3. Abram – a work in progress

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 3. Abram – a work in progress

Gen 12:6 Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem

Where we are: So here we are, just in the early stages of pondering on this fundamental idea of our lives being taken from a place of failure and changed to a place of glory. In the previous study we noted the fact that with Abram – and with us – it was a case of God initiating this activity. There didn’t seem to be anything great about Abram; he wasn’t royalty, he wasn’t a hero, there is nothing said about him that elevated him above others. If anything he is a man to be pitied. He has a wife who is barren and in a culture where children and carrying on the family name were important, that must have been a constant anguish for both he and Sarai.

So Why? So why did God choose him? Why did He choose you and me? Before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1 suggests God ‘predestined’ you, i.e. He looked into the future of His plan of salvation and saw you, saw your response to His word coming to you and the drawing of His Spirit, and knew at that point that you would be a responder. Why did He choose Abram? Because He knew he would be a responder, He knew what He wanted to achieve and He knew He could do it with Abram without overruling the free will He had given him.

This teaching is epitomized in Paul’s teaching about Jesus: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) God had a plan and He knew how the authorities would respond to Jesus – exercising their free will – and bring about the sacrificial death of His Son. God knew what He wanted to achieve and knew how He would achieve it – using the self-centred, wilful acts of sinful men. He didn’t make them act like that but He knew that’s how they would respond.

Similarly with Abram – and with you and me – He knew how we would respond; He knew what we could achieve – despite our failures.

Failure: Our starter verse shows us Abram entering the land along the route from the north and arrives at Shechem, roughly in the centre of Israel. There the Lord meets with him and declares that THIS is the land He is giving him and his descendants (v.7) and Abram responds by building an altar. But he doesn’t stay there, he meanders on south to near Bethel (v.8) and builds another altar. An altar is a place of sacrifice to a deity. Abram has that sense, the awareness that he is being led by deity. There is that level of spiritual reality. He is being led by God and every time he builds an altar it is a recognition of that.

Then he moves further south (v.9). But then trouble occurs; his first test arrives – a famine, a severe famine (v.10). He hasn’t yet realised the big teaching that will come through his life – that God is a provider. This is the land that God has promised him, but it doesn’t seem to be providing him with what he needs – so he continues south to Egypt where there is no famine. Egypt is often considered a type of ‘the world’. He turns to the world for his provision; he knows no better. Is ‘the world’ God’s means of provision for him? Indeed it is, in the sense that ‘the world’ is all of creation, not the sense that we usually attribute to it in scripture, of godless, unbelieving, self-serving humanity. But no, He does use the world to provide for us.

Does this ring bells? Don’t we sometimes, when the way seems to be getting hard, resort to the ways of ‘the world’, the same thinking that our unbelieving neighbours have – I must do something to work my way out of this – an absence of turning to the Lord to seek His help.

When he gets to Egypt it gets worse, he tells a half-truth that Sarai was his sister (see 20:12) and his actions in respect of her fall short of a godly man of faith. But then he’s not that – yet! We won’t go into the detail but he doesn’t do very well in his first test.

Us? Yes, here is the truth. When we turn to Christ we may be put right in God’s sight as far as our eternal salvation is concerned, we are justified by the blood of Christ, but unfortunately as far as everyday living is concerned we’ve still got a lot of stuff to learn and that means we are going to get it wrong more than a few times. If you’ve never seen this it either means you have never been taught properly or you are living in deception.  Yes, our failures still will need repentance and the wonder is that God still accepts us (see 1 Jn 2:1,2) but He doesn’t want us to fail but will forgive us when we repent – however many times it happens. The path towards glory is a slow one, often a long one and in that sense every one of us is a work in progress. Sanctification (setting us apart and changing us) is something that happens at the moment of conversion but it is also something that is a process that goes on throughout our lives. We thus need to remain alert to catch the things the Lord is pointing out in our lives that He wants to change. He does this not because He doesn’t love us but because He does! He wants something better for us. Hallelujah!  

16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

61. Humility for all

Meditations in 1 Peter : 61: Humility for all

1 Pet 5:5,6 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,   “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time

The world in which we live tells us to stand up and be ourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do; be yourself! Stand up for yourself; make something of yourself. Don’t be a wimp, rise up above the rest. Be exalted in your greatness; make yourself even greater. These are the words of the twenty-first century. Rise up and go for it. They are, of course, words of deception. They are basically saying, pretend to be what you are not; make yourself something more than you are. Take one of the many ‘self-help’ courses that are available, change yourself.

Possibly an analogy that comes near the truth is of a cancer patient who is told, think positive thoughts. Positive thoughts can help – in a measure – but you still have cancer. Or to take an even more extreme idea – a man who is delusional and who genuinely believes he will never die. Yet in old age his body starts to decay and he keeps on telling himself, “I will never die.” Fear makes many of us deny the truth. You see it in a conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian. As the talk gets on to sin, the non-Christian starts getting edgy. “Don’t you tell me I am a sinner; I’m as good as the next man!” Deep down, that fear that the truth may be that “I am indeed a sinner” collides with the wrong thought that God is an angry, vicious, spiteful dictator who loves punishing people, and as the two ideas collide, fear acts in the only way it knows how and denies the truth – I am not a sinner!!!  But however much you say it, it doesn’t change the truth.

Now why, you may be thinking, am I rambling down this particular path? What is the connection with humility? Well, humility is simply an honest recognition of who we are. I am a sinner and without God I am utterly lost. I owe my entire life to the Lord. All that I have, which is good, has been a gift from Him. Left to myself, I am a mess. I am certainly no better than any other person. All I can do is say, thank you. Humility faces the truth about ourselves. Over the past few years I have become more and more aware of the incredible goodness of God that has blessed me over the forty years that I have known Him. I have grown incredibly thankful, mightily grateful for what He has done for me, in me and through me.

But there’s been something else growing in parallel with that sense of gratefulness; it is the awareness of who I am and, looking back down the years, a recognition of the weakness, failures, inadequacies and so on, of my life. That simply makes the good things that God has done, or made of me, even more wonderful. I can be blessed at who I have become, yet aware that I have nothing to be proud about because it has not been of my working. If anything, it has been despite me!  I have absolutely nothing to boast about. I have done some great things and blessed a good number of people, but I know the truth about that! It was Him! It was at His directions and it was with His enabling and still, today, I am incapable of any good thing without His guidance, direction, inspiration or power. I know who I am! Humility is not a “I’m a nobody,” but an accurate assessment of who you are.

Pride, by comparison, is having an inflated view of who you are or of your own importance. Now, says Peter, clothe yourself with humility – put it on like you would put on a coat. How do you do that? You do what I’ve just done; you state the truth about yourself, both the bad news and good news. The bad news is that left to myself, I am a wreck. The good news is that in Christ and with his direction and enabling I am a child of God who can prove to be a real blessing to people. ‘Putting on’ humility is declaring those truths.

Why does God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble”? The answer is because He is always working for the truth or for reality. The proud are not being truthful about themselves and so He opposes their untruths, but the humble who are being utterly real and acknowledging their frailty, weakness, inadequacy etc. of themselves, these ones He is able to take and use and so blesses them with His grace, His enabling to cope, serve or triumph.

And so what about when he says, Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time? This means bring yourself into a right attitude or outlook in life where you realise your utter dependency on Him so that He may take you, pick you up, and exalt you as He uses you. Consider Elijah (1 Kings 18) who opposed the prophets of Baal. He was utterly dependent on God – and knew it – and he was exalted in people’s minds because of what God was able to do through him. Jesus, likewise spoke of the glory he had received which in fact belonged to his Father as he served him. We don’t seek it; in fact we seek nothing except to be obedient to the Lord, utterly reliant on Him, and when we do that we will be exalted – but we’ll still know the truth!


37. Sin Conscious

Meditations in Romans : 37:  Conscious of Sin

Rom 3:19-20   Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

The human race is a strange animal!  Seriously, when you look at us carefully, there are some things about us that we take so much for granted but which are actually quite strange. They are even more strange if you believed the atheist who says this world is just chance and there is no meaning or purpose behind it. There are two features of every human being that strike me as very strange in the light of that dogma.

The first is the tendency of most people to have a sense of failure or inadequacy. Oh yes, people cover it up and in fact they spend much of their life covering it up, but if you can catch them at a rare moment of honesty they will confess to you that they are not the great person that they would like the world to believe they are. No, they will confess their inadequacies and even their failures (but you will need to get them at a rare point of honesty). All of us have this particular awareness even though, as I’ve said, we go to great lengths to cover it up. Why should people who are, according to the atheist, random acts of chance, worry about such things, but worry we do!

The second strange tendency, which goes with the first one, is the concern to be seen to be good. We feel bad about ourselves deep down, and yet we want everyone to see us NOT as a failure. We want others to see us as successes. We want to be thought of as nice people, good people, people who get it right and do well. Of course those descriptions vary according to the social group we belong to but we know the standards that our particular group has and we want to live up to their standards so they will think well of us. You see it in any and every social grouping, but why should it be if we are just random chance creatures with no meaning or purpose. Everything within us challenges that assessment of us. We measure ourselves and our assessment is important!

Now the Jews of Jesus’ day and Paul’s day, were one such social grouping and within that cultural or social group was a sub-group who made the rest feel it was important to abide by a certain set of life-rules, the Law of Moses. They were the people that people refers to as under the Law.” The Law was the standard by which they assessed one another. If you were good, you kept the Law. For instance Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” (Lk 1:6); that was the assessment of people who knew them and later told Luke about them.  Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father was described as “a righteous man,” (Mt 1:19) which would have meant that he was a man who sought to keep God’s commandments; hence his action in wanting to quietly divorce Mary.

The not-so-nice people of that society didn’t bother about the Law. They were lawbreakers or sinners and were looked down upon by those who did adhere to the Law. Now if you lived in a society where this Law prevailed, where you were very much aware of it, even though others adjudged you righteous, you knew deep down that that meant righteous in most things, for there would always be a little something somewhere where you didn’t come up to the mark. Indeed with some it is difficult to know if you come up to the mark. For instance, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5)  Could you ever be sure that that was how you truly loved God? You kept the practical commandments you were aware of, but was that enough to ensure you could say that you loved God like this?

Suppose there were laws that you didn’t know about? Perhaps you weren’t keeping them? No, the truth was that you could never boast of being a perfect law-keeper, which is what Paul meant when he said, so that every mouth may be silenced.” Yes, you were never quite certain and so it was better to remain quiet. Yes, you knew that deep down, just like were considered at the beginning of this meditation, you had something that left you feeling inadequate and as such you would be “held accountable to God.” Oh yes, you could never stand before God with a totally clear conscience. You feared that future where you knew that one day you would have to stand before him and be answerable for your imperfection!

Thus Paul can conclude, Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Yes, if you are going to measure me by the Law I can never say I am totally perfect and therefore I can not say with a clear heart that I am righteous. All focusing on the rules has done, has been to make me more and more aware of the bits where I fall short.

This is it, isn’t it? Whatever set of rules we have to abide by, the Law of Moses or the laws of our little group in society, we fear failure, and we are constantly struggling to achieve approval of others who measure us by the rules, but deep down we know they will judge us because we are not perfect and will fail even their expectations of us! No, if you base life on keeping to a set of rules or even expectations upon you, know that you are doomed to a life of failure and the only way to cope is to pretend you’re not, while all the time knowing you are. What a deception!

40. Sinful Race

Meditations in Job : 40.  Part of the sinful human race

Job 15:14 “What is man, that he could be pure, or one born of woman, that he could be righteous?

As we have commented before there are some Christians who focus on sin and failure and in this respect they are like Eliphaz who, you will remember is speaking against Job for the second time. Previously when he spoke, he indicated that he had received the spirit encounter and the result of that was a mindset that put man down and derided him. We reminded ourselves about being made in the image of God and of being loved by God. We may need to do that again!

So here he is having just put Job down by suggesting four times that Job’s words were rubbish. Now he goes on to speak again of the failures of mankind. Essentially our verse today says that no person born of a woman can be pure, everyone is a sinner. Now of course we have no dispute with that, for Paul said, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23). The difference between Eliphaz and Paul is that Eliphaz gets bogged down in it while Paul goes on to say, “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24). Paul only speaks of our sin in the context of our salvation. Eliphaz follows the same track that we saw in Ch.4 & 5, referring to the ‘holy ones’, the angels. In chapter 4 he had said, “If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay.” (v.18,19). Here he says, If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is vile and corrupt, who drinks up evil like water!” (v.15,16). It’s the same old argument being repeated. God doesn’t trust his angels who are close to Him, so why should he trust mankind. As we commented when we considered that earlier passage, that is only true of the fallen angels, and as we now know, God loves us and sent his Son in human likeness to die for us so, no, mankind is not abhorred by God, but loved.

Eliphaz now says he wants Job to listen to him on the basis of the wisdom that he has picked up from the elders through the years: “Listen to me and I will explain to you; let me tell you what I have seen, what wise men have declared, hiding nothing received from their fathers.” (v.17,18). You obviously are clueless, Job, is what he infers here when he says patronizingly, “Listen to me and I will explain to you.” And why does he think he can teach Job some things? Because I have seen it, I have picked it up from the wise men before me who passed on all they had learnt from their fathers and “(to whom alone the land was given when no alien passed among them)” (v.19), i.e. right at the beginning when no one else was there and they were the first in the land. That’s where MY wisdom comes from! So what has he learnt from them?

“All his days the wicked man suffers torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for him. Terrifying sounds fill his ears; when all seems well, marauders attack him. He despairs of escaping the darkness; he is marked for the sword.” (v.20-22) i.e. the wicked (who he surely associates with Job) and ruthless man will receive torment, and enemies will attack him and leave him in despair (yes, this is Job!) He piles it on: “He wanders about–food for vultures; he knows the day of darkness is at hand. Distress and anguish fill him with terror; they overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack,” (v.23,24) i.e. he feels utterly hopeless, in darkness, filled with distress and anguish. So, Eliphaz, you do understand what Job is going through, so why can’t you feel for him? Answer, because you would rather condemn him! There’s a reason behind all this, continues Eliphaz; it is “because he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty, defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield.” (v.25,26) You’re a rebel, Job, and you’ve brought all this on yourself! Watch how he now piles it on Job, heaping him with more and more negatives and there can be absolutely no doubt that this is specifically about Job: “Though his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges with flesh,” (v.27) Is Job so well off that he is rather over developed? Well it’s unkind to mention it anyway! Moreover “he will inhabit ruined towns and houses where no one lives, houses crumbling to rubble.” (v.28) – his home will be desolate and as a general statement, “He will no longer be rich and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the land.” (v.29) – his riches will have been taken. But it’s worse: “He will not escape the darkness,” (v.30a), the anguish of darkness will go on and on and he won’t be able to escape it.  “A flame will wither his shoots,” (v.30b), the burning irritation of his sores will undermine his life, “and the breath of God’s mouth will carry him away,” (v.30c), i.e. God’s decree will undermine his security and carry him away.

Note that although Eliphaz hasn’t directly referred to Job, it is obviously him that he has in mind, so now he brings him a warning in the same indirect manner: “Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return. (v.31). Whatever you seem to be trusting in will not help you, and “Before his time he will be paid in full, and his branches will not flourish. He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes, like an olive tree shedding its blossoms.” (v.32,33). You are going to be cut off so that any fruit that was apparent will be stripped away. Job had appeared prosperous but now that is all stripped away and he has nothing. Why? “For the company of the godless will be barren, and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes.” (v.34) God sorts out the godless so they will not be fruitful and when they take bribes, God’s justice will fall on them and their homes and possessions will be taken. “They conceive trouble and give birth to evil; their womb fashions deceit.” (v.35) This sort of person breeds trouble and, by implication, it will turn round and bite them!

What an example of ongoing condemnation! Now there may be a number of truths built in there but the trouble is that these generalities DON’T apply to Job. This is not happening because he had defied God (v.25,26), he is not godless and doesn’t take bribes (v.34) and he doesn’t breed trouble (v.35). These are all FALSE ASSUMPTIONS of Job in Eliphaz’s mind. Zero out of ten for wrong assessment, Eliphaz!

7. Parents

Lessons from the Law: No.7 : Honour your Parents

Ex 20:12 Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you

The fifth commandment that we have here in our verse today, is a link between the first four that are all about the Lord, and the latter five that are all about relating to the rest of the world. Interestingly it isn’t about the marriage relationship – that comes later – but is about our fundamental attitudes towards our parents. It is almost as if the Lord is pointing out that the most fundamental attitude to be checked out, is that towards our parents. Every single one of us has parents. We may not get married  and we may not have children and so rules in respect of that would be irrelevant to us, but this is an all-encompassing law that applies to everyone one of us.

Now before we move on in this mediation and move on to consider the remaining of the Ten Commandments, I would suggest that if we ignore the first four commands, it is probable that we will ignore the remaining six. The reason I say that is the if you push God out of the equation of your life, you have no foundation upon which to determine what is right or wrong, and very soon selfishness will be the predominating characteristic observed in your life. No longer is it, what is right because it conforms to how we were designed to live best, but now it is simply what do I want, what gives me the most pleasure regardless of the outcome. It is not surprising therefore, that where in Western societies we see the rejection of God, we also find a complete abandoning of the remaining six commandments – and it starts in the family!

Again, before we really get in to focusing on this command, we would do well to note a grave danger that hinders obedience to it. It is the observance of our parents as failures. Tragically we now are in a downward spiral where this appears to get worse and worse. Fifty years ago most families stayed together. Divorce was relatively rare. That didn’t make marriages perfect or even always good, but it did mean at least that the parents were there for the child. Now I believe it true to say that most marriage failures came because of the husband. The wife is emotionally linked to the children but there is not such a strong link for the father.

Men also historically had greater freedom and so when we think back to characteristic ‘bad fathers’ they were those who drank too much or betted too much. Such ‘freedoms’ were not available to the mother who was historically linked to the home. It is probably true to say that infidelity mostly came as initiated by the husband and when there was abandonment of the family, it was by the husband. It is this latter thing which is mostly observed by the children, reinforcing their negative ideas about marriage. Even if it wasn’t something like this, we can all look back to remember the shortcomings of our parents. All of us who are parents fail to be perfect; our children will always have something to feel negative about. It is what living in a fallen world is about – and perhaps that is one of the reasons that Lord places this command before all other commands about relating to others.

The fact is that we cannot disregard this command because out parents were less than perfect. We must leave our parents’ failings for the Lord to deal with. Our call is to ‘honour’ our parents. What does honour mean?  It means to exalt or esteem or acknowledge distinction. Why should a child do this of their parents? First of all, because God says so, and He makes it a condition of a good life! Yes, this command carries an outworking with it: so that you may live long in the land.” Failure to keep this command suggests that our lives will be impaired – the implication IS there! Long life normally comes in Scripture as a result of the blessing of God. If God’s blessing is withheld then life will be limited. Note again what we suggested honouring means: to exalt or esteem or acknowledge distinction. It is a mind thing, an attitude thing first and foremost and then when the attitude is right, right actions will follow.

Now this is not to say that we should be blind to our parents’ shortcomings or even excuse them, but it does mean we put them aside and purpose, nevertheless, to adjust our attitude so that we exalt or esteem them for who they are apart from their sin. Now for some this is very difficult because they may have been abused throughout their childhood by their father. Now this raises lots of other issues, for example about blowing the whistle on their sin. If you have been abused, don’t keep quiet about it. You first of all confront your father with his wrong and if he fails to repent and seek your forgiveness, you share it with your mother or some other close adult. Can you ‘honour’ a father in such circumstances? With immense difficulty and only by the grace of God. If we are a Christian, we still want this man to turn to God and be saved. This is the ultimate of our desires for our parents if they are not Christians, and it may be this desire in particular that motivates you to view your parents through different eyes.

Often in counselling we have seen an individual be shown by the Lord what their parent was really like. One abused daughter in particular in my memory, wept for her father saying, “I didn’t know what he had been through to make him like that.” It did not excuse what he had done but it did explain it and the understanding helped her put aside the years of abuse and cry for his salvation.

Most of us fortunately were not abused physically, but it may have been abuse verbally or by neglect. We don’t excuse it ever, but with God’s help we can explain it, and that may help us be able to put aside the hurt of the past and cry for our parents. There is so much more that could be said but space prohibits it. In Ex 34:7 we find the Lord spoken of as one who punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:7) but the truth is that at any time we can turn to the Lord and find forgiveness, cleansing and a new life. We don’t have to take on the sins of our parents which do so often trickle down through the generations. A good sign, seen so often, is the decision of new young parents not to go the way of their parents. With God’s grace you can be different and in so being you can bring honour to your own parents and, if they are still alive, your life can eventually be used by the Lord to change theirs. Now there is a challenge, but make sure your attitude is right to start with.