Relying on the Spirit.

 Acts 16. 11-34

Introduction
Please break this bread Lord, Please break this bread, bread of your Body, risen in us.

“Bread” is our word to keep us focussed on Mission…

B is for … Blessing. During May we have been looking at how we can “be good news”, blessing others and living generously among people.

We now move to R: relying on, receiving and releasing the Holy Spirit. Today, relying on the Spirit.

The Story:

This Holy Spirit thing was part of the culture!
Paul and Silas know what they want to do. They have this letter in their pockets, from the “Elders” at Jerusalem. (v. 5) This was evidence of the back story of the Holy Spirit at work.
• The Holy Spirit and the birth Gentile mission: (Acts 13. 1-4)
• The Holy Spirit and the success of the gentile mission (Acts 13. 9)
• The Holy Spirit and the acceptance of the gentile mission: the letter to gentile churches … Acts 15. 24-29: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”

So Paul and Silas, now with Timothy had to get around all the churches Paul had planted first time around, and read out this letter. And then they had done that, there was a whole area that the Greeks called Asia – we would call it Western Turkey – where there were big cities: Ephesus, Philadelphia, Smyrna. That’s where Paul wanted to go next and tell people about Jesus. (v. 6) Good plan? Maybe. But the same Holy Spirit had other plans. So he stopped Paul and his team from going into the province of Asia. How? I don’t know. Maybe they couldn’t agree which way to go. Maybe they had prophetic words or an inner feeling telling them not to go there. Maybe they got stopped by the authorities? Or bad weather or landslides or ill health? But they knew the Holy Spirit was not letting them go into Asia. So instead of going home, they headed North, and tried to enter Bythinia – Northern Turkey, on the Black Sea Coast – but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them. Same thing again. We don’t know how; but something was stopping them. It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t just circumstances. It was the Holy Spirit. They were being herded by an “irresistible sweep of events” into the area called Mysia, on what we would now call the Dardanelles… and while they were staying in the area called Troas, on the far north-western corner of Turkey, Paul had a dream or a vision. In the dream he saw a poor savage – a European! – begging him to “come over here and help us.” (“A certain man from Macedonia” Paul may have recognised the man in the dream!)

Who was doing that? The Holy Spirit. That’s what Paul concluded. So they went over to Macedonia, and there they did what Paul always did when he arrived in town. They looked for the Synagogue. In Philippi they heard about a “place of prayer” not a proper synagogue, probably because there weren’t enough men. It was a quiet spot beside a river. They found a few women who were “people of peace”, welcoming, interested in the Good news. One of them, a businesswoman called Lydia, was ready to put her trust in Jesus. Who was doing that? The Holy Spirit. “The Lord opened her heart.” Philippi was where God wanted a new church planted.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t stop us from engaging in mission so we can have a good time being Believers together. He may stop us from engaging in mission so we can engage in a better mission!

The point: Three main implications
A sense of Command. Obedience.
The Spirit is in charge. The early Church recognised this. And from the very first day of the Church, the Church had this sense of the irresistible outward driving force. Like plants can’t help but grow upwards towards the light so the Holy Spirit, and any life in which the Holy Spirit has found a home, will be drawn outwards in mission. We can plan. It’s OK to plan. But we need to listen for the voice of the Spirit. I like the idea of “Thy Kingdom Come”. But our praying has to be more than asking God to touch the people we want to see come to Jesus or asking God to bless our efforts, our ambitions. We need to ask God to show us where our efforts and ambitions should be directed. And then be ready to follow.

A sense of Confidence. A sense of Trust.
We don’t know. The Holy Spirit does. He knows who are ready to hear something about the Good News. He knows who needs our blessing and encouragement. He knows about the needs, the inner heartache of every person who walks along our streets. He sees and knows people’s hearts. Listening for his promptings, letting him lead us to people we can bless, to people we can share something of the Good News with, is a matter of trust.

A sense of Collaboration. Partnership.
“Don’t ask God to guide your footsteps – if you’re not willing to move your feet.” I’m not sure who said it, but I believe it’s true! Mission isn’t all about us – getting the right strategy, plucking up the courage to tell people about Jesus, knowing exactly what to say… and it isn’t all about the Holy Spirit either, as though we didn’t have any responsibility or calling. it’s a true collaboration.
The Holy Spirit takes, fills up and uses what God has already made us to be. We walk in obedience and trust, receiving and using whatever the Holy Spirit gives us. What an adventure.

The problem.
In four words. “We are not there.” or maybe in five: “We are not there, yet!” Obedience to the Command by the Spirit; confidence in the Spirit and collaboration with him. We are not there – yet. We are often a bit more like the experience of shipwreck (like we were hearing about last week). We don’t even know where we are; we don’t like where we are; and we don’t really know how to survive where we are. We’re gong round in circles.

The Difference
So I suggest a very simple habit. Ask!

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to the right people at the right time. And take time to let the Holy Spirit answer quietly in your heart. Make that a regular, daily habit. A habit, of prayer, that expresses reliance on the Spirit, by giving him space to speak…

Here’s how I recommend doing that.
1. Get alone with God: settle yourself, away from distractions.
2. Give yourself time: Try five minutes every day. And take twenty minutes once a week.
3. Ask: Pray in a way that centres your mind on God and invites God to speak. Use your own words or
◦ Speak Lord, your servant is listening (Samuel’s prayer)
◦ You Kingdom come…
◦ Lord speak to me that I may speak in living echoes of your tone. (F R Havergal)
◦ “What are you doing today Lord? And can I join in?” (I heard Andrew quote that prayer.)
4. Listen.
5. Consult: if you’re in any doubt about what you think God is saying, talk to someone more experienced.

© Gilmour Lilly, June 2019
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How to be a Blessing:

Acts 27. 1-44, and 8. 1-10

The Story: Shipwrecked!

Paul didn’t even need to be going on that ship to Rome. He was innocent; he had been framed for something he didn’t do. While he was waiting to stand trial, people had tried to murder him. When he did stand trial, the judge knew he was innocent but sent him to Rome to be tried by the Emperor. And Paul was quite happy: although a prisoner, he was getting a free boat-ride to the capital of the empire: where he had always wanted to go!

But they had left it a bit too late for travelling. It was getting stormy as it did every autumn. Sea travel was usually done by staying as close to he shore as possible, so there were frequent stops at island ports and bays. (Chapter 27. 1-10

Paul warned the centurion in charge about going on: he thought there would be “great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the soldier in charge and the owner of the ship ignored this because there was good wind in the right direction. (v 9-12)

They set sail.. and sure enough, they got caught in a terrible storm at sea. The sailors lashed ropes around the ship to keep it from breaking apart. That seems scary to us but it was common practise. Ships had hooks attached for exactly that purpose. Then they threw the cargo overboard. Then the ship’s tackle. (v 13-20)

The storms lasted for days and days. Wind, clouds, rain, huge waves. What was Paul doing while all this was happening? He was still excited about going to Rome. I guess he prayed (for the soldiers and sailors) as often as he could. And one day, God answered, and sent an angel to tell him “Don’t worry: you’re going to get to Rome and stand in front of the Emperor!” How would you respond to that? “Wow! That’s amazing. Thank you God!” I guess Paul could have kept as dry as he could, hidden away in a corner of he boat thanking God and praying. But that’s not what he did. He went and shared his encouraging message with the officer and the captain of the ship. (v21-26.)

Eventually the sailors realised they were getting near land. Some of them tried to escape in the ship’s lifeboat: Paul realised what was happening and warned the Officer that without these sailors to help operate the ship, they could all risk dying. (v 27-32)

As they got near to land, Paul encouraged everyone to have some food. Paul did something Jesus did – broke bread and shared it with everyone… They had been working hard and eating nothing much for a fortnight, and needed something to give them strength. Who else had broken bread and given it to his friends? As they were getting near to the beach the boat got stuck on a sandbar and was broken to pieces by the waves. (v. 33-44)

But everyone managed to get to land. They found they were on the island of Malta. So Paul, the other prisoners, the sailors, the Officer, and the soldiers all ended up on the beach, soaking wet, cold and frightened. What did they need? To get warm, to get dry. The locals looked after them, lit a fire to warm them up. Paul ended up gathering firewood, having a snake fasten onto his hand, but being unharmed. (Chapter 28. 1-7)

As it was winter, they needed to stay on the Island. Paul was welcomed into the home of and official called Publius. When Paul found out that Publius’ father was ill, he laid his hands on him and healed him – then healed lots of other people too. (v. 7-10

The point

Luke gives us lots of detail about this journey: he wants us to notice how Paul responded to this challenge. We need to learn from how Paul was on this journey, because he made a real effort to bless those he was on the ship with. There are a number of lessons for us

  • Be there.

Paul was present. It was a frightening, unpleasant, dangerous situation, and one he didn’t deserve to be in. But he was there and he fully engaged with the people around him. I think he contrasts strongly with Jonah who struggled to engage with the missional heart of God, and tried his best to hide away from God, from the people he was sent to, and indeed from everybody else! Paul was there. He was constantly engaging with the situation. He was not shielded from the physical difficulties that others round about him felt. Cold, hunger, noise, lack of sleep. This ship as his world, and he was able to be there, for Jesus.

  • Be ready to share what you have – whatever it is.

What did Paul have to share with others on the ship? Not a lot. Probably the clothes he stood up in. But he had gifts. Paul moved In the power of the Spirit. He had wisdom and insight. And he had two hands and two feet. When he had that encouraging visit from an angel, instead of enjoying his encouragement from God as though it was only for him, he shared it with everyone in the ship. What do we have to share? Whether it is practical things, or spiritual gifts, we can share them.

  • Be concerned

Paulhad a genuine sense of compassion for the people on the ship, and a genuine desire for their well-being. He wants to encourage them. He knows that after a fortnight of eating very little, the men may not have the strength to swim to shore, so he tells them to eat something. it’s almost like he is more concerned for the ship’s company, and more in charge, than the Roman officer and the ship’s captain.

  • Be like Jesus.

There’s a deliberate reminder about Jesus, even in the middle of the storm, as Paul shares bread with the people on the ship. And healing Publius’ father, followed by having loads of people turn up for healing, was just like for Jesus, too. What would Jesus do? it’s an important question. Being like Jesus may seem impossible. We’re only human, and Jesus was and is unique. But he has given us the Holy Spirit, his Spirit, to enable us to show his character and do his work.

  • Be practical.

Paul was prepared to do ordinary tasks like picking up firewood. He thought of practical things like what would happen if the sailors abandoned the ship. We need to be prepared to get our hands dirty and do the practical tasks that will bless people around us.

  • Be responsive to real needs.

Paul tackled the problems of the community.Fever and Dysentery was probably a disease called Brucellosis, which was so common in Malta that is became known as Malta Fever. As he had done all the way through this amazing adventure, Paul was helping with the real problems of real people in the real community. What are the real needs in our community, in your neighbourhood, your family? We can’t sort everything out, but we can seek to respond positively to some of the needs in or own community.

© Gilmour Lilly May 2019

Bless: Praying the Mission

Listen to a sound recording of the talk

Ephesians 3 14-19
Talk 1
We are reflecting on blessing, or generous speaking and living , as part of our Mission! We recognised last week that blessing and generosity, start with the heart. Not rocket- science but heart surgery! God is the heart surgeon, the source of transformation. So how do we let that happen? Today we look at how we connect with God: prayer and blessing. We begin with how to pray for ourselves.

“Because of this” (verse 14, same as in verse 1) literally means “Through the grace of this”… an unusual expression! And in this case the cause is grace. Eph 2. 19 says “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,” and Eph 3. 13 says “through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Through the grace, favour, joy and beauty of what God
has done, I pray.

Paul is praying to the Cosmic God whose grace makes non-Jewish outsiders into fellow-citizens; to God the Father of all (Jew and non-Jew) from whom all (Jew and non-Jew) get their names. We’re praying for a work of the Cosmic God. His love and grace reach all people. Hold that thought.

Paul is praying for the Working of the Spirit. Paul knows we have the Spirit. We are blessed with every spiritual gift in the heavenly places. We are marked with the promised Holy Spirit… (Eph 1.13). Yet Paul isn’t averse to praying that God will give us the Holy Spirit. (Eph 1. 17) There is always more!

Some of us may want to say “I received the Holy Spirit when I became Christian” or maybe “We were baptised in the Spirit five or ten of forty years ago and spoke in tongues.” And I want to say, “Big deal. What is the Holy Spirit doing in your life today?”

Paul prays that God will take the deposit of the Holy Sprit in their hearts, and strengthen them (meaning make them strong enough to win) with power. The following good things result from that….

Paul can pray for the presence of Jesus… in your heart. Jesus does his heart surgery from the inside. “Heart” in the New Testament is never the muscular pump that moves blood around the body. It is always the bit inside us where thinking, feeling and deciding happens.

“Jesus in your heart…” Have you asked Jesus to dwell in your inner life? If you haven’t I encourage you to do that. But when you do, he comes to be in charge. He comes to what belongs to him. You know what would be daft? What if Pam and I went on holiday and invited Allan and Marnie and the girls to come and live in the manse, look after the dog, while we are away.
The we come home. We are welcomed. There’s a hot meal on the table. But then I go into my study, and there’s our bed, our wardrobe, as well as all my books. It’s a bit crowded in there! And Allan explains, “as there’s only two of you and four of us, we thought you don’t need so much space.” And not only that but I have to listen to Marnie’s choice of music, and about 9.30 Allan’s tells me “right buddy, it’s time you were in your bed”. I’ve come home, but I’m not in charge! Jesus dwelling in your heart puts Jesus in
charge.

Paul is praying for understanding and experience of who God is and how God loves. “That you may have power to grasp…” And “power” here means “being fully able.”

Understanding : rooted and grounded in love, you may grasp the breadth, length, height and depth… of what? Of the Cosmic God, that’s what. The breadth, length, height and depth of the amazingness of who God is. The cosmic God is the God whose love is for everyone.
Experience : that you may know the love if God. It’s not enough to grasp, we have to know. Paul isn’t just talking about head knowledge: he’s talking as a Jew, about knowledge by experience: about “Yadah” knowledge.
The love of God is the breadth and length and height and depth. It is the profoundest thing… it is the Cosmic God at work! If we understand the Cosmic God and know his love by experience, his love drives our behaviour.

So, how to pray for your Church? How to pray for yourself? How to know the transforming experience of the heart of God, for people? How to feel Father’s heartbeat in your heart?
Pray, for the Spirit to come. Pray for Jesus to live in you. Pray that you may be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph 3. 19). And what is God like? Love! To be filled with God is to be filled with love!
Pray to know the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love. If you dare!

Talk 2…
We pray for God to touch our hearts with the breadth and length and height and depth of who he is and how he loves. But how to pray for others? We have “Thy Kingdom Come” beginning on Thursday 30 th May. How to pray for five people? How to pray for our neighbours, our families, our town, our nation?

We have ideas:
• Pray “for revival.”
• Pray “for the Churches to be full.”
• Pray “Bring them in Lord”

Paul did pray for salvation: For people who were just “not getting it” (Israel as it happens, see Rom 9.30-33), Paul says “my heart’s desire and prayer to God is that they may be saved” (Rom 10.1)

Praying blessing: But Paul also said “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2. 1-4) Prayer for our world should be part of our life together,
and this echoes Jeremiah 29. 7 where God’s people, exiled in a foreign land, and desperate to get back home were told “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Praying the Kingdom. We are taught to pray “your Kingdom come, your will be done.” What’s that going to look like? Salvation for sure. But blessing, healing, justice. Praying these things into our community.

But is this just a waste of time? A nice gesture from a sleepy church to a needy world? But well-night impossible?

Tom Wright, Fife’s resident celebrity NT Scholar, suggests a wee exercise. We’re going to do it together, now. He says “read verse 20 carefully. Then
think what God might do through you – as a community, you as an individual. Now reflect on the fact that God is perfectly capable of doubling that, trebling that… so you would look back at this moment and wonder how you could be so short-sighted.”

 © Gilmour Lilly May 2019

BLESS! A call to generous speaking and living. Matthew 9. 35 – 10. 15

When we think about sharing our faith with others, about evangelism and mission, we think first of all about talking. Telling others what we believe and why. We’ll come to that eventually. But I want to start somewhere else. I want to start with blessing. I admit, I’ve been reading books! (That’s partly what you pay me for, right?) I’ve read three books on the subject of “five habits for mission”. All of them include something that one calls Blessing, one calls Generosity, and the third Serving. And two of the three start there. That’s where I want to start.

What? What do we mean by “blessing”?

The very first time blessing is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 1. 23, where God “Blessed the first sea creatures and said ‘be fruitful and increase in number…’ ” Later on we are told to “Bless the Lord” (Ps 103. 1) which means to speak good things about the Lord. So blessing means to speak good things into a person’s life, or to speak good things about a person. And rooted in the ancient idea of the power of words, it then goes on to mean to do good towards someone, to give them some good gift that may be at a cost to ourselves. So in Genesis 24.35, Abraham’s servant says “The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the core meaning of the word “bless” in the New Testament is literally to “speak well”…

So, “blessing” is rooted in how we speak over people. When Jesus sent his friends out on a mission trip, their first strategy was blessing. See Mt 10. 11-13: “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you”. Compare Luke 10. 5 where Jesus tells the seventy-two, ‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.”’
Jesus is talking about blessing people. And blessing means

  1. To be generous in our opinions and judgements. Identify a worthy person. Or “a person of peace”. (Lk 10. 6)
  2. To wish people well and to speak good into their lives. “Give the house your greeting”, says Jesus. And “Greeting”, is actually “welcome” The root is to draw [sc. someone] close). It’s about being glad to be there, in that new place among these new people.
  3. To have an attitude of giving towards people rather than taking from them.

That challenges us. We often start out on a negative footing in mission. We think negatively about people. We can be quite judgmental towards people who don’t accept the Christian faith, and towards the cultural norms of the world we live in. And we can very easily have an attitude of entitlement towards people. We want to “get them in” to our churches. Hang about. What is it that we want to give them?   Michael Junior is an American comedian and a Christian: like most comedians, he told jokes to get laughs. After he became a believer, God spoke to him about telling jokes to give other people an opportunity to laugh. A subtle difference that has the potential to revolutionise our lives and our churches.

Why? But wait a minute. Isn’t sharing your faith the priority and being generous to people just a distraction?  No! Not in the least. It is central. Here area a number of reasons why:

  1. It’s the Jesus way! a) Jesus told the 12 (& the 72) to begin with blessing! b) Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.16); and “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you … Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6.27-28, 31). That should just about settle it!
  2. The early Church, like Jesus himself found favour with the people (Lk 2. 52, Acts2.47)
  3. It is implicit in the life of the early Church. See Gal 6. 10 “doing good to all…” Rom 12.17, 20 f, “repaying evil with good,”
  4. It works. Research on short term mission in Thailand studied two groups of mission workers: those who went to bless the people, and those who went simply to bring people to faith. The first group, the “Blessers” had a greater impact on their communities. But remarkably, they were also 50 times more successful at bringing people back to God!

How? “It starts with the Heart.” That’s a very “Jesus” thing to say. Jesus was always concerned to take his followers along the road from doing what looks right, to experiencing the heart transformation of the Kingdom of God. And this generous, blessing habit, begins with a heart-habit. It’s about how we see people. Jesus looked at the struggling, rudderless crowds, (Matthew 9. 36) and saw exactly what? When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

A key to a generous, blessing heart, is to remind yourself that you don’t know the forces that are at the root of the behaviour in the other person that you don’t like. When Steven Covey (well known for his books about the habits of effective people) happened to be travelling on a train where two wee boys were misbehaving quite badly, he got so angry that he challenged the boys’ dad about the fact that they were out of control. Dad said “yes, I know. But I don’t know what to say to them: we’re on our way home from the hospital where their mother has just died.” Have you ever had an “ouch” moment like that, when you have wished you had known and understood a bit more about someone, before thinking or saying something critical to them or about them? A scalded child who is screaming is not a naughty child to be quieted down but a needy child to be cared for tenderly.

And when you get the heart right, you get everything right. You get attitudes to struggling people right. You get the pitch right in talking about Jesus. You touch hearts. You even get the supernatural right. When I was looking up texts about doing good, I found that in Acts 4.9 Healing is described very modestly & accurately as “a good deed”. Blessing and generosity sets the necessary context for the safe operation of the gifts of the spirit such as healing.

So I challenge us all to learn to bless, to think, feel, and speak about the people around us in the world in a truly generous way.

  1. That will affect how we pray. it’s not rocket science; but it is heart surgery. We need the Holy Spirit to be at work to give us generous hearts towards the people round about us, hearts that are insightful and compassionate about their lostness.
  2. It will affect how we speak and how we speak to people.
  3. It will affect how we behave. Not stunts, gestures or acts of kindness with strings attached. “You owe us because we’ve been nice to you.” But the overflow from loving hearts that will in turn touch hearts. Christian writer Darrin Hufford says “When we finally grasp God’s focus [the heart], He will suddenly become real and knowable”.
    © Gilmour Lilly May 2019

Colossians 1. 15-29 Body of Christ?

When I was small, my granny had a Victorian writing desk which had lots of little drawers inside it, stuffed full of old photos, (including glass lantern slides of granny in her big hat, and long dress, on the beach at Arbroath as a young woman) ration books, letters. And a number of wee envelopes with locks of my Mum’s and her brothers’ hair. Somehow that was different to the photos and the ration books. The hair was organically connected to my Mum and my uncles. It had their DNA in it. The Church is like that.

Paul uses a number of pictures for the Church. Can you think of some? The other ones, like God’s field, and god’s building are like the photos in my granny’s desk. This one, the Body of Christ, like the locks of hair, is different. It has a “specially firm grasp of reality” says Professor F F Bruce. The Church is Jesus’ body because it has Jesus’ DNA in it.

In the Old Testament, God embodies his covenant relationship with his people in a colourful place to worship, in a system of sacrifices, in circumcision, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Then, when messiah came, he came in a physical body. The word became flesh. And then, he left a bunch of people to be his body, to embody his life in the power of the Spirit in the physical world. Twice in our reading Paul mentions “the body, his body, the Church” (v 18, 24). To be “In Christ” is to be in that “Church” which is his body. And that’s what I want to explore this morning. What it means for the church to “be his body”.

Firstly, it means we are well-connected . Jesus is god. “Image” in verse 15 does not mean Jesus “looks like God.” It isn’t about being a copy, but about being the visible face of the invisible God. This is what we are connected with. We are made “in the image of God” – like a reflection of who he is. But Jesus becomes human, takes our God-like human flesh, and fills it with the very nature of God.

To be “In Christ” is to be connected with the eternal. the Creator of all things, the one in whom all things hold together. We are connected not just with the story of a man who was crucified and rose again. We are connected with the person of the Creator of all things. We are connected with the Being without whom the universe would dissolve into chaos.
We can be confident because we are so well-connected.

Second, it means we are under authority . Jesus is head of the Body (the Church). Quite simply, he is in charge. In January this year my friend Keith Short said this: “If the Church is the Body of Christ, it should look like Jesus; it should reveal God.” He is right, 100%. The church is energised by Christ’s power and is the instrument through which he carries on his work.

Thirdly, it means we are reconciled . Jesus is the reconciler. Paul uses a unique word here. It looks as if Paul made it up by sticking a “from” in front of the usual word for reconcile. A bit like us sticking “mega” or “hyper” in front of a word.

• He reconciles all things to the Father. Our reconciliation is part of the bigger plan of God bring everything into line with his will…

• Reconciliation is through the blood he shed on the cross.

• Reconciliation brings us from into relationship with God and therefore into relationships with each other (See Ephesians 2. 14-18) Which neatly brings us to how we play our part in the Body.

Fourthly, it means stewardship . Playing our part: Paul speaks about his own ministry (the word is diakonia which means “table-service”) in the Body (the Church). He says he became a servant of the gospel (v. 23) and a servant of the Church (v. 25). Think of a waiter in a posh hotel: does he serve dinner, or does he serve people? Answer , “Both”. (Joke: Once, a steak pie walked into a pub just before closing time: when the barman saw him he said “Sorry, mate, we don’t serve food at this time of night!”)

So Paul serves the Good news, and he serves the Body, by God’s commission – which literally means stewardship – given to me for you. That’s the way all ministry is supposed to work. Something given, by God, to me, for you. Something given by God, to peter, for the fellowship. Something given by God, to Natalie, for all of us.

Specifically, Paul is presenting the word of God in its fullness the mystery of Christ (Messiah) in you (Gentile people) the hope of Glory. You can’t separate service in the Church from Mission beyond it.

So, fifthly, it means Mission . Let me ask you, what is “Lacking in Christ’s Suffering” (v. 25)? In terms of dealing with our sin, nothing: the Price is Paid! We are reconciled. In taking our sins Jesus was fulfilling the role of the “Suffering Servant” (Isaiah 53. 4-5). But God says quite clearly in Isa 49. 3, that the Servant is Israel, God’s people. And he promises that the Servant will be “A light to the gentiles” (Isaiah 49. 6) And that became Paul and Barnabas’ text as they went on mission among the gentiles (Acts 13. 47)

The Suffering Servant in Isaiah was the people of God. Christ, Messiah, became the suffering servant, taking the place of a rebellious nation. But now, the people of God, the Church, are again the Servant.

Paul is talking about Mission. What is lacking and still to be paid, is the sacrificial cost of engaging in mission. Paul rejoices because through his suffering, people were converted and added to the church.

We are Christ’s body: amazingly connected with the living God. Called to obey Jesus the head. Reconciled, saved. Called to serve one another. And called to continue his mission. I was challenged this week talking to someone who felt sad because she constantly hears preachers telling her she’s got to share her faith; but I’m not sure they tell her how to go about it; and I wondered if I sometimes do the same thing. The living Christ calls us to be the bread he uses to show himself to our world. So for a few weeks we are going to be looking at how we do that. We will use the acronym “Bread”: Blessing others; Reliance on the Spirit; Eating; Attentiveness to Jesus; and Dialogue, conversations.


© Gilmour Lilly May 2019