57. Moral Ethics (2)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  57.  Moral Ethics (2)

Heb 13:5   Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,

We move on the next of the two verses where we find two examples of what I simply called moral ethics. The first was about marriage and sex and now the second is about attitudes in respect of money. If the area of sex and marriage is the first area where the modern world gets it badly wrong, then attitudes towards money and possessions come a very close second.

Holding a Balance of truth: We need to be very simple and straight forward from the outset: having money is not wrong, it is how we may think about it. Solomon was the richest man in all the earth and he got it using the wisdom that God gave him. No, the warning of this is first of all to not let your life get caught up in the “love of money”. In modern society in the West, there is great affluence and often injustice and even exploitation of the poor. The affluence isn’t wrong in itself although if exploitation of workers to make owners rich is an expression of the world, it is wrong. One can look back at the terrible conditions that, for instance, coal miners, worked in, or the horrible insecurities of working on the docks in the past, and anguish that we allowed such conditions – and this could be applied to many situations in our not-distant history. In heaven I believe there will have been a major accounting for this. Very often pride and privilege have gone hand in hand to create class divisions that would not be seen in the kingdom of God.

Effects of ‘love of money’: Love of money so often blinds the entrepreneur, mill owner, factory owner, big company owner etc., so that they fail to see that they are badly treating others. Although I have said God enabled Solomon to be rich, nevertheless there were often very harsh conditions under his reign and that would not have pleased the Lord.

Love of money also makes people lose perspective of what life is all about and so men and women will work all hours of day or night and lose contact with their families with resultant family breakdowns. I have, for example, watched the world of big city lawyers, particularly in London and also elsewhere. Apart from the staggeringly big fees that are charged, the hours that associates (and partners) are required to work, we must acknowledge, is something that is contrary to the kingdom of God. I have known (and they probably still do) of such lawyers working sixteen hour days and even on occasion having to work right through the right. This, on someone’s behalf, is clearly an example of the love of money.

Love of money also fuels covetousness and in a world of heavy marketing and advertising, big business builds dreams for us of what we could be and what we could have. In many this drive is turned into the yearning for a bigger car, a bigger house, the latest technology and media entertainment systems and so on. Behind all these things goes the pressure to achieve more, earn more, and often people climb higher than they are designed to climb!

For those who distinguish between modernism and post-modernism, it is said that ‘moderns’ got their meaning through possessions, while post-moderns get their sense of worth through experiences. It is this desire for new experiences, I suggest, that drives the affluent to travel more for different experiences in different countries; all still another expression of love of money. Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Lk 12:15) Greed is simply wanting more and more, and results in a loss of remembering what life is really all about.

Contentment: But the back half of our verse above is just as important as the front half, which it complements: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” Be content! Contentment, the great missing element of modern societies! The apostle Paul spoke clearly about this: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil 4:11-12)

Paul had learned that contentment is nothing to do with whether you are poor or well off. There were times when he had nothing, but other times when he had abundance, but at all times he was content. Contentment is about having peace regardless of the circumstances, contentment lifts us up above apparent need, apparent poorness or apparent wealth. You can be poor and grumpy and you can be rich and equally discontented. Possessions – or experiences – are not the things that give us self-worth, meaning or purpose in our lives, only a deep relationship with the Lord. The unbeliever is rarely contented.

Contentment & Goals: To be contented does not mean we don’t have goals in life, it just means we are at peace with the resources we have and the person we are while we are working for those (hopefully, God-given) goals. Paul explained his philosophy more fully to Timothy: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim 6:6-10)  Things to note: first, we bring nothing into the world and we take nothing out of it. If you aim to fill the space in between with getting more and more you are, second, in danger of losing perspective as we saw above, and also falling into wrong ways to get more.

God, our Resource: But verse 5 doesn’t end there, for he adds a reminder from the Pentateuch: because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6) Why does he say that? Because often behind all of our striving to get more, is the fear of shortage and not having enough to cope – and remember that in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6) Jesus spoke to that, Father will provide for His children. I have testified elsewhere in these studies, that three times in my life I have given up a decent salary to move into the next phase of life that He was leading us into, and although I took a third drop in salary each time, our standard of living and quality of life went up, and although in the early days we sometimes wondered how we would get by, the Lord always blessed us and we did, and so we have never been in need.  Thus he concludes this section, “So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (v.6 citing Psa 118:6,7)

When the world is striving their hearts out to attain an impossible goal of peace without God, may we know the wonder of contentment as we rest in His loving guidance, direction and provision.  Amen? Amen!

28. Glory

Ephesians Meditations No.28

Eph  3:20,21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen

Again and again in this letter, my feeling is that there is so much truth in each of Paul’s sentences that it is impossible to plum the depths of them and therefore anything we cover here tends to be very surface. Every phrase, it seems, holds so much that we could make a single meditation of it, but for the sake of time and space, we must limit what we say. See each one, therefore, as simply a launching pad for further meditations.

Consider Paul’s starting description of God: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” This I can cope with, at least in small measure, because as a Pastor, one thing I know is that most people really have so little expectation of what God wants to do for them. Here Paul is thinking about what Godis able to do,” and he implies, ‘think about what we ask God to do, or think about what we imagine He can do, and it is immeasurably more than that!’ In other words, whatever we ask or whatever we imagine God doing, it is so much more that it will be impossible to measure it!

How little expectations do you and I have of God? “Oh, I’m not a leader,” I hear people say, or “I’m not special,” or “I’m not a great saint.”  Why not? Is it simply because we don’t ask for it or imagine God would do it for us? The life coaching world has discovered a measure of truth when they teach about thinking well about yourself, but of course they will always fall short if we are being godless, but listen to Paul’s language elsewhere: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8). Then there are people who say, “Oh, I just don’t have the strength to serve God”. Listen again to Paul: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:11-13) Do we need to start taking hold of Scripture and, by faith claiming it for our own lives?

But then he continues by reminding us what these verses above tell us, that it is all “according to his power that is at work within us.” Now we’ve seen this again and again; it is God’s own Holy Spirit within us that is the source of our strength and our power and our wisdom. It is because it is God Himself, by His Spirit, who lives and works in and through us, that Paul said He was able to do immeasurably more. The Spirit is God and God is without limit! That we really do need to think, pray and meditate on!

But all of this that we have been considering, has really almost been an aside or an introduction or explanation of what Paul is basically saying:Now to him … be glory in the church.”  This is really Paul’s winding up his prayer with exaltation of God. He is saying, “May God be glorified in the church” and he’s saying that because of all that he’s said previously about God, the Gospel and the church which God has brought into being. What should be happening is that God is glorified by His church. I’m not sure how often overall in the Church, that that really happens. Is God truly glorified by all that your church is and does? Does the community look on in wonder at what it sees in the church? The reality, tragically, in the West at least, is that much of the time the church has allowed itself to be marginalized and is not seen as the glorious body of Christ still doing the things he did, or it is not seen as the temple of God filled with His glory. Jesus, before his death, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, speaking of the church, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Now merely because there are millions of local churches that does mean there has to be disunity. The local church is where local Christians are, but the crucial question is, do we see ourselves as one with other believers in our area? It starts there. Our unity should be both a means of working to share the Gospel, and a sign that the Gospel works. As a result God will be glorified. Are we a church still doing the same things Jesus did? If we don’t Jesus won’t be glorified. No excuses!

But Paul didn’t just say, “to him be glory in the church,” but also “and in Christ Jesus,” the inference being, we suggest, that God be glorified in the body that is the Church, and in Christ who is the head. You really can’t separate the head from the body and hence when the church glorifies God then the head will be glorified as well. Now this wasn’t just for then but, “throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” This outcome – that God is glorified in the church and in Christ – is to be an ongoing one that goes on from one generation to the next. The people may be different but the Spirit is the same and God remains the same throughout history. There is not coming a time when this does not apply. Our objective, surely, is to be that God is glorified in and through us, that other people see and are drawn and come to know Him. Thus He is truly glorified. May it be so!