In this worship gathering, our intern, Christine Samuel, brings a message about the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25.31-46. The whole service is below, and the message alone below that.
Many people don’t realize it, but there are many English idioms that come from the Bible – most from the King James Version of 1611 (and thereafter), and some from even before that. Because Bible reading used to be much more prevalent in society at large, these phrases became commonplace in English.
I’m going to be talking about one of them on Sunday. It comes from Proverbs 25.22, cited later by the apostle Paul in Romans 12.20. It’s the idea of doing good to your enemies being like heaping burning coals on their heads, in the context of leaving revenge to God. (In the Old Testament, the idea of burning coals is an image for the judgment of God.)
Just for fun, I took to social media the other day to ask people what their favourite English idiom with biblical roots might be. Here’s a sampling of the answers I got:
- “The writing is on the wall” – from the book of Daniel
- “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” – from Jesus in Matthew
- “Scapegoat” – from Leviticus (this one dates back to the time of William Tyndale’s translation in the 1500s!)
- “Eat, drink and be merry” – from Ecclesiastes
- “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – from Genesis
- “A drop in the bucket” – from Isaiah
- “A fool and his money are soon parted” – from Proverbs
To be sure, there is a move afoot to expunge the Bible from culture. But that’s next to impossible to do; because the Bible has had so much influence on culture, literature, art, and virtually every other aspect of society, it would take far more effort than most people are willing to put forth to remove the Bible from our culture entirely.
It’s one thing, though, to have a Bible-laced vocabulary of idioms; it’s another thing to have the Bible ingrained in us in such a way that we live its principles and follow God’s ways as we live in relationship with him. That has much more potential to change the world!
“I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119.11, NLT).
Encouragement From the Word will return on November 27.
As Remembrance Day approaches, the word “sacrifice” looms large. We remember, with gratitude, those who gave their lives in the service of our country’s freedom and sovereignty.
But sacrifice is not limited to those who die in battle.
Yes, often, we think of Jesus’ words to his disciples – a veiled reference to himself – when he said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15.13, NLT).
But the notion of sacrifice also relates to our own walk with God. The apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12.1, NLT).
He calls us to give – once for all, as a victim – our bodies, which contextually refers to our whole selves – as a living sacrifice.
As disciples of Jesus, our worship involves the complete giving of every part of us to God, in his service, for his Kingdom, for his glory.
So, yes, gratefully remember those who sacrificed their lives for Canada’s freedom. And gratefully sacrifice your body, your mind, your soul, for the glory of God, who in Jesus Christ has redeemed you for his good purpose.
Call me Captain Obvious, but it’s axiomatic that apple trees produce apples, and pear trees produce pears, and pine trees produce pine cones. (I don’t recommend eating that last one.)
You won’t get an orange from an apple tree, and you won’t get a lemon from a pear tree. A tree bears the fruit it was designed to bear.
Followers of Jesus, according to the Bible, receive the Holy Spirit when they name Jesus as Lord and believe that he was raised from the dead to cover our sin. So if the Holy Spirit lives in us, it makes sense that we should bear the fruit of the Spirit. That’s what the last eight weeks of Encouragement have focused on.
Today, we come to the final fruit of the Spirit (as outlined by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians). And it may be the least popular.
We’ve talked about love, joy and peace (wonderful), patience (who doesn’t need more of that?), kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness (all great). But self-control? Oh, boy!
We live in an age where self-control is less admired than pitied. We live in a time of more, a time of excess, a time not of self-control, but of self-indulgence. I think that may be, in part, why the restrictions of the pandemic have proven to be exceedingly difficult for many of us. And I’ll readily admit that it’s probably the fruit of the Spirit that I least exude. You might be in the same boat as I am.
So what do we do about that? Moving to a hermitage is probably not the answer for the vast majority of us, and that simply takes us from one extreme to another. Self-control is not austerity, though in some cases it may lead to that. The word in the original language has to do with the mastery of the self. It is, as one commentator has put it, the Christ-follower’s overcoming of the works of the flesh that Paul outlines in earlier verses in the same chapter (Galatians 5). The term also refers to the way an athlete disciplines her or his body in preparation for competition.
In short, self-control is our refusal to give free reign to impulse and desire. Or, perhaps better put, it’s about submitting our desires to the One who has given us the ability to desire.
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires”, says Psalm 37.4 (NLT). I think it was St. Augustine who said, “Love God and do as you please.” The concept is the same: when you truly submit to the Lordship of Jesus, he will transform your desires, and help you (by the Holy Spirit) to bear all of the fruit of the Spirit, including self-control.
Maybe it’s as simple as Charles Sheldon made it seem in In His Steps: if we evaluate each move we make by asking, “What would Jesus do?”, self-control will not be as unattainable as it may seem.
Give it a try!
When we think of gentleness, our minds often go to instructions we give children on how to pet an animal, or advertising for dish soap, but as a fruit of the Spirit, there must be more to it than that.
The word from the original language of the New Testament that is translated as “gentleness” doesn’t connote “meekness”, as some older translations put it; commonly, according to one commentator, the term was used to describe a person in whom strength and gentleness would meet.
That commentator goes on to say that gentleness often refers to one with a humble disposition that submits to God’s will, and is associated with such characteristics as love, forbearance, patience, humility, and avoiding quarrels.
I wouldn’t mind being known for gentleness when I grow up, that’s for sure!
The apostle Paul gives this encouragement to Titus, as he oversees a young church: “Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone” (Titus 3.1-2, NLT).
Maybe in these days, especially, gentleness is an important character trait for us to develop. Give it a shot, with God’s help.
Faithfulness: literally, it means to be full of faith. But in context, it also can mean the same thing as fidelity or loyalty.
We talk of being faithful to our spouse, or being loyal to the monarchy. But when it comes to God, there’s more to it than that.
Faithfulness is about more than having faith; it is also about practising faith.
As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11.1, NLT).
That sounds a bit ethereal, but it’s true: faith does show us the reality of what we hope for, and it gives us evidence of things we cannot see.
To put our faith into practice means taking risks, sometimes.
When I plunk myself down on a chair, I’m acting in faith that the chair will hold me. (I’ve been known, on occasion, when visiting someone’s home, if the chair in which they invite me to sit will hold me – particularly if it is an antique or is somewhat rickety-looking.) Every day, I act in faith in ways I don’t even think about.
But when it comes to our faith in Jesus, acting on it means living in daily relationship with him, in the same way we would with a spouse. In that sense, faithfulness to Jesus is fidelity to Jesus.
Take a step of faith today. You will find that God is even more faithful.
“Goodness.” It’s a strange term in our culture, isn’t it? It has so many uses.
Sometimes, it’s a substitute swear word: “Oh, my goodness.”
Sometimes, it’s an exclamation: “Goodness, me!”
Sometimes, it’s a character trait.
For a lot of people, “goodness” is what characterizes everybody: “He’s such a good person”, or “We all have inherent goodness.”
And there is some truth to that: all human beings are made in God’s image, and there is a certain goodness that comes with that. The challenge with that is that our inherent goodness is badly stained by sin.
I once heard the late renowned theologian and apologist, R.C. Sproul, offer what I thought was the best answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
His response? “There are no good people.”
Not very encouraging, eh? But he was right.
The apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Rome in the first century, said, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3.23, NLT).
In other words, the goodness in us is tainted by the reality of our sin, our inability to measure up to God’s perfect standard.
Thankfully, God also gave a solution to our problem: Jesus. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.21, NLT).
This means that when we place our faith in Jesus, receiving his death and resurrection as being for us, personally, we receive the righteousness of Jesus by faith. So when God looks on people of faith, he sees only the righteousness – the goodness – of Jesus.
That’s why we can bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit – a fruit that includes goodness. It’s not something that comes from within us; it’s something that is borne through us by God the Holy Spirit, who lives in all followers of Jesus.
And for that, on this Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, we can be thankful.
There’s a meme floating around social media that has grown more popular through COVID times. One variant of it says this: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Always be kind.”
Another says this: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
Very warm and fuzzy indeed. But what does it mean to be kind?
The dictionary refers to it as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. Fair enough. But when we remember that one of the fruit of the Spirit is kindness, that kicks it up a notch for followers of Jesus.
Anybody can be friendly, generous or considerate when they need to be, or want to be.
Followers of Jesus, who have the Holy Spirit living in them, are called to bear the fruit of kindness, which is on an entirely different level. Consider what the apostle Paul wrote: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4.31-32, NLT).
See what I mean?
Being kind means more than being nice. There’s stuff to get rid of and stuff to appropriate. Paul suggests that being kind involves being tender-hearted, and forgiving other people in the same way Jesus forgave you.
Now there’s a challenge.
The good news is you can do it, because if you follow Jesus, you have his Spirit in you, and his Spirit enables you to be able to forgive in his way as part of being kind.
Are you harbouring a grudge against anyone? Today’s the day to let go and forgive.
That doesn’t mean what the other person did was right. It doesn’t mean you will forget. But it means you can release whatever was wrong into the merciful care of God, without taking it back.
You can do it. If you follow Jesus, his empowering Spirit will help you.
Whoops! Forgot to post this on Friday!
You want to have a big party, but you can’t right now because it’s not safe to do so.
You’d like to cross the US border and do some shopping, but the border’s closed.
You have had it up to here with electronic meetings and online school.
Your patience is running thin, six months into the pandemic.
Well, join the club!
As a society, we have been so used to having the freedom to do certain things that when that freedom is (temporarily, we hope) removed, our patience is tested.
As followers of Jesus, people who have the Holy Spirit living in us, we are called to bear the fruit of the Spirit. But there are two of them that are wildly unpopular and often in short supply, even among the people of God. One of them is patience.
Even though there are many circumstances working against us right now, we need patience and we need to ask the Lord to give us more patience. Often, though, we forget to ask!
The Bible is replete with stories of people who had patience in the midst of trying circumstances:
Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, and they were in their eighties before Isaac came along.
Joseph was tormented by his brothers, sold into slavery, and had to rise up in the ranks of Egyptian officials before he could help to redeem his people.
Job lost everything he had, but never cursed God.
If those stories aren’t enough to make us want to ask God for patience, we can remember how patient God has been with his people over the course of time – even you and me!
So ask God for more patience. The good news is that he is willing to give and give and give if we are willing to ask for it. Say something like, “Lord, I need you to help me be more patient with my family, my coworkers, even the people driving near me on the streets and highways. Give me more patience, so that I can witness to your patience with humanity, and shine your light in the world.”
“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Psalm 103.8, NLT).
September startup has looked different for most everyone this year, but it holds one thing in common with all its predecessors: it’s been a little crazy. It may have been crazy for different reasons, but it’s still been crazy.
Whether it’s trying to figure out if your kids are going to school or going online, or understanding what programs will and won’t resume in the church, or trying to do some of the traditional September shopping, it’s been nuts.
We could all use a little peace.
Back in the 1960s, ‘peace’ was all the rage: “Give peace a chance,” trumpeted perhaps the most famous song on the subject from that era. In the midst of the cold war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam conflict, and all else that was going on, people were crying out for peace. And, over time, they got it…in one definition.
The Bible’s definition of peace is quite different from the mere absence of war.
When it first shows up in the Old Testament, the word “peace” is an English translation of the Hebrew word shalom – still a common greeting among Middle Eastern people today – and it doesn’t just mean, “I hope you don’t have any war today.” It’s a wish for groundedness, particularly in your faith in God.
True peace – the kind that is the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – is a sense of comfort in your relationship with the Lord, an ability to give thanks in all circumstances (as Paul would tell the Thessalonians). It’s something that other people can spot in you at a distance.
If you want true peace amid all that’s going on this fall – this year! – place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and experience what Paul wished for the Christians in Philippi: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7, NLT).