1.2 God’s Loving Goodness

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

1.2  God’s Loving Goodness

1 Chron 16:34     Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

In the first meditation we said, by way of laying a foundation to consider the judgments of God, that it is imperative that we consider first the character of God if we are to have any hope of understanding His judgments. In fact, I suspect that for many of us this will mean completely rethinking what we think about God because I have not seen these things written about much in the Christian press (and they certainly aren’t out there in the secular press!)

We started by noting that the apostle John declared that “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Note in passing that this isn’t the same as saying love is God, but it does describe God’s nature. We didn’t say this in the previous meditation but it must mean that everything that God thinks, says or does is an expression of love. It has to be!  This means, therefore, that whatever we find God doing in the Old and New Testament has to be viewed through new glasses, so to speak, seeing that whatever He does is an act of love. Yes, this is really going to be a dramatic exercise that turns our thinking upside-down!  Please, we really must take this in and therefore we must repeat it: IF the apostle John was truly inspired to write what he did – and it complied with a teaching right the way through the Old Testament (even though we only looked at some starter verses in the previous study) – then everything about God is love and whenever He expresses Himself, by thought, word or deed, it is an expression of love.

Now I have written it in numerous other places but to build a complete picture here in this series, I need to bring this out yet again. What does love mean? What do we mean when we say God is love? Now love, according to a dictionary, might be described as  warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for us, and in God it shows “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us. Note that latter part – unrestricted good will towards us. God is for us (Rom 8:31) and wants good for us, all the time. In fact He is working in our circumstances all the time to bring good out of them (Rom 8:28)

We need to anchor that word ‘good’. A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with. Moses declared of God, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut 32:4) and all of that description could be summed up in, “He is good!”  This was Moses’ declaration. Everything that God thinks, says and does IS good. Moses knew God more intimately than any other man in the Bible apart from Jesus. He is good for a character reference.

David reminded himself of this truth when he needed lifting up: “according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD,”  (Psa 25:7) and “Taste and see that the LORD is good,”   (Psa 34:8) and “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you,”  (Psa 86:5) and “You are good, and what you do is good,” (Psa 119:68) and  “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good”  (Psa 135:3) David was described as a man after God’s own heart; he also is good for a character reference.  This testimony of God’s goodness is repeated again and again and again by a whole variety of people in the Old Testament.

Now our starting verse above – “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever,” – links love and goodness. Goodness is an expression of love. In the many verses in the Old Testament that refer to God’s goodness, they always come out of a testimony about what God HAS DONE. We know He is good because of what He has done. If He wasn’t good He would not have done these things or, if you like, He wouldn’t have done these things if He wasn’t good.

We are starting to stack up a pile of data in respect of God which needs to be taken into account WHENEVER AND WHEREVER we observe God revealed in the Old Testament. So He’s a God of love and so everything but everything that He thinks, says or does is an expression of warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for us and “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us. He is also a good God and so whatever He thinks, says or does is “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome”. Not troublesome???? In respect of destructive judgments?  We are going to have to do some serious thinking, but that is where this is going to have to lead us.  If these testimonies are correct, without distorting the English language, then somehow we are going to have to see that every act of God that brings death or destruction comes with selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will toward us and will be done to promote health, welfare and happiness!

Ready to do some serious thinking? Well there is one more description of God that we find in the Bible and if the definitions of love and goodness nearly blew you away, you won’t know what hit you with the next one. Hold on to your seat, and pray.

40. Practical Love

Meditations in 1 John : 40 : Practical Love

1 John  3:16,17   This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

You sometimes hear silly complaints about the Christian faith that it is ‘pie in the sky’ or that it is of no earthly use to anyone. Communists make great play on caring for all classes but it is an enforced (and unreal) caring that is a poor copy by the enemy of the Christian faith. Our verses above lay the axe to the lie of the Christian faith being impractical and it all starts with love.

There can be much debate about what love is but you have to come to the Bible to find any real meaning. If you belong to the school of “no God, world just a chance accident, material is all there is”, then love is just an odd jumbling of the molecules in the body, something that somehow in millions of years has become a genetic oddity. But John challenges the world and says, “You want to know what love is all about? Then look at Jesus Christ! He, the perfect, sinless Son of God laid down his life for us very imperfect sinners, so that our sin could dealt with in such a way that justice is satisfied, and we can be forgiven and even brought into a living relationship with God Himself. This is a demonstration of what love is all about.” This brings me to conclude that real, genuine love is ‘selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others’. Watch a mother’s feelings towards her small child: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards her child. See a young man who has fallen head over heels in love with a young woman: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards her!

And the model for that love is Jesus. But it doesn’t just stop in describing Jesus’ love for us, because we have now joined his family and we are becoming like him and so “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”   If he is like that, our goal is to be like that because we are becoming like him. But what does that actually mean, this laying down our lives for one another? Is that just a nice religious platitude? No, John doesn’t allow us to make it that; for him it has very practical outworkings: If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  To lay down you life for another means you put others first.  The apostle Paul writes, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4)

It has been this outlook that has stirred Christians through the ages to stand up for others, to care for the weak and the poor or as one writer put it speaking about the activity of the Church down through the ages, it was known for its care of widows and orphans, its alms houses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies and so on.”  Yes, down through the ages it has been the church that has worked into society providing the things that today the Welfare State tends to provide. When there was no Welfare State, when no one particularly cared for the needy, it was the Church who stepped forward, expressing the love of Jesus to his world.

But let’s apply this to our own church group, for it must have very practical outworkings right on our doorstep otherwise it is mere words. If there are people who come in with real physical or financial needs, how do we look at them? Do we leave it to the ‘church administration’ to do something or does compassion move us to provide when we see need? Of course it is very easy to say, “Well here in the Western world there is no real need because the State provides for the really needy.” Is that always so? Are there people in your congregation who cannot do things they would like to do, because of lack of funds, things you can do because you do have the funds? What does love say?

Are there opportunities just waiting there, for us to bless young people who would love to enter some particular career but don’t feel they can afford it?  Is there someone yearning to set up a small business but just don’t have the funds to do it? Yes, we not have the chronically poor with us, but we may have those not so well off as us whose lives are restricted because of that, restricted in ways that we could deal with. The difficulty here is getting people to open up and share such needs or desires, and that only comes about in a loving, caring, accepting and compassionate community of God’s people, where each one feels sufficiently secure in the love of those around them, that they feel they can open up and be honest. There is the real challenge.

But the big challenge to all of us is to make love real, not just something we talk about: Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (v.18) The apostle Paul in 1 Cor 13 says we might have various spiritual gifts but if we don’t have love we are just like a noisy gong. John goes further than that and challenges us to ensure we don’t just talk about love, but make sure that our actions reflect love and flow from love, and that we are thus being truthful. If we say we have love but don’t show it through our actions we are not telling and living the truth. Beware!

37. Love One Another

Meditations in 1 John : 37 : Love One Another

1 John  3:11   This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

This is almost too simple and too basic as to be worth comment, and yet sometimes the things that are the most obvious are the things we miss out on.  So here’s the test. Think of all your family, every one who constitutes your family. First of all, is there anyone you don’t like in this family group? Is there anyone you don’t get on with in this family group? If you answered positively to either of those questions you may struggle with the next one: is there anyone in that family group you don’t “love”.

Before we go any further let’s remind ourselves of what ‘love’ actually means. It isn’t about having nice warm fuzzy feelings about someone (although it can include that) but it basically means having a determined sense of goodness and good-will towards a person, wanting the best for them and wanting to do what you can to achieve that. Now look again at your family group and consider, is there anyone in that group that you don’t have that determined sense of well-being towards, wanting their best?

Now in case we get ourselves into a legalistic bind at this point, recognise that there may be those members of your family that you never see and when you don’t see someone it is realistically difficult to think or feel these things towards them, so let’s limit this consideration to those who we see (or purposely don’t see because we don’t like them!). The command is to love them. It’s not an option, it is a command, and maybe we need to pray and seek God’s grace for it.

OK, how about the people in your church? Some of your family may be non-Christians and it may take a lot of grace to love them, but the people in your church are supposed to be Christians, so shouldn’t it be easier to love them? So, let your mind wander over the congregation on a Sunday morning. OK, perhaps with a big congregation there are people you don’t know so it is difficult to assess your attitude and feelings towards them, but hopefully if you meet and touch their lives what flows between you is love. As your mind ranges over the people that you do know, are there any for whom you do not have that sense of wanting the best for them, thinking the best about them, and wanting to be a blessing to them so they are blessed by you?

We could repeat the exercise for workplace, college, or school. The call is not to be self-centred and self-concerned, but to be there for other people, wanting God’s best for them, accepting them as they are and seeking to bless them. This is not pie in the sky; this is the practical teaching of the Bible.

Now I have a feeling when we put it like this that many of us start to feel uncomfortable and the reason is that with the passing of days and the busy-ness of modern life, it is very easy to forget this call upon our lives as Christians. We excuse ourselves giving reasons why we can’t stand certain people but that still doesn’t remove from us Gods call to love them, and loving them means accepting them where they are but wanting God’s best for them, and to even feel that we WILL need to pray for His grace at the beginning of every day.

But this call to love is followed by an interesting warning: Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” (v.12) John is a pastor and John knows that if we are not careful, because we often feel insecure, we can so easily look at other people and feel jealous of them. In the family there are those who are favourites – and we aren’t! In the church there are people who appear more spiritual than us and we feel inferior. At work there are people being promoted while we get passed over. At college or school there are people who appear more clever than we are, people who get the favour of the teacher or tutor while we get ignored. All of these situations are ripe and fertile ground for the enemy to come and whisper words of discord in our ear, words that stir jealousy or envy and before we know it, those paragraphs about love above, are like a millstone round our neck.

John knows we are vulnerable as human beings to being put down by life and other people and we fall before it and end up with low self esteem and negative feelings about ourselves, and then so easily become prey to the enemy when we encounter people who don’t have low self-esteem and don’t feel negative about themselves. At those times, thoughts of loving as a Christian go out the door. At such times we have to take hold of ourselves and take hold of the truth and reach for God’s grace to reclaim our position – bringers of the love of God, peacemakers, those who are to be there bringing the blessing of God. These people need it just as much as anyone else. The command is to love them; it’s not optional, and when we do and when we bless others, we too will be blessed, so it’s worth working on it. Be blessed.

48. Lifetime Favour

God in the Psalms No.48 – God of lifetime favour

Psa 30:5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

In the meditation yesterday we considered the Lord’s anger and so now we move onto the second thing: the Lord’s favour. In families we sometimes have favourites.  These are the children most liked by the parent and who receive the blessing and goodwill of the parent. You may remember, Isaac’s favourite was Esau and Rebekah’s favourite was Jacob (Gen 26:28).  Later Jacob (Israel) was to have Joseph as his favourite (Gen 37:3). Having favourites always causes problems, but the point is that a favourite is one who receives the favour of the parent, the blessing and good will of that parent. This is what favour is all about – blessing and good will. What is a blessing? It is simply a decree of good, so when we say favour is about blessing and good will, we’re saying that favour is about decreeing good towards that person.

After the incident of the golden calf at Mount Sinai, the Lord tested Moses by suggesting that He destroy all Israel because of what they had done. We then read, But Moses sought the favour of the LORD his God (Ex 32:11). In other words Moses approached the Lord with a view to changing the Lord’s intent from bad to good (which, of course, was what the Lord wanted to do anyway). The way Moses did it is instructive. He appealed to the Lord on the basis of the Lord’s revealed will to Abraham. It was like he was saying, “Lord you decreed blessing for Abraham and his family. We are still part of that family, so that decree surely must apply here and now, not disaster.”

Do you see that, it’s like he’s saying, “Lord surely your intent to bless all peoples of faith last a lifetime – for ever?” Yes, a lifetime here, doesn’t just mean for a single person’s life; it means for ever. In that example we catch a hint of something really big: God has a plan and it’s a plan of blessing and it’s a plan that will go on and on and on throughout history.  We’ve seen previously that it’s a plan formulated by the Godhead before history began  (Jn 17:24,  1Pet 1:20 etc.).  In the second ‘Servant Song’ in Isaiah, Isaiah prophesies, In the time of my favour I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you” (Isa 49:8). Paul took this Messianic reference and applied it: we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation”. (2 Cor 6:1,2). God had been working right through history up to this point when His Son would come to bring salvation.

What is salvation?  It is saving out of a place of judgement and bringing into a place of blessing. God didn’t just save us so that we would not receive His judgement; He saved us so that we would receive an ‘inheritance’ (Col 1:12) a blessing of goodness into our lives that would bring all the benefits of Sonship (Gal 3:26) to us. Yes, it’s this same thing we’ve seen more than once in these meditations: God is good and He decrees good for His people, the blessing of oneness with Him through His Spirit by the work of Jesus (Gal 3:14). We live in the era in history that can be called the ear of the fruit of God’s salvation. It is the time when God’s favour, God’s decree of good for people is seen and experienced in all of its fullness this side of heaven. It has been brought by Jesus, applied by His Holy Spirit and received by us, and it last for a lifetime – for ever!