10. Self Remedies

Meditations in Meaning & Values  10:  Self Remedies

Eccles 1:12-14     I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

We have embarked, we recently reminded ourselves, on a series where we are considering meaning, purpose and values in life, and therefore we have considered the nature of the world and the way we live in trying to come to grips with the world and make sense of it.  In 1943 a psychologist by the name of Abraham Maslow wrote a paper entitled, “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Out of this came his famous pyramid or hierarchy of needs. On the bottom of the pyramid was ‘physiological’ meaning our basic physical needs, our concern to satisfy hunger, thirst etc. Next came ‘safety’ or the need to feel secure. Then came the need to feel loved and to belong. Next came the need to feel esteemed and finally when all these others are in place, the need for what he called ‘self actualisation’ which is about reaching full potential, fully becoming the person you can be. Intriguingly in later years he added a further level and said the self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality.

Observing Solomon in what he writes in Ecclesiastes, we see a man who, despite all his wisdom yearned to find true meaning in life, find his real purpose. Our verses today go back to chapter 1 where he acknowledges his hunger ‘to know’ and yet the frustration when he limits it to all that is “under the sun” and his conclusion that it is all meaningless. Maslow similarly says we all have a yearning and a drive, and these are to fulfil the needs we have within us. Let’s assume for a moment that he was right in his assessment, all we are saying is that this is how God has designed us, to be people who want to know, who want to understand. We have already noted before Solomon’s sense of frustration when he writes later, He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) The words “yet they cannot fathom” indicates a search that ends in frustration.

Indeed so far we have considered how men and women, like Solomon, seek fame, fortune and pleasure as means of obtaining a sense of achievement or of meaning or of fulfillment. We have this yearning like an inner hunger. Many of us simply subside under the difficulties and pressures of life and, I suspect, give up on working for these things. Poverty is possibly the greatest burden that makes people give up. They don’t have the luxury of climbing Maslow’s pyramid and are stuck trying to make ends meet and thus meet that most basic of needs, to survive. However, they may be more fortunate than the person of a relatively affluent middle class who struggles, like Solomon, to use their relative affluence to achieve fame, fortune and pleasure in the false hope that these will be the means to achieving meaning and fulfillment, and yet remain frustrated and reach old age with a sense of jaded cynicism abut life.

Many of us pursue these goals endlessly because we dare not give up and arrive at a conclusion of helplessness and hopelessness. This is the predicament of the world and dare I risk saying it, also the predicament of Christians who fail to learn and understand the wonder of what they have entered into when they were born again. Thus many of us try this and try that, steadily moving along the shelves containing all the different sorts of self-help books. It is quite fashionable to have a mentor, a life skills tutor, and yet as I have read their godless writings, within them is a pretense that they have got the answers and yet, as Solomon found out, all this self help is hopeless unless it includes God.

There is a famous Puritan catechism that runs, “Question 1  What is the chief end of man? Answer 1  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, (1Co 10:31) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps 73:25,26)”. In some senses that over simplified it but later questions and answers unpacked that. Consider again Maslow’s needs and let’s see how the Gospel meets those needs:

  1. To survive physically: When we hear and understand the Gospel we realise that God has come to impart life (which affects our very physical being and for which He promises He will provide).
  1. To feel secure: He makes us secure by dealing with our Sin and putting us right with God who promises to care for us and protect us.
  1. To feel loved and belong: We hear He is love and through the work of Jesus we see His love for us, and He imparts His Spirit of love to us. He calls us sons and daughters, children of God, we are part of His family, we belong.
  1. To be esteemed: We realise we have been lifted up to sit with Christ in the heavenly places, to share in all he has, we are special, we are esteemed (look how the father in the parable of the prodigal son treated his returning son.)
  1. To become what you are designed to be: When we come to Christ, it is just the start; we enter a life of change where, stage by stage, we become more like Christ, more the people we were designed to be, and that includes receiving gifting to grow and to serve.
  1. To give outwards and experience a spiritual dimension: Yes, even that last add-on is worked out as we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire and lead us in serving Him and blessing His world.

Yes, without the Gospel, we are condemned to a life of frustration, just like Solomon. Just like him we will embark on one thing after another in our self help crusade only to find frustration. With Christ we will be fully fulfilled and at rest. Hallelujah!

54. God be Praised

Meditations in 1 Peter : 54: God be Praised

1 Pet 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Speaking and doing. There are echoes of verse 7 here: be clear minded and self-controlled.” where we said it was about thinking and then doing. Here it is about speaking and doing. But note that this is a continuation of verse 10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” These are the expressions of the ‘gifts’ we have.

Seen in that context the speaking that is referred to here is to be seen as a gift from God and an expression of the Lord and so if we are someone who has the privilege of being in a position in the church where we speak publicly, we should recognise the honour and the responsibility that is ours and we should recognise that if we are motivated, energized, inspired and directed by the Lord in this ministry, what we are bringing is to be seen as the very word of God. That is a very high calling! I wonder how many of us who are either preachers or teachers, see it in this way? There is an implied challenge here to be careful as to what we say, and to seek the Lord before we open our mouths. for we will be answerable to Him.

Now there is something else involved in this. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks,” (Lk 6:45) i.e. what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is in our hearts. If our hearts are given over to God, that will be observed when we speak. If we are still self-centred and not God-centred, that also will be revealed. We will, in other words, only speak the words of God if we are filled with God and given over to God. How we are with God will be observed in the words we speak. The preacher and teacher cannot help but reveal their spiritual state when they speak – and that is a real challenge!

But it isn’t only our words; it is also what we do, our serving. Is doing and serving the same thing? No, ‘doing’ can be self-centred or simply an expression of self. Serving is doing for the benefit of others. Serving is done as a purposeful act of the will to bless other people, something we choose to do. Now not everyone has come to the place of desiring to be a servant, even though Jesus calls us to it: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26) There is an implication there that followers of Jesus will want to grow, develop, get on, and to achieve great things but, says Jesus, they only can do that by becoming a servant, by having a servant attitude. Serving is an expression of maturity so, according to Peter, if you have reached the level of maturity where you desire to be a servant, “do it with the strength that God provides.” In other words, if you are going to be God’s servant, you can only do it with His strength. Working (or serving) is hard and tiring and so to be able to continue doing it, you will need God’s ongoing strength, which will mean waiting on Him for it (see Isa 40:28-31)

Now there is an outworking to all this and it has been hinted at by Peter more than a few times: so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” We do what we do so that God will be revealed and glorified. Peter started praising God in Chapter 1 for having “given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1:3) In chapter 2 he spoke of us having been called so that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (2:9) He then continued, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (2:12). In chapter 3 he put it slightly differently: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (3:15) but the end is the same – praise to Him. And that brings us here to chapter 4 with, “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (v.11).

The ultimate goal? To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When that happens, truth is being observed. Any glory is due to Him and only Him, for any power is His and so whatever we say or do is to be an expression of the life of the Spirit of Jesus within us, and that will always glorify the Father. Speaking of his own glory, Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me,” (Jn 8:54) i.e. any glory we have comes from the Father and belongs to the Father. Near the end of the Last Supper Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” (Jn 13:31) i.e. Jesus will be glorified through his death and resurrection and that will glorify the Father. This was made even more clear in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (Jn 17:1)

In all of this we see that the outworking of Jesus’ life was to glorify or reveal the wonder of the Father. It is the wonder of the Father’s character that is being revealed, the wonder of His thinking and His planning and His love for mankind. Everything flows from and returns to God the Father. Jesus executed His will in a human body, and the Holy Spirit continues to do it in and through Christians today. That is where you and I come in! May He be glorified in us!

26. Be Seen

Meditations in 1 Peter : 26:  Be Seen

1 Pet 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Whether it be desert fathers or shrinking violet Christians (who may just be shy or of the ilk that says you keep religion to yourself), there have always been those who prefer to hide their faith away from the limelight. Yet, unfortunately for them (and us if we have those inclinations) the New Testament (indeed the whole Bible) portrays a very different kind of faith that is expected by heaven.

Peter has gone from talking about us being a distinct people, to describing the nature of who we are, to now speaking about how visible we are. Look at his opening phrase, “Live such good lives among the pagans…” Even before he moves on, that suggests lives that are clearly visible by their goodness. If we weren’t certain about that we must be by a later phrase, “they may see your good deeds”. So there it is again: live lives that stand out for their goodness. Oh, that’s all right then, says our shy Christian, I only have to be good, not religious. Well no, not exactly. Put aside the ‘religious’ bit and take note of the final bit, “and glorify God.” There are lots of godless but good (ethically) people in the world. If you are going to glorify God, people are going to know who you are and that you have a relationship with the Lord, i.e. you are what you are because of God!

You are not just good because you are a nice person, but because you have been saved and changed and energised and motivated by the Lord. He is the cause for your particular lifestyle. The unbeliever may challenge us on a variety of things (as the modern crusading atheist does) but he should not be able to challenge us on the goodness of our lives. They should be clearly seen to be good – and I believe that is a very real challenge in today’s world. Do we stand out with godly goodness?  That, I have to admit, is the difficult bit, because it is so easy to appear superiorly pious in the doing good, and that is not what we want.

Our ‘doing good’ is to flow out of a humility that is not looking down on people or making people feel we are looking down on them, but is to be a simple expression of our obedience to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. Many times in these meditations we find ourselves looking at Paul’s word on this: we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Surely this means that God knows what He has on His heart for us to be doing, what fits in with who He has made us to be, and therefore His Holy Spirit will be seeking to lead us into those things. As the Lord said through Isaiah, “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isa 48:17).

We find Jesus taught the same thing: “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)  There we have the same concept: be good and let your goodness reflect something of your relationship with the Lord so that people recognise that and glorify or praise or recognise and acknowledge the Lord.

Again and again in the New Testament we find this call to let our lives reveal something of the goodness and love of God. In his final prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:21) i.e. may their experience of us, the godhead, be so clear and transparent that it becomes obvious so that others will see, realise the truth and also become believers. Shortly afterwards he prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:23) Again, the same thing, may their lives as the whole church reflect such a wonder and unity and expression of my life that all the world will see and realise that this is our love being expressed. Lives that reveal God to the world!

Peter finishes with a strange expression, “on the day he visits us.” i.e. do good and glorify God when He turns up.  Now commentators are generally at sea as to the meaning of this. It is not clear.  The day he visits may be the last day. Jesus did challenge us about being ready, living out the lives he wants when he returns: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8)  i.e. put another way it is like Peter is saying, make sure you are indeed revealing the life and love and goodness of God so you will not be caught out when Jesus returns. This seems perhaps the most likely understanding of this.

So how do we do this? It has got to be with the leading, guiding, teaching, empowering and motivating of God’s Holy Spirit. We thus need to be open to Him and sensitive to Him and seeking to live out the lives that the New Testament speaks about. If we seek to comply with His word and we remain open to His leading, we may yet have a chance of becoming the church that He wants. May it be so for His glory!