17. God of Under-girding Love

Getting to Know God Meditations:  17. God of Under-girding Love

1 Jn 4:8,16   God is love

Ex 34:6,7 “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

God is Love?  The apostle John said it most simply: “God is love”. Notice He IS love, not love is God, but He IS love, everything about Him is love. It has to mean that everything He thinks, says or does is an expression of love.  This love under-girds everything that happens to do with God! When He revealed Himself to Moses (one of the early revelations about the character and nature of God) see the descriptions above, especially “abounding in love”. Abounding suggests overflowing with, excessively so. Now this is a challenge when we come to read the Bible because it means we need to read what happens through this filter and sometimes ask, “How is what is happening here, an expression of love?” and when we do that we will start thinking more intelligently and with much more understanding, not only of God but of ourselves, the human race.

But what about…? Now let’s face the elephant in the room, as they often say today, the big thing lurking in the background that we prefer to ignore. Christians try to ignore this ‘elephant’, this enormous thing in the background, which is the complaint of the atheistic skeptic, “If your God is a God of love, how come He is involved in genocide, wiping out whole nations, men, women and children?” I confess I struggle with the hypocrisy of this in the light of a period of recent history where it was recognized that for the greater good, whole cities were bombed into extinction almost, by both sides (Coventry and Dresden), and entire populations wiped out twice by H-bombs in Japan. But that is a bigger story but the lesson is still basic: in this fallen world we sometimes have to choose the lesser of two evils. Evils yes, but the only path through horror to reduce it.

Misunderstandings: Part of our confusion – the negative question above – comes from an inability to read scripture comprehensively. For example, the above accusation arises again and again in respect of the incident that was part of the whole Exodus scenario where Israel are told to oust the occupants of Canaan. Now I have never yet come across a critic who has carefully read the entire Pentateuch (the first five books, and for good measure add Joshua) for if they had they would know that the instructions from God to Israel contain the words “drive out” over thirty times and the words about ‘wiping out’ less than half a dozen times. The full picture is that God’s intent was for the land to be cleared. Most people in the area heard of the might of this people (over a million) moving through the lands and fear went ahead of them, fear that was designed to get the enemy to flee. God’s primary intent was that the occupants would be driven out of the land and only if they resisted and fought Israel would the normal effects of war follow (death for all involved – talk to people who experienced the Blitz in London in the last World War!).

Discipline or Judgment: Again another aspect of this same cavilling criticism comes in the form of, “Is the God of the New Testament different from the God of the Old Testament, one a God of love, the other a God of judgment? The Old Testament seems full of His judgments!” Well, actually so is the New, but let’s examine the language that is being used. ‘Discipline’ means to bring about correction. Discipline may or may not be part of so-called ‘judgement’. Now I researched for a book entitled “The Judgments of a Loving God” and investigated every judgement in the Bible that originated with God (be careful, some acts of destruction were not God originated, but people originated). Let me tell you some of my careful conclusions.

First, we may categorize judgments in two ways: a) as ‘disciplinary judgments’  that are designed to bring about change of behaviour, and don’t focus on death, and b) terminal judgments or judgments of the last resort, that bring death.

Disciplinary judgments: These, I would suggest from the record, showing the principle in Rom 1:24-32, where we find such words as “God gave them over to” which implies God lifted off His hand of restraint or protection (that we so often take for granted) from mankind or a part of it. The result is that either i) the sin that was running rampant is allowed total free reign so that it implodes upon itself until people repent (which is happening in the West at the present), or ii) His hand of protection is removed from His people so that they stand on their own, as their current behaviour indicates they want to, and become vulnerable to attacks from surrounding enemy neighbours, until they repent. We see this latter cycle again and again, we’ve already noted, in the book of Judges. Note in both cases the pain that comes in such instances is not from God but from increasing sin or the behaviour of other sinful people. We so often blame God in such situations but the reality is that He just steps back and lets the effects of our own sinful behaviour run amok.

Terminal Judgments: These are ones where people die, apparently at the hand of God. People do die at the hands of other humans sometimes in disciplinary judgments but that is the work of sin and not God. Where there are terminal judgments, apparently brought by the hand of God, I have given these a sub-label of ‘judgments of the last resort’ because it appears that nothing else God could do would restrain or control the situation to halt the destruction that mankind was already bringing on itself. Again and again in such cases we need to investigate carefully what was going on and see the awfulness of the pagan practices or behaviour that God was acting against to limit the self-destruction that was going on – and which was spreading like a cancer.

Over-riding Principles: Because these criticisms seem to arise again and again, even among the poorly read Christian community, I find I have to write these things again and again, and again and again I have to declare Scripture and say, think about what it says. Where there are general criticisms against the God of love, just think of the wonderful world He has given us (which we abuse) and observe in Scripture the wonderful things He did for His people, despite their constant failings. Where there is a song of praise and expressions about God’s love, they are so often linked to His acts of redemption and salvation generally, for example, “Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes,” (Psa 17:7) or  “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? …. “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Ex 11:13,15).

However, the big declarations of God’s intent come through the mouth of the great prophet Ezekiel: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23),  and, “Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:31,32) and, “‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezek 33:11) which perhaps is also captured by the apostle Peter in his second letter: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) supported by his later words, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” (v.15)

And So? The Bible speaks of God as a God of love. That love is often shown by restraint, is always shown by His grace and His provision (both of which we need to consider more fully in the days ahead), is sometimes seen in the way He steps back and allows us to do our own thing until we come to our own senses, and rarely by His acts where life is forfeited for the good of the greater population (always after much time has been given for change of behaviour and attitude to come about after many warnings had been given).

Always at the conclusion of such a study as this, I feel we need to remind ourselves of Jesus’ amazing parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24) where the son demands his rightful inheritance, goes and wastes it until he is left envying the pigs in his care for the food they have. There are two primary aspects of the parable: first the son, representing us and our folly in rejecting the Father, and then the amazing father, representing God, who allows the son his demands, allows him to ruin his life, but welcomes him back with open loving arms the moment he decides to return. THAT is the God of love we see throughout the Bible.

17. Aspiring to Compassion

Aspiring Meditations: 17.  Aspiring to Compassion

Col 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Ex 33:19  the LORD said, “….. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Mt 9:36  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them,

Eph 4:32    Be kind and compassionate to one another.

We have come to the end of the list we started with in 2 Peter and now the list in Gal 5:22,23 but as we covered those we came across that top verse from Col 3:12 and note, therefore, another two things to which we are to aspire, the first being compassion. The word ‘compassion’ simply means to have a deep sympathy which urges the person into action.

The first indication that the Lord is compassionate (having compassion) comes in the Law where we see, “If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Ex 22:26,27) where the Lord sees a need – of a cloak to keep the individual warm at night, lost because given in a pledge – and is moved by the need to tell the Israelite to take action to remedy that.

But then we see it in the Lord’s declaration in Ex 33:19 (see above) but also a little later as we read, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God.” (Ex 34:6). Thus three times in the early corporate live of Israel this is revealed to them.

When it comes to the ministry of Jesus we see it recorded a number of times: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Mt 14:14) and “Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people;” (Mt 15:32) and “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Mt 20:34)

Now this is quite remarkable and before we move on we should pause and focus on this truth – that God, the Father, and Jesus, His Son, both reveal they are compassionate, i.e. they have this affinity with mankind whereby they are moved by mankind to act on our behalf. We accept so easily, as Christians at least, that God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16) but the fact is that love has a practical face to it, compassion which moves God to act on our behalf.

The word compassion is not used there, but the intent is, in the account of the Lord coming to Moses at the burning bush: “The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering,” (Ex 3:7) which echoes what we see at the end of the previous chapter: “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” (Ex 2:23-25) God is moved by our plight, moved to action!  That is compassion, and a compassionate God recorded in the Bible is far from the God often conveyed by crusading atheists!

It is no surprise therefore, that the teaching (not extensive) of the New Testament is that we too are called to be compassionate. We see it in Col 3:12, our starting verse and also stated very simply in Eph 4:32 (also see above) and it also comes in the teaching of the apostle Peter: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Pet 3:8) Now in Study No.10 we considered all the excuses we make for not exercising love, and as compassion is an expression of love, the same could be applied here. But ‘compassion’ seems to go further than basic ‘love’ for compassion has a greater sense of ‘applied love’ or of the ‘emotion of love’ that moves a person into action.

With the advent of TV we can become almost saturated with the needs of the world. When a famine in Africa takes its toll and camera crews film the terrible state of people – and especially children – our hearts go out to them and yet our mind balk at the enormity of the problem, a problem which often has politics at its root, and so we send off a few pounds or dollars and appease our conscience that way. The problem is almost too big to handle but unless we take at least one small step towards it, it will continue and people will die.

But if it is not starvation or sickness, it is persecution, oppression or slavery, all of which still exist in today’s world in a large measure. Again the magnitude of the problem is so great that we almost back away in horror and a sense of being unable to do anything about it. But some of us will be called by the Lord to make it the focus of our lives. Others will simply be background supporters.

But then comes a need in the life of the church. If we are not too prim and proper and affluent, we may well have people in our congregation who are fleeing from homelessness, or maybe even are refugees. Compassion says what can we do to help these people, we cannot leave their plight to go unattended? Now let’s go an extras mile. Compassion, I suggest, feels for the needs of other people. So often we exist in ignorance of needs and so compassion remains dormant, but that is a cop-out. If we live insulated and isolated lives, living in comfort and ease and remain ignorant of the needs of the people around us, it means our church life needs to take on a new relational dimension. Can we get to know people, not only the ‘nice’ people of our own social strata, but also those who do not fit in that ‘nice’ social strata, and when we do, we will start observing needs that we had never before realised were there, and at that point, risk that compassion will kick in, if we are truly open to God, Jesus and His Holy Spirit. Dare we do that?  Dare we not.

75. What sort of God?

Meditations in Exodus: 75. What sort of God?

Ex 34:6,7  And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” 

We come to what I believe must be one of the most significant revelations of the Old Testament, but first the Lord instructs Moses to “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.(v.1) He doesn’t chide Moses for breaking them but simply gets on with the process of rewriting them. Moses is to come up the mountain again, on his own (v.2,3).  So Moses does this and goes up with the two tablets in the morning. (v.4)

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. (v.5) A cloud surrounds Moses and so he can see nothing but then he hears the Lord’s audible voice declaring, “I AM WHO I AM”, the name he had originally heard at the burning bush. He senses the Lord moving in front of Him and the Lord speaks again beginning with, “I AM, I AM” and then going on to describe Himself. Now bear in mind that with all the revelations and experiences of the Lord that the Patriarchs and then Moses had had, there had never been a time when the Lord described Himself. This is a first! So, He describes Himself as the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (v.6,7)

We need to note the various elements of this description because certain silly crusading atheists never seem to have read this description and have said stupid things about God. These verses counter the folly of the grumbling atheist. “Compassionate and gracious”.  A God who feels for us and exudes good feelings towards us. Wow! “Slow to anger”. Not capricious, prickly, quick to jump down our throats. Wow!  “Abounding in love.” Not just loving but abounding in love, full of love, overflowing with love. WoW!

The apostle John was to write many centuries later, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16) IS love, not just has love. As I have pondered this in two books it always hits me: everything God thinks, say or does is an expression of love. Start looking at everything you read in the Old Testament through that lens. Then, to take a snippet from my book, ‘The Judgments of a Loving God’, remember that the Bible teaches that God is perfect. My definitio0n of perfect is ‘cannot be improved upon’ and so everything that God thinks, says or does cannot be improved upon. Grab hold of the contents of this paragraph and you will never be the same again!

But He is also “abounding in… faithfulness.”  He remains utterly true to Himself, He never changes He will always be love, always be perfect, and this, extended to His people, means He will always be loyal (although I do not like that word), He will remain true to us, there for us.

But now see the corporate dimension to this love: “maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  This is about people groups, about nations and this takes us beyond love for a few individuals, the Patriarchs, this takes us to the nation of Israel and then to the world. In the Ten Commandments we read, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:5,6) Our present thousand may therefore be a thousand generations meaning God’s love will be there for as long as humanity exists; it can be utterly relied upon.

But that love is always expressed love (because love is never merely abstract, it is always expressed in practical ways) and God cannot express it to those who turn their back on Him, hence it is love for “those who love me and keep my commandments,” i.e. those who follow the Lord. And therein, there is another side to God, who is also a God of truth and justice. Where there is generational sin (as it often tends to be, one son following his father and so on) the Lord will pursue wickedness down the generations. His word clearly declares He will not judge those who are not guilty, only the guilty (see Ezek 18) but let the guilty be aware, they cannot presume on His love. It is there for them when they turn to Him to receive it, but while they turn away from Him and live in their wickedness, they will find themselves in line for His disciplinary or even terminal judgment.

This is a most dynamic revelation. It is both profoundly reassuring – He loves us and is for us as we turn to Him – and a profound warning – wickedness will be dealt with. There is here a revelation of the wonder of God’s love and grace as well as His justice. For us the justice of God is satisfied through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. Having surrendered our lives to Him we can live with the certain knowledge of His abounding love being there for us. Hallelujah!

39. Harmonious Lives

Meditations in 1 Peter : 39  Harmonious Lives

1 Pet 3:8,9 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

When you come across verses like this and think about them in the light of the world in which we live, it makes you realise what the world is NOT!   If the world was actually like the things in these verses, how good it would be!  Let’s consider them.

“Finally.” Don’t be deceived by this word. Peter is being a classic preacher. He thinks he’s near the end but, as we’ll see, he’s got a lot more to say yet. But it is the end of the very specific instructions to slaves, to wives and to husbands and so in a sense it is a summary of how to live.

“Live in harmony with one another.” That sounds simple enough, doesn’t it! Paul had said exactly the same thing on Romans 12:16. When we think of the word ‘harmony’, we think of blending together in a good way. In music a harmony is two or more voices blending together to produce a pleasant sound. Harmony therefore, is about good relationships that flow together in unity and accord. Is that what Paul meant when he spoke of being “one in spirit and purpose.” (Phil 2:2)  I wonder how many homes there are, though, where this sort of unity, this harmony, is completely unknown?

“Be sympathetic.” When you are sympathetic you are understanding and caring, feeling for that other person. When you are sympathetic you draw close in understanding to that person and it is another aspect of the unity that Peter and Paul had in mind. When we are sympathetic we do not stand at a distance but come close to that other person. To be able to sympathise with someone means we understand what they are going through. The writer to the Hebrews, speaking of Christ, wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence.” (Heb 4:15,16). He was saying Christ sympathises with us for he has been through the same things as us and because he does, that can give us confidence to draw near to him.

“Love as brothers.” Sometimes people struggle to put content to the word love, but I think a simple definition is warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for someone, or selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others.

But here Peter says “love as brothers.” He has in mind the specific relationship. The writer to the Hebrews said exactly the same thing (see Heb 13:1) Brothers are for one another. The family tie means there is a loyalty, support and togetherness. It is the unity of family.

Be compassionate and humble.” Compassion is a stage further on from sympathy. Sympathy means having understanding and siding with that person  but compassion takes us further and is about entering into the feelings of that person and feeling as they feel. That is true unity. Compassion brings us down to the level of the plight of the other person and instinctively it means we humble ourselves and do not hold ourselves above that person. No, we recognise that without Christ we are all the same. This knowledge is a good leveller.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.” Yes, you are going to receive insults and there will be those who intend evil for you, but don’t be like them. Refuse to join in that game. See people as potential brothers and sisters in Christ and not as enemies. If you view them as enemies, then remember Christ’s instruction: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) There it is, love and pray for them!

but with blessing.” That is the way to overcome. Don’t just be defensive about your enemies but seek to bless them. I am always mindful of the Lord’s instructions to Israel while in exile, that came through Jeremiah: seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer 29:7) That is amazing! Bless your captors! This requires a completely different mindset, a godly mindset.

because to this you were called.” Realise that we have been called not so that we can just be saved from sin and hell, but so that we might live lives that reveal Christ to the world. It is a calling and the Spirit is there to enable us to fulfil that calling.

so that you may inherit a blessing.” As we are obedient and allow the Spirit to equip and enable and guide us, so blessing follows. Blessing in this case is what is waiting for us, God’s plan for us, our inheritance. It is simply goodness. Goodness will follow what we do when we live like this. It is very practical. This is how things WILL work out if we live this way. Let’s do it!

2. No Other

Lessons from the Law: No.2 : No Other God

Ex 20:1-3 And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before (besides)  me.

Starting from basics, if there is a God, how would your describe Him? The simplest definition is usually given as The Supreme Being. If there is a God He has to be greater than anyone or anything else. The Romans and Greeks had ‘gods’ but they were simply super-beings with human foibles, who frequently seemed to squabble. No, if there is going to be a God He has to be One Supreme Being. Now the only logical alternative is that there is no such being and that, of course, is the position taken by atheists, yet the Bible is built on the consistent belief throughout that there is this One Supreme Being who revealed Himself to individuals and then to what became the nation of Israel, and finally through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Christian concept of the Trinity does not mean three Gods but simply three expressions of the One. Moreover, while we are at it, the God of the Old Testament is exactly the same as the God of the New Testament.

I suspect there are two reasons why atheists don’t like the concept of God. The first is that their sinful nature (as the Bible describes it) doesn’t like the thought of being answerable to someone seriously superior to them and, second, they don’t bother to really read the whole Bible and catch the descriptions of this One Supreme Being. For example, consider this early description of God, “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) I recently asked a group of seekers that if this was a true description of God (and it is consistently shown throughout the Bible) how would they feel about Him, and they all replied, good, safe and secure!

But here in this first of the Ten Commandments we find,You shall have no other gods before (besides) me.” It is a call by God for us to have a uniqueness of thinking about Him, to hold to the belief in just One Supreme Being and not to let anyone or anything else compete for our affections. Indeed it is a call that is repeated in various forms again and again, for example, “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.” (Ex 23:13) Furthermore when the Lord spoke about Israel taking the Promised Land He declared, “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water.” (Ex 23:23-26) The call was to completely wipe out all signs of idol worship and to worship Him the One Supreme Being, the “I AM” or the Eternal One.

Again He warned, “Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.” (Ex 23:32,33). The reason for this is thus made clear: if you leave them, the superstitious side of you will turn to these things of wood and you will start doing the things that their ‘followers’ do, like sacrificing your children for example. In his closing words in Deuteronomy, Moses warned, “And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars–all the heavenly array–do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” (Deut 4:19). In other words, don’t become like the Egyptians, for instance, who worship the elements in their fearful superstition. Then came a further warning: “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God” (Deut 6:13-15) It is superstitious nonsense to fear idols made by the hands of men, but it is right and wise to have an awesome respect for the One Supreme Being who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise. Moses’ father-in-law understood reality: “Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” (Ex 18:9-11)

In the various plagues God challenged the superstition of the Egyptians: I will plague your whole country with frogs”. (Ex 8:2) The frog (or toad) was deified in the goddess Heqt, who assisted women in childbirth. “The hand of the LORD….. terrible plague on your livestock.” (Ex 9:3) The Egyptians worshiped many animals and animal-headed deities, including the bull-gods Apis and Mnevis, the cow-god Hathor and the ram-god Khnum. “Darkness will spread over Egypt.” (Ex 10:21) The darkness was an insult to the sun-god Ra (or Re), one of the chief deities of Egypt.

Why this first commandment? Because this is the truth: there is only One Supreme all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing Being and all else is superstition which leads people to do terrible things, as we’ll see even more or we go on in these studies. The crucial issue here is that people follow in their lives, the ways of their God or gods. History shows that followers of ‘gods’ do terrible things. Beyond cleansing the Promised Land of such things, there is simply order and blessing and goodness seen accompanying the worship of the One Supreme Being. We will see more of what He is like as we work our way through the Law and, I hope, agree that any alternative is really unthinkable to the thinking person.

38. Changed Lives (2)

Ephesians Meditations No.38

Eph  4:29-32 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you

We continue with this list of very practical things that Paul is writing about, ways of living out the life we now have with Christ. We remind ourselves again that the Christian life is first of all about what has been done to us by God’s Holy Spirit on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and then about how that works out in our everyday lives, the part we have to play in it all. In the previous meditation we saw the first three things that Paul highlighted – the way we speak (truthfully), the way we feel (limiting anger) and then the way we respect other people’s possessions (no stealing). So let’s see how he continues.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Now that is challenging, especially in the light of the today’s tendency to be free and easy in respect of speech. Recently we watched a comedian known for one line jokes, performing for about ten minutes. For the first seven minutes you could not fault his humour but in the last three minutes he slid into sexual innuendo (and not innuendo!). It was as if he just couldn’t keep away from it. We heard of another comedian who decided to do an evening without swearing and found he got just as many laughs and so decided to reduce the language from then on. Comedians (and our acceptance of them) are good gauges of society and sadly in the Britain, we don’t show up very well. It used to be said, “Only say what you could have said in front of your grandmother.” Why a grandmother? I think it is because of our assumption that standards used to be much tighter. We’ve lost a lot. Have you? If you have, it’s time to do a clean up on your language if you are a Christian.

But Paul doesn’t leave the language issue negatively. He continues: “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” He says what Solomon so often says in the Proverbs: your tongue can be a means of blessing others. Do you bless other with what you say to them? Do they feel built up and encouraged by you?

But then there comes a hidden implication: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The And’ means that is a continuation from what has just been said. In other words you have the capacity, by what you say, of grieving or upsetting the Holy Spirit who lives in you. He is holy and pure. Is your language holy and pure? If not you will be upsetting the Lord who lives within you. (And then we have the nerve to ask things of Him!!). When you first met your husband/wife/partner and fell in love, I am sure you would have only said things to them that you know would have blessed them, and not said things you knew would have upset them, so why do we say things that we know will upset God?

He then continues with a sweeping list: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The fruit of the spirit is gentleness (Gal 5:22,23) so how can we equate that which He wants to work out in us with any of the things in this list? We shouldn’t need to work our way through this list should we? These things are things in the life of someone who is disturbed and not at peace with themselves or with God; these are the outworkings of a person who is out of control of their life. Yet the fruit of the Spirit is also self-control (Gal 5:23) and we are told to add self-control to our lives (2 Pet 1:6). Rage and anger’ are expressions of a person out of control, but as Christians this should not be us.Slander and malice’ are expressions of a person out of control, unable to be gracious and that must not be us. ‘Bitterness’ is an emotion that has taken us over, and we must not let that happen.Brawling’ is out of control (drunken?) behaviour that often results in harm or damage – and that must not be us. Check it out: get rid of these if they occur in your life!

But again Paul puts in the positive to counter these negatives: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This is a totally different sort of person and this is what Christ calls us to. Is that you? Good hearted and gentle and caring and feeling for people? Is that you? Not holding onto grievances? The message is simple and straight forward: Christians are supposed to be nice to be around! In an article I came across recently, an atheist grudgingly conceded that “Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” I thought that was a tremendous testimony, especially coming from an atheist! But that’s how it is supposed to be. As another writer wrote, “Part of the reason for Christianity’s rapid spread, historians have remarked, was simply that the early Christians were such nice people.” Let’s keep it like that!

(This will be the end of the series in Ephesians for a while – we’re going to have a break but will come back and finish the book in a couple of weeks time)

Walk in God’s Ways

WALKING WITH GOD. No.29

1 Kings 3:14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life

There are phrases in the Bible that we come across and, I believe, mostly take for granted. In our verse today we have one of those phrases: if you walk in my ways. What do the ways of God mean? It is a highly significant phrase. Moses at a crucial point asked of God, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you” ( Ex 33:13). In the Law of God we find the same reference: “Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him” (Deut 8:6) and then, “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD ‘s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?(Deut 10:12,13). Indeed it became a condition of blessing: “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow–to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him ….” (Deut 11:22)

Touching on this phrase goes to the very heart of the whole concept of these meditations about walking with God. As we’ve said previously, when you walk with someone you start to learn about them. There is a mutual sharing and a relationship grows. At the heart of relationship is learning about one another, about how each other thinks, about what they like or dislike, about what they enjoy doing, about how they do different things in life. The ways of God are personal things about Him. Moses father-in-law instructed him to, “Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform” (Ex 18:20). That sounds very impersonal, a set of rules to be followed – and that is what many Christians today would prefer to have, an impersonal set of rules to follow, but we are called to personal contact with the Lord so that we learn His ways, the things that please Him, the things that grieve Him, the way He does things. In a sense all of these meditations are about different facets of the ways of the Lord, the different way He deals with different people and different situations, which then reveal what He feels. That is the most intimate level of fellowship, when you understand what the person you are walking with feels.

When we spend time with the Lord, and when our heart is turned toward Him, so that He is the first person we think of or turn to, when we either have cause to be thankful or cause to be concerned, He starts sharing His heart with us. First of all he shares through His word, the Bible. This is our greatest source of starting to learn His ways. As we read and as we ponder on His dealings with those we encounter in the Bible, we begin to catch something of His heart and the way He acts. But actions are simply the outward thing. So, we also start to learn how He thinks, but thinking is purely a mind thing and so, as we go deeper, we begin to catch what He feels. The Bible is His book. If you look up the word LORD you will see it is used nearly seven and a half thousand times! It’s all about Him!

How might we sum up the ways of the Lord? An almost impossible task! Yet perhaps the Lord’s own words do it: “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex33:6,7). When it comes to God expressing Himself through His Son, Jesus, the apostle John perhaps encapsulated it by describing Jesus as: “full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14). Yet even these descriptions, as wonderful as they are, seem to fall short and the only way to describe His ways, is to say, you read the Bible, you read and study it and see what you see. If you want a short cut, read of Jesus who described himself as “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus is the perfect expression of the ways of the Father and as much as he does that he becomes THE way. Is it any coincidence that the Christian faith was referred to as the Way? (Acts 9:2, 22:4). Living on the Way we are called to walk in the ways of God, learning to see what He does, learning to think as He thinks and, yes, learning to feel as He feels. What an amazing walk!