Mirror, Mirror

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22–25)

Being doers and not only hearers is something often prayed for in Christian circles, but what does it mean? James likens hearing God’s word but not trusting and obeying it to a man who carefully glances at his face in a mirror[1] in passing, but then quickly going on his way forgets what he saw (even his own face!). (Quite unlike police who train extensively in the field of detail awareness and memorisation).

When we hear God’s word (read or spoken or preached) do we examine it contents like someone who looks intently at themselves in the mirror and then forgets what they saw, or do we dwell upon it so it comes to abide with us and change us from hearers into doers. God’s word is meant to be like a mirror, reflecting His truths upon our lives, identifying encouragements and blemishes to be celebrated or remedied. Its meant to ultimately point to action.

Do we hear about the call to salvation, but then walk away and never seek it?

Do we hear the call to believe that God designed us male and female, but then walk away believing the media instead?

Do we hear the call to comfort, but then not comfort someone in their grief?

The list could go on…

How shall we remedy this? We need to look not just giving an intent glance, but having a deep gaze. A depth to our looking that comes from a knowledge of what this book is, who it has come from and what it offers. Seeing all this as a treasure we look, we pour over it. The more we do this, the more we’ll remember and the more of God’s truth will be stored up in our heart (Ps 119:11) to effect a transforming work. It is when we look in this way that hearing will lead to doing. Yet there is more, we must persevere. We must continue to mull over what we have heard, to talk about it (Dt 6), to take practical steps to reinforce it throughout the week (memorise, sing, pray, etc), to revisit it, to keep in God’s word.

When we handle the word in this way, we will not easily forget, so when the moment comes for faithful action, we’ll remember God’s promise, act on it, and be blessed.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] The earliest mirror was of course looking at ones reflection in water. Later mirrors, like those at the time James wrote, would have be polish stone, metal or rudimentary glass based mirrors. It was not until 1800s that the modern mirror making process was developed and mirrors made inexpensive for ordinary people.

1 Timothy 4:10

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially those who believe.

Here is an example of a seemingly unclear Bible verse—often used as a defeater verse[1]—which seems to teach many things which clearer verses utterly reject. Some have seen it as a verse that teaches general atonement (that Jesus’s work in His life, death and resurrection made salvation possible for all but certain for none),[2] whilst others go even further to see it as supporting some form of universalism (that Jesus died so that all people are or will eventually be saved). What does this verse actually mean? As ever we need to understand less clear verses in light of clear verses and also to remember CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT (historical, literary and theological).

Historical Context

Paul is writing to Timothy to persevere in being a good servant of Jesus Christ (v. 6); not to get side-tracked but to focus on the mission. What fuels personal perseverance for Paul and Timothy and also their going to such great lengths to preach the Gospel, but their saving hope in the living God (If all could be saved but none choose to be, or if all will eventually be saved regardless, it doesn’t exactly inspire missions!).

Literary Context

Central to this verses literary context is understanding words such as “all” and “especially.” “All” mustn’t convey that Jesus saves all people but rather that He is available to save anyone. Much the same as a garage might advertise it fixes all makes, it doesn’t mean all makes will be fixed (you have to go to the garage first!). “Especially” is perhaps a misleading translation here when ‘namely’ better reflects in English the original word sense. As such it is saying Jesus stands ready to save anyone, namely, those who believe.


This verse cannot teach universalism when the bulk of Scripture clearly does not teach this view. Consider just two basic examples:

  • Two verses after the famous verse of Jn 3:16 it says, Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (v. 18).
  • But to all who did receive him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. (Ro 1:12)

What 1 Timothy 4:10 is making clear is that the Gospel call (or offer) of salvation is universal but salvation itself is limited to those who believe in Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] A verse taken out of context to categorically strike down an opponents view.

[2] This contradicts verses such as “Christ died to save His own” (Jn 6:37, 10:14–5) and other verses which affirm limited atonement, that Jesus died for the elect (Eph 1), all those who would come to faith in Him. The folly of general atonement is that if Jesus died for all but not all are saved than His sacrifice was either insufficient or He is not powerful enough to keep those He died to save.

A Green Olive Tree

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. (Psalm 52:8a)

Trees are wonderful things in God’s creation, which the Spirit often inspired the writers of Scripture to use as spiritual metaphors. Here is chosen an olive tree, a common and important tree in much of the Mediterranean. An olive tree is known for its shade, its beauty and of course the tasty and soothing oil produced from its olives. David wrote this Psalm when he had gone to the Tabernacle to visit Ahimilech (1 Sam 21). The Tabernacle represented God’s presence, sacrifice for sin and worship (Today believer’s enjoy the presence of God through His Holy Spirit and our sins have been atoned at the Cross; however, we still gather in worship at places like Chapels). He came here as he fled from Saul and here he also met Doeg, Saul’s chief herdsman, who eventually betrayed Ahimilech (he is what is meant by v. 7!). David loved the LORD and enjoyed being in His presence. He recognised when He was in the house of God, he was like a green olive tree.

Can we say we are like a green olive tree, or are we perhaps a half-dead olive tree, or maybe a dead one like Doeg? Whether we are or whether we are not actually hinges upon being in the house of God. Is the public worship of God our joy & a priority above all others? When we gather together each Lord’s Day (and at other times) we declare our trust in God alone (v. 8b), we praise and thank Him (v. 9a) and we seek His face together (v. 9b). Our spiritual health can be measured by faithful delight in attending worship.

This year as we focus on being rooted, may we root ourselves in the Lord, expressed in and aided by being in His house. Oh the blessings that will follow! Then we shall be like a green olive tree.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Resources from Revelation

Yesterday we finished off our summer People’s Choice series with a question about Revelation: My understanding of the book with the blessing, Revelation! (Rev 1:1–3 & 22:19–21).

Whilst I recognise many Christians whom I agree with on many other primary and secondary matters differ on our more detailed understandings of the end (and Revelation), and I therefore approach the subject as a whole with humility, I nevertheless believe my views to be robust and commend two resources that approach it similarly.

The first is an easy to read and accessible commentary (a series of sermons) on Wilsmhurst RevelationRevelation (there is only one chapter where I would depart from the author who is a classic pre-millennialist):

If reading isn’t your thing then check out a second, a two part video survey (11 min each) of the Book or Revelation (I firmly believe the book was written by the Apostle John, though the authors introduce another possibility at the beginning):

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris


An oft misunderstood funeral passage

*Taken from a recent funeral address.

John 14:1-6

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Our second reading is a very common reading at funerals; sadly it is commonly misunderstood. Permit me to put it in context for us and draw our attention to the personal hope it offers us today.

Jesus’ followers were scared; Jesus was speaking of leaving them (ch.13) & returning to heaven (that is the context). It is near the end of His earthly ministry right before His death, resurrection, & ascension to heaven where He reigns and whence He will return to judge the living and the dead (Apostle Creed).

BUT they were on the other side of the cross, they didn’t have the blessing of hindsight as we do. So this talk deeply troubled His followers. Jesus was their friend, their teacher, it upset them that he was speaking of leaving; just as no doubt we are troubled and saddened at [name]’s departure. So Jesus said to them, Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (v. 1).

Jesus IS God, God the Son. If we believe in He whom the Father sent, we believe in the Father. If we don’t believe in Jesus we don’t believe in God, just like Judas. But if we trust in Jesus as the Lord and the Saviour like Thomas and the other disciples did, a place will be made for us in God’s kingdom, which is what is meant by the metaphor of the Father’s house. That is the ultimate reason Jesus came, to prepare—to die and rise again, defeating sin & death—so all those who’d trust in Him for salvation and follow Him would be assured of a way to heaven, Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (v.6), an assurance [name] found before He died, and Good News of assurance & peace that Jesus offers to all who fear death & mourn [name]’s departure today.

A psychiatrist recently said that if guilt and inner turmoil were taken away, 2/3 of the patients in her hospital could go home!

Some great wisdom, because forgiveness and peace with God is what we are ALL looking for & what we ALL need…. Indeed, as that early Christian Augustine put it, our hearts will go on being restless until they find their rest in Him [Jesus Christ].

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Faith + Hope

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

So begins the ‘hall of fame’ list of faith in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Given the dark days in which we live—rife with evil, moral decay and unbelief—days in which humanly speaking I resign myself to believe our civilisation is doomed, what is faith, what is hope?

Most people today are hopeless, their lives uncertain, because they have a presumptuous ‘faith’ (trusting in themselves, others or in ungrounded optimism & wishful thinking [a ‘faith in faith’ mentality]) that ‘hopes’ in uncertainties (selfish desires, earthly shifting sands, fallible people). It is a trust in a hope of a feeling of expectation that something good might happen. When this leads to shattered hopes and broken faith—as it almost always does—people invariably despair; over time they give up.

Biblical faith and hope are not so vague, but are described as an “assurance” and a “conviction.” Faith is a trust in a promise made by a faithful God. He is the object of our faith, His promises the basis of our hope. Therefore, whatever He has promised we can trust and as we actively wait for it we hope. In fact, our trust is so firm and our hoping so active, it is as if what is invisible is visible before our very eyes (see: Ro 8:24–5; 2 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:8).

Hebrews is speaking about Jesus and His return, but He seems to tarry; we’ve also been promised eternal life, but can feel so dead; we’re promised a happy resurrection, but our bodies know corruption; we are made just, as yet sin dwells in us; we hear the call to rejoice, but are in the midst of miseries; we have the promise of good gifts, but still we hunger and thirst.

What would become of us if we were not supported by true hope and faith, the ministry of Christ’s Spirit and the Word, along with the example of a cloud of witnesses, who together enable us to triumph over the world and endure to the finish line, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:2).

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Do the Gospels misquote Deuteronomy?

Someone recently asked me the astute question, “Why does Deuteronomy seem to differ with the Synoptic[1] Gospel accounts of the first part of the Great Commandment? What does it all mean? How are humans made up? (well, that might be the occasion of another blog post).

Let’s do some Bible digging to answer these questions. First, compare the three Synoptic accounts of Jesus quoting Deuteronomy below.

*All quotes are taken from the ESV.

Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (the Shema,[2] 1st half) Matthew 22:37

(1st half of the GC)

Mark 12:29–30 Luke 10:27a
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[3] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…. (The first and greatest commandment): You shall love the Lord[4] your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. The most important [commandment] is, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…
Some copies of the LXX[5] include “mind.” Mind instead of might. Matthew leaves out the opening of the Shema. Mark includes “might” in the form of its synonym “strength” used in the LXX but inserts “mind” before it.

Mark includes the opening of the Shema.

Luke, like Mark, includes mind but unlike Mark has mind last after strength (syn. of might used in the LXX). Luke does not quote the opening of the Shema.

Let’s begin by quickly looking at Deuteronomy. Two things immerge from this. The first is the exclusive relationship the Israelites were to have with the LORD. Verse 4 is not referring to monotheism or the internal nature of God (while those are true), but rather that the Israelites were to worship the LORD alone, unlike the Canaanites who worshipped many different gods (c.f. Dt 4 and Dt 5:7). It is also a statement of devotion. “All,” and the various descriptors that capture aspects of our wholeness, is used to underscore the demand of exclusivity and entire devotion to Him.

What about the Synoptic Gospels? How do the Gospels quote Deuteronomy and what do they mean? First, we must remember the Gospels are not like a modern biography or history, whilst they are faithfully given, involve facts and realities, and have been given by the Lord (and so are completely trustworthy) so we might know Jesus, believe in and follow Him, they are real people’s eyewitness accounts of Jesus’s life and they are seeking to make (primarily) theological truth claims (rooted in real events). The analogy of witnesses at the scene of an accident is often helpfully given. All truthful witnesses will essentially agree on what they saw, even if their accounts differ slightly. Similarly, the Synoptics are in essential agreement on this saying.[6] Where they differ is in the wording from Dt 6:5. Firstly, we must remember they are not primarily referring to “rigid compartments of human existence” but rather together refer to the whole person. That is not to say that they don’t speak to questions of metaphysics,[7] just that their main point is to highlight total devotion as in Deuteronomy. Because Greeks (Gentiles) did not have the same view of the whole person as Hebrews (who saw the mind as part of the heart), the use of mind was probably a way to translate one Hebrew word into two Greek words to relate to non-Jews. Matthew’s use of mind instead of might or strength is, however, interesting. He appears to be following an OT version that had an additional word. Alternatively, he may have alluded to the power of the mind as a synonym for personal moral strength or the strength of the will?

In a nutshell though, the Synoptic Gospel writers are recalling Jesus capturing the essence of the first and greatest moral principle of the universe expressed in Deuteronomy—to be exclusively or entirely devoted to the Lord—to flee idolatry in all its forms and to be completely devoted to the Lord with the entirety of our being.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] A term used to refer to three of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) because they share many qualities that make them distinct from John. It literally means “seeing together” indicating they all share the same general summary and can be easily lined up together.

[2] The Shema is repeated twice daily by observant Jews. Shema means “hear.” It is taken from the opening word of the verse.

[3] The Hebrew is ambiguous. The ESV team has given the most plausible option but others (given in most Bible footnotes) include: The LORD our God is one LORD; or The LORD is our God, the LORD is one; or The Lord is our God, the LORD alone.

[4] Because the Greek word for “lord” is kurios and not YAHWEH like in Hebrew, the OT convention of LORD is not used.

[5] The Septuagint or the Greek version of the Old Testament. In Greek or Roman numerals it litterally means 70 for the seventy scholars who translated it.

[6] Context is different for in Matthew it is Jesus who says this, Mark a scribe and Luke a lawyer.

[7] Here used to mean, how we are made up. I.e. mind, body, soul [and spirit]. What about the will and affections [emotions]?

The Gospel of Hezekiah

For those who may be wondering at the title—NO— this does not refer to a long lost book from a Dan Brown novel! Even if the fullest manifestation of the Gospel came in Christ we see marvellous foreshadowing’s of the Gospel in the Old Testament. We should expect this as not only predictive of Christ’s coming but also reflective of God’s character and mission, for He reigns over both Testaments and changes not.

When the Passover was celebrated (itself emblematic of Christ) Hezekiah sent “couriers” to the tribes of Israel that had recently been decimated by the Assyrian invasion. While the leaders, craftsmen, etc, were carried into exile many commoners appear to have remained. Having compassion upon them and desiring that they might be restored to the Lord the couriers message to Israel from King Hezekiah of Judah was this:

“O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. (2 Chronicles 30:6-8 ESV)

The first part of the Gospel is to point out and for people to come to acknowledge the bad news. Israel’s sinfulness and faithlessness as that of a whore [c.f. Hosea 5:4] (horrifically recounted elsewhere in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles and the Prophets) had brought judgement upon them.

Having clearly identified the problem, however, Hezekiah then turns to point them to the solution:

For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” (2 Chronicles 30:9 ESV)

IF— the condition of the Gospel. The avenue, the means of salvation is accepting the invitation and remedy for the bad news. For the Israelites it was returning to worship the true God, offering sacrifices for sin and humbly obeying His commands. Today it is no different, we are called to acknowledge the Lord, the one true God, turn to Christ for the forgiveness of sins and live under His life giving promises.

But in Israel’s case we see the sad reality, that not all to whom the Gospel is published will repent and believe, some will, some will not:

So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 30:10-11 ESV)

When we preach the Gospel we need to be ready to be laughed at, scorned and mocked, all the while “not being ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16). Such push back also reminds us of the hardness of people’s hearts and that it is only by the Spirit that men can be lead to believe (Jn 6:44). However, we should take heart to persevere in our promotion of the Gospel:

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Tim 2:10)

Paul’s encouragement to Timothy was that because the elect of God are out there, we labour in preaching the Gospel trusting that the Lord will use us as the means to reach them.

Thanks be to God for the Gospel!

Pastor Chris

Unfeeling like fat

In a recent reading in our Bible plan we came across a verse that may have made you chuckle but when you examine it more closely speaks great truth. Psalm 119:70 says,

Their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.

“Their heart” is referring to the inner disposition of the wicked toward the LORD. Such people are “unfeeling like fat.” Fat by definition is “the naturally oily substance found in animal bodies.” It often protects vital organs and is also used to store unneeded energy for future occasions. If you have ever carved some meat or performed minor surgery you’ll sense the reality behind the saying “unfeeling like fat.” Fat jiggles but that is about it. There are no nerves in fat as there are in other bodily tissues and so fat is without ability to feel. It simply is. Fat is a picture of the heart without God, it is selfish and dead, without any positive spiritual inclination towards God. It is descriptive of every human without a personal knowledge of the LORD and it is a state that cannot be altered unless God graciously intervenes.

BUT! Enter one of the big buts of the Bible, “but I delight in your law.” The verse follows a similar pattern to Eph 2:1-9. Verses 1-3 recall being “unfeeling like fat” and verses 4-9 the gift of grace and faith that enables the dead to be brought to life through Christ so as to “delight in your law.”

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Once the Lord has worked grace in your heart we are enabled to feel, and what we feel is a delight towards the Lord, His word and His ways. One immediately sees the stark contrast between their old life and their new life. Deadness is replaced with life, pride with humility, ugliness with beauty, unfeelingness with delight.

Fat is uncomfortable and the unfeeling hearts of those I know who have not come to know Jesus grieves my heart. They are so cold to the things of the Lord, things that are beautiful, things that give life, things that cause me great personal delight. Chief among the means of grace the Lord has given to the Church is His word. It is a despised piece of dead literature (or at the very best simply a noteworthy piece of human literature to be examined) to those who are as unfeeling as fat, but to those who have been given the gift of faith, the Bible becomes the living word (Heb 4:12). By itself it is just a book but because the Spirit inspired its words He enables those who approach it with fear (Isa 66:2b) and prayer to meet God, know Him, be known, and guided in the way of righteousness. Because the Bible is the word of God, in ever growing degrees, Christians should feel an ardent attachment for all that it contains and represents. We should relish the opportunity to read from it, study it, and hear it proclaimed. It should be to us spiritually what bread is to us physically.

Just the other day as I sat down to read the Bible, and before I had even opened it, the Lord flooded my heart with a passionate delight for His law. I am eternally grateful that the Lord has inclined my heart towards His law, to delight in Him, and that He uses that to shape me to be more like Christ. That degree by degree I am not what I once was but more and more am what I should be.

May you come to delight in the law, and if that is a struggle for you I pray that the Holy Spirit would open your eyes, that you may behold the wondrous things out of His law. (Ps 119:18).

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

An Interesting Question from 1 Sam 14:18

I had a very interesting question this past week from a recent reading from 1 Samuel 14:18.

The question arose from someone noticing that this verse reads completely different depending upon the translation that one used (compare major English translations here). For instance, compare the New Living Translation with the English Standard Version:

The NLT reads:

Then Saul shouted to Ahijah, “Bring the ephod here!” For at that time Ahijah was wearing the ephod in front of the Israelites.

Whereas the ESV reads:

So Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For the ark of God went at that time with the people of Israel.

Why does one mentioned the Ephod and the other the Ark?

The reason appears to be a textual variant in the original manuscripts between the Masoretic Text on the one hand and the Septuagint on the other. The translations that follow the MT use “Ark,” whereas those that follow the SEPT use “Ephod.”   It is also evident that the majority of leading versions of older and current translations follow the MT of “bring the ark.” What is going on here?   If you examine Ex 25:22 and Num 7:89 along with Jud 20:27 you will find a similar occurrence where the LORD is enquired of before the Ark. And yet the Urim and Thummim (cf. Ex 28:30 for one instance) were also regularly used to inquire of the LORD. No one knows exactly how these worked but they were associated with the elaborate garment worn by the High Priest known as the Ephod.

I would suggest that as they wore the Ephod when inquiring before the Lord, and this was often done before the Ark, the two became synonymous in meaning. When the MT and SEPT appear to disagree really it is simply like two different accident reports of the same accident, both correct but each stressing one aspect.   As such the Contemporary English Version (a current thought for thought translation) captures the essence of what the verse is trying to say:   At that time, Ahijah was serving as priest for the army of Israel, and Saul told him, “Come over here! Let’s ask God what we should do.”

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

See also Biblegateway.com if you are interested in comparing various English translations.