11. Under Scrutiny

Meditations in 1 Peter : 11 :  Under Scrutiny

1 Pet 1:17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

I have a picture of a family of mother, father and three children, out for the day, walking and playing in the woods and planning a picnic at the end of it. The children are told to remain in sight of their parents and in this instruction they feel quite secure. They know that if anyone came to threaten them, their father would be there for them. It is, first and foremost, a sense of security of which they are aware. But actually there is also another sense that they have and it is that of not straying over boundaries of behaviour that the family has set, otherwise they will be answerable to the father. Again though, it is something that creates security for they know that as much as they will be held accountable for misdeeds, so will their brother or sister. They feel secure in this.

Nicky Gumbel, originator of the Alpha Courses, tells the story of an occasion when he took his boys to weekend football and the referee had not turned up and so the boys asked Nicky to referee. The only trouble was that he didn’t know all the rules and thus didn’t have the authority. Within a short while the game degenerated into constant arguments and upset. After a while the proper referee arrived, apologetic for being late, but then took over. Suddenly the game took on order and, the most important thing, the boys started enjoying the game now there was order and authority there.

Peter has just reminded us in the previous verses that God is holy and, as His children, we are to be holy. The present verse reminds us that He will hold us accountable in the same way as the father in my illustration above does with his children, and the referee does in Nicky Gumble’s story. But in calling us to do this, he says two helpful things.

The first is the reminder that God has revealed Himself to us as our Father. For many of us who have had bad family experiences with human fathers, the concept of God as Father may not fill us with joy – but it should. We should not see Him in the same mould as our imperfect human fathers, but He is The example of Fatherhood above all other examples. Yes, He is the One who created the world and brought us into being but now He is also the One who is constantly working to draw us back into close relationship with Him so that we may receive of all of His goodness and love. He is there to help us, support us, provide for us and protect us and in that He is the One who brings security to our lives. Everything about Him is love and goodness.

He doesn’t have favourites – we are all His favourites. Think about the privileges that a favourite child receives in an imperfect family situation, and God gives that to ALL of us who are His children. A cynic has said that if we are all special then that means that none of us are special. That might be true of a limited human father but in God’s case it is like when He draws near to us, we know that we are the most important person in the world – but so do all the other children of the Father! He can do that because He is God. A child who feels they are special has the sense of the father pouring out his love over and above the normal. Well God does that with every one of His children. It is only our own unbelief that hinders us receiving and enjoying that.

The second helpful thing is the reminder that we are “strangers” here. Although we tend to think that this life is the all important thing, and we are fearful of the thought of giving it up, we do have a destiny in heaven. Heaven is our ultimate home. But there is something even more significant in this: we are citizens of heaven NOW. The life we have in us, the Holy Spirit, is rooted in heaven. He is the One who provides a link with heaven. So often in the Gospels, the reference is to “the kingdom of heaven.” The character, the atmosphere if you like, of heaven is within us, linking us to heaven and that is where the origin of our present ‘life’ comes from. The perfection and wonder of heaven is here within us in a measure and that is what makes us citizens of a different realm. Paul wrote, he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son.” (Col 1:13) We are to see ourselves as strangers to this world because in reality we now live in another realm, the kingdom of God.

The final reference to living in “reverent fear” is no more onerous than the children knowing they would be answerable to their father, or the boys answerable to the referee. In both cases they feel secure in the presence of the adult. The only time they feel fearful is when they transgress the accepted rules of the family or of the game. Thus it is with us and our loving heavenly Father. Be secure in His love.

50. God, the Judge

Meditations in James: 50: God is the Judge

Jas 5:9    Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

On the basis of this verse and what I have observed over many years as a Christian, I suspect that there is a lot of judging going on in the church – by God! Now because the Gospel of grace is preached in the church, Christians sometimes think it doesn’t matter what they say or do, because they will be forgiven by God through the work of Christ on the Cross. Well this is a big subject that needs a variety of answers.

The first answer is that God’s salvation is for all who repent and put their lives into God’s hands. Now implied within that is that they surrender to Him and are obedient to His word and to His Spirit as they ‘follow Jesus’.  Is it possible for salvation to be lost?  I believe on the basis of such verses as Ezek 18:24 and Heb 6:4-6 (as well as many other incidental verses) it is, but not by occasional lapses but by purposeful apostasy.

The second thing to note is about the question of whether a Christian can ‘get away with’ sin.  Paul taught that we have died to sin and should therefore no longer sin (Rom 6:1,2). Sin, for the Christian, should ever only be the occasional lapse when we are tripped up by the enemy. John wrote, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) i.e. we shouldn’t sin but if there is a lapse, Jesus will be there for us.

But supposing we accept a particular behaviour that we tolerate because we think it is all right – such as grumbling against others – but which isn’t!  Does God just sit back and let us ‘get away with it’?  Well, remember that His purpose is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18).  He is not going to put that purpose aside because we have decided we like doing this particular thing.  Oh no, He will take action to deal with that in us.  The writer to the Hebrews understood this: My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5,6). Later he wrote,No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11). No, if you tolerate unrighteousness in your life, then along the way you will encounter circumstances that the Hebrews’ writer refers to as ‘hardship’ – Endure hardship as discipline.” (v.7). Will you lose your salvation? No! Will you incur God’s discipline? Yes!

We say all this, of course, in the light of our verse in James today.  God will discipline me for grumbling, you ask?  Again the writer to the Hebrews points us back to the Old Testament when he says, we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert (Heb 3:6-8).  There he was referring back to the time when Israel ‘grumbled’ in the desert and were judged for it.  Many of them died (Num 11:1-3).  Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses and Miriam was left leprous (Num 12:1-15).  Because the people grumbled against going into the land, the Lord forbad that generation form entering (Num 14:26-29).  Grumbling in each of these instances was complaining about the leadership of the people. That’s where grumbling occurs, when God’s people are negative about their leaders, and this is also grumbling against God (because they are His representatives.

So it is that James realizes the severity of grumbling and warns the church against it. Yet he doesn’t spell out the negative consequences of disunity in a church, he simply reminds us that we are accountable to God: you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” i.e. God is watching and He will not let this go.  He will see it, know exactly what it is – sin – and will come and deal with it.

We have already commented recently on Paul’s warnings over Communion but it applies again here: 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. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:29-32).  The Corinthians were being casual about how they came to God and were abusing one another. Because they would not heed the Spirit of God within them, the Lord had simply taken a number of them to heaven to be with Him.  He wouldn’t let them carry on there on the earth in the church.

When a couple named Ananias and Sapphira decided to lie and appear more holy than they were, the Lord used them as an example to the rest of the church and took them to heaven. That doesn’t mean they lost their eternal salvation but it does mean they were taken out of His plans here on earth.

There are serious issues here, and perhaps they may be summed up as, don’t be casual about sin, for you will be answerable to God and the very least He will do is discipline you here and now in your present circumstances. We would prefer not to think about the alternative, as we value our lives here on earth. What does this verse say? God holds us accountable. Think about it.


27. Maturity of Teachers

Meditations in James: 27 : The Maturity of Teachers

Jas 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

We have often commented in these meditations that it is important to note the context and catch the thought pattern of the writer. When we come to chapter three, if we are not careful it could seem as if James is jumping to a new subject, but he’s not. If you scan back over the previous chapter you’ll see again that James has been concerned to emphasise to these scattered Christians the importance of living out practically, the Christian life, a life of faith.  Earlier, at the end of chapter one, he had cautioned us against letting our tongues run away with us. In the second verse of chapter three, which we’ll consider in detail tomorrow, he says, “We all stumble in many ways.” In other words James is wanting us to look at our lives to see that they conform with God’s expectations as seen in the New Testament, but at the same time realize that we all fall short and miss it sometimes.

In those days, the height of having become someone who had mastered life, was to become a teacher.  A teacher wasn’t just someone who imparted information, they were considered to be those who were mature and wise and who could impart truth from a life that showed by its fruits that it had grown in self-control and wisdom.  Now of course James is speaking to the church and this applies doubly so.  As he has been saying for a large part of this letter so far, we are called to be those who cope with the trials of life (1:2-18), those who DO what God has said (1:19-25), those who can control their tongue (1:26,27), those who do not have wrong assessments of people (2:1-13) and those who live out their faith in real and practical ways (2:14-26).  Now if you can say you’ve got on top of all these, he implies, then you can be a teacher of others, to lead them also into these things.

In fact, the way he says it comes with a warning. You really don’t want to be a teacher unless you have got it all worked out, because if you stand before others, telling them how to live, and actually haven’t done it yourself, then God is going to hold you accountable. You will be in trouble! In a sense this is just a further call to self-assessment.  That is what this letter is really all about. He is saying, look I know you have been scattered into the world, and so you are having to learn to live in the world without the strength of Jerusalem upholding and encouraging you, so I want to remind you of what you have been called to and I want you to check yourselves out against that. Don’t think too highly of yourselves because, probably there aren’t many of you who will have reached such maturity in these things that you can become teachers of others.

We also have to see these things in the wider context of the whole New Testament.  Jesus scolded the teachers of his day who loved being acknowledged publicly for what they were (Mt 23:7).  He looks for humility in such people.  That is a first thing to note.  With maturity comes humility that does not seek for position.  Indeed a teacher should be a servant: Nor are you to be called `teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt 23:10-12). So a teacher is to be a mature person who does all that James has been speaking about, so that maturity will bring wisdom with humility, to act as a servant of others, not as one who lords it over others. With all these warnings against being a teacher, one might think that the New Testament teaches against becoming a teacher, but the contrary is true.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:19). His implication is that after practice comes handing it on to other people. Indeed Jesus’ closing instructions at the end of Matthew’s Gospel were to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). Teaching, or imparting to others all that Jesus had taught, was to be a very real part of the life of the church.

The writer to the Hebrews expected people to mature and to become teachers: We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (Heb 5:11,12). Now there is a challenge to the church where most people are happy to sit back and do little. No, says the teaching of the New Testament, the role of the leaders is to bring YOU into a place of maturity so that YOU can do the work: It was he who gave some to be ….pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may …. become mature (Eph 4:11,12). So James’ call is a call to self-assessment, but it is not an excuse for immaturity. Our call is to become mature and to impart the truth to others. May it be so!