44. Distinctive

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 44. Distinctive

Heb 12:14   Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

The Relevant Church: We must be drawing near the end and as we do we need to sharpen some of the things we have said along the way. We have countered the potential accusation that the church is irrelevant in today’s scientific age, with talk of the unchanging truths about God and mankind, while at the same time pointing out that the church which is genuinely acting as the ‘body of Christ’ will be demonstrating the power and revelation of Christ in such ways that lives and circumstances will be changed.

The Distinctive Church: This, you might think, is enough to suggest that the church, seen like this, will be distinctive and will stand out in society as both a lighthouse that sheds light and shows the way, and a rescue and recovery centre for lost and damaged mankind. Yet I must suggest that its distinctiveness must be seen in its very nature or its character as suggested by our verse above – its holiness.

Holiness in God: So what is holiness? It is the very foundational character of God which, put in its most simple of terms, refers to His utter ‘differentness’. God is different in many ways: in His nature, size and scope – He is Spirit, ever present, everywhere present, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise. But then there is the ethical or moral element – He is utterly good, totally perfect (cannot be improved upon), beyond criticism.

Holiness in Us – Generally: Now when this is seen in human beings, and it should be seen in some measure in every Christian, this sense of being utterly different should include

  • our godliness (the presence of God with us and being the focus of all we do), and
  • our piety (the way we express our devotion to God), and
  • our spirituality (fully embracing this material world but also clearly operating in the world of the Spirit)

Holiness in Us – Specifics: But these distinctives, these things that make us stand out in the crowd in a good way, should be able to be seen in specific characteristics that the New Testament speaks about. Here are some of the key ones:

Love: Love is a foundational command (see Jn 13:34) still seen in later centuries: “See, they say, how they love one another” (Tertullian’s Apology, Chapter XXXIX). Love is seen in compassion, care, acceptance, all very ‘tangible’ visible things. It is love (total commitment come what may) that was seen in Jesus and is what binds relationships together today. The love that holds us is often expressed as ‘grace’.

Unity: “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:23) The presence of God in us – revealed in the ways we have been considering in so many of these studies – working to make the unity that IS, visible. 

Truth: The word comes up about 35 times in the Old Testament but about 102 times in the New Testament. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) Jesus was truly God and truly man, and in both there was nothing that was unreal, nothing false, nothing of pretense, just absolutely genuine. Can that be us, with no pretense, utterly real? Can it be seen in the ways we live and deal with others, seen in honesty and integrity? Can it be seen in purity, having nothing to do with the distortions and perversions of the life of sinful mankind, so clearly and visibly demonstrated in life in the West today?

Goodness: Goodness is difficult to define but obvious when you see it. Something that is good is something that is right, appropriate, pleasant, apt, enjoyable. Goodness is the expression of that and, yes, it does have a moral dimension but goes further that just ‘doing right’, it goes beyond that with such things as mercy and grace that may be seen in generosity or hospitality.

And So? So, yes, we are to be distinctive by the spiritual power and revelation seen through our lives as we allow Jesus to work through us bringing in his kingdom rule, but it is also to be seen in the nature or character of who we are, his children and his disciples, displaying his nature: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) Not work or character, but both: working with his character, both revealing him, both glorifying the Father. This is what the kingdom is all about, this is what the body of Christ is all about. Can we grow in this, for this is what growth is all about?

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27. Goodness in the Body

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 27. Goodness in the Body

Ex 33:19   the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5  make every effort to add to your faith goodness

Theory & Practice Overlap: In the previous study we considered love as an expression of Jesus in his body on the earth, revealing the kingdom on earth. Between the previous study and this one and then the ones that follow in the next sub-Part under the heading of practicalities, there is much overlap and it is difficult to decide whether these present two studies should come here under the heading of ‘Theory’ or under the next heading ‘Practicalities’. Love is a very practical expression of the kingdom of God through the church as is our next subject, ‘goodness’.

Defining Goodness: Forgive me is I take a section from something I have written elsewhere as we try to tie down just what good or goodness is, and does it apply to God? 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 thinkssays and does IS good. Moses knew God more intimately than any other man in the Bible apart from Jesus and so 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,”(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)

And Us? But what about the body of Christ? The apostle Paul declared, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” (Gal 5:22) and the apostle Peter added, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge.” (2 Pet 1:5) But what really is goodness? How should we expect to ‘see’ it in evidence in the life of the church, in the life of the kingdom? Well look up synonyms of ‘goodness’ and you find, virtuousness, decency, kindness, honesty, integrity. On the other hand, badness is linked with evil, immorality and so on.

Modern Scandals: Now one thing I have observed over the last ten to twenty years, is that scandal has hit every public institution from the monarchy, all main political parties, the police and so on. What is a ‘scandal’ you ask? Something that brings, shame, dishonour, and disgrace to individuals and the institution because of their ‘bad’ behaviour. When it comes to the church (in the USA & the UK) what has been a tragedy has been the number of leaders who have fallen into adultery and, we can only say, it should not be. Perhaps it is not surprising that there have been so many divorces in the life of the Church, and in one particular wing of the church so many scandals to do with child abuse. At one point the apostle Peter declared, “it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household,” (1 Pet 4:17) and one cannot help wondering if the church in the West will soon come under the judgment of God (or is maybe under it even now.)

Our own church? But to backtrack, do we find virtuousness, decency, kindness, honesty, and integrity as fundamental, observable characteristics of our local church? In our dealings with one another and our dealings with the people round about us, are we known as being trustworthy, people with whom it is good to interact? And ourselves? Can people say of us, “there is not an ounce of negativity, gossip, unwholesomeness, and unkindness in them”?

The Example of Leaders: Let’s put some more content to this by considering leaders who the New Testament sometimes calls elders, and sometimes overseers, for they should be examples of what the church should be: “Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:7-9) Similarly Paul wrote to Timothy, “the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  …..He must also have a good reputation with outsiders…” (1 Tim 3:2-7)

Facing the Truth: I suggest here is a good ‘map’ to chart the possibilities of the way that ‘goodness’ is to be seen in the church so that it can go on to express the kingdom, a handful of positives and a handful of negatives. In respect of free-will, someone has said, ‘God has dignified us with choice’. The truth is that the unbelieving world is blinded by the enemy and their hard-hearts prevent them from seeing the truth until the Holy Spirit uses their circumstances to convict them and show them their need.

But here is something quite terrible: we, the church, have the word of God and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and, in that sense, we have no excuse if we abuse grace with our disobedience. And yet we each have to face our imperfection – more so when you have the courage to look back on your earlier years with honesty – and then realise that God still chose us, still convicted us and still drew us to Himself and still blessed us in amazing ways – that truly is grace.

A Call to Awareness: And so the call must be a call to awareness that we are called to be good, called to express goodness and wherever we see anything in ourselves that mars that, to seek to put it to death. Two of my favourite New Testament verses challenge me in all this: we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10) and “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)  In the light of this study, should we perhaps see those as ‘works of goodness’ and ‘deeds expressing goodness’? There are some grounds for further thought.

4. Aspiring to Goodness

Aspiring Meditations: 4.  Aspiring to Goodness

Ex 33:19    And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5   make every effort to add to your faith goodness 

Gal 5:23    the fruit of the Spirit is … goodness

So a reminder: this series is about things we are to aspire to found in the Scriptures. We will now follow the list that the apostle Peter gives us and after faith which we considered yesterday, it goes on to speak of ‘goodness’, and so we have to ask, what is it, how do we aspire to it and how may we increase it in our lives?

There is a call in the Old Testament that comes up more than once: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (e.g. 1 Chron 16:34) and then we have the intriguing statement of the Lord to Moses, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you.”  (Ex 33;19) Not just some goodness but “all my” and why goodness?

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.  Now the Psalms declare again and again that God is good (see Psa 25:7, 34:8, 86:5, 119; 135:3).  Very often in these verses, love and goodness are linked, in other words goodness is an expression of love; it’s how it works.

So goodness is an expression of God’s character and it is what He wants for our lives, but still, what is it? There is another intriguing voice in Nehemiah speaking of Israel’s life since they entered the Promised Land: They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.” (Neh 9:25) This ‘goodness’ brought forth good for Israel which was experienced in so many ways in the Land, good things they found there, good things that happened to them. Goodness is about bringing forth good in this world.

If I am to say that goodness is something I aspire to, it means that my life will bring forth things that are good.  Now when we say that, we naturally ask so what is ‘good’? Well we saw the definition above and so good in this context will be things that generally people will see and agree are helpful, pleasant, worthwhile, even excellent, very positive things. A modern book on such definitions says goodness “stresses moral excellence and an underlying compassion.” That was interesting! So goodness, love and compassion are linked together. An antonym (opposite) of goodness is “wrong doing”. Even more interesting!

If I am to aspire to goodness, I am to aspire to good-doing, moral excellence, expressed through love and compassion. If I do this I will be a person with whom you can feel comfortable, secure, even more, someone who will be a blessing to you. Yes, that is the truth behind this word.

So, how does it come? Where does it come from? Well we saw above that God is good, it is a characteristic of Him. In the previous study we also noted that some of these things – and goodness is included – are fruit of the Spirit, and there we noted that walking in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, will naturally bring forth this characteristic. In other words if I let the Spirit fill my life more and more, then goodness will be a fruit that will appear more and more.

The other day, I heard someone speak about another person and they said, using an expression that may be unknown to some, “she hasn’t a bad bone in her body.” It means there isn’t an ounce of anything bad in her. Perhaps, in trying to anchor this word, apply this characteristic, it is helpful to observe the opposites, the things we are not to tolerate in our lives. Already we noted the antonym ‘wrong doing.” If goodness is to be a feature of my life, then there must not be an ounce of wrong-doing in me. There is to be no room for anything questionable.

Now I have to admit that at this point I feel uncomfortable because I see behaviour in some of God’s children that worries me – those who smoke, those who drink too much, those who sometimes swear or blaspheme, those who tell crude stories or laugh at crude jokes. I have to say there are comedians around who I will no longer listen to, whose humour is without doubt ‘blue’. This has no part in one who aspires to goodness.

Now there is a danger I recognize here and that is to become a culture hermit. This requires discernment for Jesus met with those whose characters were decidedly off-beat, but that didn’t mean that he had to be the same. His goodness remained static and his love and compassion for the tax-collectors and sinners of his day meant he was able to win them. Zacchaeus (Lk 19) was a classic example. Matthew (or Levi) had been a tax collector but became an apostle. Jesus held on to his goodness but in a way that was not arrogant or condescending or judgmental and so won over those who were not good.

But back to modern culture. We have to learn to be discerning. For me films that are filled with constant ‘f’ words I find seriously annoying because the word then stays in my mind and the producer of the film could get away without it. Films or books constantly portraying the sex act similarly are on my ‘Not to Watch’ and ‘Not to Read’ list. Films or videos, TV series or books that are ‘dark’ or portray the occult are likewise not for me. Don’t let’s go into the world of computer gaming, it is the biggest nightmare going and many parents are criminally (literally) and spiritually negligent in the things they let their under-age (and over-age!!) children play. I saw a headline the other day that said that the younger a child is exposed to pornography, the more likely they will grow up to be abusive of their partners or their subsequent children. Pornography in any form is a no-go area for the Christian. The word about false prophets has a much wider meaning: “By their fruits you will know them.”

I used the word ‘dark’ just now to describe some TV, some movies and some books, and so we should add, fully in line with the New Testament, that we are called to be children of light and darkness has no place in the life of one aspiring to goodness (check out 1 Jn 2:9-11, 1 Pet 2:9, Col 1:13, Eph 5:11). A simple check: are there anything you saw, watch or read, about which you would be embarrassed if it was known in your church circle? Time for action if the answer is yes.

So, to summarise, goodness is a characteristic of God, a characteristic that will be formed in me as fruit as I walk in the Spirit. It is the expression of wholesomeness, the expression of right-doing and as I aspire to it I will reject all doubtful or dubious things, things that are ‘dark’, for we are children of light. As a child of light, where I am goodness should be spreading. Let’s be known for our goodness, let’s be attractive and let’s draw people to Jesus by his grace in us in this form. Let’s not be ashamed at being different but let our goodness be seen in the grace that is obvious in our lives. Can we be Jesus to our generation?

(I will be away from Internet access for the next two weeks on and off)

59. A Life of Goodness

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  59.  A Life of Goodness

Heb 13:16   And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Don’t forget goodness: The second of what I have referred to as the Christian’s general outlook on life is seeing our life as a life of goodness. The words ‘good’ and ‘goodness’ come up so many times in the New Testament that  we may take them for granted. Even the writer here says we might even forget to do good. How can such a thing be for a Christian? It has to be because we get so caught up with our own lives and the materialistic world in which we live today. He fact is that, 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)

Doing Good: Doing good is to be at the very heart of the Christian’s life motivated, no doubt, by the love on which are lives are based. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) i.e. our goodness should reveal God to the world around us.

Hang on to Goodness: The apostle Paul speaks of this in a number of ways, for example, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom 12:9) Note the call to ‘cling to’ what is good. This is not so much about doing as being. There is also a recognition that there is a battle going on and it is sometimes a struggle to hold on to good “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21) i.e. use goodness to counter evil in the world. But is will be a battle!

Do good TO PEOPLE:  The call is in general to bless people and especially (perhaps because we have greater opportunity to do this) to bless fellow believers:  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal 6:9,10)

The apostle spells it out even more, do good to all around us, especially those who are weaker: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself” (Rom 15:1-3)

Even when Paul was talking about what was permissible in the Christian life he makes this call to consider the wellbeing of others: “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (1 Cor 10:23,24) He even adds his own testimony to strengthen this: “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (1 Cor 10:32,33) Notice the double motivation in this: not only is goodness an expression of love in general, but our goodness can be a means of drawing others to Christ.

Various Applications: This doing good will appear in a variety of ways in our lives. For instance, the work of the Holy Spirit is always to glorify God AND to bless the Church: “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:7) But it is not only in the Church, it is to be the world around us (if we haven’t taken that in yet from the above verses): “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” (Col 1:10) But there are also various groups within the Church for whom there may be specific applications. First, women: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (1 Tim 2:9,10) Second, there are the rich: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Tim 6:17-18)

Indeed, the more we look, the more we find these references to goodness, for example, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16,17) The purpose of our reading God’s word, studying it, and preaching and teaching it is to produce good lives!

It even gets linked with the second coming of the Lord: “we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13,14) i.e. when Jesus comes back he wants to find a people who are doing good.

Sharing: There is one word that we have not picked up on and it is the word ‘share’. Our starting verse had “And do not forget to do good and to share with others.” Also Paul’s word to Timothy about the rich was, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” We might expect such a teaching of those who are well off and have much to share, but our verse from Hebrews extends that to all of us. An expression of doing good is to share what you have with others, i.e. to bless them.

A Sacrifice: Now this may not come naturally, and so we find the writer closes this verse with, “for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” The word ‘sacrifice’ was also used in the previous verse in respect of praise but both these verses follow a section (v.10-12) which has a number of Old Testament references to worship. Today we no longer bring physical sacrifices or offerings but both praise (acknowledgement of God’s greatness) and goodness (the practical outworking of that praise to God’s world) are to be the ways we seek to bless the Lord so that “God is pleased”.  His desire is that His world is a place of goodness, but since the Fall, it is a battle to reclaim that original world.

26. People, Plans, etc.

Meditations in Titus: 26:  People, Plans, Provisions & Productivity

Titus 3:12  As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there.

As we draw near to the end of this letter we find, as is so often the case, we are presented with an insight into some of the people in the early church.  Four people are named in these next two verses. Artemas’ name doesn’t occur anywhere else so we know nothing of him but he is someone presumably trusted by Paul as a leader. Tychicus, on the other hand is mentioned in Acts 20:4 (“from the province of Asia”); Eph 6:21-22 (“dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord”); Col 4:7 (“dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord”) and 2 Tim 4:12 (sent to Ephesus).

Zenas the lawyer isn’t given a mention anywhere else but appears to be a Gentile convert. Apollos on the other hand is mentioned in Acts 18:24-28 (“a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures”); 19:1 (“in Corinth”); 1 Cor 1:12, 3:4-6,22 (“as having a following) and 16:12 (“our brother”)

So in these verses we find two men who are clearly part of Paul’s ongoing activity and two men unknown but clearly approved by him. In the closing verse there is a much more corporate sense of the wider church: Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.” (v.15) In the background are the believers on Crete there with Titus while there are obviously a number of believers with Paul.

We also get a glimpse here of the plans or activity of Paul as he says, “As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there.” (v.12) It is believed that Nicopolis was on the western shore of Greece and Paul’s words indicate a) he was not there yet and b) was still at a time in his ministry when he was free to move around and decide where he would go, and c) was directing the apostolic endeavour, able to send two trusted leaders to carry on at Crete so that Titus could leave and go and join Paul at Nicopolis. Paul held sufficient sway in the apostolic community that men would come and go at his bidding.

We don’t know why Zenas and Apollos were on Crete (presumably helping Paul in the past and now Titus) or why they were leaving. Perhaps they were the ones who had brought this letter from Paul and now needed to return, but Titus is urged to help them before his turn comes to leave: “Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need.” (v.13) Presumably that meant ensure they have whatever provisions they need to get back to me (this was not a day of credit cards and easy provisions!)

Now before we finish we must note once again Paul’s call for their people to be devoted to doing good and good in this case is presumably working to ensure they provide for their families the necessities of life, food, clothing, housing etc. Remember we have already noted the number of times Paul insists on the people of God doing good and in this way they stand out and recommend the Gospel. But more that that here, doing good has a practical outworking, not being a drain on others when it comes to providing for life. When he speaks about not living unproductive lives that must first mean in respect of providing for the family but it has a wider application for the call in the scriptures is for Christians to live productive or fruitful lives.

The apostle Peter taught, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 1:5-8) Notice that goodness was the first add-on after faith.

Jesus taught, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful, (Jn 15:1,2) and went on to say, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.” (Jn 15:16)

The apostle Paul also wrote, “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” (Col 1:10)  The good works were seen as the fruit of their lives.  Elsewhere he wrote, “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.” (Rom 7:4)

Even the apostle James taught this: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (Jas 3:17,18).

It is little wonder that Paul finishes with this last admonition because he sees it as absolutely foundational to the Christian life. One might almost say it is the key, crucial issue that comes through in this letter. Goodness is to be a key characteristic revealed in and through us as the Holy Spirit works through us and makes us stand out in a dark world, a world where true selfless goodness is rare. With that challenge we conclude this wonderful little letter of Paul to Titus on the island of Crete, as he instructs him how to develop and build the church that they have established there.

15. The Grace of Jesus

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  15. The Grace of Jesus

Psa 45:2    You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.

The psalmist has this idea running round in his mind that produces a song: My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” (v.1) I like the way the Message version puts it: “My heart bursts its banks spilling beauty and goodness. I pour it out as a poem to the king shaping the river into words.” That expresses more fully, I think, those words “My heart is stirred…”

Now whether the king is a physical king and it is a physical wedding that he goes on to write about, or whether it is spiritual is unclear, but I believe from the vantage point of later in history we can suggest that so much here is prophetic and speaks of Jesus. We’ll come back to verse 2 in a moment but consider – “Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendour and majesty,” (v.3) and then “In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds,” (v.4) – we cannot but help be reminded of Revelation 19 where Jesus is seen as the conqueror coming forth  When we reads, “Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet,” (v.5) we cannot but think of his earthly ministry where his words acted like arrows piercing hearts.

But then we find this comment, “your lips have been anointed with grace.” Not only do those words pierce like arrows but at times they come forth with amazing grace. The difficulty of reading the words of Jesus in the Gospels in cold black and white print, is that you can never catch the tone of voice. Sadly we interpret Jesus’ words according to the direction of our own hearts, and so some hear Jesus’ words as coming with sharp and hard authority. Others hear the gentle and accepting heart that accepted harlots and tax collectors and drew them to himself.

Which leads me to think of John’s description of Jesus: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14). There is that ‘grace’ word again. A dictionary defines this grace as, “beauty or charm of form, composition, movement, or expression, an attractive quality, feature, manner, etc.” Grace here is a combination of things – goodness, kindness, loving acceptance, gentleness. When Jesus speaks to us, he speaks with these characteristics.

Early in the Gospel accounts, we find, “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him,” (Lk 2:40) which is not surprising because he had been conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:20) and the child was in fact God incarnate. But it was clear, even from childhood, this grace – which always comes from God – was his. Later on this grace would be the thing attributed to be the motivating force that enabled him to do all he did: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)

This ‘being rich yet becoming poor’, I believe, refers first to his leaving the glory he had in heaven and coming to earth with no visible glory, then leaving his family and living out a life of faith as he exercised his ministry, as he described, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Mt 8:20). It may also be applied to his willingness to forgo any reputation (and his was quite amazing when you thought of all the amazing things he did in Galilee) and come to Jerusalem and be portrayed as one who received the dismissal of both the religious and civic authorities and deemed worthy of a criminal’s death. What enabled him to do all these things? Grace. It is part of the divine attributes.

When you think of the wonder of what God has done through Jesus, it can only be grace that explains it. They knew we would all be sinners if they gave us free will at Creation – but they did it nevertheless. They knew that the Fall would happen, they knew that every single person they sought to come alongside and build a relationships with, would stumble – whether that was individuals or nations. They knew that failure was the only sure thing that could be guaranteed about the human race, and yet they went ahead and created us as we are. Why? Grace! That disposition of the godhead that looked with loving kindness upon us, understands our folly and perseveres with us.

Observe Jesus calling his disciples. These were those who had the greatest privilege in history – of walking and talking with God on a daily basis for three years. Yet what do we find? One of them betrays him, one of them denies him three times and the rest run away and leave him to his fate. But he still chose them and left the future Church in their hands. Amazing, but that is what grace does! Hallelujah!

6. Pondering on God’s Love

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  6. Pondering on God’s Love

Psa 48:9   Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

I have spent quite a lot of the recent years pondering on God’s love and so perhaps I should not be surprised at finding myself anchored by the above verse. I am going to overcome the temptation to simply repeat again my many writings of the last few years about the meaning of love and key places it is found in the Bible.  Suffice it to say I am convinced that “God is love” and all else follows.  The other day I wondered how one might summarise the whole Bible in a single tweet with its limited number of characters. I came up with one offering: “God has come to us to give us better lives than we have at present,” and I realise that behind that over-brief summary of the Gospel is the love of God. The reason He has come down to earth in human form is because He loves us. The reason Jesus died on the Cross is that His love knew this was the only way to deal with our guilt problem and that had to be dealt with first if He was going to be able to come to us and lead us into new and better lives, which His love wanted for us.

But the psalmist found that when he went into the Temple and was confronted with the Lord’s presence or, at the very least, reminders of God, he found himself thinking back to all he knew of the Lord, and that all came through Israel’s history which had been passed down initially by word of mouth and then in written documentary records. And then, as he pondered on what he knew of God’s dealings with Israel throughout their history with Him, he was aware that that history revealed the loving nature of God. Yes, God had disciplined them and chastised them sometimes, but overall it was more a record of the good things God had done for Israel. Again and again when you read the records of the Old Testament you find God’s love or goodness is revealed through His actions and the psalmists and others realised that love through what He had done.

So he comes into the Temple and when he is not overwhelmed by the building (as Jesus disciples were – Matt 24:1), he simply reflects on the One before whom he stands and all this knowledge passes before him (how else would he have known about the Lord). He meditates on God’s love; he ponders on it perhaps marvelling at how wonderful it was, perhaps questioning why it was. We do this sort of thing when we meditate. We think on what we know and we chew it over in our minds and think about what we know and what we can conclude from what we know. We question and wonder and seek answers for our questions. There is no way of verifying this wondering, but I wonder how many Christians regularly (or even occasionally) sit before the Lord and meditate on His love, pondering over the wonder of it, chewing it over until it permeates their very being as the Holy Spirit within them brings them greater understanding and revelation.

But, says the psalmist, I ponder on God’s ‘unfailing’ love. He is so convinced about this love that he is sure that it will always be there for him. It will never run out or be held back from him while he seeks the Lord. (We lose our sense of being loved by God when we turn away from him and turn to our own ways – it is still there but we just don’t feel it. Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul had in his mind when he wrote that amazing passage about God’s love: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?….. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35,38,39)

For the psalmist the place of this meditation was the stone temple in Jerusalem. It is just possible that it referred to the tabernacle than came before the stone temple built by Solomon because that was previously referred to as the Lord’s temple (see 1 Sam 1:9, 3:3) but it is more likely to refer to the stone building. Today there is no such building. Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in the destruction of Jerusalem prior to the Exile and the temple that followed the Exile was enlarged by Herod but destroyed by the Romans in AD70, and has never been rebuilt.

But in the New Testament teaching, our bodies are referred to as the temple of the Holy Spirit who now indwells us (see 1 Cor 3:16,17, 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16, Eph 2:21). Thus we do not have to go to a specific building to be reminded of the Lord. We have His word (the Bible) and we have Him with us every minute of every day. Persecuted Christians in prison for their faith have been sustained by the word of God that they have memorized before imprisonment, and by the Holy Spirit’s presence reminding them, teaching them and even bringing further revelation for them within the cell. Truly, as Paul said, today nothing can separate us from God’s love. Wherever we are, He is there and as we meditate on Him so He feeds us and we are strengthened and encouraged. Hallelujah!   We will never run out of reflections as we ponder on this wonder – the love of God that has come for us and is with us and will always be with us.