Sunday, January 29, 2017

Be 'kratos' and don't crack-up'

Do you find it frustrating to be motivated to do or be something – but not told how to achieve it? I do! This can be a real pulpit type problem. When I read 1 Corinthians 16:13 emphasis on imperatives Paul seemed to fall into that trap. But then I realised the answer to ‘how’ is within other sections of the letter or books.

The fourth imperative calls upon us to be ‘strong.’ The Greek word is ‘kratos’ and means ‘mighty.’ This isn’t a word defining a theory. It is the expression of power in action. Other Greek words speak about strength and power with a different emphasis than ‘kratos.’ It seems, at least to me, that the word Paul says to the Corinthians is the source from which the other aspects are resourced and permeated. I came to this view when I checked out its 24 references [includes kratos, krataioo, krataios, pantokrator –the Almighty]. We know the Lord God is almighty because of His cross and resurrection. This triumph stripped the Devil of death’s keys (Hebrews 2:14. Revelation 1:18) and made our salvation possible.

When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church he included a specific prayer. He wanted them to know God’s kratos in their lives. What was that power? That which the Father had expressed by the resurrection of Christ. The reality of this indwelling experience of faith and commitment cannot be imprisoned in the soul. It has to be let loose in relationships, service and worship. Paul says we are strengthened to become mighty by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Again, how is this made known? By knowing and loving Jesus as Lord and Saviour. From that relationship we are to walk in a manner honouring Him and blessing or challenging others. Now that really requires us allowing the grace and power of our Lord unrestricted access to our lives.

When we read about the possibility of having a wrestling match against the ungodly forces behind ‘flesh and blood’ opposition we can shudder and shake. Sure, the armour is supplied but no matter how good the armour is, when the person in it is weak, terrified, untrained, there’s un-pleasantries awaiting. What can make the nervous person, though properly clothed in armour, spiritually capable for the fight? The kratos of his Commander in Chief. This means being mentally, biblically, spiritually and devotedly confident in the indwelling presence of Christ. We can glibly say “the battle belongs to the Lord” but we are the one doing the fighting. Therefore, whether we live or die, succeed or seemingly fail, we are to face the battle, without liking it, to uphold the honour of the Lord. I think that is why we are encouraged by ‘having done all, to stand.’ This is depicted in Acts 19:20 where it says God’s word increased by the kratos of the Lord. That was in the face of much opposition and disturbances.  

One of the fascinating features associated with kratos is the response by believers and angels. It is summed up so beautifully in the words of the doxologies. These are expressions of praise and recognition we and angels have towards the Triune God. The word ‘mighty’ is used over and over again as Christians worship with adoration. “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty (pantokrator), who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). ‘To the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power (kratos) and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen’ (Jude 25).

The fourth imperative pushes us to realise that to be strong requires the indwelling and free rein of Christ Jesus within. The prayer of Paul for the believers’ in Colossae remains true for us: “May you be made strong with all the strength (kratos) that comes from His glorious power, and may you endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father…’ (Colossians 1:11-12).
©Ray Hawkins Jan 29 2017.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Be a man- or woman role model.

Sport stars are often called upon to be role models to the young. Some measure up. Many do not. Even fewer celebrities could be looked to for such an important role. For those looking to the Church for guidance in this arena who would you choose?

The third imperative from 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 deals with this matter, perhaps in a round-about-way. The Greek word used is ‘andrizo’ and is variously translated as ‘quit you like men’ (KJV) ‘be courageous’ (NRSV)) and ‘act like men and be courageous’ (Amplified) or ‘play the man’ (Nestles Interlinear Greek-English). This word is used only once in the New Testament. It’s apparent that what Paul wrote is a challenge to translate and apply.

It is certain that the apostle was calling his readers to reach for the highest ideal of manhood their transformed minds could imagine. Would they relate it to noble warriors, Olympic champions, Biblical characters, even to missionaries? We will never know. Thinking about Biblical characters however, the one I’d look to as my role model would be Timothy. Why? Maybe because I see in him some of my personality and temperament. The way he utilised their strength, rose above their weakness and allowed the Holy Spirit to refine, mature and flavour them is encouraging. He is my role model for being courageous. He is my example as a faithful minister. He is a challenge to ‘play the man’ when it would be the self-preserving thing to run.

Timothy had a difficult family situation. Jewish mother and a Gentile father who is apparently absent. Then, when they hear the gospel he, his mother and grandmother become followers of Christ. I wonder about the reaction of the synagogue. It is apparent that Timothy took hold of the Lord’s grace and proved true in the eyes of the recently established local church. They had no hesitation in endorsing him to serve with Paul in up-coming missionary ventures.

From the book of Acts and various letters from Paul we see Timothy’s character and commitment. He was timid but conviction of and commitment to Christ gave him moral and spiritual backbone. As last week’s imperative put it, he stood his ground in the faith. Another thing which impresses is how he handled serving under the ‘shadow’ of Paul’s dynamic and restless missionary endeavours. In Philippians 2:19-24 Paul tells the Church he is sending Timothy to them. Then he adds: ‘I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’

The two letters Paul wrote to this man from prison are revealing. Timothy was the minister at Ephesus, a very difficult assignment. He was called upon to deal with a number of issues which I imagine he would rather have let pass. However, being a faithful servant and a capable teacher he stood on the authority of Scripture (both the Old Testament and Paul’s letters). In the first letter and chapter 4 he is encouraged to maintain pri0rities in teaching and setting an example in ‘speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.’ He was not a pulpiteer. He was first and foremost a role-model.

In the second letter this man faces issues regarding the political correct issues of his day. Paul addressed him as a soldier of Christ and a worker approved by God. These and other matters required him to stand true to the ‘sacred writings’ and to proclaim the message of Christ and the cross. The same is true today for those who would be role models in spirit and in truth.

The five imperatives of 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 build-up similar to a musical crescendo. Each depends on the other and will culminate in the rhapsody of devotion. Next week be ‘be strong’ is the subject to consider.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

When life's blizzards blow.

Artic explorers impress me with their commitment as they face the harsh landscape with its
bleak weather. Watching videos of their trudging along and battling snow blizzards and possible dangerous ground conditions arouses respect and admiration.

In my mind they become metaphors for the Christian life. We are called upon by our Lord to be His adventurers in a spiritual and moral ‘artic region.’ We are not called to face the ‘blizzards or tread the dangerous countryside’ for fame and fortune. Rather, we are on a rescue mission under the supervision of our Commander. Our mission is to save those lost in the blizzards of life, to lift up those who have fallen into moral crevices plus establish a base camp for their welfare, nurture and resourcing.

To do that requires us to be properly trained, spiritually resourced, morally upright and confident in the leadership of the Lord Jesus. Aspects of these essentials are summed up in the motto for 2017 as written in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. Last week we considered ‘be alert,’ today the key word is ‘stand!’ Over the next three weeks we will consider, ‘be courageous’ – ‘be strong’ – ‘love.’

It is interesting that the Christian life is expressed in words such as ‘sit – walk – run –stand!’  Watchman Nee in his classic book ‘Sit, Walk, Stand’ shows from the letter to the Ephesians the principles for a fulfilled Christian life and ministry. We need to ‘sit’ with Christ Jesus in His realm by faith. This equips us to walk in our calling and not become victims of adversaries, nor foul circumstances or moral crevices. As we walk in obedience to our Commander there will be times we have to ‘stand’ our ground as opposition to our message, values or endeavours rage around and upon us.

Within our life and service manual (Bible) we can find a number of passages emphasising our need to stand. They deal with all the issues with which we will need to deal as we undertake our commitment to mission. We are to have answers, found in our manual, for both inquirers and opponents. This means we must be convinced about what we believe and stand on the authority of Scripture. Our foundation on which we stand by faith is the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1). This great news of Christ’s coming, living amongst us, taking our sin and judgement at the cross, dying, being buried and rising again is matchless, priceless and eternal. It’s the message of being set free from our past and to know acceptance by the Lord God of Glory.

Why people fight against this liberating news defies logic. However, they do! That means we must combat their arguments. This is done through Biblical teaching of the promises about the coming of Jesus, the historical accuracy of the Bible and the required lifestyle found in Scripture. The book will unmask their errors, dismantle their arguments (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). It’s not much use having sound doctrine if it is undermined by a wayward and hypocritical lifestyle. It is our responsibility to stand faithful before the gaze and even the slander of opponents. That isn’t easy when the blizzards howling around you and the adversaries rage.

To be able to stand under such pressure demands your heart, mind and experiences to know the following: ‘I know the one [Jesus] in whom I have put my trust, and am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him’ (2 Timothy 1:12). It also requires us to be part of a band of likeminded people roped together by God’s grace and calling. They may be close at hand or on the other side of the world yet ‘chained’ together through prayer. Epaphras is mentioned as an example of this. ‘[He] who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus,  …is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills’ (Colossians 4:12).

As the year runs its course get to know your Lord more and more. Then take to heart the imperatives of His calling. Only then what confronts you, me, will not blow us over or cover us with shame. Therefore, stand and having done all we have been asked to do, stand!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Keep your eyes focused.

As 2017 opened its hours to welcome me aboard it also challenged me to have a motto. As I was reading the letter to the Corinthians the following verses impressed itself upon me. ‘Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love’ (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). There are 5 imperatives mentioned. Over the next five weeks I’d like to share some insights to each of these.

As this year unfolds Scripture urges us to keep an active lookout for our Christian life and witness. ‘Keep alert’ has both a negative and a positive aspect to it. We are warned to be on guard against the prowling, roaring and devouring intent of the Devil (1 Peter 5:8). To be honest, the ‘lion’ aspect doesn’t worry me so much. I can discern him. I can hear him. I can, by the grace of God and His word, run and hide. Where is my hiding place? In the company of the Lord Jesus and His word.

The danger which engulfs me is the enemy within. It is called the carnal or flesh nature. It is so cunning. It is so insidious. It is so hard to discern and resist. James 1:14 describes it as ‘one’s own desire.’ The KJV calls it ‘lust.’ Scripture goes into a lot of detail to spell out and warn us of this inner power. Check 1 John 2:16. Galatians 5:16-21.

As I live in a society addicted to ‘Lust’ it is so easy to be seduced. Standing within the shadows is the Devil casting a hypnotic power to hide the devastating and degrading consequences. How can I resist, especially when I don’t want too? By keeping alert and knowing the end of ‘Lust’ is moral, spiritual, relational death (romans 8:6).

The motivational aspect of ‘keep alert’ is to seize opportunities to honour the Lord and bless His people. So much of the New Testament is occupied with challenging us to be men and women with vision, vitality and virtuous. To do this requires an ever conscious commitment to our calling to walk worthy and to the fellowship of Communion. Sounds easy! Sounds noble! Trouble is the World, the Flesh and the Devil want to drown out that sound. Therefore ‘keep alert!’

In Revelation 31-6 is the story of the church in Sardis. It had a name for being alive – Jesus saw it as dead. He called upon it to ‘wake up and strengthen’ what was left but fading. Failure to respond would result in discipline which could build up to being severe. The Lord called upon the church to be a conqueror not conquered. One of the ways out of the mess of self-deception and the lethargy caused by self-confidence was to ‘remember!’ Remember what? Remember the things received, heard and obeyed at the beginning of their new life in Christ. When the Church did that the next word was ‘repent!’ That was the steps to becoming awake and back into a meaningful relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Sardis is an apt metaphor for many Christians. It has applied to me at times in my Christian life. I’m so glad the Lord didn’t leave me in that spiritually comatose state. He stepped in through various means to wake me up, some not too gentle either. Should He do it to you be thankful. The alternative is miserable.

So, as 2017 begins I want to take the words ‘Keep alert’ to heart. How about you?