15. Aspiring to Faithfulness

Aspiring Meditations: 15.  Aspiring to Faithfulness

Gal 5:22   the fruit of the Spirit is ….faithfulness

Num 12:7  my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house.

Deut 7:9    Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

When I started looking up verses about faithfulness, the next in our list of things to aspire to, I found something I had never noticed before: most of the verses about faithfulness are about God and I could find hardly anything that calls us to be faithful. The meaning of ‘faithful’ is, in its simplest form, ‘remaining true’. That is how it is in respect of God Himself and for us it means “remaining full of faith – faith-full” or remaining true to God. There is an echo of this in Jesus’ words, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) i.e. will he find us remaining faithful to God.

When we look at faithfulness as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), there is a certain ‘chicken and egg’ thing about it; which comes first? We’ve said several times that the fruit comes as we hold true to the Spirit, open to Him, being led by Him. In a sense we might say the fruit grows when we remain faithful to Him, and yet faithfulness is actually one of the fruit He brings in us. So faithfulness to Him releases faithfulness in us in much wider ways. The first reference to faithfulness in the Bible is in respect of Moses (Num 12:7 – see above) which the writer to the Hebrews picks up on (see Heb 3:2). In other words, Moses was true to his calling and remained faithful to the Lord and to Israel.

But let’s see some references to the Lord’s faithfulness and that will help faithfulness grow in us. First of all, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” (1 Cor 10:13) i.e. when temptations come from the enemy, the Lord will not leave us on our own but will remain true to the relationship we have with Him and will be there for us.

In a similar vein, “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Cor 1:8, 9) i.e. the reason we can be assured that we will stand blameless on the final day of accounting has a twofold dimension to it. First, God will remain true to the principles of the salvation He has provided for you through Christ and so, because of the Cross, you will appear before Him blameless, because Christ has taken all the blame. Second, we will stand blameless on that day because He will have kept us true to Him by the presence of His Holy Spirit working within us on a daily basis, and the presence or Jesus seated at His right hand ruling over our affairs. In all of this He will have remained faithful and true in respect of us.

Exactly the same thing is conveyed to the Thessalonians: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thess 5:23,24) The focus here though is not so much the final accounting but the actual return of Jesus, but the same thoughts are conveyed – we will be kept by God’s faithfulness. He will remain true to us and be there for us.

But not only is it in respect of being ready for Jesus’ return and for the final accounting, it is also in respect of our daily lives and the warfare we encounter here: “pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thess 3:2,3) Paul acknowledges this spiritual warfare, especially noting that it can involve people who are hostile to us, but he has this same confidence he has spoken of elsewhere, that God is for us and will remain faithful and so can be relied upon to strengthen us and protect us.

Now this has brought us to a key issue – we can RELY on God BECAUSE He IS faithful, He will always remain true to us, He will always be there for us. There is a hint of this in “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.” (Heb 6:17) God’s unchanging purpose is because He Himself never changes. Because the plan of the Godhead made before the foundation of the world is perfect, it never changes. God never changes and His purposes never change and His feelings and His plans and His purposes towards us, never change. We can rely on this, He is faithful, He is unchanging. Rejoice in this, be secure in this.

Now I said there appear few calls to remain faithful to God but really everything in the teaching in the New Testament is summed up in this. It is inherent in our calling. We did not surrender to Him just for ten minutes to receive His salvation; we gave our entire lives to Him. That is how it works. We remain faithful to Him because we have to, for without Him we are nothing, without Him we have no present and no future. I don’t have to try to be faithful, I just HAVE to be. The moment I cease to be, is the moment I fall into disobedience and rebellion.

But if He is faithful to us and we are faithful to Him, then by necessity we must remain faithful to one another in the body. Peter denying Jesus for a horrible few moments in the grounds of the High Priest’s palace, and Judas betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver are the quintessential examples of absence of faithfulness and those two incidents should act as spurs to us to be alert and ensure we never go down the same path.  He is faithful; we will be faithful – to Him and to our brothers and sisters in Christ (including those we know little of in persecution zones?) May it be so.

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3. Aspiring to More Faith

Aspiring Meditations: 3.  Aspiring to more faith

Rom 10:17 “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

Heb 11:6  without faith it is impossible to please God,

Mt 14:31  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Hebrews 11:6 suggests the significance of faith – it is a vital requirement to have any sort of relationship with God – and so after grace, I believe it is possibly the most important idea or concept in the New Testament as far as our relationship with the Lord goes, outside the work of Christ himself on the Cross. It is how our lives with God are worked out.

We would be remiss is we missed out the words of the writer to the Hebrews defining the nature of faith: faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) Now as good as that verse is, it doesn’t give the whole picture for it simply describes what I would call ‘passive faith’. Passive faith is all about knowing the basics of The Faith, all about God, Jesus, ourselves and what God has done for us through Jesus. That is all invisible, unseen, but as the Holy Spirit has come and convicted us to bring about our conversion, we become sure of these facts, sure about the existence of God, sure about the salvation His Son has earned for us.

But of course it doesn’t end there; that is but the beginning. If we really believe these things then they will have an impact on our lives and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our lives will change. We will become people who are concerned about moral and spiritual standards and so, to cite the apostle Paul, we will, for example, “put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” (Eph 4:25) in other words our whole outlook on life changes and produces a completely new way of living, and our examination of these things to which the Lord wants us to aspire, are part of that. This positive change to our outlook, our attitudes and our words and our behaviour, in response to that basic body of truth we have come to believe in, are what I would call Active-Character faith, and in that sense every Christian is a person of faith.

How does this faith – both passive and active – come about?  “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) In our previous lives we were ignorant of these things and then somehow, we were told the Gospel – we heard it. Someone shared it with us, and the Holy Spirit convicted us with it and when we responded the rest followed. From then on we ‘hear’ the word when we read the Bible, when we use Bible Notes, when we listen to sermons, when we receive a word of prophecy, when we receive that quiet inner nudge by the Spirit, and indeed sometimes as we pray we may sense Him speaking to us by what we find the Spirit leading us to pray. All of these are ways we ‘hear’ the word from the Lord and as the Holy Spirit gives us the sense that that is what we are experiencing, He may also convict us, challenge us to action.

Much of the time there will be a character-response, it will be something that affects how I think, feel and need to live. So a change comes about in me and in my lifestyle as I respond to Him – that is Active-Character faith. But there is also another branch of Active Faith that I would call for convenience, Active-Service faith. It is simply responding to His prompting and almost always comes from an inner conviction, an inner nudging of the Holy Spirit and it seeks to prompt me to act in a particular way. So I may sense a nudging that says, “Go over there and encourage that person,” or as I listen to someone sharing their anxieties, or their worries about their health, say, the prompting may come, “Ask them if you may pray for them now, pray over them.”  Or it may be more generally, “Share my love with them, tell them how much I love them,” or is maybe, “This is the time for you to share your testimony.” Each of these promptings are a prompting into action, or to serve the Lord in a specific way, to bring about something He wants to happen through you, His will in this specific situation. Faith occurs when you, having made yourself available to Him, respond positively and you find something rising in you that says, ‘Yes!’ and so you act and do what the Spirit said. That was Active-Service faith.

Now I am good at doing that with Christians and my wife is good at it with non-Christians, which suggests something I have noted in life: faith expressions are different for each of us. Some of us will have great faith for giving, some will have great faith for hospitality, some will have it for showing acts of charity or mercy, some of us will have it for sharing the Gospel with others, and so on.  Now when we see these things in one another we speak of them having the gift of this or that, and the apostle Paul wrote, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6)

Now in the previous study, remember we spoke of grace as being God’s resources for us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. This particular resource is called faith and it is always a gift. God gave it to us through His Spirit, so some find it easy to evangelize, some easy to teach, some easy to be caring and compassionate and so as we step out in that gifting, we are expressing faith, what I am calling Active-Service faith.

Now we should also note that there is a gift of the Spirit called faith (see 1 Cor 12:9a). This simply means that a particular person – and I suggest this will not be happening every day – suddenly has total confidence that they can do a particular thing before them that the rest of us consider impossible. “But, no, we can do this thing!” Peter received it when Jesus urged him to step out of the boat (Mt 14:29). At that moment, he knew he could do it – and did!  For the more everyday faith when it comes to our particular gifting(s) we know we can do this thing and it will be good, because God is inspiring it, and so as we step out and do it, that is faith in action.

So can we develop faith? Can we increase it? The answer has surely got to be yes, otherwise Jesus would not have chided his disciples sometimes for their ‘little faith’, implying they could do better, and that he surely hoped for the future.  Well if faith comes from hearing, may I suggest we first need to learn to be more alert to what is going on inside our heads – because that is where we are going to ‘hear’. And having discerned that we are hearing God, determine to respond positively to Him every time we catch something. The more we do it, the more it will happen.  It is, I believe, that simple! Go for it! Let’s aspire to be people of faith – not merely having passive faith (although that is an essential start), but moving in Active-Character faith where we let His word shape our lifestyles, and then on into Active-Service faith where we do the works of God, just as Jesus said (Jn 14:12). Amen? Amen!

38. Little Children & the Kingdom

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 38.  Little Children and the Kingdom

Mt 18:3    And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Of all the analogies we have considered, this is perhaps the most simple. It comes because Jesus’ disciples were wondering about greatness in the kingdom of God. It would appear from the Gospels that these discussions arose more than once and had a certain self-serving nature to them. (see also Lk 9:46, 22:24): At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v.1) it is possible that Jesus’ earlier words about John the Baptist that we considered earlier in this series (see study 17) stayed with them: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Mt 11:11) It is also possible that Peter, James and John felt a little superior to the others, recently having been up on what we call the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus.

Wanting to show them that pride was not a characteristic of the kingdom, “He called a little child and had him stand among them.” (v.2) This child is to be a visual aid to help them take in what he is about to say: “And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (v.3,4)

The analogy is becoming like a child, and as this child stood there next to Jesus, trusting and unpretentious in complete humility, the lesson is clear. I fear that sometimes, when we watch ‘big ministries’ this lesson has not been learnt. I will always remember the description of the entrance to, I believe it was possibly, the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation in 1974 and the commentator noted all the ‘big names’ from around the world going in, some with their bodyguards (Christian leaders with bodyguards – what are we on about?????) and then he noted sitting among the crowd on the steps, chatting with onlookers, Dr. Francis Schaeffer. The rest were talking about it, Schaeffer in absolute anonymous humility was doing it.

That was what Jesus was talking about here and, as I said, I believe we often forget this. This ‘childlike’ attitude of submission and trust and humility is vital to any person coming to Christ. No man or woman can come to Christ and hold on to their pride. A rich young ruler approached Jesus on one occasion asking what seemed a good question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 18:18) and when Jesus asked him about the Ten Commandments, he replied, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” (v.21) Jesus replied, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (v.22) Jesus saw that this young man relied on his riches and his position but neither are currency in the kingdom, only surrender, trust, humility and reliance on God for His salvation.

Once upon a time (and I am aware I have shared this story before in other studies, but it seems pertinent) when our three children were still small, we were on holiday together and desired to go to church on a Sunday morning. We were camping and so didn’t have ‘smart’ clothes with us but we were not looking scruffy – just not conventional by traditionalist church standards. Arriving just a few minutes before the start of the service we found this well-known church almost full and an usher tried taking us down to the front row that was empty. Having three children all under the age of eight with us, my wife asked could we be in a less conspicuous place. We ended up in the back balcony – about the same height as the preacher’s pulpit and had the sense when he was preaching he was aiming at us. It was the sort of church where everyone troops out at the end and shakes the hand of the minister at the door. The only trouble was that the minister was talking to one of his sidesmen and so when both my wife and I shook his hand he neither looked at us nor said a word of greeting. This ‘great man’ (for he was well known across that part of the country as a great preacher) would have done well to remember Jesus’ words here.

You cannot enter the kingdom of God without being like a child with these characteristics and these same characteristics are not merely for entrance, but are also supposed to be at the heart of the life that follows. ‘Church’ is not about looking good, fine sermons, good teaching, but is about being like Jesus and if he says being childlike is the criteria then we need to hold to that. Little children are, we said, trusting and unpretentious but we might also add they take people at face value, which is what Jesus did when he mixed with the tax-collectors and sinners. Little children don’t have high demands on other people, they haven’t learned to have high expectations of other people. I recently came across that all too familiar evangelical condemnation of the half-hearted recently. As much as we might wish for a church who are all going all out for Jesus, sometimes people are struggling with life and with their faith and looking down on them doesn’t help them. When I was a child I remember two friends who my parents weren’t happy about because of their family backgrounds and slightly absent ethical standards! However, as a child I just accepted them for who they were – my friends. I didn’t become like them although we did get into some scrapes together.

Why do I say these things? Because I have seen that people who do not exercise this childlikeness towards other people, also tend not to exhibit it towards God. Exercising faith is being childlike. Remember what we have seen in recent studies. Childlikeness towards Jesus means listening to him and taking what he says with simple acceptance and if he says, ‘step over the side of the boat and come to me’, we do that. If he says go and be encouraging to that person over there, that’s what we do.  If he says, pray over that person for the needs they have just shared with you, do that. Faith is simply a childlike response to the Lord. May he find that in us.

37. Mustard Seed and Mountains

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 37.  Mustard Seed and Mountains

Mt 17:20    He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

What is fascinating is that there is a direct link between Jesus’ words here and those we considered in the previous study, about the keys to the kingdom and the matter of binding and loosing. There, you may remember, we said that whenever we speak such words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we are simply declaring on earth the will of God that has been decreed in heaven. So now we come to these power-packed words that focus on three things: faith, mustard seed and a mountain.

Let’s take those in reverse order. Did Jesus mean a literal mountain? Well, yes, I believe he did mean it literally but I also believe it can be taken figuratively to mean any major obstacle that gets in the way of the kingdom. Again, please note the closing words of that sentence – that gets in the way of the kingdom. This is not about us performing magical acts to satisfy or entertain others or boost our own ego; what Jesus is talking about is serving the kingdom of God. Why do I say that? Look at the context. Jesus has just come down the Mount of Transfiguration only to find the disciples struggling to deliver a demon possessed boy (Mt 17:14-16). Jesus delivers the boy and then in private instructs the disciples. The context is all about operating in the kingdom of God, doing the will of the Father. All of this is vital to understand if we are to see what Jesus’ present teaching is about.

Next, the mustard seed. This is easy, we’ve seen it before. It is simply a tiny seed, perhaps one of the smallest seeds used. The implication is obvious: you only need a tiny, tiny bit of faith to be able to move such a mountain. Now let’s face the obvious: such a thing is humanly crazy. No way by speaking to a mountain will you move it. So what is Jesus meaning by this?

The answer comes by understanding faith. Faith, the writer to the Hebrews says, is, “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) Now note those two underlined words. When you genuinely have faith, there is a complete confidence in what you ‘see’ in your spirit, you are absolutely sure of what you are hoping to see, absolutely certain of this thing that has not yet happened and thus you cannot see.

But the key to faith comes with the apostle Paul’s teaching, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) Now I am certain that applies to the brining of the Gospel and faith rises in a person to believe it ONLY when they HEAR it. But I am equally certain that the same thing applies whenever we HEAR GOD. Faith arises when the Holy Spirit speaks the will of God into our hearts or our spirits. When, for instance, someone speaks God’s word that He wants to impact me with, the Holy Spirit makes it come alive within me and at that moment I KNOW that whatever it is, it is true.

When Paul spoke of the gift of faith (1 Cor 12:9) it is a ‘gift of believing’ that is greater than most of us are capable of believing but it comes “in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Rom 12:3) So your friend with such a gift speaks about starting off some incredibly difficult ministry and you think they must be crazy. No, they simply have the gift of faith, the absolute belief that this thing is possible.

We might say moving a mountain is an example of the gift of faith because it appears so outrageous that we think this is beyond the reach of most Christians. Well, I will not argue either way on that but suffice to say, the teaching of Jesus still stands and with the understanding of what we now know, we can take Jesus words to mean, “if the Father wants this mountain to be moved, all He needs is a willing participant (because He loves involving His people), one who simply has an open ear to Him and who will be available to say or do whatever he/she hears the Father saying. So if He says I want you to move this mountain – speak against it – do that and He will ratify your words with the power that WILL move the mountain.”

In other words, if you hear the Father’s will for you and you respond to it, then “Nothing will be impossible for you.” (v.20b) Remember, the ‘Nothing’ means ‘nothing within His specific will’. It’s what HE wants to come about, not what we want.

In Matt 21 there was the incident of the unfruitful fig tree which Jesus cursed and which then withered and died (Mt 21:18,19). It would almost appear that Jesus did it specifically to provide a visual lesson for the disciples who questioned what happened. We then find the same teaching we have been considering: Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Mt 21:21,22) Note the slight addition: “faith and do not doubt.” Faith and doubt are opposites. The doubt means to be uncertain. Faith is about being certain. Also note the context that we have perhaps taken for granted: “whatever you ask for in prayer.” It happens when you pray, when you are relating to the Lord, interacting with Him. As we do this, His Holy Spirit speaks in such a way that we suddenly KNOW and we can act.

Now we have been talking about active faith – faith in action – but is can also be passive, the faith we have that just knows we are Christian loved by God and redeemed by Jesus on the Cross. We came to believe those things and we live in them. Now the apostle James speaks of these things: the testing of your faith develops perseverance,” (Jas 1:3) in the context of trials of life (v.2) Recognising that so often we need wisdom to handle life he goes on, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (v.5) That seems simple and straight forward but note: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (v.6) No doubting!

Perhaps an obvious little thing in all this is that we need to learn to discern the voice of God, we need to learn to listen to God. If faith “comes from hearing”, we need to learn to listen and when we hear, recognize and accept who it is we are hearing so that the Spirit can energize the words and we recognize and step out in faith. Amen? Amen!

9. Confidence

Short Meditations in Philippians: 9. Confidence

Phil 1:19b   what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance and make me dwell in safety.

So here is Paul in prison writing to the saints in Philippi and, speaking about his own circumstances, declares he is able to rejoice, both in the circumstances because of the things that are happening while he is still in them, but also because he is sure he is going to be delivered out of them.

Let’s try and apply this to our own circumstances which are not always, it seems, truly glorious! Hold these two things from above. Are we able to rejoice both IN them and also because we have an assurance that we will be delivered OUT of them?

What is the key to these two things? I believe it is a sure confidence in who God is.  In my studies over the last few years, I am absolutely sure that the Bible declares three things about God. First, He is love. Second, He is good. Third, He is perfect (meaning He cannot be improved upon). Now these three characteristics apply to everything God thinks, says or does. Now having said those three things I have to admit there are times in my life when I may struggle to reconcile what is happening to me with these three things, but I have concluded that they ARE true; it is just that for the moment I cannot see how my present circumstances are going to work for good – mine or others, and it may be that these circumstances are going to work for the good of others as well as for me (somehow they WILL always work for MY good). It may take a time to see this – and that may be months or years  even – but it will eventually come through.

Now the more we experience this sort of thing and see that this is God’s intent, the more, when the next set of trying circumstances come along, we can declare by faith what we have learned previously: God will bring good IN this and He will deliver me OUT of it.

Now these sorts of things are real trials of faith. When you cannot see the way ahead, when it seems impossible for any change to come or any good to occur, it is a real declaration of faith to be able to say, “I don’t understand how this can bring good or can change, but knowing the Lord, I KNOW He will bring good in it and He will deliver me out of it.  Now don’t try and out-guess God. Don’t try and work out how God will do it, because in an impossible situation only HE can do it. When wine runs out at a wedding, only He can turn water into wine. When too many ‘guests’ turn up, only He can extend the limited resources to feed them all. When a blind person asks for sight, only He can bring it. When death confronts you, only He can bring resurrection. Jesus proved it. He is the grounds of our assurance.

68. God who Equips

Meditations in Hebrews 10:  68.  God who Equips

Heb 13:20,21   May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  

So Jesus, the great Shepherd has come to earth and drawn us to himself and sometimes some of us just focus on our conversion as if that was all there is, but of course the truth is that our conversion, our being ‘born again’, was merely the start of a life with Christ. We may have before us, years and years of living out the Christian life.

God’s Initial Purpose for us: Now because God has given us free will, I believe a lot of the things to come are things we choose but behind whatever we plan and want, the Lord is working in and through us to bring about His plans and purposes. These are spoken about by Paul to the church at Ephesus in general terms: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Add to that his words to the church at Corinth: “we… are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit,” (2 Cor 3:18) and we can see that God’s initial purpose in us is to change us to be more Christ-like which, I would suggests means both in character and in service. Add to this another important truth, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” (1 Cor 12:27) and the teaching that goes with it in that chapter, and we see that God gifts us in particular ways that harmonise with the gifts of other believers, so that together collectively we express the life and ministry of Christ which, in itself, was to fulfil the will of the Father.

God’s Primary Resource: So there is our target to become like Christ and do his works as he leads; that is the will of the Father. So how does He quip us to go about this, for this is what our verses above are all about? I think different Christians would put this order in different ways, but I am convinced that THE primary resource that He gives us, is Himself, His own Holy Spirit. The New Testament is quite clear that when we are born again we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who remains in us for the rest of our existence. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would teach us and guide us and empower us. I have often said that I believe every practical expression of God’s grace is in fact an expression of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is, without doubt our first resource.

God’s Second Resource: But then coming a very close second is God’s revealed word, the Bible. Those most famous of Paul’s words speak of this: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16,17) As we take and allow the Holy Spirit to apply God’s word to us, we are changed and that change makes us morel like Jesus in character and service as we said above.

Put on equipment: But how does this work? Well, the apostle Paul explained it in his graphic ‘warfare passage in Eph 6: “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:11-17)

There are certain aspects of the Christian life that we have to ‘put on’ (v.11) just like a soldier puts on armour.  We have to realise that all these things we are talking about, whether it be in respect of equipping or to do with armour, are all in the spiritual realm (v.12) so we are not talking about material or physical things here, we are talking about expression of the life of the Spirit in and through us. These things that we have to ‘put on’ are things that will equip us and enable us to stand in the face of the attacks of the enemy. (13). The things we are to ‘put on’ or apply to our lives to equip us are truth and righteousness (v.14), ready with the Gospel of peace (v.15), faith (v.16), the fact of our salvation and God’s word itself. (v.17). In Paul’s analogy truth and righteousness protect the upper body, covering the heart. The fact that the soldier’s feet are covered with the readiness to bring the Gospel of peace says that we are constantly ready to be God’s ambassadors, peace bringers, and as such we will come with the authority of God. Both faith and the facts of our salvation  equip us to ward off the lies of the enemy and then, as the Holy Spirit directs us, we can wield His word to defeat the enemy, release captives and generally do the will of God.

Jesus’ Mission: Let us again put God’s will in context as we consider Isaiah’s words that Jesus read out declaring to be his mission: he has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:18,19) THAT is why we need to be equipped by God, for this is His will for us to bring to the earth. That is why we pray with the writer, May the God of peace,… equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” As we receive His equipping, so we will glorify Him. Indeed, may it be so!  PS. Just note in that His equipping it will be with “everything good”. The God of peace, the God of goodness, equips us with all good things to bless us and make us a blessing. Yes? Yes!

66. A City to Come

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  66.  A City to Come

Heb 13:14   For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

At times the Christian life is a strange contradiction of feelings. For example, we have already considered the subject of contentment in an earlier study but now we come, in our verse above, across a familiar experience that is unhappy about the status quo and longs for something better. Perhaps we should first put this verse in context.

Recap Context: The writer has taken us through a number of practical issues, for example, marriage (v.4), avoiding love of money (v.5), realizing that Jesus is our helper and is always with us (v.5,6) and is always the same (v.8), but that we have leaders to act as examples for us (v.7) as we struggle to counter false teaching (v.9), remembering we have a much better access to our Saviour than the people of old did (v.10) and yet one who was rejected thus brining us a life that is often one of rejection (v.11-13). All of these things speak of a Fallen World in which we live where we have to resist temptations and battle untruths and opposition.

Something Better? It is not surprising, in the light of all this, that sometimes we are left feeling, “There must be something better than this!” Indeed there is something inside us that yearns for something better that God has for us and it is in respect of these feelings that the writer now says, For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (v.14) Much of the struggle is to do with people. Even within the church there are people who seem to fall far short of what we might expect of the people of God, and outside it there are certainly people with whom we often do not feel comfortable.

Desiring Real Community: We long for a community (for that is what a ‘city’ is) that is not constantly changing, that is not constantly expressing stress and conflict. In one sense it is good that life is constantly changing and we are glad that circumstances change and we’re able to move on, but the next set of circumstances so often are little better. It is true inside church and outside it. The bigger the church the less obvious are the tensions but look deeply into any smaller church over a period of time and you will see the stresses and strains of being human beings; delivered from being in bondage to sin, yes, but nevertheless so often handling life in a less than perfect way. There must be a better way!

Back in chapter 11 we have the gallery of faith, the heroes of faith from the Old Testament, headed up by Abraham who had an amazing relationship with the Lord, only exceeded by that of Moses with the Lord, but when he received his call to go to a new land, he went as a nomad looking for something better, a city or community or people built by God: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10) Thus now we have an exact echo of that. Just like Abraham we have received a calling and we have responded to it and gone and followed the Lord, and yet as wonderful as that is, we are so often left feeling, there must be something better than this.  In chapter 12 we caught a glimpse of ‘this’: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” (Heb 12:22) The ‘City of God’ is in fact heaven, the dwelling place of God. That is our destiny.

Back in chapter 11, the writer explained this all more fully: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:13-16) Let’s examine this passage more fully.

The people of faith: All these people were still living by faith when they died.” (v.13a) It is a life of faith right up to the end (or the beginning!!!) That is what they were and that is what we are, people of faith, and in that we are not failures and we do not fall short.

And yet! “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” (v.13b) Despite being people of faith they had not received the full package, everything promised by God. That is how it is this side of eternity.

Still looking:  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.(v.14) All these people had this same feeling of life falling short of what they wanted, of there being something better ‘just over the horizon’ we might say.

A Different Country:  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” (v.15,16a) It wasn’t as if they yearned to have a ‘retake’ of their past years. No, they wanted something better.

Accepted: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (v.16b) It didn’t matter that they were dissatisfied with their past experience, they were people of faith and indeed it was their awareness and their faith that pleased the Lord.  So many other people are content with the world that they know and just want more of it – more money, more prestige, more fame, more possessions, more experiences.  The fact that all these things are tainted with sin which makes life ‘second best’ doesn’t appear to matter to them and until the Holy Spirit comes and convicts they rarely say, “There must be something better than this.”

So where do these thoughts leave us. First, with a reminder that we live in a fallen world where things go wrong, circumstances are sometimes bad and people even worse and, it seems, life seems ‘second best’ i.e. it could be better! Second, it is not wrong to yearn for a better experience, indeed it is an awareness not only of this world but of the world God has put on our hearts, the world yet to come. So, third, despite this we need to take hold of the grace of God to remain faithful and true to Him while we live and work out our time on this earth. Reach out for the better where you can and don’t accept second best if that is possible.