Tag Archives: trouble

Not immune – but protected!

“I’ve been good, why is this happening to me?” Sadly this is a common wail of Churchgoers in trouble. Paul gives some answers in Philippians 1. (We are set to read Philippians 1:21-30, but it may be helpful to start a bit earlier – perhaps Philippians 1:12-30).

Paul is in prison (v13), yet his whole attitude is far beyond duty and courage! Even though some people are trying to make trouble for him (v17), he is happy. How does he manage this?

He has no illusions about the Christian life being a guarantee of no trouble, no hard times, no suffering. Quite the opposite, if his being in prison (not a pleasant experience) will help the gospel, then he is happy for that to happen. The experience is clearing up what is at stake, helping others to confront the challenge of the gospel – as persecution has often been a tool for strengthening the church – “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (as is said in East Africa). Paul draws strength from realism: he knows the failings and weaknesses of other people, but also he knows the God who is in control of all. His trust is in God, and with that he can cope with people.

Life and death! Paul knows the possibilities of his situation, and has come to be able to say

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:21

It is a vital line for many others who face death, whether through disease (as we all do, at some time), or through physical danger. Sadly, we don’t now seem happy to speak positively about preparing for death, preferring to let it creep up on us unawares. Is a sudden heart attack the ideal end? No, for it allows no time to prepare, no repentance, no sorting of finances and relationships. Yes, to prepare for death needs the courage to face dying; and yes, it is a good thing to do – for our own sake as we face God, and for the sake of friends and family, as they adjust to a new situation.

Paul, guarded by armed soldiers, is in no position to avoid the realities, and he has worked through his thoughts and feelings to this wonderful and helpful statement v21. What do we rely on? If Christ, then he will see us through death. If something else, then we need to change – and that brings us to the third paragraph Philippians 1:27-30.

“the important thing is that your way of life should be as the gospel of Christ requires”

Philippians 1:27a

This is your safeguard, in all sorts of ways:

  • if you have enemies, who oppose and ridicule your faith, live it consistently, and they will have no ammunition. More, they will be given fair warning of their own danger.
  • if you are frightened of what may happen in the future, of the uncertainty that is always part of life (health, work, family …) then live as a Christian and you will develop the resources to cope with all these things, as well as to recognise that many will never come.
  • even should you ever be afraid of the “nasties” of the spiritual world, of black magic or vodoo or anything else you should not be involved with – this is your basic protection. Live as a Christian, for Christ does not allow his people to be seriously hurt by the enemy.

So I hope you see that Christians are not “immune”. All sorts of things can and do happen to them, but they are still safe with a God whose work is not stopped. They can face death with reasoned courage; they know that living as Christians is a preparation and protection which will get them through good times and bad.

Suffering, Humility and Discipline!

Through the Easter season we have been reading the first letter of Peter, and noticed that he has a good deal to say about Christian suffering. (My computer Bible finds 6 matches for “Suffer” and another 3 for “Sufferings” in the 5 chapters in NRSV). It has come at an appropriate time with the covid 19 lockdown, but perhaps there is never an inappropriate time to remind followers of Jesus that their lives are no more likely than his to be trouble and stress free. Of course it often isn’t fair – but for everybody, life is like that.

Christians get added trouble because of their faith. It comes in many forms – dislike for people who act differently or stand out from the crowd; a reaction of guilt (even without critical comments); or a fear that they might be right! It is something we need to come to terms with.

Usefully, this week’s reading (given as 1 Peter 4. 12-14; 5. 6-11, but it might make more sense to read 1Peter 4:12 – 5:11) has more to say that might help. First is the idea of humility. (1Peter 5:5,6, and throughout). It is important that we have a realistic understanding of ourselves, and our place in the world and the church. That is not the same as saying we are worthless, which is untrue. Every person is made in the image of God, and loved – and so of enormous value. But that is every person, so we have to understand what our particular gifts are, and how they should be used to work in with others. Humility is about being “down to earth”, always remembering that earth is wonderful stuff that enables miracles of growth.

Humility provides some defence against suffering, helping deal with wounded pride and foolish ambition. With it, Peter commands discipline. Again, it is not a fashionable virtue, but one that shows its value in hard times. We have all been advised in lockdown to have a routine, to exercise, and eat and drink sensibly – yes, it’s a discipline. Peter is more concerned that we are alert to temptation, and ready for the service of God. In other texts, Paul talks about the discipline of the athlete in training, or the soldier on active service. We remember that discipline will not earn us God’s love or salvation, but it will enable us to better respond to those things in effective service.

I hope you have found 1 Peter a timely commentary on life after Easter in 2020. Perhaps, as we move towards Pentecost (are you using the Thy Kingdom Come app?) you might like to read the whole letter again?

On the wrong side ?

Jesus is wonderful! He is healing, he is setting people free of evil, he is popular for good reason. What can possibly go wrong? Mark 3:20-35 explains how two sorts of opposition arise – and both still appear.

First come some teachers of the Law from Jerusalem. “This is an evil man. He’s in league with the devil, that’s how he does his miracles!”  Perhaps they are jealous – certainly they are offended. It’s not that Jesus broke the Old Testament Law, but he didn’t keep to the traditional interpretation – like about what was OK for a Sabbath, for example. AND – they don’t like the way he speaks with authority, as if he knew God, rather than working back through the scholars of past times, who might have known Him.

In league with the devil! ?  It is a serious charge, but Jesus has an answer. If the devil is healing people and setting them free, he is fighting against his own side, and he’s finished! If Jesus’ miracles are good – that’s rubbish. No. What you are seeing is someone stronger than even the Devil, who is starting to take over his Kingdom – and he hasn’t the strength to prevent it, just like someone tied up in a corner. They don’t believe him, – there’s too much at stake. Conflict will continue through the gospel. But do you see the sides clearly?

But there’s another source of trouble!  Jesus family reckon he’s going mad verse 21, and they arrive to “take him away”. For his own good, you understand. You can’t go against the system. If he keeps quiet for a while they will lose interest, and he’ll be able to preach a bit in Galilee without attracting too much attention. Don’t rock the boat; listen to people who know about these things . .

Jesus valued family, but his ministry is (thankfully) much more important. He stays with those who will listen and support, and goes on – for a time without his mother, brothers and sisters.

It’s an interesting bit of the gospel, and Mark makes clear that it is part of the story from very near the beginning. And it remains part of the gospel story in every time and place. Why would people be against something good? There are many reasons, but among them these two continue.

Vested interest – even in religion. How easily people become jealous of success, even of God’s blessing someone else. How easily offended some people are – even religious people. Be careful to recognise something good – even if you aren’t in control of it, even if you wish it had happened to you, or in your church . .  verses 28,29, about the sin against the Holy Spirit, are devastating. Don’t worry – you can’t commit the unforgivable sin by mistake! If you are concerned, you haven’t done it! This is about people who call evil, “good”; and good, “evil”. It is about saying “We’re right, and Jesus is with the Devil” Unforgivable, because it is turning into darkness, trying to turn the world upside down.

The second reason to be against good? The well meaning but wrong attitude: “I agree with you in principle, but it’s not practical”, “You’ve got to think about other people” – in other words, all the plausible excuses for not doing the right thing. God’s way is not easy. It will attract opposition. And Jesus sets out on it, inviting those who will to follow and join him. Are you coming?