3. The Fear of the Lord (2) – The Outworking

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  3. The Fear of the Lord (2) – The Outworking

Ex 20:20    Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”   

Before we examine some of the ‘fear not’ calls in the Bible, we are starting with the ‘fear of the Lord’, a deep awesome respect for God, which puts everything else in perspective. Having observed it in the previous study, let’s go on to see how important it is from an outworking point of view, having already suggested that for Israel that awesome respect should have come both out of the name of God and their history with God.

In Psalms and Proverbs we come across the heart of this: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Psa 111:10) and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10) True wisdom starts with a proper appreciation of just who God is and when we have that it will generate this awesome respect within us and that in itself will impact anything and everything we do in life. For Christians that has been brought into even sharper focus with Jesus, God incarnate.

Now look up ‘wise’ and you find, ‘having or showing experience, knowledge, and good judgement,’ and ‘wisdom’ is ‘having the quality of being wise’, but when you are challenged by Biblical revelation we see that wisdom is knowing how everything works or should work in the light of God’s design for His world. Now note that I said two things there: first knowing how everything does work (in this Fallen world) and second, how it should work if brought in line with God’s perfect design. True wisdom sees everything in a ‘God perspective’, so be careful how you exalt ‘big people’ in our world. If they do not have this perspective, they are not truly wise.

The laws or rules of both Old and New Testaments should be appreciated for what they are, the revelation from heaven, and a wise person has that appreciation: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7) The wisdom and instruction referred to here by Solomon in Proverbs, is that revelation of how everything does work and also how it should work, but the fool rejects that revelation: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psa 14:1) What is fascinating is that you will find a footnote in your Bible that says, “The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient”, i.e. there always creeps in a moral dimension to these things. Wisdom that starts with acknowledging God, always has a moral outworking in the practicalities of life.

Two examples of that ‘practicality’ are seen in the history of Israel. First, “The fear of the Lord fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not go to war against Jehoshaphat.” (2 Chron 17:10) A recognition of God’s greatness kept Israel’s enemies in check. Second, Now let the fear of the Lord be on you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” (2 Chron 19:7) Similarly a recognition of who He was caused Israel to act without partiality or bribery. When they turned away from Him, honesty and integrity left public life in Israel. In our starter verse, that same fear kept them from sinning. These things have very practical outworkings. May that be true of our lives as well.

2. The Fear of the Lord (1) – The Call

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  2. The Fear of the Lord (1) – The Call

Ex 20:20    Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” 

We will, in this series, be examining some of the ‘fear not’ calls in the Bible, but we have to start with the ‘fear of the Lord’ we referred to in the first study and saw as “a deep and reverent awe”, as the Message version put it in Ex 20:20. As we pondered on that verse we noted that on one hand they were told to not be afraid because they were to have this deep fear of God within them and we observed that when you have this deep awesome respect for God, you will realize you don’t have to fear or be afraid of anyone or anything else.

But how does this call to fear the Lord arise in the Bible? Well, on the Plains of Moab, Moses, just before they entered the Promised Land, taught Israel, “Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you.” (Deut 6:1,2)

It is important to see it in context. There is a body of law given to them by the Lord and when they take note of these laws they will realize that these will distinguish them from the rest of the world, and will see that this God, who they have been learning to follow and obey for a little over forty years, is indeed to be held in high esteem for He is the One who establishes law, establishes what is right and wrong according to the way He has designed the world to work. When sin entered the world at the Fall, humans started doing their own thing and some of records of Genesis show what a mess ensued. By calling Israel into existence and giving them the Law, He shows them a way back into relationship with Him and into the way He had designed men and women to live.

But why this ‘awesome respect’? Well apart from what we have just said, every time Moses refers to God he is reminding Israel who He is for we should know that the word LORD appearing in the Scriptures in capital letters simply means, “I AM” or “I AM WHO I AM”, the name given by the Lord to Moses at the burning bush prior to His delivering Israel out of Egypt (see Ex 3). So there is both the name and the historical context. The name, “I AM” implies ‘I always am,” i.e. I am uniquely everlasting. The historical context is of an all-mighty, all-powerful deliverer. This is the One who they are called to follow, one who Abraham had come to know as, “God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” (Gen 14:22)

But there are genuine reasons why Israel should ‘fear the Lord’ for already Moses has earlier communicated the law of blessings and curses (see Lev 26, although not called that there), and will reiterate them in more detail in Deut 27 & 28. This is a God who will hold them accountable, and accountability involves life and death. We are casual about this today but perhaps should heed the apostle Paul, “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:30) He still does hold Christians accountable – those who fail to hold this awesome respect – by discipline. May we never forget it.

29. Proverbs (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 29.  Proverbs (2)

Prov 1:7    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

I feel a coward! I often want to say to groups studying the Bible, hey, let’s move away from the comfortable and easy stuff, let’s study the more difficult parts of the Bible, and yet here in this part of the Scriptures I wanted to shy away from some of the most basic and fundamental truths of the Bible – and perhaps that is why I wanted to avoid them, because they are so basic and really need thinking about.  So forgive me, and come with me, please, to this very basic verse early on in Proverbs. Let’s chew on it, let’s wrestle with it and see what it might say to us today.

Our obvious starting point has to be to consider the word, ‘fear’ but more especially, ‘fear of the LORD’. The expression, “the fear of the LORD” occurs a number of times in the Scriptures: 2 Chron 17:10, 19:7,9, Job 28:28, Psa 19:19, 34:11, Prov 2:5, 9:10, 10:27, 14:27, 15:16,33,  16:6, 19:23, 22:4, 23:17, Isa 11:2,3, 33:6, Acts 9:31. Moreover there are countless other injunctions to fear God. When Scripture speaks of “the fear of the LORD,” it refers to a characteristic or attitude that a person can hold. I confess I used to play this down and speak of ‘awe and respect’ for God but in reality it is stronger than that. Let’s consider one such use of this phrase, “the fear of THE I AM” (see Ex 3 – remember that’s what LORD in capitals in your Bible means).

Let’s consider what the psalmist David taught: listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psa 34:11) He then spoke about behaviour that avoided wrong speech, that turned from evil and did good, seeking and pursuing peace (v.12-14) i.e. this behaviour would be a response or outworking of this attitude. But then David gives two things the Lord does, things that should cause us to have a holy, awesome, even fearful respect for God: i) “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry” (v.15) and then ii) “the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (v.16)

Wow! This is a God who acts against wrong. He watches over the righteous and responds to their cries, but those who do evil…. He wipes them out!!!! Now whether He does this quickly now, or delays and then does it, or even waits until the Final Judgment, is really irrelevant; the fact is that He IS going to hold ALL sinners accountable and He will bring judgment on those who refuse to repent. Now if that doesn’t make Him scary, I don’t know what does!

Now the next word that bears consideration here is ‘knowledge’ which in ordinary usage simply means a body of facts or information. Knowledge is often linked with ‘understanding’ but understanding means realizing the significance of something. Knowledge at this moment refers to observing and recognising and taking in this verse. Understanding speaks of realizing its significance. So, the fear of the Lord refers to the attitude that has come to learn that ‘THE I AM’, the Eternal One, the one Abram, Moses etc. encountered is one who holds people accountable and when they fall short, He deals with them, e.g. Eli in 1 Samuel, Saul in 1 Samuel, and so on. ‘Understanding’ this phrase means we realise that His demand for accountability puts us in the firing line, it puts ME right in front of Him, having to account to Him. This is what this is all about.

But there is another word we need to consider: ‘beginning’. Now that is tricky because the writers here and elsewhere are saying that the starting point for any real knowledge about existence starts at this point. That drives us back to the word ‘knowledge’ which in this use must be more than that basic usage – information, facts, data etc. – it must mean the basic, fundamental knowledge of what life is all about.

Really understanding what this world, this life, is all about starts here, it starts with the realization that a) there IS an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God as revealed in the Bible and b) He is not far off but is here and c) He involves Himself in the lives of the people on earth – His earth, the earth He designed and made and thus d) He acts for those who are righteous (living according to His design) and against those who are unrighteous (living by rejecting His design and contrary to it). The end product, as far as we are concerned, should be fear of Him, an awesome, scary respect, that recognizes that He holds ME accountable and without His grace, His mercy and His salvation I am doomed.

When we truly understand this, then when we are confronted with the news of His salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, we will grab at it like a drowning man at a straw, and we will receive it with gladness and wonder and thankfulness.

And the rest of the verse? “but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” OK, quickly. ‘Wisdom’ = the knowledge of how to do, or how it works. Wisdom comes to realise that the knowledge and understanding we have been considering needs to be applied to me. ‘Discipline’ = taking control of oneself and bringing change. A footnote in your Bible probably says, “The Hebrew words rendered fool in  Proverbs, and often elsewhere in the Old Testament, denote one who is  morally deficient.” The person who ‘falls short’ does so in God’s sight. It is God who declares them what they are. They are what they are because they refuse wisdom, they refuse to take note of these truths that will be put before them at some points in their lives, and they refuse to respond accordingly.

So, sorry, we nearly missed the wonder of this verse that is clearly a highlight verse. Think on these things, act on them, for they are fundamentals of life, and a key to how we live and to our future destiny.

63. The Fear of the Lord

Meditations in Exodus: 63. The Fear of the Lord

Ex 20:18,19 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

My own feeling is that these verses in chapters 19 and now 20, about Israel’s responses to the Lord, are not exactly dramatic or life-bringing and it is difficult to apply lessons apart from the obvious one, but as we ponder on and reflect on what is going on there is something significant here to be noted.

At the end of chapter 19 we saw Israel camped near the base of Mount Sinai and they see lightning, clouds and smoke and hear crashes of lightning and the sound of unearthly trumpets. They are called to approach the mountain but not go up on it, on pain of death. As they saw and heard all these things they trembled (19:16)

Moving into chapter 20 we find the giving of the Ten Commandments and it is worth noting the opening words: And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (20:1,2) The foundation of all the Law is the Lord who delivered them from Egypt. Every time there is reference to Egypt we are reminded of God’s power and authority as He brought the plagues to discipline Egypt. This is the God who is still with them. On one side there is the reminder of the terrible things God did, which must bring with it a sense of awe if not fear, but the big overarching truth is that God did those things to deliver His people and He has led them every day since and provided for them. This, surely, should bring comfort and reassurance. Everything God has done He has done for them and yet He has a land ready for them to take after they leave Sinai.

The point to be made is that there is with God, always a balance between fear, reverence and respect on one hand (because of His power, greatness and holiness) and grateful thankfulness because of His wonderful grace and mercy shown to us. The former may be unnerving and be used to keep us in right attitude towards Him, but the latter should bring reassurance and security to us. I say there needs to be a balance because we have a tendency to swing towards one or the other. A weak sense of the fear of the Lord brings a casual, sloppy form of Christianity. An over-strong sense of the fear of the Lord brings a legalistic fear that inhibits growth of relationship. A weak sense of the awareness of God’s grace brings uncertainty, doubts and even wrong fear.  An over-strong sense of God’s grace can bring licentiousness and casualness in moral behavior. A balance need to be brought in both, and both need to be held in balance.

Following the Ten Commandments and before the bulk of the law is given, we have a short description of how Israel are handling this situation. To be fair, it is perhaps understandable that Israel react as they do for this is still early days in their life with the Lord: When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.(v.18,19) The present manifestations are so dramatic that it means they tend to forget all the good God has done for them. Their fear of dying is irrational when you think about it because if means they completely forget all the trouble God has gone to, to bring them here. Indeed, there is going to come a time when Moses is going to have to make that point to the Lord

So, Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. (v.19,20) Any talk of being put to death for going onto the mountain is simply a form of test for Israel and, as we have seen in the past, when God tests us it is simply to prove us, to bring us through into a good place where we know we have done the will of God and overcome.

If you read the following chapters you will see we have come to a place where the Lord shares laws with Moses for Israel, to constitute them a nation. The laws will form the basis of the covenant with God, the things they need to obey as their side of it. They are laws for maintaining law and order in the community and in that sense there is nothing onerous about them, they are simply for their well-being. As we said previously, we will not deal with the laws, but with the incidents involving the people.

The lessons we need to hold onto as we move more into the Sinai experience must be about how we hold that balance both within and between the fear of the Lord and the grace of the Lord. There will always be a sense where the fear of the Lord is to be part of our lives, simply because of His holiness, His utter difference from us in so many ways, and yet the Lord has gone to great trouble to reassure us and show that it is possible for us to have a loving, intimate relationship with Him. An illustration: I have known scary preachers, held in awe by their congregations, and yet I have seen them with their small children. Those little children come rushing into the room when he returns home and leap into his arms with no inhibitions. They have no fears of ‘the great man’ because all they know is his loving responses to them. May I suggest the more we genuinely know and experience the Lord, the more we will be more overcome by His love rather than His fear. May it be so.

19. Seasons of Revival

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 19 : Seasons of Revival

Acts  5:12-17    The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.  Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.

I commented in a previous meditation that I believe these times recorded in the early chapters of Acts are the equivalent of what, in any other period of history, we might call revival, times when God is moving sovereignly and powerfully. These verses demonstrate this. Oh that we might have such days today! Note what happened.

1. Signs & wonders.The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (v.12a). Now Jesus did say, I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and the apostles are leading the way in that, but it isn’t something automatic because it is only God who does ‘signs and wonders’, yet when He finds those open and available He will do it. Yet there do seem to be ‘seasons’ when the Lord comes in such powerful ways and it doesn’t happen all the time. Yet here were the apostles speaking out the word of God and committed to it regardless of threats to their lives.  Power – miracles – are a clear sign of  revival.

2. Confidence & Fellowship.  Then we find, “And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.”  (v.12b) There was a confidence in the church that allowed it to meet openly, and fellowship and meeting together was important for them. Another sign of the moving of God.

3. Fear of the Lord. Next we see, “No one else dared join them.”  (v.13a) This was the ‘fear of the Lord’ we considered in the previous meditation. When God turns up in power – including in discipline – it can be scary.

4. Public acclaim. “even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (v.13b)  The church received the favour of the people because the favour of the Lord was clearly on them. Although the world was scared by it they knew that what was going on in the church was good.

5. Conversions.Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” (v.14) Salvation is THE sign of revival as God moves sovereignly in the community, convicting of sin and of need for forgiveness.

6. Miraculous healings.  “As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” (v.15) We assume that people were healed even by Peter’s shadow falling on them. Such strange things DO happen at such times.

7. The World Comes. “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” (v.16)  When this sort of thing happens, the world takes notice and comes looking and seeking. They see here, as nowhere else, there are answers to their needs and so unashamedly they come looking for healing or deliverance – and find it!

8. Opposition. “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.” (v.17) Sadly, but understandably, such things also bring opposition – but we will leave that for the next meditation.

The key thing we are looking at here is that all these things are motivated by the power of God being unleashed. Sadly history shows that when these things carry on for any length of time, people start growing used to them and almost treat God casually, and so often dissension and upsets occur, such is the folly of residual sin in us. Perhaps this is why that revivals in history have been short lived. The Lord knows that even if He turns up in power regularly, the old sinful nature eventually takes it and Him for granted. After all, it happened in the early life of Israel, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens in the life of the church. That should not stop us asking for it and doing all we can to be in a right place for the Lord to come and use us, even if it is not in such widely dramatic ways. Pray for that to happen.

40. Loving Life

Meditations in 1 Peter : 40 : Loving Life & Good Days

1 Pet 3:10,11 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.

There is a danger that arises in interpreting Scripture that we must face here before we make comment on these verses. It is the danger of taking verses out of context and building doctrine on them out of context. For instance, in our verses today there is a danger of seeing these things as the means to salvation. They are not; they are the outworking of salvation in a person’s life. Peter has already said plenty about a person coming to Christ and being born again. Everything he has been saying recently has been to Christians after they have been born again. We need to emphasise again; these things are to be the outworking of faith in a person’s life, not the means of bringing them to salvation. They are already saved; these are just ways that their salvation should now be worked out in daily practice.

So, says Peter, Whoever would love life and see good days.” What a nice summary of the ‘good life’. This is a good objective in life – to love and (implied) enjoy the life that God has given us and which has now taken on a new dimension now we are Christians. What does it mean to see ‘good days’?  You sometimes hear people reminiscing and saying, “Those were good days.” The Lord wants us to know that all days are now ‘good days’ with Him in our lives. So how do we enjoy and experience such days?

Peter makes three suggestions. The first is in respect of speech. Such a person must “keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.” Why might that be? Possibly the answer is because our speech is a reflection of our heart. Jesus said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Mt 12:34). You inner motivation is now empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit and He is a Spirit of love. Love will never speak evil or say things that seek to deceive others and undermine truth. Moreover such speech brings disharmony and upset and those are two words guaranteed to ensure that you cannot love life and see good days! So, first of all, what now comes out of your mouth is important.

His second suggestion is in respect of general behaviour. He must turn from evil and do good.” For the person who has been born again, as we indicated above, they are now energized and motivated by the Holy Spirit who is the perfect expression of the Father who is encapsulated by the words love and goodness. The Father never does evil and He always purposes good for us. Thus as we let the Holy Spirit teach and guide and direct us we will never do anything that could be considered ‘evil’ and indeed everything we do should fit the description of ‘good’.

His third suggestion is in respect of general attitude:he must seek peace and pursue it.” The new believer is working on a completely different basis from that which he or she worked on before. Previously they had been working on the basis of self first. That had meant that sometimes they argued, sometimes they sought to get their way regardless of the wishes of others and this caused upset and disharmony. The person who has never died to self will always be pushing their own agenda and upset and disharmony will always accompany them. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9). Those of us who now have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ will always be working for peace: peace between us and God (putting right quickly our attitude or behaviour when we have moved into a wrong place), peace between us and others (ensuring right relationships),  and peace between others (seeking to bring peace and harmony into society.)

Now something we haven’t noted yet is that in these verses Peter is directly quoting from Psalm 34. Now the verse that goes before these three verses in Psalm 34 quoted by Peter (Psa 34:12-14) reads, “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psa 34:11) The phrase, ‘the fear of the Lord’ is often used to encapsulate a right attitude and relationship with the Lord. Above we noted that these instructions are to be an outworking of the new life that we have received. Another way of putting it could be, they are expressions of our attitude and relationship in respect of the Lord Himself. We do these things because of the relationship that we have entered into in respect of the Lord. We don’t do them as cold application of a new law, but simply because they all comply with the nature and character of God, who we love, which we too now have by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.

So, by way of summary, can we look at our lives and be assured that our lips never say anything that is inappropriate in the light of the relationship with now have with the Lord? To reflect Him, do our lips speak that which is holy, loving and good? In our general behaviour, is the same true? Can we let the Holy Spirit shine into all corners of our life and ensure that there is only good coming out of our lives and that we are working for peace at all times and in every way? These are helpful checks to ensure we are living godly lives. May it be so!

33. Humility

Meditations in James: 33 : Humility with Wisdom

Jas 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

We have in this day, in the West, many TV games shows that test knowledge. We may watch and wonder sometimes at the shear breadth or depth of knowledge that a particular contestant shows.  We move on to programmes about specialist subjects and we watch and listen to men or women who are ‘experts’ in their field, regaling us with the wonders that they know about. We think how great these people must be. We wonder at their learning, their scholarship, and their experience of life. And then the media tells us something about their personal life, and we hear they have just parted from their third partner, and a little nagging doubt rises in our mind. Then there are politicians or some of the world’s shakers and movers. We watch on TV as their latest achievements are being lauded and we think about what incredible people they must be. We slightly wonder about some of the people who are their friends, because they are those who live in the shadows, and we wonder. We don’t ‘know’ but we wonder. But God knows.

God is and never has been impressed by outward signs. We’ve seen that before with Samuel (1 Sam 16:7). The disciples were impressed by big buildings (Matt 24:1) but Jesus had bigger issues on his mind. No, we can be swayed by rhetoric or apparent knowledge, but God has different criteria for assessment of people. You can be very knowledgeable but godless. You can bring great changes in the world, but be unrighteous. Have you spotted the link yet with what James has been saying about the tongue? The tongue has the power to deceive us. We just mentioned ‘great people’ on TV who astound us with their words. There are politicians and world movers and shakers who speak and the world holds its breath. Oh yes, words are the currency of these people, but the trouble is, that so often they are godless and unrighteous people, and in God’s eyes they mean nothing. Their words do not impress Him.

So James seems to spin us on our axis and we point away from thoughts of the tongue and move to a wider sphere of thinking. Ah yes, thinking comes in here: Who is wise and understanding among you? Wisdom and understanding; these are things of the mind. They are the fruits of what has gone on inside us. Wisdom is the knowledge of ‘how to’. Moses was able to say to his people: See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut 4:5,6) God had spoken to Israel and given them His Law, which were simply rules on how to live wisely in accordance with the way He had designed people to live. If you follow them, said Moses, the nations round about will see your wisdom and comment upon it. It will be clearly visible. Wisdom is something that is practically worked out in life.

Understanding is knowing why things are. Understanding goes beyond simply knowing ‘how to’; it knows why is it right to do it. It knows the reasoning behind it. Of course as God’s people we know that it is right to follow God’s ways because He is all-wise and He is the Designer-Creator of this world and so He knows best.  The psalmist wrote, “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” (Psa 119:104). As He studied all that God had given Israel he came to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of life. The more we consider God’s word as we seek His face, the more He gives us understanding of His ways.

James then challenges us. He basically says, if you understand life, then you will live God’s ways and if you live God’s ways, those ways will involve goodness, and people will see good deeds coming out of that knowledge and understanding. Just like Israel, as we saw just now, those round about us will see and wonder. But don’t we wonder about the life of the great and the glorious? Yes, until we start hearing about their personal lives which reveal the sort of people they are. This is where James differentiates between these people and the people of God. The people of God, he is saying, live out their lives in humility. Yes, here is an unusual characteristic in today’s age! Humility is about having a realistic assessment of yourself. When you really know yourself there is no room for pride (the opposite of humility). When we really know ourselves we know that without God we are lost. Without God we know our lives are pretence, a sham. We know that although we may look good on the outside, inside we’re something quite different. This realistic self awareness is humility. This humility comes from wisdom. Solomon said,The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10). An awesome respect for Almighty God brings wisdom and that wisdom brings humility as we realize our smallness and His greatness. As we live out our lives in the light of this, it will be seen, goodness!  May it be so!

5. God brings Good

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.5

5. God brings Good

Luke 1:11-13 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.

It seems that one of the by-products of sin is fear of the Lord. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned they hid from God and then acknowledged that they were afraid of Him (Gen 3:8,10). Today so many people fear God because they think He is going to slap them! Yes, it is natural when we are guilty to flee from a holy God, but tragically that only shows even more the awfulness of this thing the Bible calls ‘Sin’, because it also blinds us to the whole truth (2 Cor 4:4). The whole truth is that God promised blessing for His people (Deut 7:9-15) because He is love (1 Jn 4:8). The Bible shows Him constantly seeking to bless His people, those who will come to Him. In fact anyone can come to Him and receive His blessing, His goodness – but of course you must first see that that is something you really want, mustn’t you?

So, here we have righteous but childless Zechariah in the innermost part of the Temple, minding his own business while lighting the incense, when he is confronted by a messenger from heaven, an angel – and he’s frightened. For all of his righteousness, all of his goodness, he has not been able to come to a place of peace in the presence of God.  Indeed for Him, God is not a loving heavenly Father, but an awesome far-off, holy Being, one to be feared.  Well yes, the Bible does say that the ‘fear of the Lord’ is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), but note that it is the beginning. That simply means that recognizing our weakness and our failures and seeing God’s perfection is a starting place for any relationship with Him. From that we find that He’s there with open arms to whoever will come with an open and honest heart, acknowledging their need.

Of course Zechariah hasn’t realized that because Jesus hasn’t come yet and hasn’t demonstrated God’s staggering love by dying for us.  No, Zechariah is still in the place of fear, because he hasn’t yet realized that God is good, and all God does in our direction is for our good, for our blessing. He’s still in the “God will condemn me” mode.  He hasn’t yet got to the realization that “God loves me, God is for me, God wants to bless me” place that the children of God come to as they receive the wonderful work of Jesus in their lives.

The very first thing the angel does is try to put Zechariah at rest – don’t be afraid. When he says that, he means it. You don’t have to be afraid! There is no cause for that. God has come to bring blessing. What was the greatest burden in Zechariah’s life? That he had no children. So what’s God going to do? Enable him to have a child! Isn’t that good?

Those of us who still struggle with a “God’s a hard man” mentality (see Lk 19:21) will grumble and say, “So why did he have to wait so long?”  Hullo?   He could have waited all his life!  But God came at a time that was right, because of lots of other circumstances now falling into place, and enabled him to have the child he had so longed for.  Isn’t that wonderful?   How you respond to this, reveals where you’re really at with God. Do you need, perhaps, to pray, ‘Lord set me free from this fear and help me see you as you really are, full of love for me’?