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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

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Bible notes Stephen Thompson

1 Peter 4:7: Stay Alert!

“7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” NIV

‘’Stay wide-awake in prayer’’ ‘The Message’.

The government’s current message to ‘Stay Alert’ is so important. It should not be taken lightly. As Christians we should want to be good citizens and follow these guidelines as closely as we can. But we also see another level to the ‘Stay Alert’ message. We hear a call in it which was probably not intended: i.e. to ‘Stay Alert’ spiritually.

‘’Stay wide-awake in prayer.’’

I read an article by a pastor this week. As I understood it, he was saying that in all the discussions about the mechanics of returning to any kind of ‘normal’ church life, we must not lose sight of the underlying spiritual dynamics. He said if we don’t come out of this deeply changed something is wrong. We’ve wasted an opportunity.

If, for anyone of us, mediocrity/lukewarmness had become the norm before the pandemic, it mustn’t be any more. As Andy Lancaster encouraged us in a recent interview, this is a time to ‘press into God.’

Staying wide-awake in prayer entails at least 2 elements. These are indicated in one version as being ‘’clear minded and self-controlled’’.

It seems to me that clear-mindedness involves knowing what to pray, and self-control getting on and doing it.

Isn’t it just the easiest thing in the world to know that you should pray, and maybe even have some idea of what to pray, and still not do it?

So ‘Stay Alert’ to the enemy’s subterfuges; to his subtle schemes that would rob you of prayer (and rob the world of the potential impact of your prayers); ‘Stay Alert’ to all his attempts to steal the treasure of fellowship with God from your heart. ‘Stay Alert’ to what the Holy Spirit is saying and doing right now in your circumstances.

As someone said, ‘Pray until you pray!’

PRAYER: Lord help us to keep in step with your Spirit. Please strengthen me to pray until I pray.

 ‘For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey…prayer is warfare to the last breath.’ (A 4th century desert father who devoted his life to solitary prayer and meditation).

 

1 Peter 4:7: Last things

“7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” NIV

Back in the early 1980’s, I invited a good friend to do several days of Bible teaching for the church I pastored in Lancaster. On his last evening with us, in the course of his talk he said that on another occasion he might do something on ‘eschatology.’ At the end of the service, one lady, thanking him for his ministry, said with a broad smile that she looked forward to his talks on ‘escapology…or something like that!’

‘Eschatology’ is the study of the ‘last things.’ It has to do with the end of the age and the second coming of Jesus. Many books on the subject indulge in flights of fancy and much speculation. But what strikes me as I read the New Testament is that again and again its approach to the subject is practical. We are going to see this over the next few days as we look at verses 7-11.

‘’The end of all things is near.’’

So how should we live if that is the case? How ought this belief to affect us? Well, in really down to earth ways. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For now, I want to stress that Peter was not mistaken when he spoke about the end. In Biblical terms, the ‘last days’ began with the first coming of Jesus, and will come to a climax with His second advent. In between times, everything that shakes the world, or rocks our personal worlds, reminds us how small and weak and fragile we are. It underlines the point that we are mortal, and we won’t be here forever.

We are feeling something of this now. How should we then live? Read on, and you’ll find out that the application is earthy, feet on the ground stuff.

1 Peter 4:5-6: The great divide

“5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” NIV

I think today’s verses become clearer in ‘The Message’ translation. Let’s read from verse 3:  ‘’You’ve already put in your time in that God-ignorant way of life, partying night after night, a drunken and profligate life. Now it’s time to be done with it for good. Of course, your old friends don’t understand why you don’t join in with the old gang anymore. But you don’t have to give an account to them. They’re the ones who will be called on the carpet—and before God himself. Listen to the Message. It was preached to those believers who are now dead, and yet even though they died (just as all people must), they will still get in on the life that God has given in Jesus.’’

There is both good news and bad news in today’s passage.

There is bad news for unbelievers in verse 5. Those who persecute the church and appear to get away with it now will not do so forever. We worship a Just God who will, in His time, set all things to rights.

But the good news for believers is that even though they die, it will not be the end of any of them. As someone observed: ‘Death is the ultimate statistic: one out of one dies.’ No-one can beat it or cheat it; no-one can avoid it. But as a Christian you know you will come through it into a richer, fuller life with God.

The great American evangelist, D.L. Moody spoke of a day when people would read in the newspapers (he was famous) that he was dead. ‘Don’t believe a word of it,’ he said. ‘Then I will be more alive than I have ever been.’ This is the good news here in verse 6.

David Pawson said, ‘The church is the only society on earth that doesn’t lose a single member to death. They just transfer to another branch!’

The Bible teaches that a day of separation is coming – a great divide. It isn’t just the persecutors of the church who need to fear that day, but all who reject Christ. However, for those who trust in Jesus, there is nothing to fear.

Bishop Thomas Ken wrote:

‘Teach me to live that I may dread,

The grave as little as my bed.’

PRAYER: ‘’…thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

 

1 Peter 4:4: Misunderstood

“4 They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.” NIV

The philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, said, ‘Christianity has been made so completely devoid of character that there is really nothing to persecute. The chief trouble with Christians, therefore, is that no one wants to kill them any more!.’

He was, of course, speaking about a certain flavourless brand of traditional Christianity which he saw in his own day and culture. It is manifestly not the case that no one wants to kill Christians, and that no Christians are ever martyred. The persecution of believers is still a sad fact of life in many nations. Nevertheless, Kierkegaard’s words should provoke us to self-examination, because there is much unsalty salt here in the west.

The Christians to whom Peter was writing certainly knew about suffering for their faith. One way this can come is through social ostracism. Your non-Christian friends think it’s ‘’strange’’ that you’ve said ‘Enough’ to your previous lifestyle; that you no longer live as you did, nor want to Some may think you are strange.

I remember David Pawson saying something like this: when you become a Christian you make at least two discoveries. The first is that you’ve got a whole lot of new friends, and that’s good. The second is that you’ve got a whole lot of new enemies, and that’s not so good.

A new convert asked his pastor, ‘Now that I’m a Christian, how much of the world should I give up?’ The pastor’s reply was,’Don’t worry; the world will give you up!’

I believe it was Warren Wiersbe who told the story of a couple of girls who were known for their wild partying. After their conversion to Christ, they received an invitation to yet another party. They sent this reply: ‘We regret to say we cannot attend because we recently died.’

PRAYER: Although living your way, Lord Jesus, may mean that I am misunderstood, scorned, and left out, I want to always be true to you. But I need your help if I am to walk the same path you trod. Thank you that you do help all who look to you.

1 Peter 4:1: ‘I will not cease from mental fight’

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body has finished with sin.”NIV

It’s interesting that an ‘’attitude’’ can be an armament – a part of our spiritual armoury.

In this context, Peter is writing about fortifying ourselves with a certain attitude towards suffering. Okay, we don’t like it; we don’t want it; we wouldn’t choose these trying circumstances, but we recognise they can have a purifying effect upon us. They can wean us more and more off the world, and press us ever more closely to the heart of God. It can have such a positive outcome. This result is not inevitable, but it is possible. This is the essence of what Peter is saying here: not that you stop sinning altogether if you suffer, but that it can be a means of making you more holy. So we should ‘’arm’’ ourselves with an attitude towards it that recognises God can use it to make us more like Jesus; that realises He may have precious gifts for us in the midst of it.

Extending the broad principle that an attitude can be an armament, in what other ways do you need to ‘’arm’’ yourself?

One example for me is that I have learned to ‘’arm’’ myself with the attitude that I will set the alarm clock early, get out of bed, pray, read my Bible, do some exercise and listen to good Christian content, before I get into the other demands of the day. If I did not ‘’arm’’ myself with such an attitude, it probably wouldn’t happen.

I once heard a preacher who just kept repeating, ‘It’s a fight all the way, but fight on.’ Maybe many of us are feeling something of this at the moment. It’s a daily plod. It’s a fight to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. In the hymn ‘Jerusalem’, there is a line that says, ‘I will not cease from mental fight…’

So many key battles are fought and won in our minds. Let’s remember that attitudes can be armaments.

PRAYER: Lord, when I think about the darkest places you have taken me, I have met you there, and I believe you have done something in me that may not have happened any other way. Help me Lord to always have that mind in me which was also in Christ Jesus…

1 Peter 3:18-22: A ‘Little flood’

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive,he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”NIV

I was probably in my early teens when, one Sunday evening, I attended an after-church meeting in a home in Culcheth, near Leigh, in Greater Manchester. The large room was full, and we listened to a cassette tape of a preacher who spoke at length, but held my attention throughout. He had a gentle voice, and didn’t shout. He was remarkably clear and captivating. I knew then that he was different to most other preachers I’d heard.

The preachers’s identity was David Pawson, who died last Thursday (Ascension Day) at the age of 90. Especially when I was a student, and in my early years of ministry, I used to listen to cassette after cassette containing his Bible teaching, and make my own notes. Even today, if I’m preparing to preach on a passage, I will often listen to David to see how he dealt with it.

His sermons were memorable, and I still remember so many of the things he said. It may have been preaching on this very passage that he said these three things about baptism:

  • It is an act of submission;
  • It is an act of separation;
  • It is an act of salvation.

In water baptism we submit to the Lord Jesus. He commanded this act;

In water baptism we are separated from the old world and brought into a new one – just as it was for Noah and his family. It was quite literally a ‘watershed’ in their experience. David Pawson said that for each one who submits to baptism, they are undergoing a ‘little flood’ which separates them from the old era and brings them into a new one;

Water baptism might also be said to be the outward part of conversion. I once read that the word ‘’pledge’’ (21) carries the idea of sealing a contract. The earliest gospel preaching repeatedly called people to baptism as well as repentance and faith. There is no power in the rite of baptism as such to wash you clean. The power is in the living Lord Jesus. Baptism by itself makes no difference. But if the person being baptized is expressing their faith in Christ it makes a very great difference. It’s like when you repent and believe you enter into a contract with Jesus and in baptism you seal it.

As somebody once said: ’The idea of an unbaptised Christian is totally alien to the thought of the New Testament writers.’

1 Peter 3:15-16: Tone

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

In trying to answer people’s questions about Christianity, tone matters. Some Christians just come across angry, and that’s not helpful. To answer ‘’with gentleness and respect’’ surely means that we listen as well as speak. Don’t over-talk, and try to deal with the questions being asked, and not the ones you wish they were asking.

In the 1980’s, I served as an assistant missioner at a Manchester University student mission. The well-known evangelist J. John was the lead missioner. At one lunch time event, two young girls were plain difficult and cantankerous – in fact, pretty obnoxious in my opinion. I will never forget how lovely and kind the evangelist was. He didn’t get riled; he was so patient. That is probably my best memory from the period of the mission. What an example he was.

‘We do not need to speak forcefully. We must never put others down. We must never argue or give offence. Because if a person is offended by our manner of speaking, he will not listen to the words we speak.

Surely, as Peter wrote…he remembered his own experience. Three times Peter had denied His Lord. He had been afraid then. He certainly had not been ready to witness to Christ. He answered those who questioned him neither with gentleness nor with respect-nor with truth! (See Mark 14:66-72). Therefore, let us not be discouraged when we fall; if Peter could overcome his early sins and weaknesses, so can we.’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied New Testament Commentary’,p.915.

Why is keeping a ‘’clear conscience’’ so important for your witness? Well, could it be that if you feel guilty, condemned and unworthy, you are more likely to remain silent. But in the context, it is very much about ensuring that you live right, even though people may be falsely accusing you of wrong.

PRAYER: Help me Lord to see everyone I meet through your eyes, and remember they are in your image. Please give me many opportunities to point people to Jesus.

Thoughts for today

I find there are many blessings in keeping a journal. This time last year Jilly and I were in Florence, and day by day we had separate quiet times, and then came together to share what we had discovered in God’s Word. We were looking at the later chapters of the book of Revelation. As I was reading my journal this week, and looking at the notes I had made, I could scarcely believe their relevance to the present time.

When we returned home, these jottings became the basic ‘ingredients’ for a number of devotional thoughts. For the next few days, I’m going to interrupt the current series on   1 Peter, and have a few re-runs from Revelation 18. I’m not saying we are living through the fall of ‘Babylon’. We may be. I don’t know for sure. But I think this is certainly a foretaste of it’s fall, and a warning to turn fully to the living God. Let’s make sure that we are not building our lives on idols that will fail us, and ultimately fall.

So here are my thoughts from Wednesday 29th May 2019:                                      Revelation 18:9-20: Three Woes

“9 ‘When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!”

11 ‘The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

14 ‘They will say, “The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendour have vanished, never to be recovered.” 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!”

‘Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, “Was there ever a city like this great city?” 19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    where all who had ships on the sea
    became rich through her wealth!
In one hour she has been brought to ruin!”

20 ‘Rejoice over her, you heavens!
    Rejoice, you people of God!
    Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
For God has judged her
    with the judgment she imposed on you.’ NIV

 

Everything in the world which is man-made, however glorious it may appear, has a ‘sell-by’ date on it. It won’t last. Nothing in this world will, but Jesus’ words ‘’will never pass away’’ (Matthew 24:35).

I was considering this recently while on holiday in the beautiful Italian city of Florence. Jilly and I visited the Pitti Palace, where the powerful Medici family once lived and ruled. Their art treasures may still be around, but they are long gone. In the state rooms we saw portraits of various people who must, at one time, have been famous, wealthy, and maybe even feared. But we had no idea who they were! So it goes with this world’s pomp and glory. It is fading and passing.

‘The pleasures of sin are but for a season, and they will end in dismal sorrow.’ Matthew Henry

‘Babylon’ – the world system – is under God’s judgment, and it is a just judgment. She is on borrowed time. I was impressed by this quote from the ‘IVP New Testament Commentary’:

‘The kings, merchants and seafarers of the earth mourn Babylon’s demise with three variations, or stanzas, of the same song (18:10, 16/17, 19)…The merchants and the seafarers elaborate the basic stanza in keeping with their respective interests…The seafarers do not know it yet, but before long the sea itself will be gone (21:1).’

‘’The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever’’ (1 John 2:17).

 

1 Peter 3:10: Button it

10 For,‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.”NIV

‘’He that keeps his mouth keeps his life…’’ Proverbs 13:3

‘Beware of leaving your tongue in gear when your mind is in neutral.’

I don’t know who said the above, but it’s a super quote. As Peter writes about ‘the good life’, he emphasises how important it is to rein in the tongue, and he indicates that this is possible. We know from James 3:1-12 (and from regrettable personal experience!) that it is oh so difficult to control our speech. But it’s not impossible for anyone who has Jesus living in them by the Holy Spirit. (Consider 1 Peter 2:23).

I am learning, over the long haul, that this must apply not only to the words I speak out loud, in conversation, with others, but also to what I quietly say to myself inside my own head. I can create scenarios in my mind that have no objective reality; I can tell myself lies about what is happening and believe them as if they were true. I doubt that I’m alone in this. We need to be careful about our self-talk (and we are always talking to ourselves).

To live ‘the good life’ we must walk in repentance (11). Positively, we are to pursue peace; negatively, we must turn from all evil. This includes the sins of speech.

PRAYER: ‘’Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.’’Psalm 141:3

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