16. Light & Darkness

Meditations in 1 John : 16 : Light & Darkness

1 John  2:9-11    Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

John has a tendency to write like the waves on the seashore! A wave comes in – he covers a particular thing – and then goes out, but then shortly it comes back in again – and he uses the same language again. Three times in chapter 1 and now three times in chapter 2 John speaks of light.

His starting point had been, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all,” (1:5) but then he had applied it to our lives: “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.” (v.7)

Back in his Gospel John recorded Jesus as saying, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21)

He seems to use ‘light’ as good or goodness, purity, holiness.  Thus it becomes, “God is good … if we walk in his goodness as he is good… we have fellowship” and “God’s goodness came into the world (in the form of Jesus) but men loved bad things rather than goodness …. Everyone who does evil hates goodness and does not come under the spotlight of goodness for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into God’s goodness so that it may be seen plainly  that what he has done has been done through God.” i.e. when we come to God His goodness permeates our lives and reveals Him through us. That’s what we saw in the previous meditations.

If we hadn’t got the message clearly the first time, John now presses the point home: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” i.e. if you purport to have come to Christ and are now a Christian, but hate your brother then it is obvious that you are not living in God’s goodness but are allowing evil to remain in you.

To emphasise it even more, John looks at it from the positive side:  “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.”  Love is an expression of goodness and so if instead you love your brother you are revealing goodness. One of the things about goodness is that it helps us walk firmly and not be brought down by temptation or sin. While we remain in God’s goodness, living it out, there is no room for bad to creep in and so we will not stumble and fall.

But then he bounces back to the negative again: “But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”   Blinded by darkness?  That’s an interesting analogy, but a true one! A person who has allowed hatred for his brother to either remain or take a hold in their life, is not living in goodness but in bad, and when we are living in the bad, it is genuinely like darkness and we lose our way and can’t see where we are going and simply stumble around. We normally speak about being blinded by a bright light, but of course darkness blinds us because in the dark you cannot see. If we allow bad into our lives it brings darkness and in that darkness we start to lose focus, lose awareness, lose sense of purpose and direction.

Now here is the tricky thing: how many of us have allowed something to either remain in our lives after we came to Christ, or allowed something into our lives since we came to Christ, that actually constitutes ‘darkness’? Remember ‘darkness’ is simply wrong, any wrong. John’s example of wrong, is hating your brother. Literal brother or spiritual brother or brother in humanity? It doesn’t matter.  If we have something against a family member, or something against a member of the church, or prejudice against groups within humanity, we have allowed darkness in!  But here’s the other tricky thing: if we have allowed darkness to reside in us, have we realized that we are, at least, partially blind?  What can’t we see because we are in darkness in this area, at least, in our lives? Well obviously that the attitude that we hold is wrong, and we are blind to that, but to what else might we be blind?  How much does the modern church ‘fail to see’ because we tolerate darkness in our lives? It bears serious thought!

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18. Claiming Wisdom

Meditations in Romans : 18:  Claiming Wisdom

Rom 1:22,23.   Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

We started off the previous meditation by noting that so often we think our thinking is right and good, i.e. we think we are wise.  Yet we went on to note that Paul said that our thinking (without God) is futile or hopeless, and those descriptions surely cannot stand alongside wisdom! Yet part of the deception is that we think we are wise; we think we know about life and the world and so we feel confident but, sadly, it is a false confidence.  As I listen to or read the modern crusading atheists, there comes over a confidence. When I wrote an appraisal of one of these men, I found myself writing, “He gives himself the position of almost divine authority. You wonder can he possibly be wrong!” This is a man who seriously ‘claims to be wise’, and certainly wiser than those of us who hold a biblical faith!

But Paul says that these people who failed to see God in His Creation, having become futile in their thinking, have also become fools. Now my dictionary describes a fool as a person with little or no judgment, common sense, wisdom, etc.” That is what a fool is. In the Old Testament we find, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psa 14:1, 53:1). A fool, says the psalmist, is one who makes out there is no God. I also note that there is a footnote in my Bible that tells us that, “The Hebrew words rendered ‘fool’ in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.” So, a fool is one who is lacking judgment, is godless and is morally deficient. What a condemnation of one who thinks they are wise!

But this is exactly what deception is all about. The Bible speaks again and again of Eve being ‘deceived’ by Satan in the Garden of Eden (e.g. Gen 3:13, 2 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 2:14).  When we are deceived it simply means that we have been led into a position where we believe something false. That is what Paul is saying in these verses. People who abandon God are being deceived so that they end up with futile, hopeless thinking and yet they still think they are wise! That is classic deception!

But is it obvious, Paul goes on, you only have to see what they do. They reject the wonder and the glory of God who is eternal and they replace that with man-made idols. How stupid can you get!  Yes, if you travel around the world you will still see, in a number of countries, idols that have been made in the form of human beings or animals.  The prophets of the Old Testament were particularly good at deriding the folly of worshipping idols – wood or metal made at the hands of men – idols that are utterly powerless!

Perhaps today we may think we are more sophisticated here in the West and would never dream of making such models and bowing down before them, but the truth is an idol is anything we worship other that God, any substitute we make for God, and there are many such things in modern life. Rather than me put forward my list of such things, you think about modern life and see what things modern man considers more important than God.

If we take anything and make and use it as a substitute for God, we are being a fool. These substitutes do not bring genuine, lasting meaning to our lives. They become a temporary focus but in old age we realise they were empty and hollow and meaningless and we are left destitute when it comes to purpose and direction into eternity. These substitutes could not speak to us, guide us and help us and work good in us, for they were all the outworkings of the endeavours of man. Fame and fortune may appear alluring but at the end of life when we come face to face with God, we will realise that they were simply a means to enhance our self-centredness and godlessness and they do not last and cannot be taken with us as we pass through the doorway of death.

How bizarre and crazy is the outworking of sin sometimes! Here is almighty, wonderful, beautiful, glorious God, who offers friendship and salvation to us, offers us meaning and purpose and a wonderful life that stretches into eternity – and some of us turn down these offers and settle for temporary and transient things that do nothing more than bolster the deception that we are someone of substance who thinks well of themselves – who thinks they are wise while, in fact, their thinking is futile and foolish.

Jesus spoke of God’s work of dealing with the ungodly: He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts.” (Jn 12:40, quoting Isa 6;10) But how does God do this? He allows Satan to do it: And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:3,4) Yes, it is Satan who blinds people’s eyes. He simply plays on their already godless and self-centred inclinations, that are the expression of sin, and speaks into their minds what is acceptable to them – “It’s all right, there is no God; you do what you want to do. You know best,” and they follow along until a crisis in life ploughs their lives and the Holy Spirit speaks seeds of conviction to them, to turn them to God. But until then, they are deceived and foolish in their thinking and their godless behaviour just testifies to that foolishness. May that not be true of us!  I find possibly one of the saddest expressions of this deception is seen at funerals when deceived mourners extol the virtues of their deceived loved one by playing them out to Frank Sinatra’s, “I did it my way.” THAT is deception and folly!

10. God is good

Meditations in James: 10 :   God is Good

Jas 1:16,17 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

There is, in the world, a lie that has been generated by Sin and by Satan, that God is a hard and harsh God. It runs from blaming God for minor injuries right through to blaming Him for the Holocaust. With little thought about the matter it blames God for creating evil and it blames God for suffering generally. Rarely does the Bible ‘defend’ God because the foolish will always think and say foolish things and the wise will seek and come to the truth anyway. Yet it is a clear truth that the sinful nature always looks on the black side when it comes to God. People have been deceived by Satan ever since that first deception in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3) and have listened to his lies (Jn 8:44) and have thus been blinded to the truth (2 Cor 4:4).  Sin generally has a blinding effect (Jn 12:40, 1 Jn 2:11). When things go wrong sin suggests that it is God’s fault. When we are tempted, we say it is God’s fault. These are the silly things that come into our minds, and out of our mouths, and James warns against these things, warns against being deceived.

James starts his attack on this way of thinking, aware of the struggles we cope with in this Fallen World, dispersed among the world, referring to everything good that is part of our existence. It’s one thing to focus on all the bad things of the world (actually brought about by sin in mankind) but rarely do we hear anyone categorising all the good things of this world. James doesn’t bother to stop to think about what they are, but you might like to do that sometime. Stop and consider the wonderful provision that this planet has for us. Consider the potential for enjoyment that God has given to us. Consider the wonder of such things as love, joy, peace. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see the wonder of His goodness in your life. I did that a number of years ago and have been marvelling ever since, as I have started to realise even more how God’s hand has been on my life, throughout it, and that hand has only ever brought good, wonderful good!

No, James simply acknowledges that there are things in our experience that are actually good and faultless and, he says, they come from God. Only good things come from God because God’s character is good. Indeed everything that God does is good. It started, as far as we are concerned, from when He created this world: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Gen 1:31). Before sin entered the world, that was a description of it, very good! When Moses spoke of the land, even though it was occupied by sinful pagans, he said,God is giving you this good land to possess (Deut 9:6). When one of the scribes recorded what happened he declared, Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled(Josh 21;45), i.e. God had promised good for them and all that had come about.  When Abigail spoke to David she said, When the LORD has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him” (1 Sam 25:30). She acknowledged what was generally accepted, that God had promised good for David. Solomon also, at the dedication of the Temple, reiterated the same thing: Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses.” (1 Kings 8:56).  David wrote it as a song to be sung, Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (1 Chron 16:34). This came to be something declared at great moments, such as the dedication of the Temple referred to above, “they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: ‘He is good; his love endures forever.” (2 Chron 5:13). This had practical outworkings, for instance, when Hezekiah reinstigated the Passover and some came not having had time to purify themselves: But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God–the LORD, the God of his fathers–even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chron 30:18-20). He trusted in God’s goodness in the situation and God honoured that.

But even more than that, James says, not only is God like this but He is always like this. He doesn’t change! In the beginning when God made everything He made the sun and the moon and the stars and as fixed as they are, so is His character. Even as He shed natural light on the earth, so it is a reminder of His own glory that shines, ever giving us light, a glory that is unfading in the Gospel (2 Cor 3:11). For ever His love keeps pouring out and will not stop because it is simply an expression of His character. This is what He is and so this is what we receive. No, we don’t need to let the gloom of the world, or the gloom that Satan would bring on us through difficult circumstances, bring us down. From our God come good things, even in the midst of this world, wherever we are. So, if the enemy has been spreading lies in your mind about God, it’s time to refute them with the truth of Scripture. Let’s join with the saints of old and continually be found declaring and singing, “God is good; His love endures for ever!”

15. Second Chances

(We pick up again the series we started several weeks back)
Lessons from Israel: No.15 : God of Second Chances

Ex 7:16,17 Then say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. But until now you have not listened. This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood.

This narrative that goes on for a number of chapters in Exodus, covering the ten plagues that came upon Egypt, is unique in the Bible and it highlights something here perhaps better than anywhere else in the Bible. It is so obvious that mostly we take it for granted. We have, in fact, referred to it already in a previous meditation. It is the fact that God could have destroyed the Egyptians in one go, without any further warning – but He didn’t. He gave them a second chance, and then a third and so on. It is so remarkable that, as I said, we take it for granted.

Now this goes right to the heart of the argument that we so often hear from atheists that God is a hard, capricious, unforgiving God. What we witness as we read through chapter 7 to 11 of Exodus is the God of second chances, the God who holds back His hand of judgment, the God who gradually increases the pressure and who, every time, allows the Egyptians to learn and to turn – but they don’t. I have commented many times in these meditations in the years of writing them, that I first noticed this many years ago when I did a series of verse by verse studies going through Jeremiah and noted the number of times that God’s word came to Israel and Jerusalem before eventually the captivity and exile came. There was nothing hasty about it at all, just as there is nothing hasty about God’s activity here in Egypt. In fact it is frighteningly methodical and specific, one thing flowing on from another, almost like a giant steamroller ploughing on over the land so slowly, unstoppable by the puny individuals standing before it. It’s almost like the tide coming in, inch by inch, again unstoppable.

But it is only the sin of Pharaoh and his people that cannot see this. Referring to Satan, the apostle Paul said, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) Referring to the darkness of sin, the apostle John wrote, “whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” (1 Jn 2:11)  Both of them understood that submitting to Sin and to Satan blinds men, and Pharaoh is blind! In his case it is clearly pride that had hardened his heart and it is that which makes him blind so he cannot see that he has no chance of winning this contest. How easy it would have been to have let this foreign people go and just carry on ruling his own people, but the trouble is that pride doesn’t like being told what to do and so we hear people saying, “Don’t you tell me what to do; I’m just as good as you!” Pride blinds!

The reality in Egypt may have been that there were ordinary people who did take notice of what Moses was saying and thus were saved when the plagues got worse, because you will see that although initially, everyone was affected by the plagues, as they went on, the nature of some of the plagues meant that individuals could respond and avoid the impact of the plague (e.g. the hail). The incredible truth is that God gives us human beings as many chances as possible so we can never say, when we face Him in eternity, that we hadn’t been given a chance. This is why Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) If God seems to allow unbelievers to get away with mocking Him or bad men simply to carry on doing evil, it is because He is giving them opportunities to come to their senses before they face Him in eternity. Jesus also conveyed this in his parable of the fishes (Mt 13:47-50) showing that good and evil will live side by side until the end – but there will be an accounting. In such ways the Lord gives opportunity after opportunity to people to turn to Him. Never, when they face Him in eternity, will they be able to say they weren’t given a chance – they were, again and again!

Now if this seems to just apply to unbelievers, perhaps we who know the Lord should ask ourselves how many times does the Lord need to speak to us before we get what He is saying? It is all very well to point fingers at unbelievers but, in reality, do we hear what the Lord is saying to us? The seven churches of Asia Minor in the book of Revelation testify to the fact that we can carry on blissfully in our Christian lives thinking all is well, while the head of the church has issues with us. It should not be. May we have ears that are open to Him, that hear Him and respond to Him!