10. God of Purpose: Behavior

Getting to Know God Meditations:  10. God of Purpose: Behavior

Ex 20:13-15   You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal.

Approach:  I think I need to lay out what I intend to cover in this particular study because there are other aspects I will need to cover separately in the next  study. Here I want to consider human behaviour, signs of God’s design – and possibilities. In Study No.7 I suggested four parts of the ‘big picture’ and the last part was about how God planned to win us back to himself by sending his Son to the earth to show the possibility of life with God and all that that could mean. To understand this we have to look at how we live our lives and then how we could live our lives.

Great Potential: In a moment we are going to have to face the negative aspects of the human race but to maintain balance, I believe we need to look first at how God designed us to be originally. From the outset we are told that we have been made, “in the image of God.” (Gen 1:26). What does that mean? Well, how do we differ from all other living creatures? It means He gave us the abilities to communicate, think, plan, reason, invent, create, write, compose, design, research, work, order, purpose, worship and enter into the fullness of what we were designed to be. Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop mentally, spiritually, emotionally as well as physically. It is all these things that separate mankind off from the rest of the animal world and, I suggest, are what the Bible means when it says we are made in His image. But even more than that, we are made to show immense care and compassion, of self-sacrifice and even carry out courageous acts of heroism. The potential of the human race is phenomenal. When you consider advances in science, technology, medicine, surgery, exploration and so much more, these are all aspects or expressions of ‘being made in his image’, and this applies to every single human being regardless of belief.

Great Pleasure: When you consider the five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell – they are all about the potential of enjoyment.  If we are – as the Bible says we are – ‘designed’ by God then we are thinking of very positive things. Ponder on looking at and taking in a wonderful sunset, a beautiful vista, works of art, or listening to the sounds of nature or the sounds of a symphony orchestra or jazz band, or reaching out to touch the skin of a loved one, or the smoothness of polished wood, the taste of a thousand dishes on menus, the smell of fresh coffee and baking bread, and all these thing are for pleasure and without those senses we are severely curtailed in that potential enjoyment.  Speech isn’t usually considered one of our ‘senses’ and yet our speech has incredible potential for good or harm.

Dysfunctional?  And yet, as I have pondered these things for many years, despite all these things in the two paragraphs above, I conclude that the best word to describe all of us is ‘dysfunctional’ which, as a dictionary says, simply means ‘not operating normally or properly’. The picture of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2 & 3 may (if I may take in all views) be either factual history or a teaching narrative based on factual geography, but the picture of that original relationship when God interacted with man (and it may be millions of years down the evolutionary scale if you wat to believe that) was one of total peace and harmony. Put another way, there was an absence of stress, worry, anxiety, upset, hostility, all the things that characterize so much of modern Western life. The sad thing is that we now take as normal these dysfunctional things I have just listed that were not there in the beginning. Genesis 3 (fact or lesson) declares that these things happen because we reject God and His design for us.

Warping the Design:  Things go wrong in the way we live. Sometimes we are happy to acknowledge these things, but more often than not it is for economic grounds and not morally ethical grounds. For example overeating (which may be caused by a variety of reasons) causes obesity and obesity is harmful to health and even life-threatening. When that impinges on national health provision, the government health authorities start speaking up about it. Alcoholism and drug addiction are generally accepted as equally harmful.

When it comes to sexual aspects of relationships we are less likely to agree, but repeated studies show that cohabitation is a less stable relationship than marriage, and divorce has a seriously detrimental effect on the children of the marriage, which is worked out later in life in negative, antisocial ways in society. In modern Western society, sex has become for many no different than eating, it is part of the package of the evening out, and then we are surprised that young people struggle to find the meaning and experience of ‘love’, and increasingly young people are dropping out of even traditional dating. As the Sunday papers so often show, it is often, a quagmire of emotions. The quaint biblical notion of sex only after marriage with one life-long partner has so much going for it and avoids so much of the angst of modern relationships – but, yes, it does need self-control and it does need working at. It is only a matter of time, I suggest, before the realities of these things bring change.

The ways that we human beings find to abuse other are, it seems, almost limitless: murder, genocide, rape, slavery, torture, racism, violence in the home and on the streets,  cruelty, abuse, bullying, sexual abuse, aggression, slander, libel, defamation, malice, theft, vandalism, bribery and corruption, fraud, and the list could just go on and on and on. This is what we do when the restraints are removed. Perhaps we should add the motivating forces that drive some of those things: godlessness, (don’t confuse ‘religion’ with being godly), self-centredness, callousness, insensitivity, pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, and wrath (the seven so-called ‘cardinal sins’), lies, and deceit. What a bunch we are!

The Christian Perspective: Please don’t hear me wrongly here, Christians are not immune from these things, we speak out of turn, act wrongly and harbor wrong attitudes but may I suggest three ways we differ from our unbelieving neighbour:

– we do intend to be righteous, and our reading of the Bible and teaching within church life go to reinforce that intention (we study the New Testament which is full of teaching and encouragement to go for this; this is our primary behavioral goal).

– when we fail, we are more likely to be convicted by God about our failure and then confess it to Him and repent (turn away with the resolve not to repeat it). Also sharing it in a church context means we will be strengthened in that resolve.

– if we do fail, we are more likely to be convicted by God to put right any wrong relationship, and thus act as a peacemaker, and if necessary bring restitution.

On top of these three things I would suggest that believers, as individual disciples of Jesus, are more likely to seek to model themselves on him, by seeking to be obedient to God the Father and be led by the Holy Spirit, having open hearts to others (believers or non-believers), being generous in attitude, seeking to bless others (inside and outside the church), seeking to meet needs presented where possible, with humility, being caring, listening and accepting, while holding firmly to the conviction that God’s design is always the right way and never to be compromised.

Where Christian community is operating as it should, there will be open-hearted sharing, caring and concern, being there for one another, encouraging one another, being gentle and patient with one another, blessing one another. I have just said ‘as it should’ and my experience is that it often is in large measure, and that is so often missed by the atheist cynic.

And So: Really, seriously, look back over these things under this last heading. We may not be achieving all of them all of the time but it is our intention to do so and we work to do that. Really, can this sort of life and community life come under criticism from the humanistic, secularist atheist who has no such community and cannot provide such a similar testimony? This is what Jesus came to achieve. This is the behavioral aspect of the purpose of God through the ministry of Jesus.  We will go on to see in the next study how he laid the foundation for this to happen and how he works today to help us achieve this.

56. Moral Ethics (1)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  56.  Moral Ethics (1)

Heb 13:4   Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

God’s design: In the next two verses we find two examples of what I will simply call moral ethics. The first is about marriage and sex and the second is about attitudes about money. One of the things many people do not like about the Bible is that it lays down specific rights and wrongs according to God’s design for mankind but people do not like being told what that design is and therefore what is behaviour running contrary to it.

Design for Marriage: Perhaps nowhere is this rebellion against God’s design seen as clearly today, as in the whole question of marriage in the Western world. Marriage design is seen in the earliest pages of the Bible: “A man will leave his mother and father and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) One man plus one woman who separate themselves from their families and become a new single unit, a foundation stone of civilisation.

Oneness: The apostle Paul spoke of the oneness that comes from this uniting suggesting it is far more than merely a physical uniting. The Message version is particularly good at expressing what he wrote: “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modelled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realise that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.” (1 Cor 6:16-20). In other words, what you do with your body is important to God because your body houses the Holy Spirit and when there is a legitimate God-blessed union of husband and wife, there is a unity that includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. THIS is God’s design order and therefore anything less than this cannot receive His blessing.

The failures of Co-habitation: Living together and having sexual relations without commitment is what today is referred to as co-habitation, not only a sign of rebellion against God but also a sign of lack of security. Surveys of cohabitation clearly show that such relationships are more likely to break up than marriages and, even more, those who cohabit before marriage but then get married, are more likely to break up than traditional marriages.

Features of Divorce: When Malachi said that God hates divorce it wasn’t only referring to spiritual breakup but also to marriage breakup because God knows the harm that is done to individuals when there is a marriage breakup and, even more, the harm that is done to the children of such a family breakup. Jesus confirmed the Law of Moses that permitted divorce but only because of the hardness of heart of the individuals concerned who cannot receive counsel and help and grace to restore that which has been damaged by infidelity.

Adultery: Infidelity in respect of marriage is called adultery, the crossing the boundaries of a marriage so a sexual relationship occurs between a member of the marriage and a third party. God’s feelings about this are quite clear: You shall not commit adultery.” (Ex 20:14). General prohibitions against immorality are found in the New Testament (see 1 Cor 6:9 and Eph 5:5) The apostle Paul spells it out: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thess 4:3-7)

Again his instructions as to how to take control of yourself is are clear: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Col 3:5,6) and “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (Eph 5:3)

It is sometimes suggested that in the modern church in the West these instructions are often forgotten or ignored. If we do, we do so at our peril for there will come an accounting before the Lord. There are no excuses; merely because others live and behave in ways contrary to God’s ways,  that gives no allowance to us to do the same. This may become one of the key ways that Christians stand out from unbelievers and in so doing they will reveal a better way.

God’s order for Pre-Marriage: Many modern young people appear to have no sexual boundaries and as, many a TV series has shown, find it incredibly difficult to find love. Starting a relationship in God’s order of things starts, I would suggest, in becoming friends which is a meeting at intellectual and emotional and social levels. Physical intimacy may begin before marriage but consummation should always be left to after the marriage. Anything less than this leaves guilt and fear.

The teaching here by the writer to the Hebrews is ultra clear: “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”   i.e. marriage is a relationship God-style and anything less than that may mean adultery or simply immorality (anything outside marriage) and that means being answerable to God and that may be painful. Let’s not go that way!

23. Deserving Death

Meditations in Romans : 23 :  Deserving Death

Rom 1:29-32 They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them

We are working through this list that Paul presents to us, that are ways a depraved mind expresses itself through the lives of the godless. In the previous meditation we had got as far as ‘boastful’. Before we continue with the list it is worth reminding ourselves that these are the outworkings of a mind, we said, “that has been spoiled, damaged and doesn’t work properly.” That is what depraved means and that is the mind of every person, says the Bible, who has never come to God and surrendered their lives back to Him. Let’s continue the list.

“They invent ways of doing evil” i.e. these people are ever looking for new things to do to express their hearts, they are never content with where they are, there always needs to be something more, because nothing satisfies. One level of sexual perversity is never enough, there has to be more. One level of drug taking is never enough, there has to be more.

“They disobey their parents” i.e. they reject the first level of authority that they ever encounter in the world. In God’s design parents are crucial to a good life and to blessing; that is why we find in the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) which Paul himself later reiterates: “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6:2,3). How tragic it is in so many families that the parents provoke their children to disobedience and the children end up missing out on God’s blessing!

‘Senseless’ means having no good sense, being stupid or foolish or having no real point or purpose in life, meaningless. The expression of the depraved mind here is that they reveal that they are aimless by the stupid things they do. If they were rational they would look at what they do and realise this.

‘Faithless’ means they lack faith or do not keep faith, which suggests being dishonest, disloyal, unreliable and undependable. They lack character.

Heartless’ means they are hard and pitiless, they lack kindness or feeling, they are callous. Heartless people don’t mind what happens to others, and look on others’ misfortunes with scorn and derision.

Ruthless’ means they are absolutely without pity in their activities in life, and this is just a further stage down the path away from God’s design. Ruthless people cause harm to others without concern for the consequences or for the feelings of those they hurt.

Each of these latter descriptions take us further and further away from God’s design for mankind and show us people who are behaving more like vicious animals than human beings made in the image of God, and all of this is the outworking of a mind that no longer works properly.

But these godless and unrighteous people continue down this path willfully and with knowledge. They know deep down that these things are utterly wrong and that before God they deserve to die. They are damaging themselves, they are harming others and they are damaging God’s world. It is a miracle of grace and mercy that they are still alive! If we were God we would almost certainly have wiped them off this beautiful world that we had made, but God’s grace and mercy has other plans!

Yet these people continue down this terrible path. They don’t only do all these terrible things but they approve others who do them as well. It is like any form of sensitivity has been dulled or anaesthetised and so they are utterly careless as to where this path is taking them and about the effects they are having on others. They are utterly taken up with ‘self’ regardless of the consequences. This is the plight of the human race and it is only a matter of degree as to its outworking. When God’s hand of restraint rests upon us, these things are limited but when, in His wisdom, He decides that people are so set in their ways that He has to act, more often than not He simply lifts His hands of restraint off so that we are free to go down this terrible downward path until we are either destroyed or we come to our senses and call to the Lord to be saved. That is the divine strategy behind all we have been seeing in the latter part of this first chapter of Romans.