25. Values

Meditations in Meaning & Values  25. Values

Gen 26:2-6    The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “…. I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”

We have so far in these meditations focused mainly on meaning and purpose with little emphasis on values although they are inherently there embedded in so much of what the world says or the Bible says.   Look up ‘values’ and you come across such words as principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals. Values are what underpin our thinking and then subsequently our behaviour, our words and our actions. Values today, tend to be a little like justice which we considered in an earlier meditation, they appear hidden for much of the time and some people even deny they are there until suddenly it becomes personal and we hear the cry, “It’s not fair!” and someone is appealing to a supposed set of standards or expectations.

I looked up the word ‘laws’ in a concordance and our verses above came up as the very first reference in the Bible. Now I find these words above (and they are God speaking to Isaac) surprising because whenever I have read the earlier chapters of Genesis involving Abram, later renamed Abraham, I have not been aware of loads of laws being laid down by the Lord for Abram. But the Lord doesn’t only refer to laws for we also see Him referring to “my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”  Now ‘requirements’ are easy, simply meaning things God wants of him. ‘Commands’ are stronger – specific instructions of things he is to do, for example, Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1). ‘Decrees’ tend to add a sense of official governmental requirement to a command. A command is simply an instruction to do something, whereas a decree is a declaration of governmental order. ‘Laws’ are established rules for living.

Now values are the things that underpin all these so we may say we value human life and so establish a law, “You shall not murder”.  The law follows from the values held. Similarly we might say we hold the value that any personal property that an individual has either personally made or has legitimately bought with their own money, belongs to them and may not be taken from them without their permission, and thus we find the law, “You shall not steal”.

So, we may have started from the thought that laws are the expression of our principles, standards, morals, ethics and ideals, but we have come to see that perhaps there is more value (sorry for the pun) in looking behind the laws to the values that create them. We so often focus on the law, whereas we might do better to ponder what is behind the law. This is why a consideration of values is important.

Now there are, I suggest, two important things about values to be considered now we have seen that they outwork in law, and those are first, what the value is and second, why such a value exists. Now this is going to take us into deeper philosophical thinking! But the moment I write these two things down I realise that the second thing is even more important than the first, because without some originating cause (why the value exists) the first thing (the value itself) cannot exist.

So why do we have values?  We all do in some shape or form but why do we have the values we have? In this meditation we will now only consider wrong ways of having values and then in subsequent ones consider better ways, Biblical ways, and why they are better, but until we see the wrong ways we work, we won’t see the point in turning to the Bible.

Here is a quote from a book called Blue like Jazz by Donald Miller: “We were sitting around in my friend’s living room and talking about it and she was in a huff and at one point raised her fist and said, ‘Down with Bush!’ After that I didn’t have a crush on her anymore. It wasn’t because she didn’t like George W. Bush, it was because she had no idea why she didn’t like George W. Bush. She only went to a rally and heard a good band and saw a lot of cool people with cool clothes and hippie haircuts. She decided what to believe based on whether other people who believed it were of a particular fashion that appealed to her.”

The first way people so often hold to the values they think they have, is simply because they follow someone else and their values, not questioning whether there is a good base or not for their values. In the example above the girl in question held shallow views based on those held by the ‘stars’ in her thinking.

In his book, ‘How Should We Then Live’, Francis Schaeffer wrote: “People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world-view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. ….  “Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realise that their presuppositions should be chosen after careful consideration of what world view is true.”

These ‘presuppositions’, these starting values that people hold, are responsible for the laws we write and the lives we live. In the previous study we considered the apostle Peter’s failure in denying Jesus three times, and I spoke about his fear. Now it wasn’t only fear of being branded with Jesus and possibly suffering what Jesus might suffer, but it was also surely the same as that which each of us so often suffers – the fear of being seen to be different. We don’t like being branded oddities, we want to be loved, liked, accepted and so we try to avoid controversy. That is why many people hold to the values they hold, to go along with the crowd. That is not a good reason to hold on to values that may be shallow or even bad. This is an area that needs some thinking about. if we can be clear in our own minds, we might be better at convincing other people. Are we ready to look at that we think, what our values are and why we hold them?

43. Twofold Command

Meditations in 1 John : 43 : The Twofold Command

1 John  3:23   And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

Remember our comments about context: they are here again. In the previous verses John wrote, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (v.21,22). Thus now he writes, “And this is his command” just in case any reader or listener might ask, so what commands is he talking about? Well the answer to that is really for us now, all the commands of the New Testament but for them then, before the New Testament had come into being, John gives us this shorthand answer, and it is in two parts.

The first part is “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.”  This is THE fundamental heart of Christianity and without it, it is impossible to become and be a Christian. It’s all about Jesus. It is about believing that he came as a little baby, that he grew up as a human being, and yet was God! He showed this by the life he lived and his three year ministry, mostly in the area ofGalilee, but his teaching, by his claims, by his miracles and by his healings.

On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter preached, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) and then, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)  Jesus summed up his own ministry: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor,” (Mt 11:5) and later said, “Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, `I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn 10:36-38) The works of Jesus’ ministry declared to all who had eyes to see, that he was God’s Son.

But then he was arrested, falsely tried and was crucified and died – and then three days later was alive again. That was the crucial message that came again and again in the early preaching in Acts: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23,24) and “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:32) and then later, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:15) and then to the Gentiles, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.” (Acts 10:39,40) These are the foundational facts about what happened to Jesus.

But then there is the meaning behind them: “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) and “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn 1:29) and “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:28)  and “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:31) and “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43) and “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:38) and “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Eph 1:7) and “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13,14).

The fact that we have been forgiven our sins because of the work of Jesus on the Cross, now means that we can be reconciled to God, restored to a relationship with Him: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:10,11) and “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:18-21). There it all is: we are reconciled to God because our sins have been forgiven because Christ who had no sin, took all our sin on himself on the Cross.

This is what John means when he says, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ”.  It is all there in the New Testament, and this is the Gospel we are called upon to believe. Amen?

16. Conditional Future

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 16 :  Conditional Future

(Focus: Deut 6:1-3)

Deut 6:1,2 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.

There is a repetition in Deuteronomy which, for anyone less than a genuine seeker of God’s truth, will appear tedious, but it only goes to show Moses strong desire to convey to Israel the importance and significance of what he is saying.  Let’s see this in a number of instances.

1. The laws. For instance the opening sentence in chapter six has already had a number of echoes of the same thing:Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you.” (4:1), keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you..” (4:2), “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it.” (4;5), “And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (4:14), “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today.” (4:40), “This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. These are the stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came out of Egypt.” (4:44,45), “Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today.” (5:1), “stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.” (5:31) i.e. at least eight times in two chapters he speaks about these commands or decrees or laws that the Lord had given them to follow in their new land.

2. Pass it on. It’s not only for them but also for future generations. Again the reference here to children and future generations has come before: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (4:9) , “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (4:10) These laws aren’t just for now; they are for the whole future of Israel.

3. The Conditional Outworking. The fruit or outworking of keeping these laws is also another subject that keeps appearing, seen in 6:2 as so that you may enjoy long life.” and in the following verse it continues, “Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.” (6:3)  We saw this previously: “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.” (4:40). It also appeared in the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (5:16) Yet further, “Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess,” (5:33) which then brings us to chapter six: Their future blessing will be conditional on obeying these laws; that is how important they are and Israel need to realise that.

There is an additional motivating factor in our verses today: so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live.” (6:2) Yes, we’ve seen that in the previous chapter as well: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” (5:29)  This awesome respect grew out of their experience of the Lord, seeing the things He did to deliver them out of Egypt, seeing the fire and hearing His voice at Sinai, and experiencing His discipline when they refused to enter the land originally. All of these things appear in the earlier chapters and this awesome respect which had grown through these things is now to be one of the motivating factors that helps Israel obey all the laws.

No less today, our blessing is determined by how we love and follow Jesus, obeying the instructions we find in the New Testament and responding to the prompting of his Holy Spirit. May we understand these things and follow them!