6. God of Interaction

Getting to Know God Meditations:  6. God of Interaction

Rom 5:6   You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Questions?  We concluded the last study by saying we would see how the purposes of God, that are revealed in His activity throughout the Bible, are weaved into the activities of mankind. I believe this is something that is very important for us to understand because I often hear questions being asked that start with, “Why didn’t God…..” and go on to ask why He didn’t explain more, or why He do more to bring changes that we can see now needed to come – and yet He didn’t. Why didn’t He?  I’ll answer that in a moment but can we note that even in asking such a question we are implying we believe in a God who can interact with this world, who can speak into it and act into it.

Why didn’t He tell more? That is one of the frustrations I hear people expressing.  Why didn’t God explain to Abram what He was doing, tell him who He was, and so on? Well I’ve already answered that in two ways: first, relationship doesn’t need definition, second, to do with this ‘doctrine of divine accommodation’ that I spoke of in the previous study, that God communicates with humans at a level which they can understand at their present stage of development. The funny thing is though, that sometimes, contrary to what we’ve just said, He seems to reveal more than the person needed at that time, for example, in Abram’s case we find God telling him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15:13,14)

The plan for the family: So why did He tell Abram that? I suspect there are two answers. First, to encourage Abram with the knowledge that God had an ongoing plan for his family that stretched way into the future and, second, for the sake of those future generations who would have this passed on to them down through the family tree, as an encouragement to them that everything was going according to the Lord’s plan.

Combination of Factors: But note two additional things in all this: first, that God did not make this happen – Israel ending up in Egypt needing deliverance. It came about as a consequence of two things, a natural outworking of the Fall, the world going wrong, a famine, and also by human choice – Israel chose to stay in Egypt in their lush surroundings after the threat from the famine had passed.

The Time Factor: The second thing to note, is the time factor in all these things. Years would pass, families would grow and change, there would be human interactions that were good, bad and indifferent, i.e. life would go on with no apparent big changes. But then He shared something else with Abram: “the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:16) which no doubt at the time meant nothing to Abram but in the fulness of time it would be seen that those things going on in the land where he now was, would so deteriorate morally and spiritually.  The Amorites, one of the tribes who lived in Canaan – and thus shorthand for the occupants of Canaan – were a part of this and if God did not intervene to halt the downward spiral it might spread further abroad infecting more and more people with the superstitious fear-based occult activity that even drove the occupants to worship ‘gods’ and sacrifice their children on altars to these gods. God would take the need to deliver Israel out of Egypt and take them back into Canaan and combine it with the need to bring an end to all this pagan horror by driving those nations (tribes) out of the land. Only after that four hundred year period of time had passed would the nation of Israel be strong enough to achieve that.

Revelation & Timing: So we see that God holds back on handing out too much knowledge that will not be understood by the people of the time, yet gives an indication that He knows all that will take place in the affairs of mankind and what will happen on the planet, and will weave His purposes into all of that. I hope we have started to see that God works into human affairs but does not make them happen but will use what is happening to continue His purposes which we will soon go on to start considering.

Spreading the Gospel: the ability to spread the good news about Jesus Christ and what God had done through him, is a classic example of this same thing, God pursuing His purposes (in this case to spread Christianity). Christian writer and evangelist, Michael Green, in his book, ‘Evangelism in the early Church’, suggested nearly half a dozen things about the world that made the period two thousand years ago, following the death of Christ, almost certainly the best time for the spread of the Gospel.  The fact of pax Romana, ‘a time of peace unparalleled in history’, the fact of the amazing road system that the Romans had created, the wide common use of the Greek language, the existence of many false religions in existence that people were only to eager to abandon, the spread of Jewish culture which Christianity flowed through first, a culture found all over that area, all of these things contributed to the amazing spread of the Gospel and the growth of Christianity that say this was not by chance, this was by design, this was God working into the human activities of that time to ensure the news of His Son were spread so easily, so quickly and so widely.

The Conundrum of Slavery: There is a question I often hear, the answer to which fits in with this particular study and which I would thus like to mention briefly; it is the question of slavery. Why, say some people, didn’t God condemn slavery. The answer is not stated specifically, but I believe from what is stated clearly we can deduce the following. First, God does not force the world, force nations or force groups or force individuals to act in specific ways, and therefore, if He was to work to change slavery activities, He would have had to impact many if not most primitive nations because slavery has always been worldwide. Yet, His revelation as we have been noting, was to and through one nation, Israel.

When we see his laws for Israel in respect of slavery we find that the Law given to Moses regulated what was an existing practice in the world but forbade Israelites to be slaves or make slaves, to accept slaves from other countries but to treat them well. A slave fleeing to them was to be given refuge. Contrary to much that is spoken about slavery in the Old Testament, there is a caring and concerned element in the Law that helped slaves coming from the surrounding world. Those who worked for another within the society were cared-for servants. In the New Testament, although slavery is seen in the world, when a specific believing slave returned to his Christian master, that master is put under severe pressure to accept him as a brother. (See the book of Philemon).

We might suggest that slavery was just one of many practices that God did not approve of in the world, but He recognized that He would have to wait until the time was right when a group of Christian believers would arise who would hold sufficient positions of power that they could speak into government and change the law and abolish slavery. (What is tragic is that in the world at large today, slavery is as prevalent as it ever has been). This subject, like other similar ones, hinge on this doctrine of divine accommodation and God’s refusal to force mankind to comply with His wishes. We must also recognize that, as we have said before, God does not force His will upon humans having given us free will so, yes, there are many things going wrong in the world, but that is the cost of free-will that enables us to be what we call a human being.

And So? To summarize, we have been noting that:

  1. God speaks at a level that mankind at any particular point in their development can understand. Historian Rodney Stark comments, “As St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote in the fourth century, God is so “far above our nature and inaccessible to all approach” that he in effect speaks to us in baby talk, thereby giving “to our human nature what it is capable of receiving.”
  2. God interacts with humanity, weaving into our activities His plans and purposes. He does not force us to act as we do, but He works into what we do to bring about His end objectives.

28. Respect & Honour People

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 28:  Respect and Honour People

1 Tim 5:1,2   Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

We have seen, we have said, Paul instructing Timothy on various facets of leading the church in Ephesus. He has focused so far on general issues of exercising his ministry and upholding the word. Now Paul turns to more personal matters, or issues of dealing with people in the congregation.

Implied within all that he says, we should note, is the idea that leaders / elders / shepherds / overseers, call them what you will, are responsible for their flocks and not only does that mean preaching and teaching the flock, but caring for it and on occasion correcting it. Because he is a young man, Paul sees that Timothy may have a particular difficulty and it is in the way he deals with older men in the congregation. There may be times when a situation arises where he, as the leader, ought to speak to an older man about his behaviour.

How we treat other people is a sign or measure of how much God has done in us. Leaders can forget they are servants and think they have power and authority to throw around, but Paul thinks otherwise (read 2 Corinthians to catch his heart in this whole area). The apostle Peter taught, Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers.” (1 Pet 2:17). Paul in his teachings made it more specific: “the wife must respect her husband,” (Eph 5:33), “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect,” (Eph 6:5), “respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you,” (1 Thess 5:12), “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect,” (1 Tim 3:4), “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect,” (1 Tim 3:8), “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect,” (1 Tim 3:11), and “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect.” (1 Tim 6:1)

Paul thus sees certain people worthy of respect by nature of their position. Peter teaches a more general respecting of all persons and he extends this to non-Christians: “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) Respect for those older than you was, of course, built into the Law: “Each of you must respect his mother and father,” (Lev 19:3) and “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly.” (Lev 19:32)

If you have to rebuke a man older than yourself, he challenges Timothy, don’t resort to harshness but see him and respect him as if he were your father. Respect for the aged, we have just noted, goes right back to the Law.  Oh that it would be restored to the church today!  But this raises the question about how we should treat all people. We might say it seems an almost irrelevant question because surely we are called to love everyone, for example Jesus taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mt 22:39 quoting Lev 19:18) and then, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) Surely, therefore, it is obvious how we should treat one another – with love. But what does that mean?

Well the apostle John spelt it own in practical terms: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:16,17) Of course Paul spelt it out in 1 Cor 13:4-8  “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”  So it seems fairly obvious.

So why does Paul say to Timothy, “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (5:1,2)?   How do we treat brothers, mothers and sisters? (at least when the family is not dysfunctional!) Very simply, we are for them, we love them and we respect them and we think honourably about them. We would think nothing wrong about them and want nothing wrong for them. This is the bench mark that Paul sets for Timothy when he has to deal with men and women in the congregation and perhaps correct them. How would you correct your sister? Hopefully with love and care, wanting to maintain a good ongoing relationship. How would you correct your mother? Carefully! With gentleness and tenderness and not wanting to say or do anything to upset or hurt. How about correcting a brother? Surely with wisdom and in such a way as he might receive you and your words of correction, again knowing that you want to maintain a warm ongoing relationship with him. All of these things thus apply when the leader finds himself in a position when it is necessary to admonish and correct a brother or sister in Christ. See them as your literal brother, sister or mother and treat them accordingly. In that way they will get the best treatment from you. May that be how it is in church life. 

67. The Conclusion

Meditations in Job : 67. The Conclusion

Job 40:1-6 The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy–how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer– twice, but I will say no more.” Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm

There is a pause and the Lord looks Job in the face and challenges him to speak up and correct God – if he can! Answer up, He continues!  I can’t, Job replies, I am unworthy (or small and insignificant). I’ve spoken but I should say no more. So the Lord continues to speak and to challenge. Previously it had been on the grounds of Job’s lack of knowledge as compared with the Lord’s, but now it is on the grounds of his smallness and weakness, first as compared to God and then simply as compared to some of the creatures he sees on earth.

First, compared with the Lord: “Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.” (v.9,10) i.e. does your power and splendour match that of God? “Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand.” (v.11,12) i.e. can you bring down and humble the proud and the arrogant? Is this within your domain? Of course not!

Then the Lord refers to creatures on earth: “Look at the behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox.” (v.15). A note in your Bible suggests that this may refer to a hippopotamus or an elephant. The Lord describes him and ends with, “Can anyone capture him by the trunk, or trap him and pierce his nose?” (v.24) The implication is that in comparison we are puny and weak.  He moves on to the next creature in chapter 41: “Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?(Job 41:1) Again a note in your Bible suggests that this may refer to a crocodile. The Lord describes him and concludes, “No one is fierce enough to rouse him. Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (41:10,11)  i.e. if you can’t stand against such a creature how can you dare think you can stand against God who is so all-powerful and who made all things?  Almost tediously, to make the point, the Lord continues in verses 12 to 34 to describe this creature that is beyond our handling. The point is simply made: Job you are small and insignificant even in comparison to some of the other creatures that share the earth with you. Get yourself in perspective!

In the final chapter, Job eventually answers: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, `Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (v.2,3) i.e. I know you are The Great One, and you can do anything and I acknowledge I spoke out about things I don’t know about. He concludes, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (v.5,6) At last Job has a right perspective. Note he hasn’t all the answers and it hasn’t been explained to him what had taken place in the courts of heaven, but he is satisfied that God is so much greater – all-wise, all-knowing and all-powerful – and therefore it is foolish to argue with Him. What becomes assumed is that God is also all-good, for this is not just a mindless submission to a harsh dictator.

The Lord then turns to the three friends and chides them, 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… You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (v.7,8) He tells them to offer sacrifices for their folly and to get Job to pray for them. Perhaps more than their chastening, we should note the Lord’s affirmation of Job – Job had spoken rightly about God! Wow!

But the Lord doesn’t leave it there, “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters.” (v.10-13) Yes, this is restoration. No, his previous sons and daughters cannot be brought back but he’s given a new family and immense prosperity.

The point of all that, surely, must be that any doubt over Job has been taken away. Here is a man who had been righteous and who had weathered this terrible storm and is declared still righteous by God and is rewarded accordingly.

Righteousness is possible and it is possible to maintain it in the face of immense suffering. That must be one of the obvious lessons that comes through this book. May you and I hold on to Job’s example as we live out our lives in this Fallen World where things go wrong.

37. Silence

God in the Psalms No.37 – God of Silence

Psa 22:2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer

In the 15th meditation we considered ‘The God who hides’ and the idea and effect is very similar to this verse, but it is sufficiently important that it needs looking at again. The truth is that there are times when we cry out to the Lord and He seems to remain silent, He seems to ignore our cries. Why would a God of love do this?  This psalm is considered a prophetic psalm reflecting Jesus’ anguish on the Cross. This psalm is the cry of the Saviour heard as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mt 27:46)

Probably the classic example of silence from God is Rev 8:1, “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Again there, there is given no explanation for the silence and so we are left wondering. So what does a silence indicate?  Is it an indication that God doesn’t care?  No, everything else in Scripture challenges that wrong assertion!  Is it an indication that God is having to think through an issue before He comes up with an answer?  Definitely not!  Everything in Scripture tells us that God has perfect knowledge and wisdom and, even more importantly, that what is happening today is a working out of His perfect plan devised before the very foundation of the world. Oh no, it is nothing like that!  So what are we left with?

Probably it is because God is waiting for the right moment to speak and move. Indeed there can be no other satisfactory answer. There are clear indications in Scripture that God is concerned with timing and moves at exactly the right time (e.g. Mk 1:15,  Jn 2:4, 7:6,8, 7:30, 8:20, 13:1, Acts 3:21, Rom 5:6, Gal 4:4, Eph 1:9,10). It seems it is as if God moves in ‘seasons’. There have been times in church history when He has come in revival power; suddenly He has turned up and amazing things have happened and thousands of people have been saved. Compared with such times, most of church history seems slow and relatively uneventful.  In those ‘slower times’ it is natural to cry out to the Lord, with the feeling, “Why Lord, don’t you answer?”

So why does God seem to wait? Why doesn’t He come with power all the time? Possibly it is that He knows that if He did we would take it all for granted and it wouldn’t, in fact, bring good into us. The reality is that we change more into the likeness of Jesus in the hard times, not the times of great blessing. The times of God appearing to remain silent are, in truth, times of testing for us, times that reveal what we’re really like. One day Jesus told a parable, “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) It was about a widow who pleaded with a judge who apparently wouldn’t reply. Eventually he did, just because she went on and on. Listen to how Jesus concluded it: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:6-8). Look at what he’s saying. Yes God will eventually deal with the issue, but in the meantime, if I should return, will I find you in a position of faithfulness?

When God appears silent, will we still remain truth to our faith and to Him? Yes, God is waiting for something to happen before He replies, but that something may just be your right response in the situation, your affirmation of love for Him, your declaration of trust in Him. For such reasons the Lord remains silent. If the Lord remains silent, He has a good reason. You can keep asking, but you may have to wait a while for the answer.