Day 282

Life-changing Words

Wisdom Psalm 119:1-8
New Testament 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:16
Old Testament Jeremiah 18:1-20:18

Introduction

Earl had far too much money. He did not need to work. He took all kinds of drugs, including heroin. At the age of thirty he ended up in hospital.

Someone came to visit him in hospital and gave him a New Testament. He was thrilled. The paper was very thin and was ideal for rolling joints. He rolled his way through Matthew, Mark and Luke. When he came to John’s Gospel, he started reading. As a result of reading the words of John’s Gospel, he encountered Jesus. He was filled with joy.

The psychologist in charge of his case was a very beautiful young woman, who had been a model. One day she said to Earl, ‘Look, I have it all – success, beauty and endless qualifications – yet I am not fulfilled. Your life is a mess yet you seem to have something – a peace and a joy. What is it?’

Then he led her to faith in Jesus Christ. Later they were married. Earl and his wife, Thommy, were great friends of ours at theological college in Oxford. His life had been radically changed by the words of God in the Bible.

Wisdom

Psalm 119:1-8

Psalm 119

א Aleph

1 Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
    who walk according to the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
3 they do no wrong
    but follow his ways.
4 You have laid down precepts
    that are to be fully obeyed.
5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast
    in obeying your decrees!
6 Then I would not be put to shame
    when I consider all your commands.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart
    as I learn your righteous laws.
8 I will obey your decrees;
    do not utterly forsake me.

Commentary

Words of blessing

If you want a ‘blessed’ life – one without any regrets – then you need God’s words. This, the longest of all the psalms, is all about the blessings of aligning your conduct and conversation with God’s words.

‘You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him’ (vv.1–2, MSG).

God loves you and wants to bless you. Through God’s words in Scripture, discover the blessings of life in relationship with God. Seek him with all your heart (v.2), walk in his ways (v.3), learn his words (v.7) and you will never be put to shame (v.6).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that your words bring such blessing to my life. Help me to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ them.

New Testament

1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:16

1Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you.

Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians’ Faith

2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead —Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Paul’s Ministry in Thessalonica

2You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed —God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

Commentary

Words of power

No church is perfect. If you find the perfect church, don’t join it. The moment you or I join the church it will become imperfect! Nevertheless, there is such a thing as a model church a church that is a good example and an inspiration to others. People will travel from all over the world to learn from this kind of church.

The church in Thessalonica was a model church (1:7): ‘Believers look up to you... all over the place’ (vv.7–8, MSG). It was a church full of faith, love and, especially, hope: ‘They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of… Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom’ (v.10, MSG). The church was loved by God (v.4). It was a suffering church (v.6), boldly proclaiming the words of God. The Lord’s message rang out from them, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but everywhere (v.8).

This should be our aim and our prayer – to be a church worthy of imitation, where the gospel rings out not only in our own local area, but everywhere. The aim is not empire building, but gospel spreading. Paul does not commend the Thessalonians for the size of their church (we do not know how big it was). Instead, he commends them, ‘you’re the message!’ (v.8, MSG).

The message came ‘not simply with words but also in power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction’ (v.5):

  • Words
    There is a time to speak. It is not enough simply to live out the Christian life. Tell people about Jesus and what he has done.
  • Power
    Words in themselves are not enough; you also need power. The power of God speaks through you; the Holy Spirit bringing deep conviction to the heart of the hearer.
  • Lives
    Paul goes on, ‘You know how we lived among you for your sake’ (v.5). Even powerful words will not have a lasting effect unless your life is consistent with the message. It is not life or lips, but life and lips.

You, like the apostle Paul, have been ‘entrusted with the gospel’ (2:4). It is an immense privilege. Proclaim faithfully the words of God, ‘not after crowd approval – but God approval’ (v.4, MSG). Don’t misuse words: ‘We never used words to butter you up… And God knows we never used words as a smoke screen to take advantage of you’ (vv.4–5, MSG).

The task of proclaiming the gospel is a wonderful privilege as well as a great responsibility. God has entrusted the work to us. Ultimately you are accountable to him and to him alone. Don’t be concerned primarily with whether the preaching of the gospel pleases other people – in all probability it will not – but be concerned that it pleases God (v.6).

Paul did not simply throw words at the Thessalonians. He was ‘never patronizing, never condescending’ (v.7, MSG). He loved them like a parent – caring for them and sharing his whole life with them (vv.7–8), and setting them an example and encouraging them to live for God (v.12): ‘Like a father with his child, holding your hand, whispering encouragement, showing you step by step how to live well before God’ (v.12, MSG).

Speaking the words of God is not always easy. Paul writes, ‘Surely you will remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you’ (v.9).

  • ‘Toil’
    Preaching the gospel involves hard work; ‘working our fingers to the bone’ (v.9, MSG). Some of the work may appear tedious. I think of our amazing ‘A’ team on Alpha, who work from 5pm until 11pm – cooking, cleaning, serving and scrubbing saucepans.
  • ‘Hardship’
    The ‘revival’ came at a cost. There was insult, strong opposition, suffering (v.2) and hostility (v.15). But in spite of this there was great joy, ‘You welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit’ (1:6). Suffering and joy go hand in hand in the New Testament. Do not expect one without the other. Many around the world are suffering great hardship for their preaching of the gospel.
  • ‘Working day and night’
    Not only is there an intensity about the work, there is also a huge amount to do. In Paul’s case, like most Christians today, he was not a full-time evangelist. He was doing two jobs at once. He was preaching during the day and earning a living at night.

The Thessalonians recognised that the words of the gospel spoken by Paul were not just human words, but the very words of God (2:13). They had a life-changing impact – so that the Thessalonians were willing to pass the message on, in spite of all the suffering and hostility they faced.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the life-changing power of the gospel. Give me the strength, energy and enthusiasm to keep on telling people the good news about Jesus.

Old Testament

Jeremiah 18:1-20:18

At the Potter’s House

18This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ 12 But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts. ’”

13 Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“Inquire among the nations:
    Who has ever heard anything like this?
A most horrible thing has been done
    by Virgin Israel.
14 Does the snow of Lebanon
    ever vanish from its rocky slopes?
Do its cool waters from distant sources
    ever stop flowing?
15 Yet my people have forgotten me;
    they burn incense to worthless idols,
which made them stumble in their ways,
    in the ancient paths.
They made them walk in byways,
    on roads not built up.
16 Their land will be an object of horror
    and of lasting scorn;
all who pass by will be appalled
    and will shake their heads.
17 Like a wind from the east,
    I will scatter them before their enemies;
I will show them my back and not my face
    in the day of their disaster.”

18 They said, “Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not cease, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.”

19 Listen to me, Lord;
    hear what my accusers are saying!
20 Should good be repaid with evil?
    Yet they have dug a pit for me.
Remember that I stood before you
    and spoke in their behalf
    to turn your wrath away from them.
21 So give their children over to famine;
    hand them over to the power of the sword.
Let their wives be made childless and widows;
    let their men be put to death,
    their young men slain by the sword in battle.
22 Let a cry be heard from their houses
    when you suddenly bring invaders against them,
for they have dug a pit to capture me
    and have hidden snares for my feet.
23 But you, Lord, know
    all their plots to kill me.
Do not forgive their crimes
    or blot out their sins from your sight.
Let them be overthrown before you;
    deal with them in the time of your anger.

19This is what the Lord says: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests 2 and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you, 3 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. 4 For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods ; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. 5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. 6 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.

7 “‘In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. 8 I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. 9 I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’

10 “Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, 11 and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. 12 This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the Lord. I will make this city like Topheth. 13 The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled like this place, Topheth—all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.’”

14 Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the Lord’s temple and said to all the people, 15 “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’”

Jeremiah and Pashhur

20When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, 2 he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord’s temple. 3 The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord’s name for you is not Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. 4 For this is what the Lord says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will give all Judah into the hands of the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. 5 I will deliver all the wealth of this city into the hands of their enemies—all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon. 6 And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.’”

Jeremiah’s Complaint

7 You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
    you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
    everyone mocks me.
8 Whenever I speak, I cry out
    proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
    insult and reproach all day long.
9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.
10 I hear many whispering,
    “Terror on every side!
    Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends
    are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
    then we will prevail over him
    and take our revenge on him.”

11 But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior;
    so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
    their dishonor will never be forgotten.
12 Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous
    and probe the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
    for to you I have committed my cause.

13 Sing to the Lord!
    Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy
    from the hands of the wicked.

14 Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
16 May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
17 For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
18 Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?

Commentary

Words of fire

The insults, opposition, hostility and ridicule that we in the West experience in the media, online, and even in personal attacks, are minor in comparison with the persecution of Paul, the Thessalonians, Jeremiah and many around the world today.

Jeremiah was a true prophet. He listened to the word of God: ‘This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord’ (18:1), ‘The word of the Lord came to me’ (v.5). God spoke to Jeremiah through the visual aid of a potter and his pots. This powerful image was picked up and used by Paul (Romans 9:21). You are spiritual clay in the hands of God who is shaping you for the purpose he has for your life.

Having heard the Lord’s word, Jeremiah spoke it out: ‘This is what the Lord says’ (Jeremiah 19:1). He proclaimed the words that God had told him. He said, ‘Hear the word of the Lord… this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: Listen!’ (vv.3,15a).

However, they would not listen (v.15b). Jeremiah was beaten and put in stocks (20:2). He was ridiculed and mocked (v.7). It was not easy for him. Sometimes it is tempting to give up speaking the words of God because it is so painful. However, Jeremiah concludes:

‘The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!’ (v.9, MSG)

The fire of God’s word burned so powerfully within him that he had to go on speaking it. As you follow Jeremiah’s courageous example, you can say like him, ‘But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior’ (v.11a).

Prayer

Lord, help me to listen carefully to you and not to be put off by opposition, insults, hostility or ridicule. Thank you that your word in my heart is like a fire, which I cannot hold in. Help me to speak the message with your love and power.

Pippa adds

1 Thessalonians 2:12

If we are parents, we need to be ‘encouraging, comforting and urging’ our children on. In the same way, church is family and we we need to be doing the same with one another.

Who can I encourage today to ‘live a life worthy of God’?

Verse of the Day

Jeremiah 20:11

‘The Lord is with \[you\] like a mighty warrior’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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