11. Judgement

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  11 :  Judgement

1 Thess 1:9,10   They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath

I said in the previous meditation that it is very easy to pass verses or words by with little thought – especially when we don’t like the word and ‘Idolatry’ was just such a word. “Wrath” is another of those words. It occurs here in verse 10 and it also appears later in respect of the unbelieving Jews: The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) and then later more generally, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:9)

Now before we look at what it actually means, may I deal with our psychological or ethical hang-ups about this word. We’ll accept from the outset that it means righteous anger, but I want to remind you of a particular teaching that comes out again and again in the Bible – that God is perfect. Now be under no illusion that perfect means complete and faultless, and cannot be improved upon. Therefore whatever God thinks, says or does is perfect, is faultless and cannot be improved upon.

We need to let this truth sink in. Let’s see it as it crops up through the Bible: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4 – song of Moses). “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.” (2 Sam 22:31 – song of David). “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” (Psa 50:2 – song of Asaph).  “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.” (Isa 25:1 – Isaiah). “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48 – Jesus). “You will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2 – Paul). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8,9 – writer to the Hebrews)

There you have it: Jesus was begotten and was thus perfect because he was God.  God is perfect and everything He says or does is perfect – they cannot be improved upon!  Now start thinking about these difficult subjects from that angle or through that lens if you like. If God is angry about something then it is right, proper and appropriate to be angry and we can even go further and say it would be wrong not to be angry. We tolerate wrong and shrug our shoulders over it, but God sees it and sees it spoils the Creation that He made which was “very good” (Gen 1:31) and if God says something was “very good” you may take it that it was perfect. And now sin spoils it. The wonder and the beauty and the perfection has been spoiled and marred and desecrated. Imagine you were a master painter and you had spent months creating a most beautiful masterpiece and a teenager, say, comes in spits on it, writes on it in felt pen, throws paint on it and finally cuts it to pieces with a Stanley knife. Would you still be as calm and equitable about it as we so often are about wrongs in our world? No, we would be livid that this wonderful masterpiece with all its beauty has been utterly desecrated.

Why don’t we get angry? It’s all a matter of perspective. If we could see the whole picture with the completeness and perfection of God our emotions would be different. It is right to be angry, it is right to be upset and indeed, to go further, it is wrong not to be. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “right and just passionate displeasure”. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. What follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate assessment of what to do about it. God’s judgment is His dispassionate assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His anger. Anger is instinctive. Our passionate displeasure rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assess what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future, for only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.

So when we look at His acts of judgement in the Bible, realise you don’t have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been The best, The only right thing to be done.

Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgement and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God’s judgement is this particular thing – which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!

So note again what Paul writes in this letter: Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath  (1:10) and God did not appoint us to suffer wrath (5:9). The Old Testament reveals a “day of the Lord” when He will come to judge all sin and unrighteousness. Rev 19 shows us Jesus coming again to bring in that ‘day’. But we, now as God’s people do not, as Paul says, have to suffer wrath for Jesus rescues us from it by his death on the Cross dealing with all our guilt and shame, so we no longer fear a punishment. The second reference to the Jews, The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) can be rendered, “upon them to the uttermost,” or “on them entirely” or “on them fully”. It is suggested that this simply refers to them being rejected while they stay in unbelief. Scripture seems to indicate a possibility that before the end they will turn and believe and those will be saved, but salvation follows belief; wrath and judgement follows rejection and unbelief.

58. Introducing Elihu

Meditations in Job : 58.  Introducing Elihu

Job 32:1-3 So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him

We come to a major turning point in the book which is spelled out simply for us: So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” The tirades against Job have finally come to an end because the three ‘friends’ have run out of words in the face of Job’s intransigence. Job has refused to give way in his determination to declare that he is righteous.

Then Elihu is introduced: “Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram.” Elihu means “God is Jehovah” and Barakel means “God blesses”. Buzite suggest from the family of Buz who was the son of Nahor, brother of Abraham.  We are also told that he is younger than the others: “Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he.” (v.4). Some have suggested that because so much information is given about him that he may be the author of the book, but it may just be that the others were well-known and he wasn’t and so more detail had to be given to identify him.

As we read on we see his response: “But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused.” (v.5)  It is when he sees that the others come to a halt and the situation has not been clarified that his anger arises and our verses above indicate that his anger focuses on two things.

First he becomes angry at Job because he has been justifying himself rather than God. This young godly man is passionate for the glory of God and in all that has been said, generally God has not been glorified!  Job has been more concerned with his own righteousness than he has with God’s. Perhaps the best Job could have come up with might have been, “Well, I don’t understand why this has all happened but I trust God. I know that He always has good reasons and if this is of Him then I am certain that He has a good reason for it.”  The nearest he came to that was his reaction after the first wave of disasters, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (1:21) and his response to his wife who called him to curse God: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10)

For us today we can hold on to that promise spoken by Paul: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)  Our response in the face of lack of understanding needs to be, “Lord, I don’t know what is going on here, but I trust that you are working for my good in it because of what Jesus has done for me on the Cross.”

Second, he becomes angry at the three friends: “He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.” A note in the margin of your Bible suggests that an alternative may mean ‘have condemned God.” In other words these men hadn’t been able to puncture Job’s arguments but had nevertheless condemned him and in so doing had condemned the work of the Lord.  This is what the modern atheist does – blame God, IF there is one.  Very often they don’t so much put up reasons why there can’t be a God (that very rarely happens!), as they say why they don’t like God, and therefore reject the God who they think is revealed in the Bible.  They condemn what they don’t like but it’s not the real God described there!  These three friends misrepresented God!  At the conclusion of the book we find, “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)  That’s rather a bad assessment of them!  But how do we represent God?  When we speak of Him, when we witness about Him, are we faithfully representing Him or do we attribute things to Him that the Bible doesn’t say?

Before he moves into his speech properly, Elihu explains why he hasn’t said anything before, even though, apparently, he has been sitting in the background listening to it all:  “So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, `Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.” (v.6,7)  Herein is humility!  The young giving way to the old – exactly according to Scripture but not very common in the modern world! He graciously acknowledges that wisdom should come with age, which is why he simply sat listening to those older than himself – but he was disappointed!

So next he turns to an alternative source of wisdom, the Lord Himself: “But it is the Spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” (v.8)  i.e. the Holy Spirit can communicate truth and wisdom and, by inference, this is what Elihu relies on, the Lord Himself. Where this is true, where there is such a relationship with the Lord, then, “It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.” (v.9). There is a profound truth here: wisdom should be learnt with the experience of the years, but a living relationship with the Lord opens the individual up to a source of wisdom that is not found otherwise. James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” (Jas 1:5)  James later describes this wisdom that is available to the children of God: “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 3:17)  Will we see that in what Elihu says?  We’ll see!  To close this particular meditation we may ask ourselves, have I learned the wisdom that comes with the experience of the years, and am I open for the Lord to share His wisdom to me through His Spirit?  May both answers be able to be in the affirmative!

15. Tongue & Heart

Meditations in James: 15 :  Tongue & Heart

Jas 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

I have this picture of a heavenly watcher keeping score of all the different sorts of sins being committed on earth. I’ve got this horrible feeling that it’s not the sins of physical or sexual violence, or of taking other people’s property, that score the most, it’s sins of the tongue. Why? Because it is so easy to do!  Go into any room where there are a lot of people and just listen.  People talk. People talk a lot. In the 12th meditation of this series I quoted a verse from Proverbs which has convicted me in the past: When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19).  Some of us are quieter than others. Perhaps they are the wise ones.

Being in a church context, I’m often in a room with lots of other people and I enjoy just sitting and watching what is going on. I hope that in the church the talk is good. Mostly in my presence it is, but what about behind the closed doors where just two or three are discussing the many facets of a church’s life. If Jesus was sitting quietly in the background, listening in on what was being said, I wonder if some of the things actually would be said?  Paul challenges us about malice, slander and telling lies (Col 3:8,9). Malice is speaking unkindly about another person. Slander is speaking falsely about another person, and lies are simply not speaking the truth. Listen to the gossip in the street and it’s always about other people, and so often it is either unkind or inaccurate. For people in the world, we should expect it for they have no standard to keep to, but for people who claim to be religious, now that is something else!

But it may not be behind people’s backs; it may things said directly to someone. They may be unkind and harsh. They may be critical and demeaning. How about the husband who makes derogatory comments about his wife, or the wife who is nagging or even scathing about her husband? According to James’ general comment here, these things should not be. Or there is the parent who snaps at the child or the teenager who answers back to their parent’s rebuke. These things should not be.  Or maybe it is at work. Here is the boss who acts like a bully to his or her employees. Listen to their forceful demeaning words. If they are ‘religious’ it should not be so. Or here is the employee making excuses why their work is substandard, and the truth is not being completely told. Then there is school or college, fertile grounds for harsh use of the tongue, especially when discipline is not all it could be. Everywhere you turn, there are people and people have a habit of using their tongue and not for good and edifying purposes.

With his use of the words religious’ and ‘religion’, James seems to make an all-sweeping inclusion of anyone who purports to have spiritual beliefs, beliefs about God. Forget it, says James, if you can’t even control your tongue, your ‘religion’ is worthless. Now that is strong language! It actually says to a lot of people that their beliefs and even actions on a Sunday are worthless.  Why is he so strong on the subject of the tongue? Well it will come up again in his writings but let’s consider the motivation behind what comes out of the mouth.

Isaiah said something very simple: For the fool speaks folly (Isa 32:6). What he was saying was that because a person was a fool, he will speak foolish things. The two go together. The opposite is true also. Later he spoke of: He who walks righteously and speaks what is right (Isa 33:15). If the intent of your walk through life is righteousness, then you will speak righteously. On one occasion Jesus challenged the Pharisees of his day: You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Mt 12:34,35). Did you see what he said? The mouth speaks what is overflowing from the heart. If you have a heart that is not fully God-centred then out of the mouth will come self-centred words.  Sometimes people speak hostile attacking words because deep down they feel threatened.  Their outward angry words reveal an inner defensiveness. Young people today, from broken families, so often speak hard and harsh words as they reflect the inner pain and insecurity that they feel.

Oh yes, the reason James is so strong about what comes out of the mouth is because it reflects what is going on inside. You may ‘say’ you are religious, but if that faith is not bearing fruit inside you and bringing inner change to you, as evidenced by the words you speak, then that religion isn’t worth much, is it!  The truth is that if we really want to we can rein in our words, but that is very difficult if the heart hasn’t been dealt with. Becoming a real Christian is a heart experience. Our heart is broken and we give it to God to transform. In that attitude, He works and we are brought into a new place of security and love, and that is reflected by the words that then come out of our mouths. However, all along the path, the enemy is trying to stir up something else within us, so that out of our mouths come hurtful, harmful, unkind or untrue words. Yes, there may be the occasional slip, but if the heart is being transformed, then they will only be an occasional slip. For the most part, our words should be as Paul said, Let your conversation be always full of grace (Col 4:6). But remember, it’s a heart thing first and foremost, so check out your words and then consider whether you need to go to the Lord for further heart surgery. 

12. Slowness

Meditations in James: 12 :  When Slowness is Good

Jas 1:19,20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Sometimes in Scripture you look at a verse and wonder how it comes to be there, but part of our studying should be to see the flow of thought in the writers mind. Our verses here today are rather like that. Let’s consider what James has been saying. His overall thought is to write to the church scattered in the world, no longer focused in the little spiritual stronghold of Jerusalem but now scattered all over the place. He’s spoken several times of the difficult times that we can face, living in this world, and has counselled us accordingly. One of the bits of counsel, the last one that we saw, was to remind us that God is good and, from that, what has happened to us because He is good, to remind us that we are special people who God has drawn to Himself and to whom He has given new Holy Spirit life. He has called us first fruits, those who belong to God who are used to remind the rest of the world that it belongs to Him. With this in mind James now moves on to touch on a way that, living in this sometimes difficult world, we might be tempted to be less than the people God has designed us to be.

Consider what it’s like living in this sometimes difficult world. Things go wrong; people do silly or nasty things. We feel frustrated with it and wish someone would deal with the stupidity or nastiness. When you are part of the Christian minority, frustration is a very real factor in life and the main expression of frustration is anger. When we are angry our temptation is to blurt out lots of unhelpful comments (Understatement!). James is a wise pastor, and he knows these are the thoughts and feelings that churn inside sometimes when this world appears to be going stupidly wrong.

Notice however, the gentleness with which he approaches us: my dear brothers.  Ladies don’t worry about this; you’re not the ones who tend to struggle in this area. It’s the forthright men, men who are naturally macho, who want to do things, achieve things, change things, who get frustrated. Ladies tend to more gently approach the problem. It’s like James says, guys, I understand how you feel but we really mustn’t let this world and its frustrations get at us, take note of this, pause up and think about it with me, will you.

He then comes up with a little threefold strategy. Part one: be quick to listen. So often we get angry and frustrated because we do not understand what is going on and we don’t know what is going on because we don’t bother to listen carefully to others. If we listened to what others were saying, we would understand them more fully and if we understood them more fully we would see their need and, as Christians, would have compassion for them, feel sorry for them. Compassion is an incredibly good antidote to frustration with people.  It may not be people; it may simply be circumstances going wrong. Again the temptation pushed before us by Satan, will be to launch out with angry, foolish words against God. “Why have you allowed this happen? Why don’t you do something?” It’s not wrong to have questions, but it is wrong to get angry with God about the frustrations of life. It simply shows we don’t understand the dynamics of life on this Fallen World, or the resources that are available to us from God. In the difficult circumstances, go to God by all means, but be quick to listen, listen instead of talking, and see what the Lord will say to you about the situation. He wants you to be a person of understanding. Understanding often counteracts frustration and subsequent anger.

Part two of the strategy: be slow to speak.  Solomon wrote, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). The more you speak, the more prone you are to say the wrong thing, and sin. For a while I wrote a weekly comment on the week’s events from a Christian perspective and came to realize afresh how easy it is to make shallow comments based on little knowledge, or comments based on inaccurate or incomplete knowledge. It is a dangerous thing to make comment on the world, yet we all do it all the time. Listen to any conversations in church, in the street or in the office. So many conversations about what is happening in the world. TV, radio and newspapers have made us all much more knowledgeable about what is going on in the world. How easy it is to denigrate someone else. It’s so easy to do when you know they are wrong! I find the more I write on the Internet the less I want to speak into such conversations. Be slow to speak.

Part three of the strategy: be slow to become angry. This last part should be the outworking of the first two, but it is something we need to purposefully do. What good does anger do? It merely vents your frustration instead of dissolving it in compassion and understanding. Anger so often breeds anger and, as James says, man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. There is the target we need to keep holding before ourselves: a righteous life. Perhaps a simple check at the end of each day is to ask ourselves, “Is there anything I have said and done this day that is unrighteous, that I know Jesus would be upset by?”  Do we have thoughts, ideas and attitudes that come out of frustration, that are tainted by anger, that are in all honesty, unrighteous? If we don’t deal with them, God will, and that will be more painful. It’s better to confess and crucify them than be caught by them. Let’s take on board James’ threefold strategy today.

24. Don’t Argue

Meditations in Job : 24 :  Don’t argue with God

Job 9:3 Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand.

Bildad has come to the end of his first attack and Job speaks in response. As I have commented before, I believe this is one of the most difficult books of the Bible to read and understand. You almost dare not read a chapter in isolation. To find the truth you almost need to read the whole book at one sitting but that is a big task! What we need to do is cheat, and go to the end and see what happens. Look: After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7). The Lord chides the three friends but praises Job. Only Job had spoken of me what is right. That is amazing. But is that the whole picture? No, because earlier we find the Lord speaking to Job, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). In other words, Job has spoken rightly about the Lord but if he was foolish it was trying to speak into a situation where his knowledge was strictly limited. Like the three friends he didn’t know about chapters 1 and 2!  Now you see why those two chapters were so vital; they explain WHY it was all happening, even though a lot was left unsaid.

So, now we come to Job’s next attempt to speak into the dark, from the dark. He’s ‘in the dark’ in as far as he is in the darkness of anguish and he’s also ‘in the dark’ in that he doesn’t know what it’s all about, so when he speaks, he speaks into the dark. Solomon in his wisdom from God knew something of this:A man of knowledge uses words with restraint.” (Prov 17:27). Even in the jaded years of his old age he counselled, Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Eccles 5:2). We find a terrible indictment of a dissolute society in Athens in Acts:All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” (Acts 17:21) Sometimes even speaking is a sign of our folly.

So maybe Job is not being very wise when he launches out again in his defence, Indeed, I know that this is true. But how can a mortal be righteous before God?” (v.2) yet it is a valid question and he has some good reasons to ask it. His two friends have sought to link sin and suffering and Bildad concluded that if Job repented the Lord would utterly restore him. This Job agrees to, at least as a general principle: when people repent, God forgives and restores, but then comes this key question: in the face of all-mighty, all-powerful, all-wise God, how can any one of us humans ever say we are right. Surely God can see through us and see our every foible and failure and foolish aspects, and surely he can out-think us – so what’s the point?

Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand. Our natural tendency is to want to speak up to justify ourselves but God is so ‘clever’ and all-knowing that he could ask us a thousand questions we’d never be able to answer. Indeed, His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?” (v.4). Once you are aware of God’s greatness you realise that it is just stupid to try to argue with Him. After all, He is the One who created the whole of existence and so His wisdom and knowledge is just mind blowing!

Verses 5 to 9 simply speak of God’s incredible power in making and directing His world. It’s only when we come to verse 10 that we find job resorting back to statements that reveal our futility: He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” This is what upsets people about Jesus’ ministry; it is filled with things that the human mind can’t cope with. God does stuff that we just can’t understand! You can’t understand a miracle apart from stating the obvious – it is something that goes against the flow of nature. Having said that, we’re done!

“When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.” (v.11). This is one of our biggest problems – we can’t see God, hence the life of faith! God is a mystery because we’ll only see Him the other side of death.  For the time being we speak into the air and trust He hears. We listen and falter and hope we have heard aright. It is probably the biggest issue in our lives!  But it gets worse: If he snatches away, who can stop him? Who can say to him, `What are you doing?’(v.12). In other words, not only can I not see Him, but I am also powerless when He acts. Because He is God and is all-powerful, we can do nothing to resist Him if He comes in judgment.

From our perspective it seems terrible at times:God does not restrain his anger; even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at his feet.” (v.13). That is how it seems sometimes. If God decides to act in judgment against the sin of the world, even the greatest of creatures in all creation dives for cover! Don’t ever mistake God’s anger for caprice. In fact it is exactly the opposite. He never unaccountably changes His mind by whim or fancy, but instead He purposely and slowly works out His purpose against unrestrained and purposeful sin and ungodliness. Unlike us, His anger never makes Him out of control. God’s anger is less an emotional outburst but more a distinct determination to act against ungodliness and unrighteousness. Different translations do different things with this verse but ultimately the outcome is the same: when God is angry, the wise get on their knees or prostrate themselves or duck for cover.

Job well describes our utter helplessness before God. Because He knows everything and is all-wise, we would do well not to try to argue with Him. His wisdom and His might and power say here is a Being who is not to be trifled with. We may think we’re all right, but if He says we’re not, we need to think again. We may wonder at the affairs of life but if we are wise we do not jump to conclusions but seek the One who alone has all the answers. Where does that leave us then as we feel weak and vulnerable? Watch this space for the next meditation.