56. Confident

Meditations in 1 John : 56 : Confident

1 John  4:17,18    In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Our verses start of with “In this way” which refers back to the previous verse: And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” It’s all about love! We rely on God’s love and live in God’s love and because of this John is able to say, “love is made complete among us.” We are, if you like, a community of love. The word ‘love’ comes up 33 times in this one letter. We might say that John is the apostle of love and, as we’ve commented before, that might be because of the awareness that he had had of being loved by Jesus (Jn 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,20) In an earlier chapter he had written, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.” (1 Jn 2:5) i.e. this love is completed by our obedience to His word, but now his emphasis is on this love being completed because of its source – God Himself.

But this brings another confidence with it, the confidence that we will have on the Last Day, the day when we face the Lord. On that day we will face the Lord, not as strangers or aliens, but as those who have been recipients and carriers of His own Holy Spirit, and who have been changing throughout their lives to become like Him with His character. There will thus be great similarities between us and Him on that day, and because of that there is no danger of Him rejecting us. There is often in Christians, a shying away from the day of destruction that the Bible speaks of, a final day when God winds up everything and destroys every person who has rejected Him. Such vivid pictures as are found in say Isa 34:1-4 leave no room for doubt. There will come a terrible day when God will say, “Enough!”

The other aspect of this confidence that we have because of who we are and what we have become, is that we will be without fear when we have to face Him on that day.  But is it more than simply who we are and what we’ve become, it is to do with the very fact of love. He is love and He’s filled us with love and where there is this love there cannot be fear. I love my wife deeply and to even think of fear between us would be ludicrous. When a young man or woman falls in love, fear is the last thing that they would think about in their relationship. Love and fear just can’t exist in the same room; they are not compatible. So because we are certain of God’s love and are filled with His love, there is absolutely no room for fear.

But there is yet another thing about fear: it is associated with guilt and punishment. A criminal on the run is fearful of being caught because he knows he is guilty and knows when he is caught he will be punished, and he fears that, and it is a right fear. But when there is perfect love, and when the punishment has already been disposed of (by Jesus’ work on the Cross) then there is no fearing punishment because that has been properly dealt with and justice has been satisfied. So, because the question of punishment has been removed, so has fear been removed.

But John adds one more significant comment to this. “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  If you fear it means you are still afraid of punishment and have not entered into and experienced the love of God through Jesus. This is the whole thing about God’s love, it has done everything for us that can be done to remove our guilt, our shame and our punishment, so that none of these thing impinge on our relationship with the Father and we are free to just fully enjoy and experience to the uttermost, His love. If you haven’t entered into that relationship then you will haven’t experienced that love and you will not know the wonder of your guilt and shame and punishment being removed and you will still live in fear of one day having to face the Father and account for all those things.

There are so many aspect to this, aren’t there! He has done all this for us through the work of Jesus on the Cross and when we accepted and received that finished work as applying to our own life, then He put His own Holy Spirit into us, the Spirit who is love. We experienced love by what God had done for us through Jesus and now we experienced it in a new way by the presence of love in His own Being, now living in us. And this has brought total transformation: we now live love-filled lives and because of that there is no room for any fear to exist any longer in us in respect of God. How wonderful! Hallelujah!

55. Reliant on God’s Love

Meditations in 1 John : 55 : Reliant on God’s love

1 John  4:16    And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

There are possibly two of THE most significant statements in these verse that you can find anywhere in the whole Bible. Yes, that is a strong statement, but I believe it to be true. The first significant statement is “we… rely on the love God has for us.” This is so basic and fundamental to Christian belief and so unique in the whole world that it is on one hand staggering but on the other hand something I suspect most of us take for granted.

But think about this. I often receive comments or questions about God’s word and so often they come from Christians and non-Christians who are uncertain about God. Who God is and what he is like is at the heart of most people’s concern, although of course many people just push it to the back of their minds and ignore it – but it is there! So often people’s concern is about whether they think God approves them and their life. That must always be the biggest human doubt. If God is as so many say He is – big and holy – where does that leave me, but I am small and far from holy. That is what we feel deep down so often, because we are aware of our failures, and our inadequacy. The thing we said wrong or the thing, deep down, we know was wrong, those are the things that weigh heavily upon us. What does God think of me when He sees what I am like? So we blow it and get it completely wrong and the enemy whispers in our ear that that is the end, we are a write-off, there is no hope for us.

It is in these ways and in these times that this truth MUST come to the fore; it is at such times that I MUST rely upon God’s love. The alternative is to push my guilt into the back of my mind somewhere and pretend it is all right – but knowing that it isn’t. It is when we are being very human and getting it not perfect that this truth that John speaks here becomes all-important.

But perhaps we think more about how that works out, we need to consider the second of what I have described as THE most important statements in the Bible: “God is love.”  I think this particular one is absolutely mind transforming, and yet for the vast majority of the earlier part of my Christian life it just remained as words, but please, think about this one as well. God IS love. This doesn’t mean that all love is God but it does mean that everything about God is an expression of love.  This is so vital to understand that we need to put content to the word ‘love’ and reiterate the definition we’ve used previously of it: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others.”  Now this present verse means that everything God thinks and everything God says, and everything God does, is an expression of this selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others – towards us.   Everything! There is nothing about God that is excluded from this definition. Our task is to read the Bible in the light of this revelation and perhaps see it with new eyes and look behind the surface and ask, how is what I read here, how are these words of God, and how is this act of God, an expression of selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others?

THAT is what we rely upon, is what John says in the first part of this verse above. Whatever I think, say or do, God looks upon me with unrestricted good-will.  I’ve used that word or mini-phrase, ‘good-will’ because the word ‘love’ has been so abused over the years that we’ve lost it’s meaning but behind it is the sense of the intent of good-will towards another person. When we love someone we want the best for them, we want good for them – and that’s what God wants for us.  That is what comes through the Bible again and again, whether it be the familiar word of the Lord from Jeremiah, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jer 29:11) or the even more familiar words from the apostle Paul, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Rom 8:28) and the almost too familiar, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17)

There it is, God’s intention toward us is good and that has been ultimately expressed in the giving of His Son for us. When I’ve got it wrong, or the world seems to be going badly, THIS is what we rely upon, for this is the truth that God IS love and God is FOR us. Hallelujah!

28. Righteous God

Meditations in 1 John : 28 : Righteous God, Righteous People

1 John  2:29   If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him

In John’s writings, a number of times he shows that he is not only concerned for the Christians that they will know and live in the truth, but also that they will be discerning towards one another and towards others. Because the Christian life is not a life of isolation but a life all about relationships, it is important that we understand the truth that John has been speaking about, not only in relation to ourselves, but also in relation to others. The present verse is one of those that provides a generalisation that applies to others and enables us to assess them in relation to God, Jesus and the Church.

He starts out by considering God Himself: “If you know that he is righteous.” Because this is a meditation we can reflect on this in a wider way. Do we know that God is righteous? There are many who have doubts about God when things go badly in life. Is this the work of a capricious, spiteful God, is what we would like to ask if we were able to be honest?

Now ‘righteous’ simply means right acting or right behaving, and of course before that come right thinking and right speaking. If God is righteous then everything He thinks, says or does is right. Now this is a massive theological and philosophical pond to be swimming around in. If some action is right, what does that actually mean?  Well the only way to make sense of it is to see it in a Biblical context and suggest that ‘right’ behaviour is behaviour that conforms to the way the Designer-Creator has designed us to ‘work’ so that we work best, so that we don’t breakdown, self-harm or harm others.

Now we can only come to that conclusion when we also observe the Bible teaches that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and love always looks for the best for another. God’s design for us before the Fall, must surely be that He has made us to enjoy being, to live in peace and harmony and to be safe and secure and free from self-harm and harm of others. Of course the Fall has changed that and sin-led humanity now acts in a self-centred and godless manner with little thought for the consequences. But that was not how God designed us to live.

So if God is righteous, we know that everything He thinks, says, and does will be right. I genuinely believe that, if when we get to heaven, God allows us full access to all knowledge so that we can fully see and understand everything that has gone on, we will never be able to criticise Him for anything that has happened in existence.

So let’s check out what the Bible says about this. Before he died, Moses prophesied about Gad, he carried out the LORD’s righteous will,” (Deut 33:21).  So God’s will or intent is always right. Deborah and Barak sang of those who sang, saying, “They recite the righteous acts of the LORD.” (Judg 5:11)  i.e. God’s deeds are right. Samuel challenged the people, “I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers.” (1 Sam 12:7) He was saying that they could never blame God for anything in their history because everything that God had done was right. Even after the Exile, Ezra the scribe declared, “O LORD, God of Israel, you are righteous!” (Ezra 9:15)  Likewise other leaders after the Exile, also looking back in their history, declared of the Lord, “You have kept your promise because you are righteous.” (Neh 9:8)  Thus again and again, the testimony ofIsrael, in light of their history, was that God did all thing right.

Now all that is really just the preliminary part of what John is saying. God is the arbiter of what is right and anyone who (genuinely) does what is right, must be someone born of God. The key is the phrase, “what is right”. We said earlier that ‘righteous’ refers to living according to the Design of God, the Creator.  We also said that humans lost that ability with the Fall, and so anyone who has been restored to living according to the Design of the Designer, has to be someone who has encountered God and who has been born again of His Holy Spirit. It is, in fact, only by living according to God’s commands (that John spoke of earlier) and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, will anyone live in any way that could possibly be called ‘righteous’.

So, if you look around you and see people who are clearly living according to God’s word and are clearly being led by God’s Spirit, i.e. righteously, these people are obviously ‘born again’, born of God. Remember John picked up this concept of being ‘born of God’ in his Gospel: “children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God,” (Jn 1:12,13) and “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…. no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (Jn 3:3,5). Thus, to conclude, you see people living out the will of God? They are the Christians, made new by God!  Conversely you want to know who are genuine Christians?   They are the ones living out the will of God by obeying His commands and responding to His Spirit. Simple, isn’t it!

13. Made Complete

Meditations in 1 John : 13 : Made Complete

1 John  2:5,6    But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

Sometimes in Scripture I believe we skim over verses and perhaps miss potential gold mines of truth. That is possible with this verse before us now. I have lost track of how many times I have read it but as I pause over it, I get the feeling it is like peering down into what you thought was a shallow bit of sea only to realise that it goes down really deep. Five times in this letter John speaks about obeying God’s commands but on this occasion it seems that his focus is on what happens when we do obey, and he makes this incredible claim – “God’s love is truly made complete in him”.

I like J.B.Phillips’ version of this: “In practice the more a man learns to obey God’s laws the more truly and fully does he express his love for him” and yet I’m not sure it aims in the right direction, because that speaks about the way a man expresses his love for God, and yet in our NIV verse it speaks of God’s love, i.e. the love from God. Another version puts it, “whoever obeys what Christ says is the kind of person in whom God’s love is perfected,” In other words, if you want to see God’s love perfectly expressed on earth, find someone whose life is given over to doing all that God in Christ has said to us.

Now why should that be? Well perhaps it is to do with what John tells us twice later in this letter: “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) reflecting what the Old Testament says again and again (e.g. Ex 11:13,15,  Ex 20:5,6 Deut 7:9, 12,13 etc.) but especially in Ex 34:6,7 “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” If the character of God is love, then everything He thinks, says or does is love. (When it comes to interpreting the Old Testament activity of God we need to see it through this filter and if we cannot see it initially, then we need to think and meditate on it until we can see it!)

So when we came to Christ we surrendered our lives to him, accepting that on our own we got it wrong and that we needed him not only to forgive, wash and cleanse us, but we also needed him to guide us through the rest of our life. So how does he guide us? He speaks to us? How does he do that? Primarily he speaks through his written words, but it may also be through preaching, through prophesying, through a quiet voice in our spirit, or even through circumstances. When he does speak, we’ve just said, it will always be in love and will always be looking to bring about an outworking of love in our lives. Thus the more we heed his voice, and the more obey what we are hearing, the more we will be expressing God’s love, and that will be seen in our family, our school, our college, our business, our club – wherever we encounter other people. Love is always expressed from one person to another, so in that sense the J.B.Phillips version was right.

God’s expression of Himself and His objective for the world, is always to pour out His love to us.  Have you ever thought what love means? We bandy this word around so much, but what does it mean? A dictionary definition might be “warm affection, liking, benevolence or strong feelings for” or perhaps in a Biblical context, looking at God, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others”.

THAT is God’s approach to us and of course this form of ‘good will’ is always expressed in some act, hence “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16)  We’ll see later on in John that he writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10)  i.e. the big issue isn’t that we love God but that He has first loved us. Our love for Him is always a response to His love. When you are truly loved – and feel it and know it – it is almost impossible not to respond to it well. Of course the key words there were “and feel it and know it”.

How do we experience it like that? First of all we read about it in His word or hear of it from someone else. Then we surrender to it and receive it into our lives and that so changes us that we too start revealing or expressing this same love. How do we express it? We express it by living out our lives in accordance with His word, i.e. by obeying His word!

It is by this primarily that we know we are in him. It is as we live out the Christ life, revealed through his word, that we know we have been changed. I am no longer the person I once was. I think and say and do things I once could never have thought, said or done! I am changed because I am his and I am living out the life he has given me to live.  It’s just as John says: “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”   That’s what we are now doing. Hallelujah!

1. Loved

Meditations in Malachi : 1. Loved

Mal 1:1,2   An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, `How have you loved us?’

Studying Malachi comes as a challenge. I don’t think I would have written these meditations two years ago, but over the past two years I have come to realise something very clearly: God is a God of love (1 Jn 4:8,16)  The apostle John declared what the rest of the Bible testifies to, that God is love. In Ex 34:6,7 the Lord reveals Himself: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” The truths there are reiterated again and again and again throughout the Old Testament and then the New. Many of us just don’t notice them but they are there. Now if “God is love” as John testifies it means that everything about God is love. Everything He thinks is love, everything He says is love and everything He does is an expression of love.

Now this has certain consequences. The first is that we need to read the Bible through this filter, and that would be a major change for many of us. It means that we need to learn to view everything but everything that we read throughout the Bible from this perspective – that God is love. and that what we read about Him and His activities is an expression of love. Now what follows from this is that love can be expressed through a number of ways. Imagine a human father. He works long hours to provide for his family. That is sacrificial love. He comes home and romps around on the floor with his young children. That is intimate love. He sits quietly and listens to the complaints of his teenager and makes helpful comments. This is caring and wise love. He lays down house rules that will be kept. This is orderly love with authority. On rare occasion he will punish one or other of his children because he wants to stop a potentially harmful pattern of behaviour developing in them. This is the love of discipline. Sometimes he stands back and simply watches from a distance as his children struggle and this is the love that gives space to learn. Sometimes he hands over the keys of his car to his teenager. This is the love of respect and acknowledgement of maturity. These are ALL different expressions of love, and we need to realise that even hard actions of God seen in the Bible ARE expressions of love.

Now I think it tends to be more of an American expression rather than a British one, but I am thinking of a father taking the son out to the woodshed where, traditionally, a beating would take place. Does the father love the son any the less because he is administering painful punishment?  No, if anything it proves exactly the opposite. Because the father cares for the son, cares what will happen to him unless this wrong behaviour is corrected, he takes this painful action.  Malachi has the feeling about it of a ‘trip to the woodshed’! The Lord is speaking to Israel because of what he starts out by saying: “I have loved you.”

Now the tense here is an ongoing one so it doesn’t mean, “I loved you once in the distant past.”  It actually means, “I have loved you always, right up to now.”  The problem isn’t with God’s love; it is with Israel’s  perception of Him, which we’ll go on to see in the next meditation. Why is the Lord speaking words that, the more they go on, the more they make us feel defensive? The answer to that is because He wants to restore the relationship that they once had, and that needs action on Israel’s part. The Lord has done everything He can and now it is Israel’s turn to do something – but hold that before you; it is because He wants to restore the relationship between Himself andIsrael.

Does the Lord want to punish them? Of course not! Does any father want to punish their child? Of course not, because on the negative side they don’t want to risk the child moving even further from them, and on the positive side they would much rather the relationship was restored to what it was before there was any disharmony caused by the child’s misbehaviour. What we have in Malachi is a simple list of things that Israel have done or are not doing that means the relationship has been broken, things which need remedial action.  It is as simple as that!

Why, therefore, do so many of us feel so negative and defensive when we come to Malachi?  Because guilt produces shame, fear and defensiveness. We don’t like being confronted with our imperfections but such ‘imperfections’ break down the relationship we have with the Lord. Indeed they may also be an indication of attitudes that have grown within us which go on to show that we have already moved away from the Lord. Remember, therefore, as we work our way through the verses to come, that this comes from a God of love who wants to reinstate a loving relationship between us. There is nothing onerous about being loved. It is not as if God is trying to reinstate an oppressive regime. No, He simply wants Israel to come back close to Him so that He can easily impart His blessing to them.

20. God of Love

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 20 :  God of Love

(Focus: Deut 7:7-11)

Deut 7:7,8 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Remember that throughout these early chapters Moses is seeking to give Israel every opportunity and every reason and every motivation to bring about their obedience in their ongoing relationship with the Lord. Just prior to these verses he had told them how to deal with the people of the Land and the religion of the land. He concluded it with a reminder that they are a people holy to the LORD your God” and that the Lord had “chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (7:6)  At Sinai the Lord had said, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5) Now that description of them might make them feel very superior and so Moses now brings perspective in the verse at the top today.

When God chose them it wasn’t because they were a great nation, for in fact they were a small nation.  No, there was a twofold reason behind the choice. The first one was to do with God’s love and the second was to do with His faithfulness. He had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob what He would do and now He was doing it – because He had said He would! But now we start to touch on something that I believe is quite crucial to our understanding of the Lord; He also chose them because He loved them.  Love, I have concluded over the years, is simply unrestrained, sacrificial, good-will expressed (think about that definition for so often we talk about ‘love; without any content to it). When we love someone we always want the best for them, we always have unrestrained good will towards them, which is then expressed and we do it at cost to ourselves.

Now previously in Chapter six we read what is called the Shema, which is Hebrew for ‘Hear’, which is recited daily by devout Jews: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (6:4-9)  The early part of that we might think is thus THE crucial belief in the Bible about God – He is One and we are to love Him. But we are actually touching something here that I believe is a crucial truth in the battle for truth about God in the twenty-first century, and we’ve just had the first hint of it – God chose Israel because He loved them, but not for any ‘size-reason’. He simply loves them.

Now the apostle John in his first letter makes an amazingly simple but staggeringly profound declaration: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) This defines God like nothing else does in the Bible.  Back at Sinai, Moses had had an encounter with the Lord when He had declared of Himself, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7). That, I suggest, had been the most profound statement about the Lord in the Old Testament.

Now we find Moses making a statement about the Lord which again, I believe, possibly ranks second among the most profound statements about the Lord in the Old Testament: “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. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.” (7:9,10) The covenant that had been made at Sinai was a covenant of love! It was that because God is love; everything about the Lord is love. However He expresses Himself is an expression of love. He always expresses unrestrained, sacrificial good will to all human beings, anyone who is part of His Creation.

If only we could grasp this truth it would utterly transform us. We say we understand it with our minds when we read such verses as “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) but we question it in the light of everyday life. I have concluded that the effect of sin in us, blinds us to the truth and if we could only see this wonderful truth in its clarity, we would be utterly transformed.

God set His love on Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob and then the people of Israel, i.e. He expressed it towards them in establishing them as a unique people with a unique relationship with Him. What an incredible opportunity they had but, as I said, sin blinds, and so they didn’t realise it and blew it again and again. But the truth has been laid out before them and so Moses concludes with the same call as before: “Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today.” (7:11).

They may not be able to see the truth clearly or, as the apostle Paul puts it, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,” (1 Cor 13:12) but at least they have the rules which they can follow which will enable them to be blessed. If we can’t cope with the love, we can cope with the Law, but the love is better! Think on these things.


39. Imitators of Christ

[We pick up the series on Ephesians again now, and will continue on through to the end of the book]
Ephesians Meditations No.39

Eph  5:1,2 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Now in these verses our ‘link word’ isn’t at the beginning, but it is still there. “therefore” links us with what has gone before. This takes us back into chapter 4 where Paul earlier said, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love.” (4:15,16) There were two references to this ‘life of love’ that comes from us being linked to or ‘growing up into’ Christ who is the head of the body, that is his church. Now the head dictates what the body does.  It is your mind, your brain, which tells the rest of the body what to do, so in the analogy of the church being Christ’s body, the body is to do and be what the head is – energized by, motivated by, and characterized by love. God is love”, (1 Jn 4:8,16) we are told and therefore Jesus, as God’s Son, is also love and everything he says or does is motivated by love. Today’s verses should therefore come as no surprise to us.

“Be imitators of God, therefore…” We have observed previously that the Christian life has two aspects to it: knowing who we now are and then living out who we are, and in that second aspect, we exercise our will and we determine that we will live in conformity to God’s will. The call to imitate God is a call to work out or live out our lives in this way. From the middle of chapter 4 on, Paul was writing about how we are different from the rest of the world (4:17-19) and how we have been made new (4:20-24), and then he gave us specific ways to do that (4:25-32).

These two verses today are, again, summary verses putting background to the specific ‘behaviour verses’. Paul is telling us WHY he wants us to behave in the ways he has been listing and will shortly continue to list. He wants us to imitate God, “as dearly loved children”. He wants us to see ourselves as we actually are. We ARE children of God (see also 1 John 3:1) and therefore we should be living as God’s children. The call is, as God’s children, children of the One who is love, to “live a life of love.” Isn’t that a simple description of the Christian life, a life of love! Everything about our lives should be characterized by love. When we think of God and of others, our thoughts should be motivated by love. Can you say that about your thoughts about others in your church, or your neighbours or those you work with? Our words should be purified by love. When we speak to or about others, are our words, words of love? Yes, these may be very challenging things, but this is our calling. Are our actions motivated by self-concerns or by love? These are valid questions if we are going to heed our calling and live lives of love.

But Paul puts content to these ‘lives of love’: “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This reminds us of Jesus’ own instructions to his disciples at the Last Supper: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:12,13). Our call is to live with the same love that Christ has and he demonstrated that love by laying down his life so that we might live. Paul’s description of what Jesus did – “as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” speaks of the pictures from the Old Testament of the Israelite coming to God to bring offerings as an expression of his love for God. Jesus laying down his life for us, was first of all an expression of his love for his Father. Jesus did it, not only because of his love for us, but because first of all he loved the Father and this was the Father’s will. This  ‘life of love’  is not to be something we do to make ourselves feel good or appear good, it is to come out of and be an expression of our love for God Himself.  When John says, “We love because he first loved us,” (1 Jn 4:19) he is saying that our love is a response to His love. The first thing we need to do in the Christian life is become utterly convinced of God’s love. We need to read about it, meditate on it, and pray that we may ‘see’ it in such a way that it motivates everything we are and do.

All the other instructions on how to live, that come before and follow these verses are to be seen in the light of these verses. These truths are to be what motivates us to do the things Paul says. The ways we practically live out our Christian lives are to have their foundations in what we have been considering here. We ‘do’ because we are loved and all we ‘do’ we do in love. May it be so!

11. God of Judgment

Lessons from Israel: No.11 : God of Judgment

Ex 4:21-23 The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’

Possibly in no other area of understanding of Christian doctrine is there such misunderstanding as in respect of the subject of God’s judgment. Let’s see what the verses above say, and then look more broadly at judgment. We have here a summary of the Lord’s instructions: Moses is to go to Pharaoh and do what God leads and empowers him to do, but Pharaoh will reject his pleas and as a result God will take the life of Pharaoh’s first son. We need to look briefly at the individual elements of this summary.

First there are the ‘wonders’ that Moses will do. We have seen briefly the miracle of the changing staff but there was also the miracle of the leprous hand and water into blood (Ex 4:6-9) which we didn’t examine. But of course when we see the whole story we see that these ‘wonders’ are the ten ‘plagues’ that the Lord was going to bring on Egypt, but at the moment He hasn’t mentioned these specifically to Moses. Simply note that the will of God is often only revealed as we walk it out.

But then the Lord says He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. What does that mean and why does He say He will do it? Well, if you read through the following chapters you will see a number of references to Pharaoh’s hardening of heart. To simply summarise what you will read, the truth was that Pharaoh, as a proud man, already had a hard heart that was resistant to the Lord and all that would happen is that every time he was confronted by Moses it would simply harden his heart even more. Every time he was challenged by Moses, his resolve against the Israelites would be strengthened even more.

So why did the Lord bring these ‘judgments’ on Pharaoh and on Egypt? Well if you observe the ten ‘plagues’ you will see that they increase in intensity or severity each time and they are clearly opportunities for Pharaoh and Egypt to repent and come to their senses. God could have judged them in one almighty go from the outset but instead He chose to bring gradual judgments to Egypt so that Egypt could learn and turn. At any point in this monumental tussle, Pharaoh could have given in and that would have been the end of it – no more plagues, but he didn’t and so the plagues carried on getting gradually worse and worse. Now let’s reiterate what we said just now: the Lord could have brought one single, totally destructive judgment in one go but instead He wanted to give chance after chance to Egypt. How many times do you give chances to your disobedient children before you bring discipline?

If you think God is a ‘hard man’ (see Mt 25:24), think again. John, in his first letter, declares, “God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). Ezekiel spoke for God, Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and if we didn’t take it in the first time, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32).

In the New Testament, we find a similar thing: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9). What is the Gospel if it is not all about God saving people from judgment: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17).

So why does judgment come? Why is it warned about? It is because it is the alternative that follows rebellion and disobedience but it only comes after many warnings and it comes, ultimately, at the choice of the recipients of it. When God has warned again and again and again, it is down to those being warned to take responsibility for what comes. We are quite happy with this when we see this in practical everyday life. When doctors warn again and again that smoking causes cancer, we are not at all surprised when a smoker gets cancer. When doctors warn about STDs we are not at all surprised when some one living a sexually promiscuous life contracts a sexually transmitted disease and suffers the consequences of that. The same could be said about alcohol or drug abuse. We understand when Paul wrote, “A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7), because we know that that is how it works. What the old nature doesn’t like is when something is attributed specifically to God. We fail to remember it is NOT what God wants, but that sometimes it is all He is left with if He is to restrain sin and save the rest of the human race.

Please see it clearly. God is essentially going to say to Pharaoh, “Don’t do this or you’re going to get hurt. Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this, please…..” and Pharaoh in his stupidity is going to reject Him. Please don’t steal or you’ll go to prison. Please don’t shoot at the police otherwise you will be killed. So, come on, why do we have these silly ideas about God’s judgment? Perhaps because it is because we have been listening to a liar? Check it out!

2. God Initiates

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 2

Job 1:6-8 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD , and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD , “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

Here we find our first reference in this book to Satan, the accuser, but we will leave consideration of him until the next meditation because he is really only a secondary player, an administrator of God’s purposes, if you like. No, our starting place must be with the Lord Himself. He is the all-important one. Job and his three friends may taker up most of the space of this book, but it is really all about the Lord. This book is really all about revealing the Lord, and we must see it like that. It is also all about what we think about the Lord, so we had better be very careful.

Here is an opening challenge: John the apostle in his first letter twice declares, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16) Now he doesn’t say, “God has just become love” but “God IS love,” meaning “God is ALWAYS love.” Now if that is so, and I am sure that it is, then everything God says and does is an expression of love, and our task when reading the whole of the Bible is to see how what is happening is an expression of love. Bear that in mind as we consider this book.

So here we have this picture of heaven and we find, One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD. Now what is slightly strange about this is that if you look in your Bible it shows that there is an alternative given for the word ‘angels’. It is ‘sons of God’. Now some try to make something out of this. I simply suggest that the angels appear to be have been part of God’s prior creation, made before human beings but, and here is the point, like human beings they are created by God and in that sense they are ‘sons’. Jesus taught, those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” (Lk 20:35,36). He seems to interchange us and angels as God’s ‘children’.

Angels are lesser beings than God. We must be very clear that the Lord is The Supreme Being. Angels are his servants (Heb 1:7) and so in that respect they are not free agents; they can only do what God tells them to do or allows them to do – as we shall see in the studies to come. But it seems that in heaven the angels have to come before the Lord for a time of accounting, for when the Lord speaks to the Accuser, it is to ask what he has been doing. Now the Lord never has to ask questions to find out things for He already knows everything, so when He asks questions it is to get the person or being to speak out and confess what they have been doing.

Possibly the Lord has other realms where the angels can go because Satan’s answer is that he has been wandering the earth. The earth is going to be the area for the coming conflict. This is going to be all about how mankind responds to life. It is because Satan makes reference to the earth that the Lord introduces the subject of Job. Job is a dweller on the earth. This book is also about how human beings respond to or struggle to cope when things on earth appear to go badly.

Now we need to note something very early on in this book that is vital. It is that God is an initiator. God is the one who starts things going. What follows would not happen if God had not taken the initiative and started this ball rolling! The Lord could have ignored Satan, but he makes a point of pausing to talk to him. Now in what follows we must see that God doesn’t make Satan do what he does, but He permits him to do it. He knows what Satan is like (and we’ll come to that in the next meditation) and so knows if he raises the subject of Job, how Satan will respond to that. The Lord doesn’t tempt and the Lord doesn’t harm; He leaves Satan to do that, because that is what Satan is like, but the Lord sets him off.

This whole book of Job is initiated by God because it is God who starts everything off. God created the world. There was no one else there to prompt Him to do it. It was entirely on His initiative. Many years after the Fall, it is the Lord who takes the initiative with Abram and starts off a new level of relationships within mankind. After Israel end up in Egypt, it is the Lord who takes the initiative with Moses to bring them out. Finally it is God who sends His Son to the earth. We had nothing to do with it; it was entirely His initiative.

Now there is something we would do well to consider in understanding this book, and it is the fact that everything that happens in the Bible after Genesis chapter 3, happens in a fallen world. It is a world where sin abounds and things go wrong. The reasons they go wrong are many and varied. Sometimes they go wrong because of the sin of mankind, sometimes because of the sin of specific individuals, and sometimes because of the activity of Satan. Because this is so, we also need to see that whenever God acts He is acting into a fallen world and quite often He takes and uses the sinfulness of mankind or the activities of Satan. Merely because He does that it does not mean that He ceases to be a God of love. What it does mean is that we have to discern His end goal, a goal of love. For example, Peter on the day of Pentecost was able to say, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23 ). In other words, Jesus being crucified was certainly part of God’s purpose but He achieved it by using the sinful activities of men who put His Son to death. In many places in the Bible we find God using people, circumstances or even Satan to bring about His purposes.

God of love? Was it loving to have Jesus crucified? Yes, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16). This was obviously the only way that the sin of the world could be dealt with and so it was an act of love on the part of the Father and the Son. Now when we come to the outworking of the story of Job, we’re going to see things going seriously wrong – from a human standpoint at least – but they are part of the bigger picture which is to bring Job (and us) into a place of greater understanding what it means to have a relationship with the Lord. Bear that in mind as we progress with this story.