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!

17. Peace and Contentment

Short Meditations on Peace 17. Peace & Contentment

1 Tim 6:6     there is great gain in godliness with contentment

Two meditations back we considered the absence of peace that comes from worries over major world issues, and then in the previous one, worries that come over trials and difficulties, personal hassles, but between the two there is a whole major area of absence of peace which is caused by the world’s discontent.

Prosperity, modern economics says, comes from buying and consuming things, and as such it encourages us to want more and more and more, but the only trouble about that it that such a philosophy leaves us never satisfied and so we are all discontented and lack peace.

Paul’s teaching to Timothy was in the context of wrong teaching. That teaching was in a spiritual context and the teaching we are talking about comes out of an economic context but it has a spiritual dimension to it. The world’s economic teaching comes in a godless context, it comes from man’s wisdom and forgets God.

Very often it is the godless context that causes people to strive for more and more. Not knowing they are loved by God, not having any relationship with Him, they strive to achieve purpose and meaning, identity and fame. I watch people do this all the time. It doesn’t necessarily have to be people striving to earn more or even get more possessions to achieve self-worth, it is often people striving to achieve things in society. Local councillors, for example, in local government, may be there because they want to make a name for themselves. Some may genuinely be there to do good for the community, but even that goal can have an underlying motive to get a name. All of these sorts of things mean we are worried about who we are, worried about what we have, and so we are discontented and lack peace.

There is a significant verse I often quote and quoted in the previous meditation that applies: ““For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) When we come into relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the whole of our live can be viewed from a new perspective – that of being a child of a loving heavenly Father who has got plans and purposes for us to bless us. The focus of life stops being on striving to achieve, but learning to listen to Him to see what HE has on His heart for us.  With this approach we can rest in Him, be content with what I am and have TODAY, realising He may have more for us tomorrow, but as we are open to Him, He will lead us into it, and in that perspective we can be at peace. We trust all of these 17 reflections will help you to live in peace.  May it be so.

39. Guidance for the Rich

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 39:  Guidance for the Rich

1 Tim 6:17   Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Perhaps we would do well to check the flow of Paul’s thoughts through this chapter. Earlier he had warned against false teachers again (v.3-5) and had concluded in response to their constant agitation that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (v.6) This had led him to then warn against the love of money (v.7-10) and had then charged Timothy to flee that materialistic, wealth grabbing life and go all out to fulfil the calling on his life (v.11-16) With all these thoughts in the back of his mind about materialism and going for money, it is natural therefore for Paul now to give instructions to Timothy about those who are wealthy. Christian teaching does not deny wealth and say it is wrong, but is more positive and instructs on how to use it wisely.

So Paul starts with a warning to challenge those who are rich to maintain a right attitude: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth.” (v.17a) We have commented before that in the world there is this tendency for one class to look down on another. Those who are rich have the greatest temptation to allow pride to reign so they think much of themselves (having achieved much or being born into a rich family) and thus think less of others. Money has that capability of distorting one’s view of oneself. Even the rich are prone to illness, even the rich will die, even the rich will have to face God and give an account for how they lived. So Timothy, instruct such people not to be like that. Even more warn them against trusting in their wealth for they will not take it with them when they die and their wealth will not bring them salvation. Yes says Paul, wealth “is so uncertain.” It can go so easily, as Job found out and as so many investors and bankers have found out.

Warn them not to trust in their riches “but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (v.17b) Yes, their hope should be in God. It is not as if God wants to keep on taking away our money or possession; quite to the contrary He is a God who provides for us and all He provides is for our enjoyment. This is a wonderful verse to counter those kill-joys who take on ancient Greek thinking that says the material is bad and only the spiritual is good. Oh no, consider the incredible wonder of all that we have in the material world, incredible numbers of  different sorts of food or drink, and so many ways that with our five senses we can enjoy. In fact the more you think about it the more you realise that God has made us material beings who are designed to enjoy all the senses in so many ways. It is actually incredible when you think on it.

But these rich people have so much potential to do good so, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (v.18) These are people who have the potential to really bless the world. Bill Gates is an example of a man who found himself with incredible wealth and realised there were only so many things he could spend it on, so has created a foundation to spend much of it on blessing the human race. There have been other philanthropists who have done similarly. When you have so much that you just can’t spend it on yourself meaningfully, the only thing left is to give it away. But there are thousands upon thousands of rich people in the world who don’t have unlimited wealth like the few, and so their tendency is to be self-focused but in so doing they fail to become what they could become and will be answerable to God for their selfishness.

No, says Paul, warn these people to do good and so, “In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (v.19)  There is an echo here of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21).

Each one of us has to decide what our values will be. Will we make our life focus achieving what I can for me, achieving in a career and obtain status through position and wealth, or will I put God first and submit everything to Him and let Him lead and guide me into ‘good works’ where I look to the welfare of others rather than myself? If I choose the former I will get to the end of my life possibly rich with money but bankrupt spiritually and as I pass through death the money will remain in the world I leave and I will find myself in total poverty in eternity. If I choose the latter I may well end up quite affluent when I leave this world but as I enter the next world I will find myself truly rich. Real life is following the latter path.

41. Contentment (3)

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 41 :  Learning to be Content (3)

Eccles 4:7,8 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless– a miserable business!

You may remember at the beginning of Ecclesiastes Solomon started off, Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccles 1:2) A number of times he has put content to that initial declaration and so now we find yet another thing that he has seen that he considers meaningless or pointless. Perhaps that word ‘pointless’ is one that might ring more bells for us than simply ‘meaningless’. There is no point in this, is what Solomon is saying.

Look, he says here, I have see one of these people that I have been talking about, who struggle and strive for meaning through work, to achieve greater and greater things, but this particular man has been working all the days God gives but the trouble is that he hasn’t got any close relative to leave it to or who could even benefit from it now. He’s just working for himself and as he comes to this realization of having no close family, he wonders why ever he is working and working like this. His work just goes on and on and yet there is no one else to benefit from it. Meanwhile as he is working away all the hours he has, he has no time to enjoy life; it is just passing him by.

I have observed a number of people who do exactly the same as the man in Solomon’s illustration. There are of course, those workaholics who use every waking hour to prosper their business but have no enjoyment of life. Their family never sees them so they cannot enjoy their wife or children and so becomes a virtual stranger to them. They may benefit from the wealth he accumulates but when it comes to relationships, their lives are empty.

Over the years I have watched a number of Christian leaders, good men given over to serving God, but as I have observed their lives I’ve sometimes wondered at the lack of variety, lack of creativity and indeed lack of enjoyment of life generally for these men. We may give ourselves over to sharing the Gospel and building up the church, but if we ourselves are not living in the good of God’s world and having time to build relationships with those closest to us, surely we are missing something and surely the form of Christianity we portray is seriously lacking!

There is another group of people in the world today that I have become aware of who are missing out on life. This isn’t to do with work though, so I am going off at a slight tangent here. I am thinking about the thousands and thousands of young people who are addicted to computer games or addicted to a social networking sites such as Facebook. Many young people (and no-so-young as well!) are spending hours and hours and hours on their computers or mobile phones while all around them the wonder of the world is being ignored. These are the new addictions to be added to those of drink and drugs. All such addictions mean that such people are missing out on the wonderful world that God has given us. Oh yes, it’s not just work that does this to us.

Perhaps we might sum it up by suggesting that contentment, real contentment, that is not one-sided or single-focused, involves having balance.  Balance here means keeping work in proportion and ensuring that it doesn’t take over your life. In fact, I would suggest, anything that takes over your life means that it robs you of the wonder of the experience of being a human being who has been designed by God to enjoy His world. Many of us forget that being a human being means we are a combination of capabilities and so we miss out on one of more of them. For instance, God has made us physical beings and so we have the capacity to enjoy the use of our senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch – all of these things given to us by the Lord for our enjoyment of His world. But we also have mental capabilities so we can read or write, think, reason and plan. We have a full range of emotional abilities and so we may laugh or cry, feel for others, enjoy, anguish and so on. But we are also spiritual beings and so we have the capacity to seek and know the Lord and be aware of the spiritual dimension to life.

A balanced person seeks to use all these capabilities, but even that needs the wisdom of God, for He has laid down boundaries and if we cross them, we harm ourselves. Over emphasis of our physical abilities means we fall into gluttony, alcohol abuse and so much more.  Over emphasis of the intellect can lead us into pride and arrogance. Spiritual ignorance means we miss out on the most exciting side of our lives – encounter with the living God, the Creator of all things. In all these things we need to come to Him and ask Him to show us how to live our lives, show us how to avoid the pitfalls that Sin and Satan would lead us into. Failure to do this means we are likely to fall into a jaded view of life that Solomon ended up with. May that not happen!

40. Stay Clean

Ephesians Meditations No.40

Eph  5:3,4 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

In 4:25-32 Paul gave us a list of specific things that should or should not be in our lives now we are Christians. Now sometimes you hear people say, “Christians aren’t under the Law any more” and as far as the Law of Moses is concerned that is true, although we are still required to love God and our neighbour as ourselves (the summary of the Law – Mt 22:37-40). Yet there are a number of instructions within the teaching of the New Testament which still apply to us. However you might say that if we were living ‘lives of love’ that we referred to in the previous meditation, we would not need these, yet the truth is we do need these guide lines that Paul gives us and so now we come to his second group.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” For there to be any form of sexual immorality there is a lack of love for God and a lack of love for your partner. Love in marriage is first of all a commitment and then an emotion. If the emotion has burned down, you remain committed and work at rebuilding it. Not even a hint! “or of any kind of impurity.” We have spoken before about purity being a characteristic of the Holy Spirit and therefore of us. Whatever you might think of as ‘impurity’ – that’s out! If in doubt, stay away from it.

“or of greed.” Oooops, that might come a bit closer to some of us. What are our eating habits like? But greed also applies to wanting more and more – of anything! The counterpoint to greed is contentment. Are you content with a reasonable amount of anything in life or does something drive you to constantly wanting more. Do we ‘comfort eat’ because we have not appreciated the wonder of God’s love for us? Greed may be a sign of something else wrong that needs attending to.

because these are improper for God’s holy people.” This is Paul’s reasoning. Very simply such things are inappropriate for a holy people – a people who are pure and righteous. If you have questions over your spiritual life, look at the rest of your life (because we so often wrongly divide our lives like this) and ensure you are totally at peace about all your habits, all your behaviour. Is there anything you would be ashamed about if it became public knowledge? If there is, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

But then he returns to the subject of speech, just like Solomon in the Proverbs so often went back to cover speech – possibly because we say so much and therefore this is a big area of our lives to be looked at: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” There again there is first of all the negative, followed by the positive. No obscenity means no swearing – none! Check it out and be honest.foolish talk is linked withcourse joking’. As we said before, whatever you say, could you say it in front of your grandmother? This is a time for honesty if the word of God is going to mean anything at all to you. What is your language like? Do you take for granted words you use and excuse them by “Well everyone says that.” No they don’t. If it is ‘course’, cut it out.

Then Paul says some strong stuff: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (4:5). Here he identifies three groups who don’t have a part in God’s kingdom. First anyone who is ‘immoral’. If you stood before Christ who sees right into you, would you be ashamed of some part of your behaviour because deep down you know it is immoral? Then ‘impure’. Again, we can kid ourselves or other people, but in front of God can you truthfully say that nothing you do is impure? And finally ‘greedy’. Again, check it out before God. But why does he say that a greedy person is an idolater? Because if you are greedy you are putting food – of whatever else it is – before God and when we put anything else before God, we worship (submit to) that more than we do God. If you are in any of these three groups, the sad truth is that you cannot enjoy the inheritance that God has in Christ for His children. Very simply you are not enjoying God’s blessing if you are allowing these areas of darkness to reign in your life. (Yes, they do reign if you have allowed they to hold sway so you are struggling to say you will get rid of them!).

Then Paul says something which seems out of place, that doesn’t seem to fit the list he has just been bringing to us: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.” (5:6,7) What are these ’empty words’ likely to be? Probably words of justification, why these things aren’t so terrible as Paul makes them out to be, excuses why it is all right to live these sorts of lives. The key is that these people are ‘disobedient‘ which means they do not do what God has told them to do or they do what He has told them not to do. These are people who justify their lack of truthfulness (4:25), their unrestrained anger (4:26), their disregard for others’ property (4:28), their unwholesome talk (4:28, 5:4), their generally bad attitudes and rowdy behaviour (4:31), their immorality, impurity or greed. More than that, they try to get you to agree with them. Make sure you don’t join with them in these things, don’t become a ‘partner in crime’.

The overall lesson? Having the Holy Spirit in your life as a Christian has consequences. He is holy and doesn’t like sharing a home with immorality or impurity. This is a serious call to conform to the will of God! No excuses. Do it!