20. The World

Meditations in 1 John : 20 : Beware ‘the World’

1 John  2:15    Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

John now issues an instruction that really needs thinking about. World, in Scripture has at least three different meanings. The first meaning is the planet on which we live. For example, Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved,” (1 Chron 16:30) or “you loved me before the creation of the world.” (Jn 17:24).

The second meaning is the people on the world: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech,” (Gen 11:1) or “Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel,” (1 Sam 17:46) or “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)

So is John saying don’t love the planet or the people on it? No, definitely not, for a number of the laws of Moses clearly indicate a respect, care and wise use of the world on which we live. Similarly God wouldn’t instruct us to love our neighbour and then tell us to hate them. So what is the sense that John uses here for the word, ‘world’?

The clue to the answer comes in the following verse: For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (v.16) There he describes, “everything in the world” with three things. Those three things are vital to our understanding.

First there is “the cravings of sinful man” i.e. the yearnings of the self-centred, self-pleasing mankind that is just concerned for personal pleasure. Also sinful mankind is not overly concerned whether it is good or bad, just that it brings pleasure. Thus drug or alcohol abuse is an extreme example, but then so  is unrestrained eating, or sexual activity outside marriage. “I like it, and I want it” becomes the arbiter of sinful man, with little thought to the consequences.  It’s a way of ‘the world’.

Second, there is “the lust of the eyes”. Which is expressed as, “I see it, I like it, I want it”, again often with little thought of whether it is good or bad or of the consequences. No wonder advertising is such a massive industry! The result is often bulging wardrobes, as a result of a fashion industry that tells women how they look is all important and you cannot look the same this year as last. Another result is homes bulging with goods that we rarely ever use. Yet another result is bank balances heavily in debt. It’s another way of ‘the world’.

Third, there is “the boasting of what he has and does.” Self worth has come to be measured by possessions or experiences. Conversations are often made up of tales of new things bought or new places visited. Pleasurable buying and pleasurable experiences have become the measure of a person. What is sad is that these things in themselves are not bad. God has given us a wonderful world to enjoy and He’s given us the ability of make, to invent, and to explore, and so much of the fruits of this are the things we have today and the places we are enabled to go. In themselves they are good, but if our self-worth is only achieved by these things and experiences, we are poor indeed. Our danger, even as Christians, is that in the midst of this God-given enjoyment of life, we can forget those who do not have these things and who actually struggle to stay alive. This self-centred focus on personal pleasure must be tempered for Christians by God-awareness and thankfulness, and a care, compassion and giving for those in need.

But, John goes on, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Again and again we have used the words self-centred and that is opposed to God-focused. A godly person is not self-centred, but seeks the will of the Father, including how to spend their money and how to reach out to the rest of the world.

To conclude the paragraph John adds, The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (v.17)  It is a reminder to us that all ‘things’ pass away. Many of our goods ‘pass away’ into Charity Shops as we try to make space for more clothes or more goods. But the bigger truth is that as we age, these things pass away from interest. How many elderly people have clothes they no longer wear, and things they no longer use?  And an even bigger truth – you can’t take any of these things with you when you die. If we could only see our families emptying out our homes when we’ve gone!  All the things we once held dear, now just being dumped in a skip!

I suspect that for those of us who live in the Western world and who are tolerably well off, these are uncomfortable verses when we think about what they say. They could trigger a whole new approach to life if we let the Spirit speak to us through them. Reread this meditation and see what He says.

41. Boasting

Meditations in Romans : 41:  No Room for Boasting

Rom 3:27,28 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Pride is a pitfall for the religious. How easy it is to think you are pious and godly and THEY are worldly and ungodly. Now indeed ‘they’ may have the spirit of the world (see 1 Jn 2:15-17) and indeed they may be ungodly, then so were you once! This is especially insidious for those of us who found a relationship with the Lord when we were young. All we can remember is being a Christian and so we are, surely, superior?  No, I would never ask you to abandon your faith so as to see what it is like without it, but the person who becomes a Christian later in life has a much greater idea of what it means to without God, what we are like before we come to Christ. The person who knew the Lord from a young age has the privilege of a much less tainted life, but we are still the same, for without Christ we would still be a wreck and we are Christians not because of our works but because He drew us to Himself and Jesus died for us. The basics are still the same. It is also very easy, when we have known the Lord a number of years and, even more, when He has greatly changed us and used us, to forget what it was like without Christ and to forget that we didn’t do anything to earn this life we now have.

Oh no, Paul is absolutely right; there is no room for boasting. We have seen a number of times in these more recent meditations that when we try to keep the Law, when we try to follow the rules, we can never be sure that we are keeping them all or keeping them perfectly. No, trying to keep the law means doubt at best and guilt and condemnation at the worst. We may be utterly deluded and think we are a good person but we’ve never looked at our lives, our words and our actions in detail and in the light of God’s perfection. We may excuse or justify ourselves but the truth remains the same: trying to keep the rules means doubts at best and guilt and condemnation at the worst. There is no way that we can be a Christian by keeping the rules; that is a path doomed to failure and it is not what the Lord calls us to. So first of all, although that’s not actually what Paul is saying, we have no grounds to boast on the basis of our keeping the Law.

But actually he says something else: there are no grounds to boast because it is all of faith, and similarly to the Law, faith doesn’t leave us any grounds to boast. Why? Well what is faith? It is simply responding to what God has said. Faith comes from hearing the message from God (Rom 10:17). God tells us what He has done through His Son, Jesus and, when we simply respond to that, it is faith. But it isn’t a big thing on our part that gives us grounds to boast, because actually what happens is that we realise what a state we’re in (as we’ve been seeing in recent meditations) as the Holy Spirit convicts us of the truth about us – helpless and hopeless – and we come out of a state of desperation to a place of surrender to God.

We give up all our self-efforts and self-justifying and we confess we are sinners needing to be saved. We don’t actually bring anything of value to the table, just our miserable selves who need God to save them. That is the truth of what happens! We don’t come to the table to negotiate with God for we have nothing of value to put on the table. No, we come empty handed in need and seek God for His mercy and grace which comes through the finished work of Jesus. Have you ever thought, God doesn’t have to receive us? He could utterly reject us and sent us to eternal separation from Him.

The death of Jesus doesn’t force Him to accept us.  If there is anything that makes Him act, it is His character, it is His love. He always wants good for us and always looks to save us if we will only come, but when we come it is not with any great fanfare on our part. In fact to the contrary we come with a whimper, we come with humility and sometimes we come with tears. Conviction is not a happy thing; it is not something to boast about. We cannot triumph about ‘our conviction’ because it was simply the Holy Spirit showing us our need. We can’t boast about being in need; it’s not something you boast about, being a needy soul, is it?

So when we exercised faith and responded to God’s word about Jesus, we were simply taking the only way out as we saw it. We saw our need as the Holy Spirit showed us it (as we keep needing to remind ourselves) and so when God showed us a means of meeting that need, we grabbed at it as drowning man grabs at a straw. When a man foolishly goes to close to the edge of the sea wall and falls into the raging sea, and then someone throws him a lifebelt on the end of a rope and he’s pulled in, does he clamber out declaring, “Wow did you see the incredible way I grabbed hold of that lifebelt? Didn’t I do well?”  No, it is a very different story. He knows it was his foolishness that got him into a life threatening position to start with and he is just very grateful that someone provided the means to save him and then pull him out.

So, no, there is no room to boast about our faith. It is the way we are saved, not following the Law, but even then it’s 99% the work of God and the 1% that involves us is a ‘clutching’ at God’s lifebelt. Wow!

38. Enemies of God

Meditations in James: 38 : Enemies of God?

Jas 4:4     You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Observing people taking sides is not a pleasant thing  because it is divisive, yet we accept division in society at the many different levels. At its basic level, politics is all about how is the best way to run a country, what sort of rules, what sort of laws, how to look after people. The problem is there are so many different ways, and so different ideas have, in the past century or so, created different political parties and we are encouraged every few years to vote in favour of one party and against the others. There is this natural taking of sides that takes place. In the whole realm of football, people take sides, and support one team as against all the others. It is a taking sides that demands fierce loyalty so often. Wherever there are options and alternatives and competition for one or the other, there is taking sides.

The tone of James’ letter sometimes suggests that he has heard things about the church scattered far and wide, and some of the things he has heard upset him.  The whole issue of favouritism in church was obviously one such thing. Now he speaks with a passion about the church that he has been hearing about, that sides with the world.  Now we have commented previously that when the Bible uses the world ‘world’ it can mean the physical planet on which we live, the people who live on it, or the attitudes of godless and unrighteous mankind. It is the latter meaning that he uses here.

Probably the classic passage about ‘the world’ comes in 1 John 2: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16). There the world’s ‘life approach’ is defined.  First, cravings of sinful man.  It is a world that is motivated and driven by sensual desires, living according to self-centred desires, regardless of what they are. Second, lust of his eyes desire stirred on by visual impact. This is what the whole advertising industry is about. Make you ‘see’ something and then want it, because of those unrestrained desires already there that just need stirring on. Third, boasting of what he has and does, pride that exalts self. To summarise: the world means self-centred living according to desires, that are inflamed by what you can see and which go to building up the ego to exalt the individual.

How is this hatred toward God? First it is self-centred and godless.  Second it is purely materialistic – and thus godless. Third it exalts self to the exclusion of God  – and is therefore godless. In every way the ‘way of the world’ is a godless mentality, and by godless we mean it excludes or ignores or rejects God.  No wonder James says that Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. This is another case of taking sides, because there are opposites to choose and if you choose one you will be hostile to the other. If you accept a mentality that is, in reality, self-centred, materialistic and self-exalting, you cannot call yourself a child of God, because all of these expressions are in opposition to God.

Perhaps the classic instance in the Scripture of this choice came through Joshua to the people of Israel near the end of his life: if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15)  Look, he was saying, if you want you can go and serve the idols that our primitive forefathers served, but me and my family will serve the Lord.  There was a clear choice you did one or the other.  The choice is exactly the same today.  You either serve the idols of materialism, or of self-centred human endeavour, or of scientific endeavour or whatever other godless expression of modern life that you can find, or you will trust and serve the Lord.  The reality of that choice comes when you see who or what it is that you rely upon. That is why James finds it so important to think about talking to God.  Talking to God is perhaps the clearest sign of relying upon Him.

A New Testament parallel is, perhaps when Jesus had been saying difficult things:From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:66-69) Some of those who had been with Jesus now drifted away. They couldn’t cope with or understand some of the things he was saying. For Peter, there was no question. Jesus was the Messiah and was the one bringing answers and eternal life. There was no competition as far as he was concerned. That conclusion meant he gave up all rights to his life and went and followed Jesus wherever he led. I once asked a group what they would like their epitaph on their gravestone to be. One answered, “She followed the Lord wherever he said to go.” May that be true of each one of us who call ourselves Christians!

29. Steered

Meditations in James: 29 : Steered by the Tongue

Jas 3:3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.

We take life for granted. We don’t think about the things we do, because they are so natural. We get up in the morning. We get dressed, eat breakfast, go out for the day, come home, eat, rest and sleep – every day!  We have eyes to see, ears to hear and mouths to speak, and we take them all for granted.  Take the mouth for example.  We may get up in the morning and so we groan about the day negatively.  We turn on breakfast TV, or breakfast radio, or read a morning paper, and grumble about the state of the world.  We complain about a bus or train being late, or about the weather.  We criticise people in the news and at work.  And we wonder why we feel so negative about life.  We speak thoughtlessly to someone and we hurt or upset them and a relationship is broken.  We speak hastily and the die is cast and a decision made that was unwise.  Our mouths play a large part in expressing what we feel, in determining what we feel, and in creating or breaking relationships with other people.  Oh yes, our tongue is a powerful bit of our body, and the wise person thinks about this.

James has been guiding us to think about our lives and has been challenging us about the nature of them as we live them out in the midst of the world that is so often hostile to us and to God. He’s talked about the link between faith and deeds, and he’s gone on to allude to spiritual maturity, something we should be aiming for.  Have you ever used Google Earth or some other satellite system that looks down on the earth? You see the earth from a distance and then you can zoom down and roads become visible and then, as you get nearer, buildings take shape, and then details can be seen and, if it was a real shot, even people seen.  We zoom in and more and more detail is seen.  That’s what James is now doing.  He is zooming in on our lives and focusing specifically on that all-important organ, our tongue!

He doesn’t go into immediate teaching about it; he paints pictures that make us think about it.  He speaks first about the bit in the mouth of a horse.  It’s a very obvious picture.  As the rider pulls on the reins the horse’s head is pulled round and its body follows the direction of the head.  The implication is that we go where our tongue takes us.  There is a sense that the tongue controls the whole body.  Yes, we know that the tongue speaks what is in the heart: out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Lk 6:45).  As we feel on the inside so we speak, but it is as we speak so our direction is set.  We speak and others hear what we say, and we are committed.  If we keep quiet, we are not committed; it is only as we speak is our path set.  What we say, we tend to do.

Then James gives another picture, that of a ship. Oh yes, he says, there may be big waves and strong winds, but it is the rudder of the ship that determines where it goes.  The rudder is so small in comparison to the rest of the ship, but it is still the part that determines the course of the boat.  The same implication is there.  Our course is determined by such a small part of us. Someone offers us as job.  We say, “Yes, I’ll take it.”  Our course is set by our tongue.  Someone chides us for wrong behaviour.  We lash back with our tongue defensively.  Unfortunately they were our manager, and our future hope of promotion has just gone.  Our course is set.  In a marriage, a row ensues and angry words create division.  No healing words are spoken and the rift gets bigger. A course is being set. It is our words that set our course. Think back over the past week or month and see if you can identify times when your words set the course of what was to follow.  Think about things that are yet to happen today or tomorrow and consider how your words will set the course of what is to follow.

James gives a strong warning to finish this verse: the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. What is boasting?  It is speaking out and making claims that are untrue, claims that we are bigger and better than is really true. The tiny tongue can say such silly things, but they are things that make other people think less of us; they are things that lead us further into self-deception. Boasting reveals pride and it reveals foolish thinking, but even worse, it leads us along a course that is damaging to us.

Before we go anywhere else with James in this consideration of the use of the tongue, can we realize how significant our words are? Can we realize what our words do? Can we see that they reveal the state of our hearts and the also commit us to the path ahead. We will, in the days ahead, be determining our paths, partly by what we will be saying. That needs thinking about!

22. Pride

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.22

Psa 52:1 Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long?

Do you ever read or watch the news and wonder? So often there are ‘celebrities’ or ‘great leaders’ or leaders who think they are great, and they come over with such confidence. They have money, stardom or position and they seem so full of themselves. Perhaps you have a college lecturer like that, or a boss at work. They look and sound so sure of themselves, at least in public, and their lifestyles leave much to be desired, and they are godless. In fact they even pronounce on our folly in believing in a make believe God. They don’t need any such belief to support them. They are strong, they are powerful, they have the ear of important people, and who are you after all? You are just some insignificant Christian who doesn’t cause half the ripples in the world that they do!

Boasting is a sign of pride and pride is an overblown estimation of self. Proud people think they are in control, think they are invincible, think they are all-important, think they can do what they like and get away with it. But proud people are wrong! Proud people, although they don’t realise it, have a major problem: “God opposes the proud” (Jas 4:6, 1 Pet 5:5). The apostle Paul taught, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom 12:16). Pride we said was an overblown estimation of self. We think our cleverness or our strength or our power has got us to the place where we are, and we don’t realize that it was in fact the grace and mercy of God. We also don’t realize how vulnerable we are. How quickly we fall when the flu strikes or a previously unknown pain strikes, and fear follows a frightening diagnosis. How easily are the mighty fallen!

The heading at the top of the Psalm from which today’s question comes, indicates that David wrote this shortly after he had fled from Saul, gone to the priest for help and been seen by a man by the odd name of Doeg. Yes, this is not so much a question for God as for those who oppose God. Doeg was an Edomite and the Edomites had so often been enemies of God’s people, but Doeg curried favour with Saul to cause upset and opposition against God’s anointed man, David. Doeg was Saul’s chief shepherd (1 Sam 21:7) and Doeg told Saul where David had gone (1 Sam 22:9) and when Saul ordered the priests to be killed, only Doeg would do it (1 Sam 22:18 ,19). Only an outsider would raise his hand against God’s priests. That day he killed 85 of them.

As David writes about this he writes, “Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?Doeg may think much of himself in his own eyes, but in God’s eyes he’s a disgrace! He may think, “I’m Saul’s chief shepherd, I’m an important man and I helped the king” but God calls him a disgrace. That’s the folly of pride; it wrongly assesses itself. It thinks it’s great but the most important Assessor of all, utterly disdains it! He says through Solomon, “I hate pride and arrogance.” (Prov 8:13)

Obadiah exposed pride when he prophesied against Edom, “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, `Who can bring me down to the ground?(Obad 1:3). Pride thinks it is secure. The Edomites thought that because they lived in mountain strongholds they were safe. In their pride they boasted, but the word came, I will bring you down, declares the LORD.” (Obad 1:4). David’s question in our verse today essentially is saying, “Why do you boast you silly person? Don’t you know you are answerable to God and you have no security before Him?”

This is the point, isn’t it, that the proud think they are all important and that they are secure, yet before God they are utterly weak. In that Psalm David goes on, “Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin(v.5). In other words, don’t you realize you are doomed because you oppose God? David derides him for his folly: “Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!(v.7). More and more the word of God reveals the folly of this proud man. He trusted in wealth. Presumably Saul had paid him well as chief over all his flocks. He grew strong in Saul’s court by doing Saul’s ungodly and unrighteous bidding and so, foolishly, thought he was completely secure. Don’t worry about the proud; leave them to the Lord!

When Peter, quoting Proverbs, wrote, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5) he prefaced it with, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” and followed it by, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.Our call is not to join the ranks of the proud, but to remember who we are, remember our frailty and weakness and need of God, and to get our perspective right. As Paul said, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.(Rom 12:3) When we do this, it will not only act as a safety check for us, it will help us realize again the wonder of who we are in God, because we will find ourselves meditating on the wonder of what God has done for us and in us. When we do that there is no room for pride. “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded” (Rom 3:27 ). Let’s make sure that is how it is.