Tuesday 6th December 2022


John writes his shortest letter to: “…the lady chosen by God and to her children…”.  Who can he possibly mean?  And he signs off with: “The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings”. 

Of all the New Testament writers, John was probably the most comfortable with allegory and metaphor – he did write the Book of Revelation, after all!  He is almost certainly referring to a particular local church – “the lady” – and its members, “her children”.  This figurative language was also used in the Old Testament and by Jesus to describe the citizens of Jerusalem as its “children”.  Later on, in Revelation 21, John paints for us that wonderful picture of the one united Church of Christ, as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 

To represent a local congregation or ‘ecclesia’ as a married woman is therefore not all that far-fetched.  The “chosen sister” would represent another local church, the one from whom John is writing this letter.  The early apostles were very careful in their teaching to blend the emphasis on individual new birth, discipleship, and responsibility, with the ‘corporateness’ that comes from being part of a united ‘body’.  If salvation can only come through Christ, then it follows that being part of his body on earth is equally vital.  It is as meaningful to believe that Christ died for the church as for its individual members (e.g. Acts 20:28).  It is the church that is gifted and which needs to be built up (1 Corinthians 12 and 14), which is persecuted (Galatians 1:13) and which exists as Christ’s Body (Colossians 1:24), the prime exemplar of God’s wisdom on earth (Ephesians 3:10), and finally as Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:27).  It exists to uphold the truth of the gospel and to live it out (1 Timothy 3:15).

At the same time, God will judge us individually and call us to account for our personal time spent on his earth.  How have we lived out the truth of the gospel?  How much have we actively loved one another as believers?  How much have we obeyed him?

The Gnostics considered themselves ‘advanced’ and ahead of the rest of the Christian church.  But John says that anyone who ‘runs ahead’ and does not continue in the teaching about Christ, does not have God – they are not saved.  If you come across such a person, do not facilitate their faulty mission by giving them food and shelter; do not be a ‘person of peace’ to them, or you will share in their work and share their punishment!

John knew the value of face-to-face conversations, exposing body language and tone of voice along with his words.  In the age of texting, email, streaming, and virtual meetings, the importance of physically meeting together and sharing life together is undiminished.  We are indeed foolish if we neglect the gathering or ‘ecclesia’ of God’s people.  After all, Jesus is only returning for one ‘person’!  (Revelation 21:9).

HAGGAI 1 and 2

The prophet Haggai, along with his contemporary, Zechariah, was amongst the 50,000 or so Jewish exiles who had returned to Jerusalem under the decree of Cyrus, King of the Persian empire.  Ezra 5:1-2 and 6:14 describes how they were supportive of the Governor of Jerusalem, Zerubbabel’s attempts to encourage the lethargic Jews to rebuild the temple.  There are indications that Haggai might have witnessed the earlier destruction of Solomon’s temple all those years ago (see Haggai 2:3); if so, the prophet would have been well into his 70’s by the time he gave this prophecy in 520 BC in the second year of King Darius.

Apathy, rather than persecution, was the main reason why the rebuilding of the temple did not progress:  the Jews were unwilling and uncommitted to the work.  “It’s not time!”, they were complaining; “Not yet!”.  They wanted to get their own homes and farms completely finished before they would lift a finger to restore God’s house.  Their thinking was along the lines of: “If we provide ourselves with shelter and security, with a steady income and a reliable source of food, then we will have a secure ‘base’ from which to start the work of God without worrying about the next meal”.  The trouble is that this thinking is totally erroneous; if we hold off serving God and building his church in our day, we will never quite be ready!  There will always be something else to do first.  And if we trust God to find the next meal, he always will.

As a result, God punished his people for their wrong priorities: “You have planted much but harvested little.  You eat, but never have enough… You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it… You expected much, but it turned out to be little.  What you brought home, I blew away…Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.  Therefore, because of you, the heavens have withheld their dew…”  (Haggai 1:6, 9, 10.)

Do we find this in our own lives?  Things start out with so much promise and then just seem to evaporate.  Money does not ‘stretch’ nearly as far as it needs, and our possessions break, get stolen, or disappear for no reason.  The answer is: “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured – declares the Lord”.  If we put the Lord first, honour him first and spend ourselves on Him and his Kingdom, then he will put us first, honour us, and spend himself on our behalf.

The people obeyed the prophetic message and the Lord stirred up their spirits; they came together and began the work again.  God encouraged them mainly by saying that the modest new temple – hardly a ‘patch’ on the grand old temple of Solomon’s era – would nevertheless become greater than anything Solomon ever experienced, since God had resolved to fill this new house with a greater glory – foreshadowing the arrive of the Messiah.  And as a reward, God halted the Jews’ slide into poverty and restored them to wealth and prosperity again – from the very point in time that they had decided to build his temple again.  “From this day on, I will bless you!” (2:19.) 

Let us also trust the Lord in our generation, that our future glory will be so much greater than past success, and that his promises for the next step in our lives are weightier will produce fruit that is more abundance and enduring.  There is a parallel verse in the New Testament that brings out the concluding thought of Haggai: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you”.  (Matthew 6:33.)  Why don’t we all give this a try!

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