22. Aspiring to Wisdom

Aspiring Meditations: 22.  Aspiring to Wisdom

Psa 111:10   The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom

Psa 104:24   How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all;

Prov 14:8   The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways

Knowledge, understanding and wisdom go together we said. We have considered the first two and so now we are left with ‘wisdom’ and here we are in for some surprises.  Knowledge is given, understanding follows and together they challenge us to live out what we have learned to be the way to live, and that is wisdom.

We have seen previously that the “fear of the Lord is beginning of knowledge” and now we see that it is also the beginning of wisdom. When you realise who God is and what He is, you bow before Him, and surrender to Him. That is wisdom. It is also not surprising that the psalmist tells us that everything God has done, He has done with wisdom. He knows everything and so with that knowledge He brought the world into being. For example, think of Him imagining the world He is going to bring into being. He imagines oxygen and He imagines hydrogen and He sees that the two together make water. He knows the characteristics of the things He brought into being and He knew how they would work – and that includes us.

Wisdom is a potential characteristic He has made for us, but it is not guaranteed and even when it is, there are question marks. Most people know the story of Solomon being given wisdom by the Lord (1 Kings 3) and we see how that worked so wonderfully by the time the Queen of Sheba came to visit him (1 Kings 10). Everything he has done and everything he has achieved is attributed to the wisdom the Lord gave him and yet in the very next chapter (1 Kings 11) we find Solomon taking many foreign wives and giving way to their foreign false religions. It is always possible to walk away from the blessing of God and turn to our own folly, energised by sensual desires, and suffer the consequences of that. Wisdom is not a guarantee. We can reject it even when we have it.

Wisdom comes from a right respect (fear) of the Lord and part of that means we simply accept His will is always best and when we follow it, blessing will always follow. Moses knew this when he instructed Israel on the Plains of Moab: “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut 4:5,6) Keeping the Law would reveal an orderly and peaceful and harmonious and prosperous society that should have been the envy of the world, showing a wise people (and it did happen initially with Solomon as witnessed by the Queen of Sheba).

That was wisdom in the Old Testament but when we come to the New we see something different. The apostle Paul wrote, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:22-24) Now that is interesting because he shows us two different sorts of wisdom. First, he refers to the wisdom that the Greeks sought after which was more based on knowledge and logic. However, that logic could never have guessed at the plan of God, hidden as a mystery from before He made the world, a plan that involved the death of His Son. That was the second wisdom in those verses, the wisdom that comes from knowing God’s will, what God has decreed, how God has laid down His strategy to save the world: “we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” (1 Cor 2:7)

But how about the practical “how to live” wisdom? “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5) We get it when we first come to God and we get it every time we ask the Lord for guidance as to how to live out our lives. Later in his letter, James goes on to contrast these two sorts of wisdom we’ve already hinted at, and see in the desires of the Greeks.

See: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (Jas 3:13-17) Let’s look at this in some detail.

Human ‘wisdom’ puts ‘self’ first and therefore the life of pursuing selfish desires and selfish ambitions inevitably involves coming into conflict with others. That is what James recognizes and speaks about here, but the wisdom that comes from God pursues the plan and strategy formulated by the Godhead before the Creation and it is built on the total knowledge of how the world is designed to work at its best – including how to deal with it when it doesn’t work according to design (and this includes us). The end goal is always to bring mankind back into a place of being able to receive God’s blessing, and that means coming into a place of peace, harmony, divine provision and a glorious destiny in eternity.

Knowledge recognizes that God has given us, for example, many good things to eat and drink. It also observes that eating too much means obesity. It then understands the link and sees the folly of eating to much and the resulting threats to health that follow, and so wisdom sees how to live with a healthy diet and self-control. The same sort of thing can be applied to all bodily desires. Ignoring God’s design, ignoring God’s will, means we stray outside His parameters with all the accompanying ailments we see in modern Western society.

Do I want (need) to aspire to this godly wisdom? Yes, definitely. Why? Because it works and brings God’s blessing, and rejecting it for human, self-centred ‘wisdom’ (which is in fact folly) means my life will start breaking down and falling apart. When we rely on self-centred desires for our immediate pleasure, that reject the will of God, we will get into trouble. Eve knew that would happen when she took the forbidden fruit but for the ‘pleasure’ of the moment, she gave way. It is that example that we see around us so much of the time in the West – obese people, people with problems with alcohol, broken marriages, insecure relationships, children without a father, sexual diseases etc. All of this is because our society has rejected the wisdom of God. May it not be true of you and me!

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21. Aspiring to Knowledge (2)

Aspiring Meditations: 21.  Aspiring to Knowledge (2)

Prov 1:7   The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge

Prov 10:14   Wise men store up knowledge.

Isa 11:2  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him… the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD

Phil 1:9,10  And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,

Having just picked up on ‘understanding’ from another list, I realised that we had not covered one of the other two ‘cousins’, wisdom, but as I do that, I sense a need to revisit the third of the cousins, knowledge, which we did consider in study no,5 and so now, forgive me if we pick up on knowledge again. At first sight, it appears so obvious as not to need this coverage but I suspect that that is not true, for two reasons: first because so many Christians do not aspire to knowledge and we therefore need to cover it again and, second, knowledge is so fundamental to the Christian walk, that we need to doubly make sure we understand its significance and importance.

Knowledge, as we said in the previous study, is about perceiving facts, collecting information. In this information world, we probably ‘know’ more things a hundred times over more than people of say a hundred years ago.  But therein is the danger, for as the apostle Paul said, “We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.” (1 Cor 8:1-3)

That is rather a handful but he is basically saying that if you think you know everything, you are in fact ignorant and are possibly the living proof that “knowledge puffs up.”  The truth is that however much we know, it is, in the whole scheme of things, very little. Solomon understood something of this when he wrote that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) That fits in with the verses we have just seen where Paul says, “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.”  He ought to know that acquiring knowledge ought to start with knowing God, and knowing how great He is, for this will produce the ‘fear’ or ‘respect’ that Solomon refers to. The man who is ignorant of God lacks knowledge.

With that starting point in place, then the wise man does collect knowledge, if we may put it like that. (see Prov 10:14) Why should that be? Well let’s take the person who comes to Christ. Their starting point is recognising in relationship to God they are imperfect, a sinner. Moreover, they have come to see the Lord’s greatness, and bowing before Him they accept the salvation He provides through His Son Jesus Christ. So there we were, born again, new believers. Is that the end? Certainly not. It is the beginning of a life of learning. – or at least that is what we would hope it would be for all believers – learning how we are saved, for what are we saved and how this salvation will be worked out in the rest of our lives. That is what the New Testament is all about, which is why it is tragic that so few believers read their Bible on a daily basis.

When you consider that the apostle Paul taught that all Scripture, “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16), where new believers fail to accumulate knowledge, i.e. they fail to learn what God’s will involves, it also means, in accordance with this verse, that they fail to be taught, they fail to let God’s word challenge (rebuke) or correct them, and they fail to let it train or disciple them in what it means to be righteous. Moreover, they will never come to the point of being able to teach others, which is another goal we’ll need to look at, that the Bible speaks about. Paul saw a direct link between having knowledge and being able to instruct others: “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” (Rom 15:14) It is a fairly logical link.

For the (new) believer, increasing knowledge is essential if they are to grow, knowledge of the goals that God has for them, and knowledge of how those goals can be achieved: “as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us.” (2 Cor 8:7) Paul was very specific about this: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.” (Col 1:9,10) Now that is interesting because it links knowledge to wisdom and understanding. When it comes to God’s will, we start out with the basic knowledge of what He wants for us (for example, to love one another) but as His Holy Spirit works within us, He will show us how this can be worked out (wisdom) and the significance of it (understanding) i.e. to impact one another with His blessing to make a better world.

Now before we finish we have to note an important distinction: knowledge about God and knowledge of God. The Queen of Sheba, for example had knowledge about God when she came to King Solomon (see 1 Kings 10) but believers, now indwelt by the Holy Spirit have knowledge of God, i.e. experience of Him. Consider the words of the apostle Peter: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Pet 1:2,3) This knowledge is experiential, i.e. it is about our encounter with Him.

Now this is true of every believer because to be a born-again believer we have to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Now perhaps we need to make another distinction: first of all, those Christians for whom the work of the Holy Spirit in them is, in psychological terms, more of a sub-conscious thing, i.e. they aren’t aware of what is happening, their guidance is more simple response without thought or understanding. But, second, there are those believers who learn to draw near to God, to become sensitive to the moving and gentle speaking of the Spirit from within and therefore their life is a far more cooperative thing, with them being aware of the Spirit’s directing, and then being specifically obedient to His leading. This knowledge of God becomes a very much more conscious thing.

So do I need to convince myself that I need to aspire more to knowledge about God and of God? No, I am convinced! I need to maintain my reading of His word and reading of others in the spiritual sphere, and I need to seek to develop my sensitivity to His presence that I may be more knowledgeable of Him as He expresses His plans and purposes for me. All I’ve got to do now, is just get on and do it. And you?

20. Aspiring to Understanding

Aspiring Meditations: 20.  Aspiring to Understanding

2 Cor 6:4-6 “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness”

Job 12:13  To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.

Isa 11:2  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

We might be surprised to think of understanding as something to which we should aspire, but it is here, first of all, in Paul’s list of things which, he said, commend them as apostles, and if them, then surely us.  Understanding is one of the three things that go together – knowledge, wisdom and understanding.   Knowledge is about perceiving fact, collecting information.  Wisdom is knowing how to act, what to do, how to live. Understanding is realizing the significance of knowledge. Knowledge might be the fact or information that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God”. Understanding is the realization of that significance of that statement. Wisdom is then knowing how to live in the light of that statement. (Note our constant use of that word ‘significance’).

In our verses above we see that understanding is one of the things that God has. (Job 12:13). It is also one of the things given to the Messiah (Isa 11:2). We so often say that the attributes of God include the fact that He is all-knowing and all-wise, meaning He knows everything and knows what is best in any and every situation. His understanding is what drives that wisdom. He not only knows everything that can be known, but He also knows the significance of every fact, how it relates to every other fact.

Paul writing to Philemon said, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Phile 1:6) Now that suggests that understanding so often follows experience. As we live out the Christian life, as we share our faith, more and more we find we are coming to a deeper understanding of this life, of this faith, more and more do we perceive the significance of so much in our lives, and of that faith.

For Paul it was obviously a mark of maturity: “since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Col 1:9) We come to know the will of the Father as we come to know the basic facts of the Gospel and as we start to realise the significance of each aspect of our salvation.

Indeed, said Paul, understanding is vital if you are to come to really see this thing I have called a mystery, this thing, this Gospel that was hidden for centuries but has now been revealed. To take this in and fully comprehend it, you need understanding: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” (Col 2:2)

Again and again in his writings, he says this same thing: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.” (Eph 1:7-9) There in the sublime writing of Ephesians we have him speaking of redemption that comes through grace and is apprehended by wisdom and understanding, this mystery we referred to before. We take hold of it and live it out as we see what we need to do (wisdom) having heard the truth (knowledge) and realised its significance for us (understanding). Those three things together are what motivate us forward.

But this ‘understanding’ plays a part in keeping us sharp and alert in our daily lives: “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Rom 13:11) The ‘this’ in these verses refers to all that has just gone before it in Romans, living out our lives of love in the light of the will of God.  So, he says, as you realise that your time on earth is limited, as you understand these things, go all out to fulfil the will of God in your lives. Understanding the limitations on us, should energize us even more to seek out His will.

So, it seems to me, there are different types of Christian. There are those who are happy to turn up on Sunday morning and are happy to be spoon fed portions of the Bible – knowledge – and walk out untouched but with more facts. Then there are those of us who hear the basics, yearn for more, yearn to catch a sense of the plan and purpose of our lives, seeing how it is to work for us. These are people who realise the significance of what they read in God’s word or hear spoken on a Sunday morning, people of understanding and that understanding motivates and energises them to ask, “And what should I do, what does God now want of me?” and as they get answers they receive wisdom, the knowledge of what to do, how now to act.

I want to be in these latter groups. I aspire to not only have more knowledge but also to work for understanding and wisdom. Why? Because it is available and there for us and it is clearly what the New Testament teaching implies is essential for a vibrant life that grows and develops and bears fruit. It also makes me realise that we have missed out on (knowledge and) wisdom in these studies, so watch this space.

19. Aspiring to Purity

Aspiring Meditations: 19.  Aspiring to Purity

2 Cor 6:4-6 “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness”

1 Tim 4:12   set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

1 Tim 5:1, 2 Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

The awareness of falling short or of being less than we should be, so often makes us want to step back into the shadows and hide. If the mischievous preacher says, “Hands up all those who can claim to be pure,” we hunch down in our sits and together with most others have a sense of guilt and of inadequacy. Purity means free from fault or defect, free from anything that taints or pollutes or spoils, and few of us would dare to make that claim; we know that hidden thoughts are sometimes less than glorious, words sometimes come out that are less than gracious, and acts sometimes emerge that are less than goodness.

And yet, as we peer into the depths of the New Testament this word comes to the surface in this search of those things that suggest we should be aspiring to them. The apostle John nails it when he says, “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:2,3) He speaks of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ at his Second Coming, and he reminds us that Jesus is pure and so we should ensure, to the best of our ability that our lives are pure and clean.

I remember a time, many years ago, in the church where we were members as fairly young Christians, the leaders had invited a prophet to come and speak. This was a man with a serious ministry and the stories of that ministry went ahead of him. He saw through people and he ministered with authority. At one church where he went, he called out two leaders and challenged them about having been at loggerheads for years and told them to repent. In fact he went further than that and said if they did not they would not see the week out. By the end of the week one of the men had repented and the other was dead!

We cleaned up our lives before he arrived. Paul’s words at Communion took on a whole new meaning: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:28-30) Wow! It was real, people in Corinth had been dying because they failed to acknowledge their sins.

In our verses above Paul said they commended themselves to the believers by their purity of life (2 Cor 6) and encouraged Timothy as a young leader to be an example to his flock of a pure life (1 Tim 4) and especially in the way he had dealings with the women of the congregation. But when Peter counseled wives with unbelieving husbands, how to win over their husbands, it wasn’t with word but with their purity: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Pet 3:1,2)

Purity is at the heart of who we are: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Pet 1:22) Obedience to the truth, responding to the gospel, means as we come to Christ we are purified: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8,9) It didn’t matter whether it was Jew or Gentile, whoever comes to Christ IS purified: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7)

Now the danger, when I come to think how I can aspire to purity, is that we focus on outward actions or outgoing words so a person who is working on purity in their life, will not abuse their body with wrong use of drugs or excess use of alcohol and, I suggest, will be careful what comes out of their mouths. Swearing or blasphemy are definitely out. Something I have observed, especially in some across the water from me, is the common use of “O my God!” as an expletive. It is using the name God in a derogatory manner, it is abusing His name and it is, I believe, offensive to Him, and yet it seems it has become culturally acceptable. I am not so sure.

But those are outward things and Jesus also warned about what went on inside our heads. Lust comes from imagining things. Hatred comes from allowing oneself to think badly against another. But tainting the mind can come to easily through the eyes, whether it be from online pornography, men’s magazines, sexually explicit novels (and there are more and more of them around) or sexually explicit videos or films, or whether it is extreme violence or torture, again whether it is on videos or films or even video games, a mind that is tainted by these is no longer pure. Not long ago while traveling, I picked up an innocent looking novel to read from the airport bookstand and was horrified a few hours later to find myself in the midst of the most sexually explicit questionable sex you could find. Realizing what I was doing, I shut the book and dumped it. I hadn’t seen it coming, but now it was too late; the imagery was there – impurity!

What do we do when such things happen? Ask the Lord to forgive us that we allowed ourselves to get into such a position and then ask Him to blot out those memories and replace them with good images. We need a work of grace and cleansing and purifying. But it can be thoughts about another that can only be described as fantasy, and if they are not our partner or if they …..  no, let’s stop there and suggest that fantasizing of any kind needs to have the lid put on. By definition, such thoughts are unreal and often stray over the line of what is acceptable if you spoke them out, so if you want a test, imagine speaking out this fantasy before the congregation. If you see horrified looks on their faces, you know the truth.

So, here we are, in the realm of the mind or of words or even deeds, anything that is at all questionable; these are the things that pollute the pure life. Let’s be real, let’s be honest and let’s face the truth of this study: I need to aspire to purity and therefore I may need to check my lifestyle, my thoughts, and the things I have so far permitted into my life. Perhaps some of them offend the thought of me having a life of purity. Maybe some action is required, but His grace will be sufficient. Do it.

18. Aspiring to Humility

Aspiring Meditations: 18.  Aspiring to Humility

Col 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Prov 22:4  Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life.

Mic 6:8  And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God

Phil 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Titus 3:1,2  Remind the people to ….. show true humility toward all men.

Humility is another of those words that gets hardly any press in today’s world. Many will know of Dickens’ character, Uriah Heep who, as one Internet page has it, was ‘notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his ‘umbleness’, and who, if you’ve ever seen David Copperfield on TV, leaves you memories of a groveling man constantly wringing his hands – but it was all false!

A dictionary definition of ‘humility’ might be ‘Absence of pride, having a modest outlook, or low or realistic awareness or view of one’s self importance,’ which nicely fits the apostle Paul’s exhortation, “I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Rom 12:3) For the Christian it is having a right estimation of who we are, and we’ll come back to this later.

Now interestingly, of course, in the Old Testament, apart from one oblique reference in Psa 45:4 the word is not used of God and His Messiah. Why? Because He is completely all-knowing and all-wise, and that applies as much to Himself as it does to everything else. God knows He is all-powerful, so He doesn’t need pride to boost His ego like we so often do. The person who truly knows himself or herself will truly be humble.

Perhaps the best example of that in the Old Testament was Moses who was described as, “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (Num 12:3) Moses had been through the mill, as we might say today, ground down by the failures of life – failure at forty as a Prince of Egypt who killed an Egyptian and had to flee, and who lived for the next forty years as a nobody on the backside of the desert looking after a bunch of sheep. In his final forty years he knew that all the power lay with the Lord. Hence he prayed much.

The teaching of the Old Testament shows how the Lord delights in the humble, for example, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way,” (Psa 25:9) and, “The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground,” (Psa 147:6) and, “For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.” (Psa 149:4) and, “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.” (Prov 3:34 seen in  Jas 4:6 & 1 Pet 5:5)

When Jesus came, he taught, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:29) Remember our definition, “realistic awareness”. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn 5:19)

With this in mind we might remember his teaching, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) Recognising our limitations is a sign of maturity and security (the insecure keep pretending and fail to see the big picture – see below). When we do recognize our limitations it will also affect how we view others: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph 4:2) This recognition is a part of wisdom: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (Jas 3:13)

The anointed, powerful and authoritative apostle Paul knew these truths which was why he could say, “I served the Lord with great humility and with tears.” (Acts 20:19) He knew the origin and source and power of his ministry – and it was not him!

But before we finish, we need to realise something that we have alluded to a couple of times: humility is the recognition of who we are, yes, those reliant on our Lord and upon His Holy Spirit, but the other side of the coin is equally valid: I am a glorious child of God with all the resources of God. I have the potential to get it wrong, but I also, with His help, have the potential for getting it right, really right! Humility accepts both bad and good. That simple little verse in the Song of Songs always stays with me: “dark I am yet lovely.” (Song 1:5a) By that she meant she was sun-burnt dark brown by having been out in the world, in the fields and vineyards, and yet she remained beautiful, an object of love.

And so it is with you and me. Humility faces failure and weakness and vulnerability, but it also recognizes glory and greatness in us that He has made. The apostle Paul declared, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God,” (2 Cor 3:5) recognising that they were competent apostles but that competence came from the Lord. A little later he said, “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7) We may be jars of clay but with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us we contain the glory of God. Seeing both things is humility. Hallelujah!

17. Aspiring to Compassion

Aspiring Meditations: 17.  Aspiring to Compassion

Col 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Ex 33:19  the LORD said, “….. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Mt 9:36  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them,

Eph 4:32    Be kind and compassionate to one another.

We have come to the end of the list we started with in 2 Peter and now the list in Gal 5:22,23 but as we covered those we came across that top verse from Col 3:12 and note, therefore, another two things to which we are to aspire, the first being compassion. The word ‘compassion’ simply means to have a deep sympathy which urges the person into action.

The first indication that the Lord is compassionate (having compassion) comes in the Law where we see, “If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Ex 22:26,27) where the Lord sees a need – of a cloak to keep the individual warm at night, lost because given in a pledge – and is moved by the need to tell the Israelite to take action to remedy that.

But then we see it in the Lord’s declaration in Ex 33:19 (see above) but also a little later as we read, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God.” (Ex 34:6). Thus three times in the early corporate live of Israel this is revealed to them.

When it comes to the ministry of Jesus we see it recorded a number of times: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Mt 14:14) and “Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people;” (Mt 15:32) and “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Mt 20:34)

Now this is quite remarkable and before we move on we should pause and focus on this truth – that God, the Father, and Jesus, His Son, both reveal they are compassionate, i.e. they have this affinity with mankind whereby they are moved by mankind to act on our behalf. We accept so easily, as Christians at least, that God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16) but the fact is that love has a practical face to it, compassion which moves God to act on our behalf.

The word compassion is not used there, but the intent is, in the account of the Lord coming to Moses at the burning bush: “The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering,” (Ex 3:7) which echoes what we see at the end of the previous chapter: “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” (Ex 2:23-25) God is moved by our plight, moved to action!  That is compassion, and a compassionate God recorded in the Bible is far from the God often conveyed by crusading atheists!

It is no surprise therefore, that the teaching (not extensive) of the New Testament is that we too are called to be compassionate. We see it in Col 3:12, our starting verse and also stated very simply in Eph 4:32 (also see above) and it also comes in the teaching of the apostle Peter: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Pet 3:8) Now in Study No.10 we considered all the excuses we make for not exercising love, and as compassion is an expression of love, the same could be applied here. But ‘compassion’ seems to go further than basic ‘love’ for compassion has a greater sense of ‘applied love’ or of the ‘emotion of love’ that moves a person into action.

With the advent of TV we can become almost saturated with the needs of the world. When a famine in Africa takes its toll and camera crews film the terrible state of people – and especially children – our hearts go out to them and yet our mind balk at the enormity of the problem, a problem which often has politics at its root, and so we send off a few pounds or dollars and appease our conscience that way. The problem is almost too big to handle but unless we take at least one small step towards it, it will continue and people will die.

But if it is not starvation or sickness, it is persecution, oppression or slavery, all of which still exist in today’s world in a large measure. Again the magnitude of the problem is so great that we almost back away in horror and a sense of being unable to do anything about it. But some of us will be called by the Lord to make it the focus of our lives. Others will simply be background supporters.

But then comes a need in the life of the church. If we are not too prim and proper and affluent, we may well have people in our congregation who are fleeing from homelessness, or maybe even are refugees. Compassion says what can we do to help these people, we cannot leave their plight to go unattended? Now let’s go an extras mile. Compassion, I suggest, feels for the needs of other people. So often we exist in ignorance of needs and so compassion remains dormant, but that is a cop-out. If we live insulated and isolated lives, living in comfort and ease and remain ignorant of the needs of the people around us, it means our church life needs to take on a new relational dimension. Can we get to know people, not only the ‘nice’ people of our own social strata, but also those who do not fit in that ‘nice’ social strata, and when we do, we will start observing needs that we had never before realised were there, and at that point, risk that compassion will kick in, if we are truly open to God, Jesus and His Holy Spirit. Dare we do that?  Dare we not.

16. Aspiring to Gentleness

Aspiring Meditations: 16.  Aspiring to Gentleness

Gal 5:22   the fruit of the Spirit is ….gentleness

Mt 11:29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Mt 21:5    Say to the Daughter of Zion, `See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey

Eph 4:2   Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Strangely in observing conversations about the fruit of the Spirit, I have never heard anyone put ‘gentleness’ at the head of their list of things to which to aspire. It seems it is one of the little known or thought about characteristics of the working of the Holy Spirit in us. The dictionary suggests, ‘Gentle’ = having or showing a kind or tender or moderated temperament or character, not aggressive in approach, and ‘gentleness’ is the expression of being ‘gentle’. Perhaps it is not high on our scale of consciousness because we live in a world of ‘big people’ and ‘celebrities’ and rarely are such people known for their gentleness.  Yet, here it is, a fruit of the Spirit and, as we’ll soon see, it does come up a surprising number of times in the New Testament.

In Mt 11:29 above, we have Jesus referring to himself as gentle and the apostle Paul at one point says, By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you.” (2 Cor 10:1) and Mt 21:5 above reminds us of the prophetic word that spoke of the manner in which Jesus approached Jerusalem on a donkey. A triumphal arrival but not one accompanied by signs of power or boasting or arrogance as a general or king of ancient times might have shown.  No, this king comes in a gentle manner which is quite different.

Now, unlike faithfulness which, we said, had few direct instructions about in the New Testament and relied mostly on the implication that it was covered by many other things, ‘gentleness’ is something we are instructed about a number of times. For instance, very simply, “Let your gentleness be evident to all,” (Phil 4:5) and then, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12) Note where is comes – in the middle of a list of like-minded characteristics, two of which we have already covered, and two of which we will yet consider in future studies. All of those five words at the end of that verse says about our relationships with others, go easy, be tender-hearted, i.e. be gentle.

Paul also challenges Timothy over this characteristic: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Tim 6:11). He doesn’t merely say aspire to it, he says, pursue or go all out for it. This adds a significance or importance to it. This is not some secondary characteristic, it is something we should really make sure is a part of our lives.

Indeed, again Paul says to Timothy, “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,” (2 Tim 2:24,25) We’ve included the whole of those two verses to observe the whole context which is a challenge to any leader or any Christian teacher. i.e. don’t be harsh or heavy, but have a softer approach when instructing others.

Now note here that gentleness is the requirement of the way we are to go about doing something – in that case, teaching. But Paul also uses it in the context of restoration of a sinner: “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1) The apostle Peter requires it when you are simply answering questions put to you (which may even be in a combative manner): “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Pet 3:15)

So, to summarise the New Testament teaching, gentleness is a characteristic of Jesus and it is something all of us who are Christians are required to have generally, and specifically we are to have it when we teach, when we correct, when we restore and even when we give answers to others.

Now why is it so significant, and why is it sometimes so difficult to apply?  Well, turning to Proverbs, we can see that having a gentle approach can seriously affect how we get on with other people. For example, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov 15:1) The problem is that we may be right in our stance and the other person obstinately wrong, and that can produce frustration and a desire for force home the truth, but so often that doesn’t achieve the desired result; it only makes it worse.  We do this when our grace level is low. Are you aware that there are days when your grace level is high and you can handle any opposition, while on another day, for whatever the reason, (it may be spiritual it may be physical and it may be emotional) we know we are just not up to confrontation, and the best thing is to hide away, seek the Lord and get boosted by Him.

The same thing comes up later in Proverbs: “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” (Prov 25:15) An aggressive approach simply makes the other person hostile. The Message version puts the second part of the verse well: gentle speech breaks down rigid defences.” There it is! Gentleness can bless others and gentleness can break down barriers. Even more, when we approach people like this, they feel respected and cared for. We aren’t coming to steam-roller them, we are coming in a way they are more likely to find acceptable. Yes, if I am to be the Lord’s servant, I need to let this fruit grow more in me. If I am simply to be His child, I must do this. Yes, this is definitely something to which I must aspire!