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The signs of the times: a call to the faithful and the faithless
This week’s readings from 2 Timothy reflect the signs of our times, the degeneration of culture and society into aggressive atheistic secularism. It is a culture without a moral compass in which objective truth is obscured by relativism. The result is a debasement of humanity. The followers of Christ need to exercise vigilance, they must interpret trends and discern under-currents of evil, not only in the marketplace of human discourse but also that which is festering in the heart of many churches. Apostasy is rife. Church leaders regularly proclaim falsehoods, contradicting the Word of God and aligning themselves with secular humanism. They are leading their flocks astray into a mental and spiritual wilderness. ‘People will be avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes: and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths’ (2 Tim 4.3-4). More than ever we need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to distinguish between the signs of the world and the signs of the Spirit, so that we can reach out with love and compassion to lost souls betrayed by evil propaganda and false shepherds. Above all, the world needs to listen to Christ Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – the Way to the Father, the teacher of ultimate Truth, and the sure hope of eternal Life (cf. Jn 14.6). Maranatha – come, Lord Jesus (Rev 22.20).
‘Come to me, all you who labour and are over-burdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light’ (Mt 11.28-30; cf. Jer 6.16).
(All quotations from Scripture are from the Jerusalem Bible).
I refer my readers to my fellow blogger, Phyllis Nissila who has written extensively on spiritual survival and the End Times:
Saturday 24th October: 1 Timothy 6.3-21 / Psalm 49.1-10
Warn those who are rich in this world’s goods that they are not to look down on other people; and not to set their hopes on money, which is untrustworthy, but on God, who, out of his riches, gives us all that we need for our happiness. Tell them that they are to do good, and be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share – this is the way they can save up a good capital sum for the future if they want to make sure of the only life that is real. – 1 Tim 6.17-19
Daily Prayer readings for Trinity 20
(Quotations from Scripture are taken from the Jerusalem Bible, unless otherwise indicated).
Twentieth Sunday After Trinity, 25th October:
Isaiah 63.7-16 / Psalm 65.1-8 / John 14.1-31
‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father too. From this moment you know him and have seen him.’ – Jn 14.6-7
Now the Gospel readings begin to point to the Ascension and Pentecost. First, however, Jesus admonishes his disciples not to let themselves become confused: “Have faith in me!” Trust that I am doing what is best for you. Then he speaks with utter delicacy of his departure: “I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too”. That would be with the Father. The disciples are afraid of the great distance and ask how to find their way to the place. Jesus’ answer is exuberant; he himself is the way and there is no other. But he is much more than that: he is also the goal, for the Father to whom the way leads is in him, visible precisely for anyone who truly sees Jesus for who he is. He is surprised that, after such a long period of proximity, one of his disciples has not yet realized this.
In Jesus, who is the Word of God, God the Father speaks to the world. Indeed, the Father does his deeds in him – the miracles, which really should bring anyone to believe that the Father is in the Son as the Son is in the Father. Yet now the earthly form of Jesus must disappear toward the Father, so that no one will confuse this form with God. Jesus will return in a form that cannot be misunderstood: he will return transparent with the glory of the Father. Prior to that, however, he will not leave his own as “orphans” (v. 18). Together with the Father he will live with them in a hidden way (v. 23), yet in a way that permits him to reveal himself to them, and the Holy Spirit of God will give them the insight “that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you” (v. 20).
(Hans Urs von Balthasar)
Monday 26th October: 2 Timothy 1.1-18 / Psalm 16.1-8
God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control. So you are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord, or ashamed of me for being his prisoner; but with me, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy – not because of anything we ourselves have done but for his own purpose and by his own grace. This grace has already been granted to us, in Christ Jesus, before the beginning of time, but it has only been revealed by the Appearing of our saviour Christ Jesus. He abolished death, and he has proclaimed life and immortality through the Good News; and I have been named its herald, its apostle and its teacher. – 2 Tim 1.7-11
Tuesday 27th October: 2 Timothy 2.1-14 / Psalm 31.19-20, 23-24
Remember the Good News that I carry, ‘Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David’; it is on account of this that I have my own hardships to bear, even to being chained like a criminal – but they cannot chain up God’s news. So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it. Here is a saying you can rely on: If we have died with him, then we shall live with him. If we hold firm, then we shall reign with him. If we disown him, then he will disown us. We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful, for he cannot disown his own self. – 2 Tim 2.8-13
Wednesday 28th October: 2 Timothy 2.15-26 / Psalm 119.169-175
God’s solid foundation stone is still in position, and this is the inscription on it: ‘The Lord knows those who are his own’ and ‘All who call on the name of the Lord must avoid sin’….Instead of giving in to your impulses like a young man, fasten your attention on holiness, faith, love and peace, in union with all those who call on the Lord with pure minds. Avoid futile and silly speculations, understanding that they only give rise to quarrels; and a servant of the Lord is not to engage in quarrels, but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says, never forgetting that God may give them a change of mind so that they recognise the truth and come to their senses, once out of the trap where the devil caught them and kept them enslaved. –
2 Tim 2.19, 22-26; cf. Num 16.5, 26; Is 26.3
Thursday 29th October: 2 Timothy 3.1-17 / Psalm 119.89-96
You may be quite sure that in the last days there are going to be some difficult times. People will be self-centred and grasping; boastful, arrogant and rude; disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious; heartless and unappeasable; they will be slanderers, profligate, savages and enemies of everything that is good; they will be treacherous and reckless and demented by pride, preferring their own pleasure to God. They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it. Have nothing to do with people like that….You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true; remember who your teachers were, and how, ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures – from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy. This is how the man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work. –
2 Tim 3.1-5, 14-17
Friday 30th October / 2 Timothy 4.1-8, 16-18 / Psalm 86.1-8
Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching. The time is sure to come when, far from being content with sound teaching, people will be avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths. Be care-ful always to choose the right course; be brave under trials; make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work, in thoroughgoing service. – 2 Tim 4.1-5
Saturday 31st October: Hebrews 13.1-16, 20-21 / Psalm 34.1-8
I pray that the God of peace, who brought our Lord Jesus back from the dead to become the great Shepherd of the sheep by the blood that sealed an eternal covenant, may make you ready to do his will in any kind of good action; and turn us all into whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. – Heb 13.20-21; cf. Is 63.11; Ezek 34.23, 37.26
Resisting the pressures of the world: 2 Timothy 3
(This commentary is taken from Through the Bible, Through the Year, by John Stott (Candle Books, 2006)).
Wicked impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and deceived themselves. – 2 Tim 3.13-14
Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy was his last, written shortly before his martyrdom. His main concern is still what will happen to the gospel when he will no longer be there to guide and teach the church.
In 2 Timothy 3.1-5 Paul warns Timothy that the “last days” (which Jesus inaugurated) would include “difficult times” (v. 1), and he goes on to give a vivid sketch of them. He lists nineteen characteristics, the most striking of which is misdirected love. People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, or lovers of pleasures instead of lovers of God and of goodness. Indeed society will be “enemies of everything that is good” (v. 3). This absence of authentic love will sour people’s relationships. Paul is afraid lest Timothy be swept away by a torrent of self-centredness, and he urges him instead to stand firm and resist the pressures of the prevailing culture.
In 2 Timothy 3.10 and 14 Paul twice addresses Timothy with the same two little Greek monosyllables, su, de, meaning “but as for you.” In stark contrast to contemporary culture, Timothy is to be different and, if necessary, to stand alone.
Paul describes Timothy’s position in terms of a “following” of Paul, especially of his teaching and his manner of life. Then he exhorts Timothy to continue in the same path: “You must keep to what you have been taught” (v. 14). Thus verses 10 to 13 describe Timothy’s past loyalty to the apostle, and verses 14 to 17 urge him to remain loyal in the future. He has good reason to do so – partly because he knows from whom he has been learning (namely Paul, whose apostolic authority he has come to accept) and partly because he has known the Holy Scriptures from childhood and accepted them as theopneustos (literally, “God-breathed”) and profitable.
The same two grounds apply today. The gospel Christians believe is the biblical gospel, vouched for by both the prophets of God and the apostles of Christ. We are thankful for this double authentication.
Further reading: 2 Thessalonians 3.1-5; 1 Timothy 4.1-3; 2 Timothy 4.1-5; Titus 1.10-14; Hebrews 13.1-6; 2 Peter 3.3-10; Revelation 22.6-15
The purpose of the Fellowship of St. Peter is to promote Christian faith and spirituality.
The central focus is on the person and work of
Christianity in the modern world
As the number of churchgoers dwindle in the western world, traditionalist Christians need to overcome their differences and consider a form of unity that recognises their common purpose. It’s time for the faithful remnant to act as a creative minority and voice a unified response. In an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, the goal must be to preserve the orthodoxy of the faith in the face of continuing erosion of religious liberty.
The Fellowship extends a hand of friendship to those who have withdrawn from churches which have aligned themselves with secularism and liberal values, thus fatally compromising the integrity of a faith that is essentially counter-cultural.
We must read the signs of the times. The era is drawing to a close. It is time to stand up and be counted as the people of God. Do not be afraid. The gathering darkness will not enshroud the light of faith nor quench the flame of truth. These will remain, along with all those whose steadfast faith shields them in the coming storm.
‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28.20).
The word of God
The word of God is a powerful force for enlightenment, a necessary counterweight to secular humanism. The Fellowship seeks to recapture something of the simplicity and vitality of the church in apostolic times, before the purity of the Christian message was corrupted by spurious doctrines. The emphasis is on spirituality that supports the life and ministry of Christians everywhere, regardless of denomination.
The Bible speaks to the world. All Christians have something of interest and value to share through their witness. The aim of the Fellowship is to promote prayer, Bible study and spiritual reflection which will bear fruit in daily lives. These disciplines can form the basis of a Rule of Life that requires a strategic withdrawal from the mainstream.
Let the word of God fill your hearts and minds, let it guide and inspire you and refresh you like a clear mountain stream. Be still with God in prayer. Be an instrument of his loving purposes, a purveyor of peace, and let your peace rest on all those you encounter, especially those in need of compassion and healing. Heed their cares and bind their wounds. Live in uprightness and modesty and exercise restraint in your material needs. Guard your tongue, practise discretion, speak only words of counsel and encouragement, the words of Christ.
Your eyes, hands and impulses should be those of Christ. Pray always for strength and enlightenment. Praise and thank God and place into his care your needs and those of others.
Bible. Prayer. Witness. These are the three principles on which the Fellowship is founded.
By his divine power, he has given us all the things that we need for life and for true devotion, bringing us to know God himself, who has called us by his own glory and goodness. In making these gifts, he has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come: through them you will be able to share the divine nature and to escape corruption in a world that is sunk in vice. But to attain this, you will have to do your utmost yourselves, adding goodness to the faith that you have, understanding to your goodness, self-control to your understanding, patience to your self-control, true devotion to your patience, kindness towards your fellow men to your devotion, and, to this kindness, love. If you have a generous supply of these, they will not leave you ineffectual or unproductive: they will bring you to a real knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But without them a man is blind or else short-sighted; he has forgotten how his past sins were washed away. Brothers, you have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it. If you do all these things there is no danger that you will ever fall away. In this way you will be granted admittance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1.3-11).
Peter represents Everyman in all his frailty, vulnerability and confusion. He was headstrong yet inspired, well-meaning but impetuous. His heart was in the right place but he didn’t always live up to his own rhetoric. He triumphed over his weaknesses by the grace of God and saw the perfect vision of Christ and what that vision meant for the church and the world.
Peter was a leading figure during Christ’s walk on earth. He occupied a position of seniority amongst the disciples. He was there at all the major events during Christ’s ministry and in the final days leading up to the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven. It was to Peter and his fellow apostles that Jesus entrusted the legacy of truth enshrined in his teachings, the keys of the kingdom. After Pentecost Peter and his companions went out to the world to proclaim the Gospel.
Acts of the Apostles. Peter became a leading light in the early days of the church, the apostle to the Jews living in the diaspora. His authority in the nascent Christian community has to be viewed against the ascendancy of Paul as apostle to the Gentiles, a position that gave Paul equal authority in the direction of missionary work.
In terms of Peter’s primacy of leadership, however, “….one should not look in Peter or in the primitive church for the developed conception of the primacy which appears no earlier than the third century. The development of power possessed by the church and by Peter into monarchical leadership lies outside of biblical theology.” (John McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible)
The Gospel of Mark. The church historian Eusebius (d. ca. 339) wrote: “Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs of his hearers.” (Recommended reading: Meeting God in Mark, by Rowan Williams (SPCK, 2014)).
1 and 2 Peter. Of the two letters that bear Peter’s name, the first seeks to encourage and strengthen early Christian communities suffering persecution, reminding them of their heritage. The second has more to do with the dangers of heresy and how Christians can have confidence in the truth of Scripture. These encouragements and warnings resonate with us living in times of moral decline and religious indifference.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1.3-5).
Peter was martyred in Rome during the Neronian persecutions, probably in the year 64.
There are various interpretations of the symbolism. The four smaller crosses are thought to denote either the four gospels or the way the Gospel spread to the four corners of the earth. In terms of God’s revelation and world history, the city of Jerusalem is of huge political, religious and symbolic importance. The focus is highlighted in the gospels and in the emergence of the first Christian communities described in the Acts of the Apostles. It was from Jerusalem that the apostles scattered to proclaim Christ
Bible translations used
Scripture quotations marked ‘JB’ are taken from the Jerusalem Bible, copyright 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., and Doubleday a division of Random House, Inc. In this translation, ‘Yahweh’ is rendered ‘Lord’ by kind permission of the publisher.
Scripture quotations marked ‘NJB’ are taken from the New Jerusalem Bible, copyright 1985 by Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., and Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. In this translation, ‘Yahweh’ is rendered ‘Lord’ by kind permission of the publisher.
Scripture quotations marked ‘ESV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Scripture quotations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from the The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright, 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK Company. All rights reserved.
The spiritual life
We must keep the Bible open before us. It is our enlightenment, our source of consolation, our prayer book. It contains the revelation of God’s purposes in salvation history. It is the well-spring of all the truth, goodness and wisdom that God wishes to transmit to human beings who he ordained to administer the complexities of the natural world and to carry forward knowledge of salvation history with its outcome in the incarnation of Christ.
The Lord guides and strengthens us, keeping us firmly rooted in the faith. Throughout all the trials we endure in this troubled world, Christ is with us. The word of God inspires us in various ways, and through the Holy Spirit we gain knowledge, wisdom and discernment, maturing in the faith as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Remain within the confines of God’s kingdom. Stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to salvation. Do not look with longing towards the sunlit hills at every temptation. Too many have trodden the path to destruction, too many have fallen by the wayside.
The Christian life is about being transformed by Christ, being absorbed by him so that his teachings and his very presence guide our every motivation and action. Christ’s love is mediated through us in the power of the Holy Spirit. We follow the leadings of the Spirit in order to renew and deepen our faith.
There is a wonderful symmetry involved in the divine-human relationship. Christ, the sinless one, is the embodiment of human perfection. Through his very nature as Son of God he brought mankind nearer to the Father. Through Christ, God shared in our humanity and he also made it possible for us to share in his divinity. Christ underwent the ultimate sacrifice to reconcile man to his creator, making it possible for God’s plan of salvation to be brought to completion, inaugurating a New Covenant with mankind. We need to keep before us the astounding truth of his victory over evil on the Cross, through which mankind gained forgiveness and the freedom to live the gospel life infused with selfless love (cf 1 Corinthians 13.1-13).
Christ established a new reality, that to be justified by faith is a sacred identity. We are identified as Christians when we accept and appropriate the fullness of Christ. This requires a heroic response from human beings because it runs counter to human pride, the instinct for autonomy. The response must be underpinned by contrition and humility and it is brought to perfection by obedience. Once we take hold of Christ we become his disciples. Discipleship is a life-long commitment, a transforming friendship with Jesus. (Luke 9.23-26; John 15.14-17).
Christ’s death and resurrection brings to mankind redemption and salvation to eternal life. Christ has opened the way for us to follow him to the perfect vision, far superior to the limitations and imperfections of our earthly existence. To consolidate the New Covenant with man, the Father has sent us the power to sustain us on our journey through the snares and pitfalls of this troubled world. This power is the Holy Spirit (John 14.16, 26). Christ’s presence is manifested in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reminds us of his teachings, works in our conscience when we fail, grants us perception when we read Holy Scripture, inspires us in our prayers and meditations, whispers to us in our silent spaces, strengthens us in times of adversity and provides us with prophetic speech. The Spirit empowers us in our various ministries and impels us to rise above the banalities and temptations of a world that is hostile to our sacred calling. (Mark 13.5-13; Romans 12.3-9; 1 Corinthians 12.4-11; Ephesians 4.7-13; James 1.16-18, 3.13-18; 1 Peter 3.13-17, 4.7-19).
The worldwide community of faith
Christians across the world have a common purpose: striving to live the Gospel life in the face of both widespread indifference and open hostility to the teachings of Christ. The Christian faith is essentially counter-cultural yet many churches are now aligned with secular humanism, thus inflicting upon themselves the fatal wound of apostasy. The enemy is no longer at the gates, he is within the citadel.
For our Spirit-filled life to succeed we are to distance ourselves from the corrupt influences of modern culture (1 John 2.15-17, 5.18-20). There are to be no half measures, no compromise with evil in any of its forms, no accommodation with other religions. This detachment is crucially important to safeguard the integrity of the Christian faith. These are perilous times. Christianity is under assault from atheistic humanism, the dominant force in social and political culture. Faced with this threat there is to be no weakening on our part. We are to profess the faith and demonstrate in our lives the true destiny of humankind, the freedom to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. There is no higher ideal for man to attain (cf Mark 12.28-34; Romans 13.8-10).
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) appears to portray Christ as the new Moses, but he far exceeds all the prophets and patriarchs of old by his uniquely divine provenance and his destiny as Saviour of the world. He is not only the promised Messiah, he is also Priest, Prophet and King. His teachings lead us into the Kingdom of God, into a realm of love, creating a priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2.1-10). We yearn for the promised homeland above where our labours will be rewarded by eternal peace (2 Peter 3.8-14).
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-12) are a concise presentation of the Christian ethos, describing the blessed virtues essential to life in the Spirit. They are the supreme ethical and moral guide to Christian life and discipleship, illuminating our path in the human maze. They set out the Christian way of life, lived in response to Christ through faith. We strive to uphold values intrinsic to human dignity, stable family life and the maintenance of social order: humility, gentleness, compassion, justice, peace, integrity, courage and witness. All the blessings of the kingdom are encapsulated in the Beatitudes.
Christ came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5.17-19). The validity of the Ten Commandments remains (Exodus 20.1-17) and in the Beatitudes Christ describes the spirit in which the Commandments are to be lived out in both church and society. They exemplify Christian discipleship. They are echoes of the divine, revealing Christ in his perfection. They define the inward motivations of integrity and love that characterise discipleship, as well as the blessed rewards of faithful service in Christ’s name. Our acts of charity and mercy spring from a heart filled with selfless love founded on the teachings of Christ and energised by the Holy Spirit.
The teachings of Christ are uncompromisingly radical. They are employed to combat philosophies that erode the dignity of man: consumerism (money and possessions bring happiness); relativism (there is no absolute truth); secularism (a world view without God); existentialism (life has no purpose). In the midst of these evils the Gospel shines like a beacon of truth. And through it all we persevere in the name of Christ, despite the difficulties we encounter on our journey of faith (1 Peter 4.12-19). God will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us in times of adversity (1 Peter 5.10-11).
Our faith is a wonderful gift to possess and convey to others, and discipleship places on us a sacred responsibility. It is a joy and a holy privilege to walk with Jesus, to be in his loving presence in a life of Christian service (Luke 10.23-24; John 15.1-17; Ephesians 4.7-16).
Steve Chalke & Alan Mann Different eyes: the art of living beautifully. Zondervan, 2010.
Rod Dreher The Benedict option: a strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation. Sentinel, 2017.
Cameron Lee Unexpected blessing: living the countercultural reality of the Beatitudes. IVP, 2004.
John Stott The radical disciple: wholehearted Christian Living. IVP, 2010.
John Valentine Follow me: becoming a liberated disciple. IVP, 2009.Continue reading