19. Aspiring to Purity

Aspiring Meditations: 19.  Aspiring to Purity

2 Cor 6:4-6 “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness”

1 Tim 4:12   set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

1 Tim 5:1, 2 Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

The awareness of falling short or of being less than we should be, so often makes us want to step back into the shadows and hide. If the mischievous preacher says, “Hands up all those who can claim to be pure,” we hunch down in our sits and together with most others have a sense of guilt and of inadequacy. Purity means free from fault or defect, free from anything that taints or pollutes or spoils, and few of us would dare to make that claim; we know that hidden thoughts are sometimes less than glorious, words sometimes come out that are less than gracious, and acts sometimes emerge that are less than goodness.

And yet, as we peer into the depths of the New Testament this word comes to the surface in this search of those things that suggest we should be aspiring to them. The apostle John nails it when he says, “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:2,3) He speaks of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ at his Second Coming, and he reminds us that Jesus is pure and so we should ensure, to the best of our ability that our lives are pure and clean.

I remember a time, many years ago, in the church where we were members as fairly young Christians, the leaders had invited a prophet to come and speak. This was a man with a serious ministry and the stories of that ministry went ahead of him. He saw through people and he ministered with authority. At one church where he went, he called out two leaders and challenged them about having been at loggerheads for years and told them to repent. In fact he went further than that and said if they did not they would not see the week out. By the end of the week one of the men had repented and the other was dead!

We cleaned up our lives before he arrived. Paul’s words at Communion took on a whole new meaning: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:28-30) Wow! It was real, people in Corinth had been dying because they failed to acknowledge their sins.

In our verses above Paul said they commended themselves to the believers by their purity of life (2 Cor 6) and encouraged Timothy as a young leader to be an example to his flock of a pure life (1 Tim 4) and especially in the way he had dealings with the women of the congregation. But when Peter counseled wives with unbelieving husbands, how to win over their husbands, it wasn’t with word but with their purity: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Pet 3:1,2)

Purity is at the heart of who we are: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Pet 1:22) Obedience to the truth, responding to the gospel, means as we come to Christ we are purified: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8,9) It didn’t matter whether it was Jew or Gentile, whoever comes to Christ IS purified: “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.” (1 Jn 1:7)

Now the danger, when I come to think how I can aspire to purity, is that we focus on outward actions or outgoing words so a person who is working on purity in their life, will not abuse their body with wrong use of drugs or excess use of alcohol and, I suggest, will be careful what comes out of their mouths. Swearing or blasphemy are definitely out. Something I have observed, especially in some across the water from me, is the common use of “O my God!” as an expletive. It is using the name God in a derogatory manner, it is abusing His name and it is, I believe, offensive to Him, and yet it seems it has become culturally acceptable. I am not so sure.

But those are outward things and Jesus also warned about what went on inside our heads. Lust comes from imagining things. Hatred comes from allowing oneself to think badly against another. But tainting the mind can come to easily through the eyes, whether it be from online pornography, men’s magazines, sexually explicit novels (and there are more and more of them around) or sexually explicit videos or films, or whether it is extreme violence or torture, again whether it is on videos or films or even video games, a mind that is tainted by these is no longer pure. Not long ago while traveling, I picked up an innocent looking novel to read from the airport bookstand and was horrified a few hours later to find myself in the midst of the most sexually explicit questionable sex you could find. Realizing what I was doing, I shut the book and dumped it. I hadn’t seen it coming, but now it was too late; the imagery was there – impurity!

What do we do when such things happen? Ask the Lord to forgive us that we allowed ourselves to get into such a position and then ask Him to blot out those memories and replace them with good images. We need a work of grace and cleansing and purifying. But it can be thoughts about another that can only be described as fantasy, and if they are not our partner or if they …..  no, let’s stop there and suggest that fantasizing of any kind needs to have the lid put on. By definition, such thoughts are unreal and often stray over the line of what is acceptable if you spoke them out, so if you want a test, imagine speaking out this fantasy before the congregation. If you see horrified looks on their faces, you know the truth.

So, here we are, in the realm of the mind or of words or even deeds, anything that is at all questionable; these are the things that pollute the pure life. Let’s be real, let’s be honest and let’s face the truth of this study: I need to aspire to purity and therefore I may need to check my lifestyle, my thoughts, and the things I have so far permitted into my life. Perhaps some of them offend the thought of me having a life of purity. Maybe some action is required, but His grace will be sufficient. Do it.

34. Cleanliness

Meditations in the Law : No.34 : A Question of Cleanliness

Lev 11:1,2, 44-47 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2″Say to the Israelites: `Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat:….. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. 45I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. 46″ `These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves in the water and every creature that moves about on the ground. 47You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.’

I am sure that sometimes when we look at various of these laws that God gave to Moses, we look at them and wonder whatever relevance they have and fail to put them in the context of the day in which they were given. One thing I have seen over the years is that God’s revelation of Himself to His people has been gradual and therefore what He says in the Law is strictly limited to what they could cope with in that day. There are no great explanations (which would have gone over their heads), just simple instructions. Sometimes those instructions find explanation later in the Bible; sometimes they don’t. The ones we are going to briefly look at now don’t and so we will be left, in a measure, to speculate on a number of issues.

We have in the previous meditation briefly considered the question of clean and unclean foods. (We only did a brief introduction to the Offerings.) Because the whole of chapter 11 of Leviticus is given over to this subject, we need to note it in outline at least for it was a very real and significant part of the Law. In fact it was clearly still being observed in Jesus’ day and Peter, even though being just a common fisherman in background, was very much aware of it: He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:11-15) In a very dramatic way the Lord was telling Peter that it was all right to cross boundaries into the Gentile world, but up until then, these laws of cleanliness were clearly being observed.

Now perhaps to start to understand this more clearly we need to go back to the beginning of the Sinai experience: And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (Ex 19:10,11). In modern society today, those who might be invited to meet either the President of the United States in the White House, or perhaps the Queen at Buckingham Palace, are given strict rules of protocol, as to how they should dress and how they should act. These rules essentially say, respect this very senior person you are going to meet; recognise and honour the status of the role that is theirs. But the other side of that, is that you have just become a special person, one of the few granted an audience.

Now there is an element of this when Israel come to meet God. The instructions they receive tell them something of God and something about who they are becoming. He is the Holy One, the Lord of all things, and they are about to become His special people. Perhaps it is to help them constantly remember this that they are given various laws that separate them out from the rest of the world. That may be the first reason that they are given these rules about what food they may eat and what they may not eat. There will be constant reminders as to who they are – a people called by God into relationship with Him to be a light to the rest of the world. This covers animals on the land (11:1-8) sea creatures (11:9-12), birds of the air (11:13-19), insects (11:20-23), dead creatures (11:24-28) etc.

Now some commentators suggest that another reason for these distinctions is that some of these forbidden creatures were those used by pagan nations for worship, but that is not very clear. Perhaps the strongest reason, and a number have written on this, is to do with hygiene, as we noted in the previous meditation, that the forbidden creatures were the most likely to carry infection and this was one way that the Lord was protecting His people. I suspect that there is likely to be a combination of these reasons, but for the moment the Lord has not made it clear. We’ll have to wait until we get to heaven to find the answers.

Today our distinction, if we are Christians, lies mainly in the fact that we are now Spirit-indwelt and He is the One who now makes us distinct by His presence within us. No longer are these food-hygiene laws applicable for today we live in a very hygiene conscious age and anyone who has been on a hygiene course knows the rules and knows why the rules exist, which modern laws apply to protect us. We may not understand the detail when it comes to the laws in this chapter and so it is one of those parts of Scripture where we have to trust that the Lord knows better than we do.

In all the laws that we considered in Exodus, there were very clear, common sense reasons for every law. When we moved into the ceremonial, sacrificial laws of Leviticus, we moved into a completely new area of understanding about the sinfulness of mankind, and about the Lord’s understanding of us, and His provision for the people to be brought back into relationship with Him after a failure. Now in this area of the Law we must trust that, again, there are good reasons for each rule and they are designed to protect and bless God’s people. Let’s maintain a teachable spirit.