62. On the Way (2)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 62. On the Way (2)

Phil 1:6   he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The end? And so we eventually come to what I feel must be approaching the final study in this series. My feeling is that this is where we will soon stop. It’s time to move on. And that is a characteristic of this ongoing redemption that we have been considering for nearly two months, there is always something more to come. We used to watch that TV series ‘The West Wing’ and anyone who has worked their way through all of those series about life in the White House, will remember the President who deals with each problem or facet of the job and then says to his aide, “What’s next?” There is always for the Christian a “what’s next?” Let’s start by noting some of the things this simple verse above says.

The Starting Place: “He who began a good work in you”. God started something in me – there was His call, His conviction, His conversion (the offer of justification, adoption and an empowered and new guided-life), to which I simply said yes, but I am what I am because of what He started off. In each of the earlier Bible studies in this series, in each of the people and in the life of Israel, it was because God initiated contact, God started the relationship, and the redemptive process started from there and continued from there.

An Indeterminant Goal: “until the day of Christ Jesus.” This redemptive process will continue until a specific point in history, when it will stop. 1 Cor 15 speaks of our future after death when we will be raised in a new body. The work will have been finished. The mystery is whether we will have to wait until a specific point in God’s planned history, or whether it happens the second we die (e.g. Lk 24:43). But there is an end goal that God is working towards. We don’t know that day. If it is the day of our death, it still remains the great unknown. The older we get, the greater our awareness of our mortality. When we are younger, the honest truth is that death is something so far off (at least in our thinking) that it will never happen. Reality says we never know when it will be. People do die in middle age or younger. When we hit our sixties it is statistically more likely, but for those who are sixty, we may yet have another forty years to live out on this life.

His Purposeful Activity: “he…. will carry it on to completion.” The truth we have seen again and again in those earlier studies, and sought to apply in the later ones, is that God is continually working to change us – all of us who are Christians! Until that ‘completion day’ I am still a work in progress. His goal is, we have seen again and again, to deliver me from the old self-centred, godless life that I lived before I met Christ, and deliver me into a life we refer to as ‘the kingdom of God’ where His will is preeminent in our lives and we are being changed, bit by bit, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In some of the earlier studies we sought to put content to what we meant by being ‘delivered from’, and then what we meant when we spoke of ‘being delivered to.’  As this is the penultimate study it might be helpful to add some thoughts about how this applies to different generations.

Redeeming the Young: For the Christian who is a young person, the biggest challenge is to understand what our calling means, and how it is wise to be distinct and different from the unbelievers in our generation. Choosing God’s design for say love, relationships, careers etc. requires wisdom to see how His way is best. That part of the redemptive process is about God accompanying us through the desert of modern culture that is so deceptive. It requires us to make seeking Him out and seeking to understand His will, His law, a priority. Help to achieve that comes best from Christian youth leaders hopefully. It is a major decision-making time. young, retirement,

The Middle Years: Handling success and established routines becomes the challenge for these years, working to hold on to a living relationship with God in the midst of the busyness that comes with raising a family, working out a career. The redemptive process here involves enabling us to triumph in being parents without tearing our hair out, or career people without getting utterly worn out. It is in this period that most of us make the greatest impact on the world because our energy levels are at their best. This is ground breaking time.

Into Retirement: Except so often people say, ‘Christians never retire’. No, we become grandparents and those who hopefully have the wisdom of years, who are there to stand by those in the generations below who are still slugging it out with the world. But retirement means new purposes, and time to use them. We have two elderly Christian friends who have faithfully served the Lord all their lives. They live elsewhere in the country, but we try and visit them, every 6 to 9 months. She is just 90 and he is just 89. Like many elderly people they are not so fit and healthy as they once were, but when we visited them recently he said, “Of course our biggest cry to the Lord is, ‘Lord, what can we do more for you?”  They are still looking to go all out for God. They stand as shining beacons to the rest of us, with that challenge.  If you are in this age bracket and wonder about your role, consider the following: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) Somehow with the grace of God this can be us – flourishing, growing (still!), bearing fruit, fresh (“lithe and green, virile still in old age” says the Message version), speaking out a powerful testimony to all we encounter, God is great, He is still my security, and He is utterly loving and good.

Shut In: But there are those of us whose latter days are not ones of great freedom and our contacts are few and far between, and the enemy plays on this and writes us off. Paul, speaking of God’s purposes declared, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:10,11) The picture he conveys is of all the heavenly watchers – angels, demons, powers and principalities – all watching us and watching to see how we cope with the circumstances that face us, watching to see how God’s salvation through Christ is being worked out in us.  Whether it is living alone with just three days of life left, or years and years in isolating circumstances, the picture of us being watched by these heavenly watchers, says we have the capability of bringing glory to God, even when we are on our own and no one else can see us. Even alone we have the opportunity to bring glory to God and that is wonderful.  That is just as much part of these redemptive processes we have been talking about for so long, as anything else is.

How Long? Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:7,8) We cannot be certain about the final days of Paul’s life but in his writing here to Timothy when he says, “I have finished the race”, there is a sense here that he has come to the end of his journey through life. He anticipates his reward in the presence of God. Tradition suggests that after his imprisonment in Rome he was released and only later arrested again and then executed; he yet had some days to live out this journey. As we said earlier, we never know how long this redemptive process is going to continue. If we are elderly, like my two friends, the temptation is to think, today or tomorrow could be the end. It might be but on the other hand, there may yet be many days to come. Whether it is young or old, we may feel weak and frail but that should never stop us shining like a candle in the darkness. The challenge for today is still, “What’s next?”

To Summarise: May we never forget that whatever the circumstances, whatever the age, as Christians we are participating in a process that God is working out in and through us, to redeem us from our old selves, the selves in the mold of the self-centred and godless world, and to redeem us to become something more wonderful than the world can possibly conceive, a child of God, ever growing into the likeness of their Father.  And how can this be? Because His unique son, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on the Cross at Calvary to make it all possible. His death was the price paid that enabled this process to start, to continue and to be brought to completion one day, in you and me. Hallelujah!

4. A Growing Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  4. A Growing Body

Eph 4:15,16  we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body… grows

Many people don’t like change but growth means change and that is what the teaching of the New Testament expects. Jesus taught, The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” (Mt 13:31,32) His expectation was that the kingdom of heaven or ‘kingdom of God’ as it is often referred to, the expression of the reign of God in heaven and on earth, would grow and become big. The Church is the expression of the kingdom on earth and it has indeed grown to be the largest spiritual body on the earth.

How does it grow? It shares the Gospel and people respond, are born again and are added to the body, the Church. A local church that is not growing, clearly does not have the life of God flowing through it. We may say we are living in hard materialistic days – and we are – but nothing has changed in that respect and when Jesus expressed his Father’s reign, people flocked to him.

To the Colossians, the apostle Paul wrote of “the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.(Col 2:19) Ligaments and sinews hold the various members together and enable them to fulfil their function. So what holds us together as individual members of this body? (i) Loving relationships that (ii) enable fellowship to occur and (iii) allow the Spirit to flow in and through us. This verse comes as a warning to the lone Christian who doesn’t like ‘church’ (and there are many today) but who forgets that they ARE the church and they will grow as an individual and enable the body to grow, only when they are with it.

The writer to the Hebrew understood this when he wrote, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25) If we are to grow numerically and grow in character and grow in ministry, then we need to be together so that fellowship (real heart and spirit encounter) can take place and we can be taught and challenged and encouraged (as the verse above says) and be built up. Part of growing is to become strong, strong in our faith, strong in our witness, strong in our ministry. This are all facets of growth and that is Jesus’ expectation for his body. Are we growing as individuals and is our local church growing; if not, what’s wrong?

21. Growing the the Knowledge of God

Meditations in Colossians: 21. Growing in the Knowledge of God

Col 1:10   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, growing in the knowledge of God

If the translators were right when they put a colon after the word ‘way’, we are now working through a list of things that we can do to please God. Being a fruit bearer was the first thing in Paul’s list and now “growing in the knowledge of God” is the second thing in this list of things that will please God. The Lord wants us to know Him more and more.

The amazing thing about existence is that we do actually exist. When you consider what the Bible tells us of the big picture, it is a wonder we exist at all. When the Godhead considered creating the world that we know, even before they made it they knew that giving man free will would result in wrong choices being made and sin entering the world. They knew that mankind would make the wrong choice and live self-centred, godless lives so that justice would demand action, and they knew that the Son would have to come to die on behalf of mankind to pay the price for sin and yet, despite all this, they created the world. Why? They existed as three persons in one, communicating with each other, but maybe because He is love, that love wanted to express itself to others. That appears almost the only reason on my horizon that I can see for God to create mankind – because He wanted to express His love to us.

To do that we have to know Him. First of all, He would have to reveal Himself to us and we see this in the story of Adam and Eve (Gen 3), briefly with Cain (Gen 4), and briefly with Enoch (Gen 5:22,23), and briefly with Noah (Gen 6:9) but it wasn’t until Abram (Gen 12) that we really start to see a long-term relationship and long-term revelation coming into being. Yes, to know God, we had first to receive His revelation of Himself. Indeed the whole Bible is about God revealing Himself to us.

One of the privileges of a disciple, Jesus said, was that The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (Mt 13:11) To the questioning disciple, Philip, Jesus responded, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9)  The Son came to reveal the Father. Jesus role was clearly twofold: to reveal the Father through his life and ministry and then to die for the sins of the world. For three years he ministered the Father’s love. This was a time of pure revelation.

One of Paul’s condemnatory statements in Romans 1 has an intriguing element to it: “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:28) The folly of sin was that in turning away, mankind lost the ‘knowledge of God’. Prior to that Paul had said, “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” (Rom 1:19,20) For those with eyes to see, the start of the knowledge of God is in observing Creation. That should set our minds wondering. But then the Holy Spirit comes and convicts us of our ‘loneliness’, our lack of knowledge of God, and when we repent and turn to the Lord through Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwells us and teaches us. Part of His work is to reveal the Father to us, more and more.

Note therefore, that in our verse at the beginning it speaks of growing in the knowledge of God”. To  keep it short and simple, I would suggest that ‘knowing’ here means ‘knowing about’ (i.e. pure information) and ‘knowing personally’ (i.e. knowing by experience). Now what will be the source of these two sorts of knowing?

The first knowing – knowing about – comes through reading and studying His word. As we are privileged to have the Bible (remember people like Job or Abram had nothing) we would do well to read it regularly and study and take it in, to feed on it, and to be informed by it. Without the revelation we find there, we will be blind to who He is and come up with weird and wonderful idea about Him that are incorrect, as those religions without the Bible tend to do. But we are not called to ‘fly blind’ for we have this revelation which 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) Does that not ring bells? In the preceding verse we read about how to “please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” His word will inspire, direct and guide us in these ‘good works’.

The second knowing – knowing personally – comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. He it is who speaks to us, either through His word, or directly. As He speaks and we respond and obey, so we experience more and more of Him. As we respond to Him so He provides for us and equips us. We experience His grace and goodness and gifting. These are very real things that we literally experience and we grow through them.

Do you see, these two things – knowing about and knowing personally – are directly expressions of interacting with the word and the Spirit respectively. So, the big question must be, are you growing?  Do you know more of Him – through word and Spirit – today than you did say a year ago? Are you ‘growing in the knowledge of God’? If you haven’t, you are stagnating, failing to reach towards maturity. There is this wonder – knowing God – just waiting there to be received. Who else in this world has this privilege? Make sure you don’t squander it.

11. Fruit Bearing Gospel

Meditations in Colossians: 11. Fruit-Bearing Gospel

Col 1:4-6   the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it

The things we have been considering in recent meditations have been in respect of, or related to the Gospel. We saw that it conveys hope  out of which spring faith and love and that it conveys the truth of God’s will expressed through the life and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Now Paul speaks of the effect of the Gospel, “all over the world.” should not be taken to infer that the Gospel had travelled all over the earth for it is clear from history that it hadn’t yet, but is more likely to mean ‘wherever it had gone’. Wherever the Gospel had gone it had had effect.

That the Gospel had spread far and wide, there can be no doubt. The mighty Gospel ingathering of some three thousand souls on the Day of Pentecost  would have included those who witnessed the Spirit’s outpouring who we are told included, Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome  (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.” (Acts 2:9-11) We tend to forget that when many of these returned home they went as believers and took the Gospel with them.

The disciples seem to have forgotten Jesus’ words, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) and initially it was only persecution that drove some away from Jerusalem: “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria….. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:1,4)  The accounts then follow Philip in Samaria conducting an amazing signs and wonders ‘crusade’ (Acts 8:5,6). Peter and John joined him and the Spirit was poured out on the Samaritans.  Eventually the Lord told Philip to leave and go south where he encountered the Ethiopian official who left as a believer (see Acts 8:26-39), who, it is believed, took the gospel back with him to Africa. The church clearly grew and flourished throughout Israel (Acts 9:31).

It is interesting to note that although Philip ended up in Caesarea (see Acts 8:40) the Lord called in an apostle, Peter, to preach the Gospel and pour out His Spirit on the first Gentiles, Cornelius, his family and friends (Acts 10).

The next big move of God appears to have been in the north: “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:19-21) Then we find, “News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11:22-24) Thus the church in Antioch (Antioch was considered the third major city of the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria) was established (see also v.25,26). It was from Antioch that the Lord sent Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on what became Paul’s first missionary journey.

The remainder of Acts follows Paul in his travels. Initially they went to Jews only, starting at local synagogues but when they were rejected we find,  “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:  ” `I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” (Acts 13:46-49) This took place in Pisidian Antioch.

Thus we find in the early chapters of Acts the church largely focusing on Jews and Jerusalem until persecution drove the Gospel to Samaria and then to the north. From there the Lord propelled the Gospel out across Asia Minor, largely through the ministry of the apostle Paul, although others were clearly involved doing the same thing.

The Gospel was clearly bearing fruit and growing.  The fruit was clearly people responding and turning to Christ and being saved. First Jews and then Samaritans and then Gentiles. The Holy Spirit took men who shared the Gospel and then He did His work of conviction and bringing people to salvation. One of the places where that had had happened was Colosse. (Several hundred years before Paul’s day, Colosse had been a leading city in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey).but by Paul’s day Colosse was just a second-rate market town, As we will see as we continue, the church there came about by the preaching of Epaphras (v.7) who eventually reported back to Paul in Rome who then wrote the letter we have before us. The church in Colosse was just one example of the Gospel bearing fruit and growing.

19. Newborn Babies

Meditations in 1 Peter : 19 :  Newborn Babies

1 Pet 2:2,3 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Trying to follow the flow of thought in the letter writers in the New Testament is a fascinating exercise. In the previous chapter Peter spoke about us being ‘born again’, and we have given some consideration to that, and so it is perhaps not surprising that he now speaks of “newborn babies.” But he doesn’t now say that we are newborn babies, just that we should be like newborn babies in respect of what he is going on to talk about.

Really the last part of the verse could equally come at the beginning: “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” i.e. you’ve been born again and you have experienced a little of the Lord, and what you have experienced is good. So, now you know this new life is good, yearn to be fed and grow. That is where this is going, so let’s consider the individual parts of the verse.

“Like newborn babies”. We’ve already noted that he is using new babies as an illustration of what he wants us to be like. What do they do?  “Crave…milk” or yearn to be fed, again and again. Young mothers know the reality of this and the first weeks are spent feeding and feeding and feeding which sometimes almost becomes a trial for the mother but is essential for the baby. In those early months the baby may be taken to be weighed and the hope is that it will be putting on weight through feeding, and if it hasn’t then there is a checking out of its feeding.

This is the picture Peter is presenting to us as an illustration of what he expects to see in newborn Christians. He wants to see them craving for “pure spiritual milk.” Now he doesn’t explain what he means by that but it has got to refer to spiritual food which we must take to mean the word of God. This is where the Bible – reading it and being taught it – is revealed to have a unique role as God takes it and feeds the new believer with it. There’s nothing so wonderful as being instrumental in bringing others to Christ, but that is followed by the wonder of having the privilege of feeding hungry spiritual babies, new Christians. They are full of questions and when they first come across truths in the Bible their hunger is a delight to behold.

The writer to the Hebrews chides his readers using the same sort of language: you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature.” (Heb 5:11-14) There he refers to milk as “elementary truths of God’s word.” Milk, he says, is for infants and you need to go on to something more substantial.

And that is exactly where Peter is going: so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Do you remember something we consider earlier in chapter 1: “you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1:9). Do you remember, we spoke of it being an ongoing process that he is referring to there. So this process of going on receiving your salvation involves you receiving the truth of God’s word into your life and thereby growing.

We need to realise that this isn’t merely receiving new information; it is receiving it and applying it. Jesus taught, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, …. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) Becoming a disciple means becoming a doer of God’s word, not merely knowing about it. For instance Jesus again taught,  “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” and “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.” (Mt 7:21 & 24). This is what the feeding the Peter speaks about should do. It should be taken in and received and then bring forth fruit of a changed life. Indeed that is what maturity is about.

That, we should note, is the goal of this verse, that we “grow up”. Paul spoke similar language: “as your faith continues to grow.” (2 Cor 10:15). Peter is going to finish his second letter with a further similar exhortation: grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18). Yes, when we come to Christ that is only the beginning. We have a life of learning infront of us and if we don’t we will never mature but will remain spiritual pigmies. God doesn’t want that; He has something better for you! Receive it, grow in it.