the possibility that people would take sides and line up behind one or other of these ladies and escalate the trouble. Good leadership moves towards problems and not away from them. Paul wanted to nip this thing in the bud. He had already written about the kind of attitude that leads to unity (2:1-11), and here he makes a strong appeal to the women in question to put down the rope and stop playing ‘tug o’ war’. He also asks for another person, who he refers to as ‘’loyal yoke-fellow’’ to pitch in and help broker the peace. (We don’t know who he is.) Jesus said: ‘’Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.’’ (Matthew 5:9). It is an enormous privilege and responsibility to be a peace-maker. It’s what the Son of God Himself came into the world to do: to make peace between God and men, and between all kinds of people as they trust in Him. But clearly it can be costly. Are there those you are aware of who are at odds with one another? What can you do to ‘’help’’ them? They are no doubt good people who have just lost their way a little. Go and fetch them back.

You will see from the pleading language in (2) that unity in the local church is important beyond words. It is vital that we remember where the real enemy is, and we fight him and not each other. It is ‘’in the Lord’’ where we find our centre of unity. If we will focus on Him and not on ourselves we will pull together for His sake and not pull apart.

Really good people can go wrong. It’s sad to see, but it happens. Paul does not write them off. He remembers their service record as stout-hearted soldiers of Christ. He honours what they have done in the past. They have fallen into sin, but he has no doubt that their names are ‘’in the book of life.’’

‘’These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans – worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the book of life.’’ The Message.

‘’There but for the grace of God go I.’’ We cannot afford to feel superior. We ourselves are fallen, frail and fragile. Let’s go and deal gently with any who have gone astray – treat them how we would want to be dealt with if we were in the same circumstances (Galatians 6:1).

‘’I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.’’ The Message.

Watch out for the ‘diversions’!

Prayer: Lord I pray for the true unity of your church that the world may believe in you.

Daily Bible thoughts 862: Thursday 23rd April 2015: Jeremiah 4:23-31

 Jeremiah 4:23-31

‘’The gospel is bad news before it is good news.’’

In verses 23-26 Jeremiah has a vision of the earth returning to its most primitive state (see Genesis 1:2). It is as if the Lord has ‘uncreated’ the earth, and ‘’the fruitful land’’ God had given His people exists no more (26).

‘’I looked at the earth- it was back to pre-Genesis chaos and emptiness. I looked at the skies, and not a star to be seen. I looked at the mountains – they were trembling like aspen leaves, And all the hills rocking back and forth in the wind. I looked – what’s this! Not a man or woman in sight, and not a bird to be seen in the skies. I looked – this can’t be! Every garden and orchard shrivelled up. All the towns were ghost towns. And all this because of GOD, because of the blazing anger of GOD.’’ The Message.

The last section of this chapter paints a picture of the enemy army wreaking devastation among the people while they desperately seek out potential refuge (29). The final two images make a shocking contrast. In the first (30), Jerusalem is portrayed as a gaudy prostitute. She hopes somehow to ‘seduce’ Babylon, but she will be destroyed by her desired ‘lovers’ (30). In (31) we see her as a mother dying in childbirth. It is all desperately sad, and, remember, totally unnecessary.

Again we find that amidst the dark night of a judgment scene, something of the light of hope begins to shine (27). Jeremiah will expand on this later on in the book. But Christians know that the only true and lasting hope is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Through faith in His saving work on the cross a person can be delivered from God’s anger against sin and brought to experience the fullness of His love.

‘’The gospel is bad news before it is good news.’’ We must be brought to see how desperate our situation is before we will be prepared to reach out for the available cure.

At this time Judah was gravely ill.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that in your mercy you warn us and give the opportunity to turn back to you. May I not be blind or deaf to your Word.

Daily Bible thoughts 861: Wednesday 22nd April 2015: Jeremiah 4:18-22

Jeremiah 4:18-22

‘’Break my heart for what breaks yours.’’

Here are three simple thoughts from today’s reading:

  • The prophet weeps (19a): Jeremiah has come to be characterised as the ‘weeping prophet’. In ‘Jeremiah’ and ‘Lamentations’ we get a number of insights into his heartbreak over the situation. What breaks our hearts? Do we care about sin and how it ruins lives and ravages nations and communities? Do not our all too dry eyes rebuke us? I remember many emotionally charged services and prayer meetings back in my teenage days. I often saw tears and heard crying. It was quite unnerving at times. But what moves us? Jeremiah felt things deeply: ’I’m doubled up with cramps in my belly – a poker burns in my gut. My insides are tearing me up, never a moment’s peace.’’ The Message. How much do you care?
  • The prophet sees farther (19b-21): He or she sees what’s around the corner and they announce it. It may not be popular. People may want to stop up their ears. But the prophetic men and women see the impending disaster caused by sin, and they warn that it will happen, unless there is repentance. But there is that hopeful note in their preaching too, that things don’t have to be this way. While speaking of the coming ‘flood’, they clearly point to the ‘ark’. Praise God for the faithfulness and endurance of the prophets.
  • The prophet sees the stupidity of self-destruction (22): He knows the folly of sin and that ‘’senseless children’’ bring the roof down on themselves. It’s important to note that in the Bible the word ‘fool’ often refers to someone who is both ungodly and immoral. The crazy element of sinful self-destruction comes across particularly well in The Message: ‘’What fools my people are! They have no idea who I am. A company of half-wits, dopes and donkeys all! Experts at evil but klutzes at good.’’ (By the way, this is the only place in today’s reading where the Lord speaks directly. But we must remember that Jeremiah’s own words in this book are also God’s. The Lord is always the ultimate ‘speaker’ in Scripture, whether He is doing so directly or indirectly.)

‘’Notice Jeremiah’s deep love for his people and also his faithfulness in conveying God’s stern message to them. In a sense, Jeremiah was standing between God and the people, suffering on behalf of both. In this, Jeremiah was a forerunner of Jesus, who became the Mediator between God and men, and who suffered to bring salvation to the world (1 Timothy 2:5).’’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary, p.1084.

Prayer: ‘’Break my heart for what breaks yours.’’ Help me, dear Lord, to see through your eyes and feel with your heart.

Daily Bible thoughts 860: Tuesday 21st April 2015: Jeremiah 4:11-18

Jeremiah 4:11-18

‘’The essence of Hell is the truth discovered too late.’’ Dorothy L. Sayers.

‘’Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!’’ (18). Here is the truth realised too late, and it is tragic. ‘We thought we could sow weeds and grow flowers, but we have in fact reaped what we have sown!’

It did not have to be like this, for even as God warned His people of impending judgment, He made it clear that He did not want this for them. He gave the opportunity to turn back (14).

The judgment coming from the north is depicted in two graphic images: the roaring lion (as we saw yesterday in verse 7) and a raging wind (11, 12)

‘’A wind that’s up to no good, a gale-force wind. I ordered this wind. I’m pronouncing my hurricane judgment on my people.’’ The Message.

As the chapter unfolds it becomes clear that this ‘wind’ is an army:

‘’Look at them! Like banks of storm clouds, racing, tumbling, their chariots a tornado, their horses faster than eagles…Invaders from afar off are raising war cries against Judah’s towns. They’re all over her, like a dog on a bone.’’ The Message.

In (13) it’s like a watchman actually sees the approach of the enemy. In (15, 16) the message is given first from Dan, in Israel’s far north, and then, as the enemy comes closer, from Ephraim in the central hill country, until the news finally hits Jerusalem.

For a person to continue in wrong ways and refuse to repent is to press a self-destruct button. Sin rebounds on the sinner ultimately. We damage and devastate our own lives by persisting in our own ways. Sooner or later it will lead to the words of (18) in our experience too. It would be better to clean up your act while there is still a chance (14).

‘’The essence of Hell is the truth discovered too late.’’

Prayer: Lord give me the courage to face the facts about my situation now while there is still time to turn to you.

Daily Bible thoughts 859: Monday 20th April 2015: Jeremiah 4: 5-10

Jeremiah 4: 5-10

‘’A lion has come out of his lair; a destroyer of nations has set out.’’ (7a).

In this section and the next one, which we will read tomorrow, the invader ‘’from the north’’ (6) is depicted in two word pictures: as a roaring lion and a rushing wind. Both will bring devastation. The remainder of chapter 4 portrays judgment on Judah. The speaker throughout is Jeremiah, but he is pronouncing God’s Word, and the speech is sometimes directly God’s (e.g. v 6b).

God’s Word is so sure; so certain, that Jeremiah can speak of the coming judgment as if it has already taken place (7, 8; for a positive version of this see Romans 8:30. The Roman Christians were not yet ‘’glorified’’, but as far as Paul was concerned it was as good as done!) We can have complete confidence in what God’s Word says, whether it comes in promising or threatening form, or a combination of both.

The political and spiritual leaders led the way in rejecting Jeremiah and his message (9), but their tune would change when the Babylonian ‘’lion’’ came near their homes, and their towns and cities; when they heard his terrifying roar and saw his teeth and claws. (Note, though, that the beast is not yet identified as Babylon.) The people who mock Noah cease their jeering when the rain starts, but then it is too late. (The exposure of the leaders in this verse does not diminish the responsibility of everyone who resisted God’s Word.)

In (10) Jeremiah is referring to the words of false prophets who contradicted him and falsely promised peace to an unrepentant people. God is ‘’Sovereign’’ and obviously permitted their preaching. But that does not mean that He was responsible for it. It doesn’t mean that he sent these so-called prophets. God’s only response, as we shall see, is to confirm that judgment is certain. People today who preach that you can live rejecting Christ and the gospel and still expect no negative consequences in the next life are similarly perverting the truth. They are dishing out false hope. Although the Lord allows this, we must never think that He approves it. The false prophets in Jeremiah’s day helped to bring about physical damage and destruction, but something far worse is at stake in false preaching today.

Prayer: Lord please forgive us if we have distorted your gospel in any way, preaching only love and grace, and missing out warning and repentance. Help us stay true to truth.

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