Apart from the need for balance in the Christian life (the message of 2 John), we also need authenticity. Jesus spoke of this in the Sermon on the Mount, reminding us that ‘no good tree bears bad fruit’ and that ‘by their fruits you will know them’. John’s third letter, known to us as 3 John, also calls us to be authentic in our witness for Christ as in unfolds John’s assessment of the example of three men in the local church: Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetries, whose witness and example for Christ, both good and bad, were noted by the Apostle John and recorded for us that we also might know and imitate (or avoid) their conduct.
In this short series called ‘Postcards from the past’ we come across this short letter of John the Apostle in which the writer urges his readers towards balance. Losing your balance can have terrible consequences in life and this is true also in the spiritual life. Sometimes, even sincere believers can go to extremes and get caught up in something that doesn’t help them grow in grace. So John speaks in his letter we know as 2 John, of truth and love, of teachability and discernment, of having an open and closed door, so that his readers (including us) might grow in Christ-likeness and service.
No sooner does Christmas arrive, it very quickly goes, and is soon forgotten until it comes around again after another year. Many will fall for the trap of observing Christmas, but never knowing Jesus, the ‘reason for the season’. The gospel writer, Luke, does not want us to do that. After he wrote of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:1-20, he added further information about the events that happened soon after in Luke 2:21-52 – particularly the events all took place in the temple where Jesus was presented, received and began to grow. And because Christmas happens at the end of one year and the start of another, these events remind us that there is an ongoing need for God’s people to be ‘growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour’ (2 Peter 3:18) with each successive change of the calendar.
The Christmas story is an old story. Over 2,000 years old. And given that each year we hear about it and sing about it, the danger we face is that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ and that we lose the impact of the story. Maybe one way of recovering that impact is to consider the response of the people who were there at the time. These people would include those mentioned in Luke 2:18-20, those who heard the testimony of the shepherds (verse 18), Mary herself (verse 19) and the shepherds themselves (verse 20). Luke gives attention to each of these three group and by noting well their responses we might be able to sort through and answer the question, ‘What is your reponse to the news of the birth of Jesus?”
Isaiah 11:1-10 is a record of one of the prophecies of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah. Although Isaiah lived 700 years before Jesus Christ was born, he foresaw the arrival of Jesus the Messiah and the effect of his ministry that would in turn transform the whole world. Christians rejoice in the gift of God’s Son at Christmas, but also know that the fulness of his ministry is not yet seen in this world. However, when Jesus comes again, things will be very different. Isaiah prophesied of this too and we now await the Lord’s return.
Throughout the letter of Paul to the church at Corinth there have been many indicators that the church was not in a healthy state. Divisions, jealousies, sexual immorality, pride and idolatry were evidenced in their behaviour and these were symptoms that something was wrong. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 it is evident that Paul had to write to them as he did because these symptoms were begiining to appear at the Lord’s table and it was bringing premature judgment upon them. In diagnosing the problem and prescribing the solution, the Apostle brings us also back to how we should prepare ourselves to appear at the Lord’s table, lest we become like them and bring judgement upon ourselves.
There’s no doubt that food speaks a universal language. We all love it and we all enjoy eating it together. But what happens when the food that we would like to eat has been used in a worship service for a pagan god? This was one of the questions that the believers at Corinth were asking Paul, questions that all relate back to what Paul had already begun to speak of in chapter 8. But in 1 Corinthians 10:14-31, they have this added element… the Lord God will not share His glory with another. Eating is nothing in itself, but all that we do – even our eating and drinking – must be for His glory and His alone.
Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. It enables everyone to be wiser…’if only I had done this instead of that’….but hindisght only works when looking back and never looking forward. As Paul continued to direct the believers at Corinth in the way they should live, after pointing them to his example, he also pointed to examples in the pages of the Old Testament, where God’s people went wrong and faced the Lord’s discipline (severe at times) upon them. These things were written for us, not for them. What happened to them is for our warning, instruction…and even encouragement!
After establishing that Paul ‘practiced what he preached’ with regard to not making his full use of his rights as an apostle, in the next verses, 1 Corinthians 9:19-27, Paul continued to explain how he had made it a principle of life to win people for Christ and maintain his own place in the race toward the finish line through self-discipline by laying aside rights and pursuing responsibilities. Paul’s example before the Corinthians and before us is something that needs to consider well. Are you too, aiming to win people for Christ? Are you too running the race of following Jesus with all your effort? There’s only one race worth being in – because every other race will something that will end up turning to dust..
It’s not always an easy thing to practice what you preach. Sooner or later, someone will point out your hypocrisy. After telling the church in Corinth to put the law of love over the principle of freedom and liberty, the Apostle Paul found it necessary to let the believers in Corinth know that this was a principle that he himself had already put into practice. In 1 Corinthians 9:1-18, as Paul defends his ministry and his actions, he makes it clear that he was one who ‘practiced what he preached’. Could the same be said of you?