These qualities

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2Pe 1:5-7)

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2Pe 1:8)

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2Pe 1:9)

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. (2Pe 1:12)

I have been chewing over this passage, and the eight qualities which the apostle Peter places such a high value on.

Faith (pistis): Our confident trust in the nature of God and his revealed word. This is the foundation for our relationship with God. Without faith it is impossible to please God.

Virtue (arete): Moral excellence in action. Our faith is to have an effect on the way we live. We outwork our faith by reflecting the virtuous nature of our heavenly father and dealing with anything that tarnishes that reflection.

Knowledge (gnosis): Our intellectual grasp of the things of God. God does not want our brains to be disengaged. The outworking of our faith is to produce knowledge. The order is significant though, this is not some abstract ivory tower knowledge, nor even is it knowledge that prompts us to outwork our faith. It is knowledge that we only get once we are already doing what God has asked. We don't understand in order to obey - we obey in order to understand!

Self-control (egkrateia): Mastery over our physical appetites and desires. The flesh is not intrinsically evil (this was a heresy based on a false form of gnosis!) However the flesh is not to rule us, we are to rule over it - to master and subdue its appetites. Lack of self-control has been the ruin of many a man. So those who have knowledge and understanding will make every effort to add to their knowledge self-control. Fasting is one way (both a discipline and a devotion) we have to master the appetites of the flesh.

Steadfastness (hypomone): Resolute determined pursuit of an end, unswayed by trials, sufferings or setbacks. This is a quality of the mature Christian, who sets his course by what he has seen in God by faith, and not by what he sees in his circumstances. It comes from self-control because that is how we train ourselves to value the spiritual above the carnal.

Godliness (eusebia): Reverence and devotion towards God. It may seem strange that this quality is not earlier on, but it is our perseverance that proves our faith genuine. It is through persevering that we show in action and not just words that we have laid our lives on the altar as an acceptable act of worship.

Brotherly affection (philadelphia): The love that exists within a family. God's community is to be marked by this expression of family, and not by religious observances or doctrinal statements. But this is a love that is born from godliness - it is God who draws us together. Any other source that is attempted to try and recreate this atmosphere and environment will surely fail.

Love (agape): The ultimate expression of proactive selfless love that characterises God himself. Agape is the ultimate quality, the one which all the other qualities lead us towards. And as Paul says so clearly in his letter to the Corinthians, if we fail to lay hold of agape, all of our other activities are in vain.

May we grasp these qualities in increasing measure that we may be effective and fruitful in our knowledge of Jesus Christ.


Without deviation or delay!

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’” (Mk 1:1-3)

And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mk 1:10)

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Mk 1:12)

Where the Gospel of Matthew has a characteristic use of the word behold (idou) for emphasis and to stress importance, it seems that Mark has a word of his own which he uses in an equally characteristic way. It is the word immediately. This is the Greek adjective euthus. It is used twelve times in the first chapter alone.

What is not apparent in our English translations, however, is that this self same word is used in the opening Scripture that Mark uses to introduce and set the context for his Gospel. You see the word euthus does not just have a temporal application - meaning immediately, without delay, it also has a spacial application meaning straight, without deviation.

So when Mark quotes Isaiah, saying that all the paths of the Lord are to be made straight, it is the same word that he then goes on to use time and time again to describe the ministry of Jesus.

Some say that this was just a linguistic quirk of the Gospel writer. But to me it seems laden with significance. Mark is highlighting that Jesus is the Lord prophesied by Isaiah, and that all his ways are straight. They are without deviation or delay.

It also I think adds an extra dimension to the ministry of Elijah, John the Baptist, the Church - the way we are to prepare the way of the Lord is not just by making his paths straight... it is by making his paths straight away!


Out of the mouth of infants

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?” (Mt 21:15)

Reading through the gospel of Matthew, I have been struck again by the emphasis Jesus put on children.

At that time Jesus declared, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;" (Mt 11:25)

As adults we can often major on our responsibility to teach the children, to impart to them our wisdom, our experience, our knowledge. This is right and proper, we should train them in the way that they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it. But are we as open when it comes to receiving from our children? Jesus said there would be things revealed to the children that would not be revealed to the wise and learned. The implication is that if we only instruct our children, but do not listen to them we are missing part of the picture. Sometimes, like old Eli, it takes a while for this penny to drop... they just may have caught something from God that we have not!

We had a recent example in our congregation of a family who went to Estonia on a mission trip. Before their journey their young son had a dream from God with specific details about a man they would meet and how they would meet him. They did indeed have their most significant encounter with a man who matched all the details from that dream. God didn't give the dream to the dad, or to the mum, but to one of their children.

Jesus said something else quite remarkable, and quite puzzling about children:

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Mt 18:10)

Now I don't pretend to understand the full significance of this, but I do have a few ideas. Angels are heaven's messengers, dispatched from God to minister and bring messages to those on earth. When Jacob had his dream he saw them both descending and ascending. Perhaps the messages, like the messengers go both ways. Since the word angel and messenger are one and the same, this is certainly the implication in this verse: their messengers always see the face of the Father. And if their messengers always get through then so must their messages - their prayers.

I was talking to a friend last night. He shared with me that he had be totally healed of a cold for the first time. Until then his experience had always been, go to the ministry line with a streaming nose, get touched powerfully by God, but still go back with a streaming nose. This time was different, and do you know who prayed? His daughter - "Please Jesus make daddy's cold all better. Amen." That was it! But that was all that was needed, because the message got through!

In our own household we have spotted a pattern. The nights when Andrew sleeps the best, are the nights when we asked Michael to pray for him! God delights to answer the prayers of children! I tell you, I'm not wasting my son's prayers on just "Help me sleep nicely" any more. I'm getting him to pray for all kinds of things now!

Jesus himself said we had a lot to lean from our children:

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:2-4)

We should never exclude them from what Jesus is doing in his church, for they are just as significant, if not more so, than the adults:

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:14)

Is it time we raised our expectation of what God is doing in our children? I think so. Is it time to include them in our prayers and our ministry? I think so. After all what do the scriptures say: that your sons and your daughters will prophesy, or that they will play with colouring books?


Open to reason

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Some believe that if they have heard from God then they can bypass checking their views against the Scriptures or the accountability of spiritual authority in the church. Others believe that fresh revelation from heaven no longer occurs for the self-same reasons. They are both wrong.

God still sends wisdom down from above, but this wisdom has certain hallmarks on it, characteristics by which we can recognise it as genuine. One of these hallmarks is that genuine revelation is always open to reason.

"Hold on", you may say, "surely if God has spoken that is the end of the matter. There is no room for discussion, and no need for reasoning. To think otherwise is to rob God of his authority."

Well, that's true. If God has spoken then that is the end of the matter. God cannot lie, and his word never returns to him void, so if he said something we can have absolute confidence that he will do it, no matter what anyone else thinks. Let God be true and every man a liar.

"But haven't you just contradicted yourself?"

It may seem that way. But this is precisely where so many go so badly wrong. Although God's revelation has absolute authority, our perception of that revelation does not. No-one has perfect 20-20 spiritual vision; we all see as in a mirror darkly; we only get a part of the puzzle. God has given us an inbuilt dependence on each other, and a need for accountability, because no one man sees it all! The Holy Spirit recognises this, because it is he who distributed the gifts amongst the body according to his will. So he will never bring his revelation to a man in a way that shrinks from the advice or authority of others in the body.

Genuine revelation has nothing to hide from Scriptural investigation, for God will never contradict his written word. Nor does it fear the advice of others, for God never speaks to a man in isolation, he speaks to his church. Out of the mouth of two or three witnesses is every matter to be established. The Spirit will never violate the kingdom principles of the body that he himself puts in place.

When a man sets his doctrine or decisions upon revelation that is not willing to be tested in this way, he leaves himself wide open for deception and error.


Thank you, whoever you are!

I received an anonymous gift today. It was totally unexpected, but much appreciated. I have no idea who it was, what prompted them to send me a gift, or even if they read this blog. But whoever you are I just want to say, "Thank you!"

[It's someone who knows my address, and my taste in movies, but who calls me Christopher... hmmm...]