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EFAC Australia

Bible exposition

In the summer, after the Christmas season, I have noted that many churches turn to preach from the Psalms. A number of factors may influence this choice. Psalms are often seen as stand-alone units, so useful in a season when members may be coming and going, away from church for reasons of rest and recreation or mission and ministry. CMS Summer Schools, SU Beach Missions and the like are some excellent reasons why people may not be on church on a particular Sunday. This can make preaching problematic, if each seeks to build on and connect with those which have gone before. Preaching a series of psalms may avoid this. Visiting or occasional preachers may more readily accept an invitation if they have a Psalm sermon or two in their preaching kitbag. However one problem with this approach is that the psalms are removed from their canonical context. This serves to denature important developmental themes, such as the interplay between lament and trust. See for example the placement of Psalm 23 affirming the Lord as protector provider, immediately following Psalm 22’s lament ‘My God, my God why have you abandoned me?’ It also ignores the arrangement of the Psalter into five books. So I want to consider Psalm 96 first of all in its canonical context.

Psalm 96 is one of a group of “the Lord reigns” or “Kingship of Yahweh” psalms which occur early in Book IV of the Psalter. These have been seen by some scholars as enthronement psalms. The evidence for this as a psalm category is not strong, but most of this particular psalm is used (reused?) in 1 Chronicles 16 to accompany the celebration of the ark being taken into Jerusalem. Kidner observed, ‘The symbolism of the march, in which God crowned his victories by planting his throne in the enemy’s former citadel, is matched by the theme of the psalm.’ (Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, TOTC (Downers Grove: IVP, 1975), 379.)

Another characteristic of the psalm in its canonical context is the more universal view, beyond the community of God’s OT people, Israel and Judah. This psalm belongs with a group (92-101) which explicitly refer to singing and call on people(s) to worship the Lord (Yhwh).

It can aid our interpretation to also consider this psalm from the perspective of its use in the worship of God’s people, both from its use before and after the coming of Jesus the Christ. Often Psalms used liturgically can be read antiphonally, and if we consider the first three verses, the psalm reads like a conversation of mutual encouragement. Paul seems to have something like this in mind when he urges Christians to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). The first part of these Psalm verse, has a comparable and developing response in the second half.

  1. Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
  2. Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
  3. Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvellous deeds among all peoples.

The verses begin with a series of imperatives, and urging to sing and worship the Lord (Yhwh). Note the thrice repeated Yhwh, the specific Name of the revealed God of Israel. There is a development in the verses. God’s people are not just urging each other on in song and words of worship and praise, but further into proclamation and declaration among the nations and all peoples (Christians could use the language of evangelism and mission). This wider view was actually implicitly present in verse 1 where all the earth was called to sing to the Lord.

The next three verses give reasons for singing, worship and declaration. The Lord is great, worthy, and to be feared in contrast to all other rival ‘gods’. It is the Lord who is creator of the heavens. Use of the heavens may help users of this psalm to see the wider scope of God as Lord of all who are under the heavens. He also created the land but this would possibly narrow our view, a more human and particular perspective.

Verse seven begins to call on all the families of nations to join in this great corporate recognition of the Lord’s glory and strength. The vision is of all peoples flowing to the Lord’s sanctuary (temple?), bringing offerings in worship and recognition of God’s glory and holiness.

Who is being addressed in verse 10 is open to interpretation. Is it God’s people, or the nations / all the earth? I lean to thinking this psalm is calling on all peoples to be affirming to one another that the Lord is reigning. The rationale for the call is the solidity of the created world and God’s equitable judgment of the peoples. These are reasons which apply more broadly than with Israel and Judah of the OT or the church of the NT era and beyond until the Lord’s return. It is verse 10 which unites this psalm with others nearby as a “Lord reigns” psalm.

The final verses of the psalm are a continuing call to worship, but now the call goes out beyond all humanity. Every aspect of creation: heavens, earth, sea, fields and all living things they contain, the trees of the bush are called to worship, in fact ‘Let all creation rejoice before the Lord.’ God coming as judge is the reason appended to this final call to worship the Lord.

As Christians we read this psalm through the lens of Christ and his coming. It is the salvation brought by Jesus’ death and resurrection, which we proclaim and which is our reason for worship and gospel proclamation. Jesus’ return, his coming as Lord and righteous judge, is our ultimate perspective. When we use this psalm, we should call on one another, the whole world, and indeed all peoples, to acknowledge the one true God and saviour. We are called to worship this God and to declare his greatness and glory in mission. This call and the mission of God’s people goes beyond our own local gathering and looks to all that God has made resounding in the worship and celebration of God.

Len Firth is Lecturer in Professional Supervision for Ridley College; Pastoral Supervisor and Ministry Coach; Associate Minister St John’s West Brunswick. Former Archdeacon for Multi-cultural Ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.

REV DR CHRIS PORTER

“I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism” Acts 10:34

In the book of Acts, Luke repeatedly recounts situations where social boundaries and barriers are broken down by the gospel that is rapidly spreading throughout the Levant. But within the narrative these boundaries are not so easily dissolved, and one particularly pernicious division repeatedly returns to the early church: the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Readers first encounter this distinction and subsequent dissolution of the barrier in Acts 10 and 11, as Peter entertains a visitation request from a Gentile God-fearer—Cornelius—and is subsequently challenged in Jerusalem.

Indeed, this first encounter provides a good paradigm for how social boundaries are broken down, and it occurs at two levels. First, at a human level, the degree of inter-group prejudice is confronted at a personal level and reduced from inter-group interaction to inter-personal interaction by face-to-face contact and conversation. Peter dares to enter Cornelius’ house and eat with him—in transgression of the law (Acts 10:28).

Second, at a level out of human control, the dissolution of the previous inter-group boundary is initially challenged by Peter’s dreams and then confirmed by the presence of the Spirit. We read that just like the other disciples the Spirit was poured out on these Gentile believers (Acts 10:45-46).

Subsequently the dissolution of the inter-group boundary is further confirmed by group witness and consultation (Acts 11:15-18).

While one of these tiers—the sending of the Spirit— is clearly out of human control, the other provides a helpful paradigm for reducing inter-group conflict and boundaries in our world, especially for Christians as we are called to be peace makers and to love one another. This is particularly valuable in this time with the increase of social media silos and ongoing interpersonal isolation from pandemic lockdowns. Truly, it appears that our societies are going to emerge from this pandemic more fractured than united.

The paradigm for reducing social conflict that Acts sets forth is helpful here, and indeed it is strongly reinforced by a series of studies on inter-group conflict and prejudice reduction from Matthew Hornsey and Michael Hogg (1999, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c).

But what does it look like in practice? One approachable example comes from the Boogie-woogie singer and pianist Daryl Davis, who found himself as a lone African-American in close friendship with many members and ex-members of the Klu Klux Klan— despite his obvious Blackness.

In Accidental Courtesy, a documentary on his life, one poignant moment comes when he talks about his motivation for cultivating friendships with Klansmen. There the overriding question he asks is “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?” From sitting down in a bar with Klansmen, to being invited into their home, this question—and the associated interpersonal interaction—drives the conversation at hand. The results show how successful it is, as Davis displays a wardrobe full of Klan robes that were given to him after members had left the Klan.

Daryl Davis follows the pattern set out in Acts, of reducing inter-group prejudice to the level of personal interaction.

As we engage in evangelism with friends and neighbours, we too can follow the pattern of Acts in interacting with others as individuals, rather than as group representatives. Perhaps even more critically we can interact with members of other traditions as individuals as well, to understand them and their motivations rather than caricaturing them as a stereotype

We—above all—are called to be peacemakers in our society fractured by social media silos and isolation, and to love one another as Christ has loved us. By this everyone will know what we are His disciples.

ChrisPorter

 

Rev Dr Chris Porter is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Trinity College, Melbourne

To the elders among you 1 Peter 5:1-14

Scott is Youth Minister at St Lawrence’s, Dalkeith, WA

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

Although Peter is speaking to the elders, or leaders of the suffering churches, what he says is important for every believer. Perhaps you’re on a staff team, or involved in volunteer youth leadership, serving in the music team, kids church, Bible study or any other church ministry? If so, how should you lead? What do we expect from our leaders and how can we pray for them and encourage them?

2 TIMOTHY 1:9-14

The letter of 2 Timothy, regarded by many as the last of Paul’s letters, functions as a farewell letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, engaged at that time in leading the church of Ephesus.

It is a realistic letter about the challenges of ministry, and at times the realism might seem to convey sometime more like pessimism. However, as I have read this letter several times over the last season of ministry I have been struck by Paul’s optimism – an optimism that is striking considering his own location (prison), his expectation about his own death (imminent), and his consciousness of the threats (inevitable and plentiful).

The source of Paul’s ministry optimism can be found, I believe, in six verses in the middle of 2 Timothy 1. In verses 9-10 we see the first source of Paul’s optimism – the significance of the gospel within all of history and eternity. The saving grace of God predates the history of the universe, as it is given before the beginning of time (verse 9). The saving grace of God then appears within human time and history through the life and ministry of Christ Jesus (verse 10). And that saving grace then connects believers to an eternal future as death is destroyed and immortality brought to light. The grace that existed in Christ before history, enters history, and transforms history into eternity. What greater cause of optimism could a gospel herald and teacher have than to know this history of the gospel! It means that suffering for the gospel leads not to shame but to humble confidence (verse 12).

The second source of Paul’s optimism is his knowledge of God as the one who will guard the gospel. The phrase in verse 12 requires a little work to unpack – “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” The day that Paul has in mind is clearly the day of judgment and Christ’s appearing (see 1:18 and 4:8), so what is it that Paul has entrusted, and God is able to guard? Suggestions are many, but the key to understanding is to notice that Paul uses the same two words (‘guard’ and ‘entrusted’) in verse 14, where that which is to be guarded is the gospel itself. Paul entrusts the heralding and teaching of the gospel for the next generation to Timothy (verse 14), but he has already entrusted that transmission of gospel proclamation to God, and God is able to guard it. Even as he exhorts Timothy to “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you” Paul is optimistic because he knows that God is the one who will himself guard that gospel until the day of Christ’s return.

Pandemics are full of pain, extraordinary change, and major readjustments through every aspect of society. For the church there is no simple playbook to take off the shelf and implement that will fix all our problems and keep us sharing and growing in Christ. Even though the church has been through pandemics before, we’ve never had the current scientific and technological tools available to us that enable extraordinary connection and change the landscape of what church community could and should be. Each local church seems to have walked a unique path and there are no simple answers. Instead there is a variety of advice that abounds, a constant need to change strategy, and endless expectations. At worst it devolves into crippling comparisons.

Anyone tired of decision making, sifting through information, and communicating through change management? There is a great promise at the start of Proverbs that is a balm for a confused and weary pastor’s soul. It declares that these proverbs are:

“for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
(or ‘inexperienced’ as in CSB)
knowledge and discretion to the young” (1:2-4)

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