The healing of Jairus’ daughter – a few thoughts (Mark 5:21-43)

The Raising of Jairus's Daughter, 1885 (oil on canvas)I’ve long been intrigued by the episode in the gospels where Jesus is called by a synagogue leader called Jairus to heal his sick daughter. On the way he meets another woman – a woman who doesn’t even speak to him, but simply touches his cloak and is healed. The whole episode is fascinating – you can read it here.

What I find fascinating about it is, why are these two episodes put together? Does it have any particular meaning, or is it just there because it simply happened like that? I think there are good reasons to believe they are linked.

There are at least two reasons to believe they are linked. One clue is that they both involve the same element of time – twelve years. The woman who had been suffering with bleeding had, we are told, been suffering for twelve years. And the little girl who was brought back to life was twelve years old. Why does Mark feel the need to include these details – it’s not as if they are really necessary to the story?

The second clue is that both of the women healed are called daughters. Jairus of course talks about his daughter. However, in v34 Jesus describes the woman who had been suffering ‘daughter’. This is a highly unusual thing for Jesus to call anyone – in fact this is the only incident in the four gospels where he calls anyone ‘daughter’ (the incident is also recorded in Luke and Matthew, where Jesus also uses the word).

What does all this mean? I think the reason these things have been recorded in this way is to help us to understand what is going on under the surface.

The problem for the woman suffering from the bleeding was not simply a physical issue: anything to do with blood would have made you ceremonially unclean. She would have lived separately from the people, and – more importantly – separately from God. She would have been unable to come into the temple to worship and offer sacrifices. In a sense, her life was a kind of ‘living death’ – she was separated from God and from her neighbours.

Jairus’ daughter, on the other hand, had no such physical issue – but perhaps we are meant to draw a connection between them. Other passages in the Bible describe us as being “dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) – that is, although we may have biological life, we are spiritually dead before God.

When Jesus commends the woman, he says: “your faith has healed you.” And he tells Jairus: “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” In other words, it wasn’t the act of touching which brought healing – it was faith in Jesus.

At the end of the episode, it’s notable that the word ‘daughter’ is not used: ‘the child’ is used instead – whereas she is called Jairus’ daughter twice beforehand. It’s a subtle way of emphasizing a change in status – the primary thing about the child used to be that she was a daughter of Jairus: now she is a daughter of someone else.

Putting all of this together, I think we have two women in very different circumstances – yet Jesus does the same for both of them. Jesus heals them, gives them new life, and makes them daughters. As John says, “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Both of them were spiritually dead, and were given spiritual life through faith. One of them comes to Jesus, and for the other Jesus comes to them – illustrating the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. This story illustrates for me the depth and richness of the gospels: a simple story which can be read entirely at face value – and yet, when you start to probe into it, yields a much more complex story. I’m sure there’s much more you could say about it, but those are a few of my thoughts for now!

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Should an Archbishop speak out about politics?

justin welbyJustin Welby has been in the news recently for speaking out about politics. Notably, he called for higher taxes to tackle an ‘unjust economy’. He’s garnered quite a lot of criticism for speaking out in this way, and has written an article defending speaking out publicly.

Others have written about this more eloquently and wisely than I – I enjoyed what Ian Paul had to say – so I’ll just make a few brief comments.

Firstly: It’s not wrong for an Archbishop – or any Christian – to get involved with politics. I believe in getting involved in politics because I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of everything and cares about the whole of creation. I outlined a little about this in my post about not understanding Tim Farron. God’s laws are given for the good of all, and thus I think it’s right for Christians to be involved in politics.

Secondly: Christian leaders should be very careful about being involved with politics. One of the problems with politics is that, whatever you say, people will disagree with. That’s how it works. This is why I think Christian leaders have a particular responsibility to say only what they are absolutely sure is right. I haven’t spoken in any of my sermons about the way I voted in in the Brexit referendum, for example – even though I think there were good reasons for voting the way I did. If you align yourself with a particular cause, people may well think that the Kingdom of God is aligned with that particular cause. In contrast, Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus’ kingdom stretches across national boundaries, across political boundaries, across just about every boundary. Although I may be of one particular political persuasion, I believe that there are faithful Christians who have other political persuasions – and I want to welcome them to have a place at the table. Anyone who Christ welcomes, I want to welcome too. Making political pronouncements which align with one particular style of politics – unless you have a cast-iron Biblical reason for doing so – is wrong and unnecessarily divides the body of Christ on political lines.

Thirdly: Economics is not a straightforward matter. A lot of people seem to be glad that the Archbishop is doing something about the poor (and Christians should be concerned with the poor). The thing is, as I already talked about in my post about the poor, poverty is hugely complicated. I am far from persuaded that what the poor need is more money from the government – in many cases, at least. Among the people I work with one of the biggest problems is family breakdown – fewer people are getting married, more and more children are being born into families with what used to be described as ‘complicated’ arrangements. All this is having a huge effect. I think this is nothing short of a national scandal – I’m sure I’ve read the UK has the highest rate of family breakdown in the developed world.

Why isn’t the Archbishop speaking out about this, for example? Any why is he instead advocating for higher taxes, which many are convinced will not actually help?

Finally: The ultimate solution we have is Jesus. This is the biggest problem I have with Justin Welby getting involved in the way that he has. The solution God has given us to the problems of the world is not politics, but Jesus Christ – who alone has the power to forgive sin and give us the power to live in God’s ways. Welby seems to be putting the State in the place of the gospel. If he actually spent more time publicly calling people to repentance and faith in Christ it would have a far greater effect than asking the government to sort out economic injustice.

I’m not asking for the church to simply preach the gospel and do nothing about social issues. But rather, the church needs to tackle the social issues with the gospel. As people come to faith in Christ, they learn to love God and their neighbour as they are transformed by the Spirit. And it is this kind of language which I see absent from much of what Justin Welby says (and, to be fair, not just him but most of the Church of England).

Earlier on I watched the latest Anglican Unscripted episode, and I enjoyed the comments made in the second half of the video talking about this subject. If the church was committed to the task of evangelism, it would have a much bigger effect on the country than anything the state could do.

Sanctification: The next big debate within the church?

exchange-of-ideas-222787_640For the first few hundred years of the church’s history the big debate within the church was the nature of Jesus Christ – who, exactly, was he in relation to God? This is where the doctrine of the Trinity came from – as theologians debated and discussed God’s revelation of himself in the Bible. Similar debates have happened through the years. Around 500 years ago, at the time of the Reformation, the debate was about justification: that is, whether justification was sola fide – by faith alone – or whether we co-operated with God in our salvation through good works.

I think we are entering into another debate within the church – this time in the area of sanctification. Sanctification is a theological word which basically means the process by which we become holy – becoming more and more the people who God wants us to be, setting aside sin and increasing our love for him and others.

So why do I think this is going to be the next big debate within the church? Allow me to explain with a particular example.

Earlier on today I watched a video by John Piper:

The video talks about how we should ‘flee youthful passions’ – we should do what we can to avoid things which are sinful, and even things which would cause us to sin. (I should add at this point, I have nothing against John Piper and have benefitted from his books and videos – I am using this video because I think it’s a good example of a wider issue in many churches). Many churches might preach a similar message. What’s the problem with that?

As I see it, there are a few problems:

  • It locates the source of the problem as external to us. This is a problem because we know that the source of the problem is our hearts, from which sin flows (e.g. Mark 7:15). If I see an attractive woman and look at her lustfully, the problem is not with the woman – it’s with me. The problem is our hearts need to be changed, not our circumstances.
  • It’s a self-centred way of looking at sin: it’s about fixing myself, rather than loving God and loving others. Of course, if we sin we will harm others – but I think the Bible calls us to more than avoiding harm!
  • Following on from that – it focusses on ‘stop it’ as a solution to sin – stop thinking the bad thing, stop feeling the bad thing, stop doing the bad thing. It doesn’t think about what we should do instead. So when Paul talks about ‘fleeing’ evil desires – what should we flee to?

All of this has come home to me as I’ve been thinking about my other Friend Zone project. Recently I reviewed Aimee Byrd’s book Why Can’t We Be Friends?, which is subtitled Avoidance is not Purity. As I read that book, and as I’ve been thinking about the issue of friendship between men and women, it has struck me how our understanding of sanctification has become deficient.

Too often I think Christians are so fearful of sin they don’t want to do anything! I was born and raised in evangelical churches, from a Christian home, and yet I think I spent many years of my life scared of sin – scared of just the kind of thing that John Piper talks about in the video. It’s only come home to me in the last few years that we are not to avoid doing what is right out of fear! I think Christians should have more confidence in God, who “has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).

I believe that our understanding of sanctification is what lies behind much of the debate in the church at the moment around sexuality and particularly same-sex attraction (e.g. the evangelical criticism of the Revoice conference – see a few thoughts I wrote, for example). I don’t want to offer any particular position on that here, other than I think there is an area which could do with further discussion and thinking about what the Bible does and does not say.

The root of the problem seems to be whether we think of sanctification as primarily about stopping doing / thinking / feeling wrong things, or whether we think of sanctification primarily about the transformation of our desires to orient them to love rightly.

You can hear my thoughts about sanctification in this sermon I preached from Galatians 5:13-26 (see below), but if you’d like a book recommendation to explore it further I can think of nothing better than Sinclair Ferguson’s book Devoted to God (as well as his previous book The Whole Christ, which is also well worth reading).

Debates in the church are not necessarily a bad thing: I think the Reformation was a good thing and led to much good fruit. I pray that any upcoming debates on sanctification in the church will lead to more light, and lead the church to grow in holiness and love for the Lord and his people.

Jesus – more divisive than Brexit or Trump

Every so often I record a short ‘thought’ for the Tendring Talking Times. My previous thought is available here.

There is a huge amount of division in society at the moment. The biggest culprit is of course Brexit – friends have fallen out with each other over this one. I personally have lost friends over this issue – some people see me as now being ‘beyond the pale’ because I hold a different opinion to them. Similarly, our friends across the Atlantic in America have a divisive figure in Donald Trump: people seem to either love him, or love to hate him. Division is everywhere you look!

Jesus had something to say about division – and not what you would expect. He said:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
‘“a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law –
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”
Matthew 10:34-36

Jesus says here that he is more divisive than Donald Trump, more divisive than Brexit. He even divides families. How so? Because ultimately humanity is divided not into Brexiters or Remainers, or any political division – but rather into those who accept Jesus Christ and those who do not. Jesus himself as a divisive figure – some people loved him, but many hated him even to the point of nailing him to a cross.

Jesus said that to follow him was taking up your cross – to always be at odds with the world, including even one’s own family. The battle is even inside us as we seek to put to death within us that which is sinful. Christians are never promised a life of ease, but rather a life of taking up one’s cross and dying to sin as we rise to new life in Christ.

As Jesus says elsewhere in the same chapter, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.” If Jesus caused division and caused people to hate him, those who follow him will also find the same.

However, this is not a reason to despair and to doubt – it is a sign of God’s favour. Think of Jesus’ famous words in the Beatitudes: “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Those who stand up for Jesus, who stand up for righteousness, can expect persecution in today’s world. However, this is not a cause for concern but a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus is a divisive figure – as he always has been. We are living in days when it is becoming increasingly difficult to follow him in public life. And yet we know that when we encounter opposition for Jesus’ sake we are pleasing our Father in heaven.

Those who persevere to the end, those who take up their cross and follow Jesus, no matter how hard it is, will be inheritors of eternal life. In Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea from Rev 3, he says: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Those who persevere to the end, those who do not give up in the struggle, now enjoy the favour of God and will sit on the throne with the Lord Jesus and be with him forever.

As George Duffield put it in his hymn, Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus:

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
the strife will not be long;
this day the noise of battle,
the next the victor’s song.
To him that overcometh
a crown of life shall be;
he with the King of glory
shall reign eternally.

Ministry in an anti-authoritarian society

teacher-379218_960_720I had a little epiphany last night. I don’t usually have epiphanies – they’re pretty rare for me to be honest – but last night I genuinely saw something which I hadn’t before. It’s probably because I am slow and dense, but still – an epiphany is an epiphany.

It happened in my home group. The home group I lead is comprised of a mix of people, but a good number of them are relatively new to the church and to the faith in general – some of them have no Christian background whatsoever. Over the last few years I have seen a lot of spiritual growth in many ways, but there are also challenges. (And, if you’re from my home group and reading this… hello. I hope you don’t mind me using the group as an example!)

Anyway, last night we were chatting and got onto the subject of women bishops. One of the people in the group said they respected my position but didn’t always agree because “different people have got different perspectives.” As I was thinking about that, all of a sudden a light came on and I realised: so much of what I’d been thinking about with the group could be explained by anti-authoritarianism, that is, a rejection of authority and the idea that you can only really trust yourself (individualism).

Although I’ve heard about our culture being anti-authoritarian (many times), I think seeing it worked out in a group scenario just helped the lightbulb come on for me. It explains so much of what I’ve noticed:

  • Qualifications don’t count for much. In the group, people do listen to me respectfully, but I’m not sure my opinion – as someone who has spent three years at theological college – counts for that much compared with anyone else. It’s hard to gauge, of course, but certainly there is no culture of ‘Phill says it, therefore it must be true’. (It’s not just clergy – in wider society there’s been a collapse of trust in leadership across the board.)
  • Saying ‘The Bible says’ isn’t enough. We’ve discussed a couple of ‘hot potato’ issues over the past couple of years – e.g. same-sex marriage and women bishops – and, in both instances, we have looked at the relevant Bible passages and books, but I’m not sure it’s changed people’s opinions very much. People do want to learn from the Bible – don’t get me wrong – but seem reluctant to accept what it says when it comes to some of the tougher issues. It’s partly because, as I said, there’s always another interpretation.

(And, I should say at this point, I’m not being in any way down on my group – I think this kind of thing is going on in churches all across the country. It’s just the air we breathe, culturally speaking. It’s certainly not the fault of any individual).

Now, I don’t think these things are necessarily bad – for example, sometimes a culture of deference to an authority figure can be a bad thing – if that figure isn’t doing what is right. It’s led to people not being brought to justice, for example, because no-one was afraid to question them. That said, in the Bible it is right to show a healthy respect to those who God has called to lead – e.g. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.” The idea of submitting to the authority of a vicar or pastor is very counter-cultural these days – and yet, it’s right there in the Bible.

Similarly with “The Bible says” – it’s not wrong to ask questions. The Berean Jews in Acts 17:11: “… were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Berean Jews received the message, but they searched the Scriptures to see for themselves whether it was true. They didn’t take Paul on authority but turned to the Bible – I think that’s a great pattern! At the same time, it is possible to question in a way which is unhelpful – I explored this a little in “that’s just your interpretation”.

What lessons can we learn?

This anti-authoritarian, individualistic attitude will of course have an effect on ministry in all sorts of contexts. It’s made me open my eyes in particular to what may or may not be going on in sermons – just because something is said from the pulpit doesn’t mean that it will be believed by the congregation. I’m sure this has always been the case but it must be doubly so at the moment.

It seems to me there are a few things the church can do:

  • Give people the ability to be confident in the Scriptures. I would say this includes being more explicit about teaching about the Bible, perhaps including secondary matters such as textual criticism. Books such as ‘Taking God at His Word’ by Kevin DeYoung, or ‘Unbreakable’ by Andrew Wilson – that kind of thing. The Scriptures are our starting point – if people can’t be confident in what the Bible says, they can’t be confident about anything in the Christian faith.
  • Teach the Christian faith comprehensively. I’ve argued before that we need more than simply expository Bible teaching – we need Biblical and Systematic theology as well. Biblical Theology means understanding the Bible as one big story, understanding how it all fits together. Systematic theology means looking at what the whole Bible says about a particular topic. In particular I think it would be good to revive the discipline of catechism.
  • Help people to understand authority. There’s a good post over on Crossway about spiritual authority in an anti-authoritarian age with some helpful suggestions.
  • Be patient. Rome was not built in a day – people who have lived and breathed the air of the world for all their lives will not instantly come to a full and mature understanding of the faith.
  • Trust the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can work in any heart, and ultimately it is his work – something which gives me confidence!

At the end of the day we know that the Word of God is still living, active, and powerful, and it is that which will change people’s hearts. When I finished college, the principal gave us these words from Isaiah to go out with, and they are still true today:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
it will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Why we should be grateful for Vicky Beeching

undividedI recently talked a little about Vicky Beeching’s book – Undivided – and why I think it is dangerous for the church. I stand by what I said there – but, at the same time, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and I think there are reasons to be grateful to Vicky Beeching. In particular, I think the book exposes the truth in two ways:

1. It exposes the truth about people.

One of the things which has really come home to me over the last month is the lack of depth and theological understanding in the UK church. It is pitiably weak in certain quarters.

Vicky’s story is a powerful one, for sure – but in a church which knew the Scriptures and the gospel, it wouldn’t have made a dent. My heart weeps for the many faithful Christians who will read this book and be swayed by it. Why are they swayed? Because they do not know the Scriptures deeply enough. This has something which I have hitherto only suspected – but Vicky’s book has brought into painfully to light.

There’s an intriguing moment at the end of John 6:

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t dilute his teaching to make it easier for people to follow him. The words he speaks are “full of the Spirit and life”. If you want to follow him, you must follow it all – or it will be worth nothing. Vicky Beeching’s book – and the question of gay marriage in general – exposes people for who they really are: are they followers of Jesus, who take up their cross and follow, however hard it may be? Or will turn back and no longer follow him at this point?

Joshua said to the people of Israel as they entered into the Promised Land: “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:15). We are at the point where the church has to choose whom it will serve – the gods of equality, sexual liberation and personal fulilment – or the God of the Bible. It cannot be both.

That said, if people do not know the Scriptures deeply enough, then they do not entirely have themselves to blame:

2. It exposes where the church has gone wrong.

If the church had been teaching the faith as it should have been, there would be no problem. I’ve been realising, however, that the church has not been teaching the faith – in particular, I think the church has failed in catechesis: teaching a basic systematic understanding of the faith. This is where I think many evangelical churches fall down – they preach the Bible week by week, which is vital, but neglect other things which are vital. I talked about this a little when I started my New City Catechism series.

In particular, I think the church has lost the understanding of sin that was so key at the Reformation: the idea that sin is pervasive and infects everything – our desires, our minds, our wills, everything. Too often people have a fairly weak view of sin as ‘bad things we do from time to time’. Children are often taught that kind of understanding to begin with, but sadly it seems that many adults never move beyond it. I know this from personal experience – I think for many years I saw sin as being something I did rather than something more fundamental, a matter of the heart. As Jesus said in Mark 7:21 “it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come”. We’re not sinners because we sin – we sin because we are sinners. Because our hearts are wicked and corrupt, we bring forth the fruit of sin.

Recently in our church we’ve started using Order Two communion – the order in Common Worship (the standard CofE liturgy) based on the Book of Common Prayer. The confession has generated a bit of discussion, and it struck me that it’s the understanding of sin which is under question. (I should say that I minister in a conservative evangelical church which has had a strong Bible-preaching ministry for forty or more years!) I’m not saying this to criticise the church, but rather I think it illustrates that even among solid evangelical churches there has been a failure to adequately teach the faith which can leave believers exposed when error comes in. If people are rocked when they read Vicky Beeching’s book – or, more personally, when a close friend or family members ‘comes out’ – then it shows the church has not properly equipped them.

We as a church have often focussed so much on the ‘nice’ bits of the faith – worship and praise, the love of God, etc – that we’ve neglected the important doctrines of sin, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, hell, etc.

One of the things I’d like to see – as an Anglican – is a revival of the theology of the Book of Common Prayer. I honestly think the church wouldn’t be in half the mess it is if the prayer book had been retained as the staple diet of the church – or its theology, at least. Common Worship (released in 2000, which almost every church uses now) waters down so much of the gospel content that you can bend it to almost any theology. In our midweek communion service we’ve been using Order Two for nearly a year now – and it’s like balm to my bruised soul: I am free to be just exactly who I am before God – a sinner who is saved by grace, nothing more, nothing less. Hallelujah!

My wife had an interesting perspective on this – she grew up on Common Worship (or its precursor) – and didn’t really understand communion. She made the comment to me that the communion service suddenly became much clearer when using the Prayer Book style service. The BCP communion preaches the gospel in a way that Common Worship doesn’t.

What happens now?

I think there are reasons to be grateful, and reasons to be confident. Now that Vicky Beeching’s book – amongst other things – have exposed the truth, we can do something about it. I feel that for too long in this country we’ve been muddling along as a church, saying a few nice ‘Jesus’ things where appropriate but staying in the shallows, theologically speaking. That won’t work any more.

What this country needs is a revival, and a revival will not happen without people who are committed to living out Jesus’ teaching in every area. People who are willing to take up their cross and follow him. People who are willing to stand up and be counted.

This has been the case before in previous generations – as I mentioned when I talked about the hymn O Jesus I have promised. It can be so again. I think God often allows these things to happen to purify the church – to turn halfhearted people either out of the church, or move them to obey him in a more wholehearted way.

A wholehearted church can make a big difference – I was encouraged earlier today to read Ian Paul’s post on revival – Christianity eventually became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire by growing at around 3.42% per year. That’s not a huge amount – and yet it changed the course of history.

So what practical difference should we make as a church? Many things, of course! But in practical terms, in broad brush stroke terms, what I’d like to see is:

  • Pastors and teachers who are trained properly and able to teach their congregations the faith. I only realised the value in theological training after spending three years at theological college – I’m so glad the CofE made me do it, otherwise I’d probably have said “I’ve got the Bible, I’ve got a commentary… now let me at it! No need for this academic stuff!” Any church serious about growth needs to invest in the quality of its theological education. Putting down deep roots into the Scriptures and theology are essential for surviving testing times – and only people who have those deep roots can help others to gain them.
  • A revival of catechesis – as I’ve already talked about.
  • A renewed commitment to church planting. I am heartened that so many churches seem to be talking about church planting at the moment. I was talking to someone recently who said that the best way of reaching people is by planting a church – if the church in the UK is serious about reaching the unreached, we need to be serious about planting new churches. I was taught at college “Growing churches are church planting churches” – and I think this is true. The UK needs more churches.

Above all, we should have confidence in the glorious truth of the gospel – that we have a God who saves sinners, and even today is still drawing men and women to himself. I was reading a book yesterday – Matt Lee Anderson’s book on questioning – and in the chapter I read last night he said that the purpose of questioning is to fasten our minds on the truth. There is an objective truth out there, and we are only deluding ourselves if we deviate from it. This is what our society is finding out the hard way is it tries very hard to write out the fact of God’s truth. We as Christians know God’s Word, his truth, and we should be confident in proclaiming it as we know it is the way that God transforms lives and societies.

I finish with the words of Paul to his protege, Timothy, his charge which I look to to describe my ministry and I think are appropriate here:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

A few years ago we preached through 2 Timothy, and it struck me then that it is one of the most prophetic books in the Bible – it describes our situation exactly in the church at the moment. And yet, the solution is the same: preach the gospel. Let’s have confidence in doing just that.

Hymnology: O Jesus I Have Promised

I mentioned the other day that Prince Louis was going to be baptised on Monday. According to details released online, William and Catherine chose two hymns – O Jesus I have promised and Lord of all hopefulness. I was generally impressed with the selection of hymns and readings – they’re not the hymns and readings which everyone chooses, but I believe reflect a desire of the couple to genuinely bring their children up in the Christian faith. I thought the choice of O Jesus I have promised was particularly appropriate, and I’d like to talk a bit more about that hymn now.

I found a page with the history of the hymn – I found it an interesting read! At one point in the Church of England, it was sung so often at confirmation services (the hymn itself was written for the confirmation of John Bode’s children) that bishops had to request it not to be sung so much!

What strikes me about the hymn is how it’s so counter-cultural at the moment. According to the history page I just linked to, the hymn is based on John 12:23-26:

Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.

Jesus here was facing his own death. Jesus knew what was going to happen to him – he knew that he had to die. But he also knew that this death was going to end in glory: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…” – he knew that his death was going to result in “many seeds”. In dying, Jesus accomplished the Father’s mission – that of forgiving our sins.

It is the same with us: we, too, face the same path as Jesus – laying down our lives for the good of others. We must hate our lives “in this world” – that is to say, we are to set aside the ways of the world for the ways of Christ. Hate is a strong word – not to say we should hate ourselves, but rather hate worldliness even when we find it in ourselves. There are two paths, two ways to live – either we can serve the world, or we can follow Jesus. You can’t do both. James 4:4 makes this clear: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

The stark choice – Jesus or the world – is then sweetened with the promise of eternal life for those who do follow Jesus. As Jesus rose to new life, so too will those who lay down their lives for Jesus’ sake rise again. And “My Father will honour the one who serves me” – God will honour those who serve Jesus, however hard it is, however much they give up – they may not be honoured by the world, but they will be honoured by God.

As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

All of this is beautifully encapsulated in O Jesus I have promised. I particularly like this verse:

Oh, let me feel Thee near me;
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
The tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me,
Around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer,
And shield my soul from sin.

The idea of being corrupted by ‘the world’ is a very unfashionable idea, even within the church. And yet I think this verse expresses it well – there are foes there, which are both ‘around’ and ‘within’ (sometimes expressed as the trio ‘the world, the flesh and the devil’) but we need to seek Jesus who will shield us.

In fact, it makes me sad that, looking at the church today, this kind of message is often so absent: worldly thinking has overtaken in many quarters, and people have lost the notion that following Jesus involves a rejection of the world.

I hope and pray for the church, that this hymn would be sung with conviction at confirmations once again! But most of all that this idea of choosing Jesus over the world would prevail in the church. And I pray that little Prince Louis – as well as his brother and sister – would grow up to know this truth, and would grow up to plant his footsteps in those of Christ, and not the world.

Jesus calls us to lay down our lives for hymn – but it is no hardship, because in doing so we find true life.

Oh, guide me, call me, draw me,
Uphold me to the end;
And then in heaven receive me,
My Saviour and my Friend.

This is part of an occasional series on hymns – you can see the rest under the hymnology tag.