Jesus said, "Come Follow Me."
Discipleship in Mark's Gospel
Jesus said, "Come Follow Me."
Discipleship in Mark's Gospel
GIVE ME Neither poverty nor riches
Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.
We have just read a modest prayer of a pious man facing the future of his life. He realizes that he might face the challenges of life and meet with dangers and difficulties along the way. In order to face what lies ahead, he needs more than just power and wisdom. He wants something more than that so that he may not succumb to it. He cries out to God earnestly and says two things that he asks of God. He knows who to turn to for inner wisdom. He looked to the Lord of the future who holds all things in his hand, and who alone can set anew things for the future.
First, he asks God to deliver him from the delusion of this world which stems from vanity and lies. (1) From under-estimating the value of our life. There are times when we deny the worth of human life and create a pessimistic view of life instead of leading a life of service and unselfish devotion filled with gratitude and joy. (2) From over-estimating the value of material wealth. This may give rise to the assumption that a man's life consists of the abundance of worldly things which he possesses or the number and the sweetness of his bodily gratifications. This also is vanity. It is a falsehood in which sin sows freely and which quickly takes root in the minds of men.
Then, he prays to be exempted from the extremes of circumstantial trials by saying, ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches’.
1. The Trial of Poverty: The trial of poverty is a true test of life and endurance. It might lead a person into a wilderness of despair that one may find hard to come out from. But, when faced with this kind of trials, reaching out and touching the hand of God can bring hope in times of despair.
2. The Trial of Wealth: Most of us would think we could endure this trial without suffering. Very few of those who have not experienced wealth have ever thought of the dangers of being rich. It is like those who have never walked on ice imagine that they could do without slipping; or those who have never gambled tend to indulge in the idea that they could stop at the moment of prudential retirement. The truth is we do not even know ourselves. We strive and toil hard for an honourable lifestyle to the point of sacrificing our health or usefulness in order to be rich. It would be good to ask for wisdom to save us from this overwhelming temptation of wealth and worldly success.
3. The Test of Trust in the Lord: Only God knows what we need. God knows what will nourish our spiritual nature and what will supply us as faithful witnesses of this life. Let us ask him to give us what he knows is best and believe that what he gives in answer to our prayer is the best for us to receive. Whatever God gives us will be something far sweeter and enduring than anything that we can ever ask for.
The community which has neither poverty nor riches will always have the noblest principles. [Plato]
‘Give me neither poverty nor riches,’ prayed the writer of the proverb; but, since most of us already have riches, we need to be praying, ‘and help me to be generous and wise in giving more of these riches away.’ [Craig Blomberg]
This noble prayer of Proverbs 30:7-9 needs to become the prayer of every child of God. Why not pray it now?
Article written by the Right Reverend Charles Samuel, Assistant Bishop - Diocese of West Malaysia
Every word of god is flawless
Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.
Verses 5 to 6 cannot be understood apart from the previous verses 2 to 4a which read, “Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. Who has gone up to heaven and come down?”
Human sinfulness stands in the way of true knowledge of God. Let us remember the simple fact that there is no human discernment of creation which is equal to God. Unless God reveals himself and discloses his purposes, man is spiritually blind and bound for hell. This fact lies behind the question the writer of Proverbs asks in verse 4. God’s method of dealing with his people is through his Word; then in the Old Testament and now in the ‘Last Days’.
We cannot come near to God unless he first comes near to us by his word. Through his word, we know him and are assured by his promises. ‘Gone into heaven’ means having a pure knowledge of God’s mysteries and having spiritual understanding. Christ alone, who is from heaven, ascends to heaven (John 3:13), because the entrance is closed to all sinners.
The psalmist proposes a remedy - Christ, when he adds that what was denied to all others is granted to the Son of God. Christ even calls himself the Son of man so that we may not doubt that we have access into heaven in common with him who became human that ‘in him’ we have all blessings. (Psalm 68:18; Ephesians 4:8)
God’s word is pure, and without any mixture of fraud and deceit, like silver which is refined and purified (Psalm 12:6). In other words, God’s word can be trusted; it is not ambiguous.
God speaks plainly to sinners because of our sinful nature to distrust God. When things do not go our way, we tend to blame God and doubt his word. However, we need to trust that God’s way is perfect, his Word is without fault, and he is a strong refuge in times of chaos (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 18:30).
But the writer adds a warning. God requires his people to be teachable so that they may learn to serve God. Implicit in verse 6 is condemnation for whoever invents ways to subvert God’s prescribed method of service. God threatens those who challenge the Bible’s divine authority, warning against those seeking to corrupt it (Revelation 22:18). Beware of mingling revealed truth with our own imaginations and traditions. This is because of the risk of error and falsehood; God will surely rebuke us by exposing our errors.
God speaks through his word to those who listen with their heart. [Anon]
Lord, from your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Lord, your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn and I will confirm it that I will keep your righteous ordinances. (Psalm 119:105)
Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:4-5)
Proverbs 30:4-5 is about the Sovereignty of God and the authenticity of his word.
Verse 4 asserts the Sovereignty of God that spans the entire universe. This is evidenced by the reality that no human can claim that he/she has gone up to heaven and returned again to earth. This is beyond our power. No one can claim that they have managed to control the winds, the waters, the tides of the oceans, the clouds or the rains. We can’t and very often they control us and even change our plans. For example, in the UK, conversation usually centres around the weather. People make plans according to the weather forecast.
Standing in contrast with this is the word of God. Every word is flawless. The Hebrew word for “flawless” points to something that has been tested and proven genuine. This particular term that is used here originally referred to a goldsmith subjecting that precious metal in fire so that it would be refined and purified; the end result of which is we have a pure and valuable metal.
That’s how the words of Agur paint a picture of the Word of God. He implies that God’s word has been tested and shown to be authentic and reliable. Consequently, because God’s word is reliable and dependable, it can provide an answer to the final rhetorical question raised, “What is his Name and the Name of his Son?”
This particular question provides us with an Old Testament preview to the reliability and authenticity of the truth taught in the New Testament about God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. The tested and proven truthful Scripture points to us God the Father as the Author of creation and Jesus as the Son, who is the source of our redemption.
How do God’s sovereignty and his word encourage me in my journey on earth?
Sing this hymn-
Immortal, Invisible God only wise,
In light, inaccessible, hid from our eyes
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of days
Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise
[Text: Walter Chamers Smith; Tune: Welsh Melody from John Roberts Canaidau y Cyssegr, 1839]
Blessed and Sovereign Lord,
Who cause all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning;
Help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
That, through patience and comfort of your holy word,
We may embrace and forever hold fast the hope of everlasting life,
Which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
[Collect for Advent 2, ASB 1980 with modifications]
Article written by Assistant Bishop Jason Selvaraj, Diocese of West Malaysia.
The righteous detest the dishonest; the wicked detest the upright. (Proverbs 29:27)
Our news is constantly filled with updates of Christians being killed, driven out of their homes and persecuted around the world. In our own country of Malaysia the Christian community faces persecution and discrimination, with restrictions on what words we can use in our publications or services or because of conversions. And perhaps in our individual lives we have been rejected, disowned, sidelined, mocked or avoided because of our faith. Often this surprises us and we feel pain injustice and humiliation. Why does it surprise us?
In this Proverb the writer reminds us that there is a tension between the righteous and wicked who both detest each other. This is a tension which has always been present throughout human existence and still exists today. Jesus himself warns us that as believers the world will hate us because we are no longer of the world. As they hate and persecute Jesus so they will hate and persecute us (John 15:18-20). We should therefore not be surprised when we are detested.
What should be our response? Jesus reminds us, when he ate with tax collectors and sinners, that he has come to call, not the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:13-17). Whilst the wicked continue to detest the upright we can take comfort that because of Christ we are now called to love the wicked and dishonest. Though we may despise their wickedness and the ways of the world we must remember that Jesus still loves them and calls them to repentance and faith. Let us be people who, even in the midst of being detested, seek to love, pray for and point people to Jesus.
As we reflect on God’s goodness to us through Jesus, remember that the Christian life will not be easy. We live in a world of people who will despise us. How can we love them and point them to Jesus?
When the world despises you, do not be discouraged but seek to be a light in the darkness which points people to Christ. What are some of the ways in which you can actively be looking for opportunities to love those who despise you?
Father, thank you that because of Jesus I have been made righteous. Help me to be set apart from the wickedness of the world. Teach me to be a light in the darkness, loving unbelievers and pointing them to you.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
[Martin Luther King, Jr.]
Article written by Shanti George, Kuala Lumpur.
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. (Proverbs 29:25)
Today, more and more people become authoritarians and act violently in many different ways, and many fear and serve these people alone, thinking that such obedience to them brings security and peace to the society.
However, the actual fact is that, such submission is unable to secure the well-being of the society or bring true peace to the world. Indeed, such fear of man becomes a trap to many people because it does not allow them to act in love or speak the truth in love to correct the wrongs for the well-being and safety of the society. This is because whenever there is abuse of power, exploitation, or corruption, many people are indifferent or afraid to investigate, reveal and subsequently stop what is wrong and stand firm for what is right. Instead, they keep silent and this brings more harm to the society. Certainly, such bondage does not build a society for it does not deliver people from the chains of darkness.
What then can release people from such slavery and darkness? Trust in the Lord. When people put their faith in the Lord alone, they are strengthened by the Lord to follow his Word. With trust in the Lord, people will be led by the Holy Spirit instead of allowing others to control and direct them. The trust in the Lord encourages people to speak the truth in love. Therefore, even if they might be in danger when they uncover and confront what is wrong, they are very sure that God is in control and they are safe in the eyes of God. They then dare to speak out, especially for those who have been abused and marginalized, to build a better world.
As disciples of Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life, are we willing to trust the Lord and truly believe that we are safe in his hands? Or do we fear man instead of trusting God?
Do I fear man or fear God? Why?
What are the areas that I need more help from God to fear him alone? Reflect through and work on it.
Gracious and merciful Father, forgive me for fearing man instead of trusting in you alone. Help me to submit to you and fear you alone. Amen.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
I'm a man of faith. I only fear God, and my wife - sometimes. [Lech Walesa]
I place no hope in my strength, nor in my works: but all my confidence is in God my protector, who never abandons those who have put all their hope and thought in him. [Francois Rabelais]
Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse. (Proverbs 28:6)
As a young girl I observed how the rich students in school were favoured by my teachers and the poor were neglected. I was told to study hard, earn well so as to be respected by family and society. Wealth was seen as blessing and poverty curse! As I grew up I found out that the Bible has a different message. This is pointed out clearly in the above verse that there is value in being poor with integrity while to be rich and crooked is not a lifestyle to be valued. Jesus emphasised this when he told the parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31). The Pharisees considered wealth to be a proof of a person’s righteousness. Jesus shocked them with the story whereby a diseased beggar is rewarded and a rich man is punished in the next world. The rich man did not go to hell because of his wealth but despite his great blessings he was hardhearted and selfish.
Does this mean the rich will not make it to heaven and the poor will? No, Jesus looks at our hearts and gauges our attitudes! He walked in this world in humility and obedience (Philippians 2: 6-8). He wants us to be like him. It is better to be poor and have these qualities than to be rich and lose our citizenship in heaven.
Many Christians gave up their wealth and fame to be witnesses for Jesus. One of them was Jim Elliot. In early 1952, Jim together with four others (Gates of Splendour Missionaries) set out to the unreached Amazon’s Auca tribe (Ecuador). Young and well-educated, they could have made it big in the United States but they decided to become poor missionaries. In January 1956, they were murdered by the Aucas whom they loved! They gave, as Jim had said earlier, “what they could not keep but gained what they could not lose”. Jim and his friends became martyrs and now stand as examples to the church not because of anything but because of their obedience.
Today, Jesus calls us to completely surrender ourselves and our possessions and be faithful to him. We cannot do this on our own but need the Holy Spirit to empower us so that we can be found worthy when he returns!
A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. (Proverbs 22:1)
"Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle." (Proverbs 23:4-5)
Lord, deliver us from the temptations to lust after wealth, greed and power. Help us to remember that wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, greed is self-destructive and power corrupts. Instead, give us grace to be righteous, upright and selfless in the work of your church and your kingdom in the spirit of humility and servanthood. Amen. (Editor)
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5-6)
Article written by Pastor Nesam Ebenezer
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:1-2)
The many incidents which took place recently remind us that we cannot be too sure about what can happen to us tomorrow. There are too many people who boast about tomorrow. While serving in Kelantan, I met a man on the street. He asked me whether I can buy him lunch. I bought him lunch and started a conversation. I came to know that he was once a very rich man. He used to boast much about his wealth, wife and children. He was not worried about his future because he owned 3 supermarkets in Kuala Lumpur. He had maids to look after his wife and children, and was driven around. But, then came the 1997 economic crash. He lost everything. His wife left him, taking his children with her. He lost all his property and he was forced to leave the city and go far away. That’s when he met me. I provided for him food and gave him some money. I could discern his inner feelings with the help of God. He said, “Don’t boast with what you have, you can lose it all suddenly.” He used to come and help with the cleaning of the church and water the plants on and off, and then one day he just decided to leave.
I learned a great deal of things from him. His presence changed my outlook of life from that day until today. If I boast, I boast for the Lord. My motto, “I live only once. I want to live for the Lord and give my best to him.” None of us know what is in store for us tomorrow.
The year 2014 started with our Bible Society raided. None of us thought this will take place but it took place. We had one plane missing, a second one shot down, and a third one crashed during a ferocious storm. Then came the flood. Although the East Coast faced yearly flood, none expected a “Tsunami Type” flood. I had three loved ones who suddenly passed away; none expected. There were great plans but death took them away. The peace and harmony in Sydney and Paris were shaken with the massacre of innocent ones, out of the blue.
Beloved in Christ, our life is in the hands of God. We need to submit and draw close to him daily. We do not know what is in store for us tomorrow but when tomorrow comes, praise God. God is there for us. The more we boast about tomorrow, the more we will be troubled when tomorrow comes. Trusting in the Lord about our tomorrow is the wisest thing we should do. Spending time with God through prayer, meditating on his Word and surrendering our lives to him will make a perfect tomorrow. May we be able to spend our time with God more and more and draw closer and closer to him daily and experience the inner peace, joy and happiness.
Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. [Corrie ten Boom]
God is asking you to entrust your tomorrows to him. Embrace his promises, “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 23:18) Be assured that the Lord God holds your future safely in his hands.
I don't know about tomorrow, I just live from day to day.
I don't borrow from the sunshine, for its skies may turn to gray.
I don't worry o'er the future, for I know what Jesus said.
And today he'll walk beside me, for He knows what lies ahead
Many things about tomorrow, I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand
[Song: “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” was written by Stanphill, Ira.]
Article written by the Rev Jacob George John
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22)
At first reading, these 2 verses appear to be saying that, by being ‘nice’ to our enemy, we can be hurting him even more and therefore revenge can be so sweet. This proverb, found also in Romans 12:19-20, eliminates the idea of revenge. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ ”
To us, today, the phrase, ‘heaping coals on his head’ seems to imply that we make our enemy physically uncomfortable and distressed. But to the Jewish mind, this phrase has a totally different meaning. It has its roots in the rituals of the Day of Atonement when the high priest took his censer and filled it with ‘coals of fire’ from the altar of burnt offering. Incense is added to the coals to create a pleasing and sweet-smelling offering to the Lord. It is a picture of cleansing and forgiveness.
Again, in Isaiah 6:5-7 the prophet cried, “Woe is me …for I am a man of unclean lips.” In response, the seraphim brought a live coal and laid it on his mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Burning coals depict sin taken away and forgiveness given. Therefore, Proverbs 25:22 has to do with mercy and love – not revenge. What we do to our enemy should bring him to repentance so that his sin may be forgiven.
In Matthew 5:44 Jesus said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The God we serve is a God of love and our lives must demonstrate this. The ultimate test is to love our enemies. In our world today, we face all kinds of challenges and problems. It would be so easy to retaliate in anger and aim to hurt others as we have been hurt.
Today’s passage reminds us of how we should respond as a Christian. May God help us to respond lovingly to our enemies so as to bring about cleansing and forgiveness.
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.
[Martin Luther King, Jr.]
Jesus said, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6: 27-28)
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12) Therefore, we should recognize that behind our flesh and blood enemies ultimately evil is at work.
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. [Martin Luther King, Jr.]
Article written by A Anna, Petaling Jaya
If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Proverbs 24:10-12)
Anyone looking at life in general or in particular, the circumstances surrounding the world in which we live, must quickly come to the conclusion that we live in troublesome times. When something appears on our horizon, leading us to disquiet or to be disturbed, distressed or harassed, we recognize the need there is to handle what we experience. On the world scene there are wars and rumours of wars. We are reminded that we are not to be alarmed. (Mark 13:7) Within society, we see a breakdown in human relationships and when that becomes personal, we struggle to find a way through. With the Psalmist, we may have reason to say, ‘I am troubled greatly’ (Psalm 38:6).
For the Christian, there is only one way to turn. In the light of Psalm 46:1, we recognize that, ‘God is a very present help in trouble’ and again, ‘He is a refuge in times of trouble.’ (Psalm 9:9). The point at which we begin is simply an awareness of the greatness of our God and the power and grace of God shown through Jesus Christ to triumph against all adversities directed towards us at any time, but especially in times of our greatest need.
There is comfort and assurance in the words of Christ to his disciples and in effect to us; “Let not your hearts be troubled you. Believe in God, believe also in me…..” (John 14:1).
Many years ago, George Goodman, a well-known Bible teacher, experienced a mental breakdown which surprised all that knew him. No one could understand how a man of such great faith and knowledge and spiritual understanding, could become so incapacitated. Two years later, when he came out of that terrible experience, this is what he wrote:-
He led me by a way of pain, a barren and a starless place,
I did not know his eyes were wet, he would not let me see his face.
He left me like a frightened child, unshielded in a night of storm;
How should I dream, he was so near, the rain swept darkness hid his form.
But when the clouds were drifting back,
And dawn was breaking through into day,
I knew his feet had walked with mine, I saw his footsteps all the way.
‘Rescue those being led away to death’ (Proverbs 24:11) … “It was men who stopped slavery. It was men who ran up the stairs in the Twin Towers to rescue people. It was men who gave up their seats on the lifeboats of the Titanic. Men are made to take risks and live passionately on behalf of others.”
We don’t always know how God has protected us but we know that he is good. Praise him! “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me.” (Psalm 138:7) We are to defend others. Be courageous!
Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.
Under the shadow of Thy throne, Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone, and our defence is sure.
[Hymn (original version): Our God, Our Help In Ages Past, Isaac Watts, 1708]
Article written by Rev Peter Atkins, Tasmania
Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 23:17-18)
Have these thoughts come to your mind before? - If only I worked harder and spent more hours at work like my other colleagues, I would have gotten a better bonus. If only I knew people who could help me pull some strings like this other guy, I would have gotten that job. If only I had the money to renovate my house like my neighbour’s, I would live more comfortably. If only I had a husband as loving as she does, my life would be so much happier. If only my grades were as good as his, I would be able to enter that prestigious university. If only…
That is often our problem, isn’t it? Our eyes are often fixed on the people around us and we compare our lives to theirs. Envy is one of the results of sin that we still struggle with on a daily basis. But why is envy so dangerous that God warns us from his Word that we should stay away from it?
I think one of the reasons is that it causes us to doubt God’s goodness in our lives. We think that God owes us a good life especially when we do our best to serve him faithfully. We think that it is God’s job to make our lives comfortable, at least as comfortable as the life of the person next to us.
What we often forget when we envy others around us is that we have been so blessed by God! Paul understood this when he wrote in Ephesians 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Yes, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing! God loves us so much that he gave us his Son to die on the cross for our sins, and as a result of that, we who believe in him can be called his children. And we have a glorious future hope – an eternal life with him.
So the next time you are tempted to envy those around you, fix your eyes on God and remember all the blessings that God has poured into your life because of Christ’s work on the cross. Celebrate all those blessings that God has given you in Christ.
Think about all the spiritual blessings that are ours because of Christ’s work on the cross – i.e. the forgiveness of our sins, the privilege of being adopted as his children, the future hope of being in his presence for eternity.
Whenever you are tempted to envy those around you, pause and give thanks to God for all the blessings that he has poured into your life because of Christ.
Father, thank you for blessing me with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Please teach me to celebrate and count my blessings each day.
Envy is a symptom of lack of appreciation of our own uniqueness and self-worth.
Each of us has something to give that no one else has.
Article written by Wong Yoke Lin, Kuala Lumpur