45. Obedience & Spirit

Meditations in 1 John : 45 : Obedience and Spirit

1 John  3:24   Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us

We live in an age of individuality and even married couples today seem to take pride in remaining unique individuals but the purpose of marriage as laid down by the Lord is that the two become one, and that means more that just physically, even though the word ‘flesh’ is used: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) Jesus added a comment: “the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.” (Mk 10:8) The final sentence appears to take oneness beyond merely physical oneness.

We say all this because John speaks about Christians as those who “live in him, and he in them”, a oneness of spirit. There is a unity in this that transcends anything found anywhere else in the world. There is also a link between obeying Him and knowing Him: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands,” (2:3) and there are ongoing references in John’s letter to be in Christ, for example, “This is how we know we are in him(2:5) and “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father,” (2:24) and “his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (2:27)

He’s said it before and now he says it again: “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.”  We saw the logic earlier that obedience is a prerequisite of a relationship with Christ being formed and a proof of its existence. Those who are ‘in him’, who are part of the body of Christ, have come to be there because they submitted to his will and now live a life of obedience to that will expressed in the many commands or instructions found in the New Testament. They live ‘in him’ and he lives in them by the presence of his Holy Spirit.

“Oh, come on,” cries the skeptical unbeliever, “how do you know he lives in you as you claim?” It is quite simple: by the Spirit. “But what does that mean?”  It means that since he came into my life I have had an awareness of an inner joy, I have had an awareness of inner guidance, and I have had an awareness of an inner power that is beyond me; it is something that just wasn’t there before I became a Christian and it cannot be explained in any other way than it seems there is an inner power that now lives in me that urges me, guides me, informs me, strengthens me, and when I read the New Testament, I find that it says that this is God’s own Holy Spirit, part of Him Himself.

There is therefore, a twofold aspect of living out the Christian life. On one side there is me making acts of choice, acts of obedience to God, using my intellect and my will to submit myself to Him and His will. God doesn’t take my free will away from me when I become a Christian, I still have to go through life making decisions, choices to obey Him. That is where the struggle comes because sometimes everything in me fears or is uncertain and I have to come to a place where I make a decision to trust him and obey.

The other aspect of this life is that He, by His Holy Spirit, lives within me and thus communicates with me and helps, guides and teaches me, and when I go to step out in faith, He strengthens me and gives me power to achieve what He’s asked me to do. It is a human-divine partnership being lived out here.

Another way of putting it, is that I do what I alone can do – and that is make the choices to obey, and then He is there to help, guide, assist, and empower me to work it out practically. Yes, the Lord may be there working in circumstances and people around me, but we have been thinking about how He works within and through me. It is the relationship, this partnership, where he allows me sovereignty of will, but is there to prompt, help, guide and empower as I choose to obey. And it works, and this is why we know, as John says, it is “by the Spirit he gave us.” Hallelujah!

14. The Centurion

People who met Jesus : 14 :  The Centurion

Mt 8:5-7 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”

One of the things that comes out, when we start looking at the people who came to Jesus, is that quickly we realise that they are people in need. Here we find the Centurion came “asking for help.” The reality is that we all need the Lord’s help but sometimes it needs a crisis for us to realise it.  Most of the time we seem to be able to cope in our day to day living and in our folly we ignore the Lord and just get by in our own strength. The leper in the previous meditation was very obviously in constant need of help; that was the nature of his illness – he was stuck with it. We may be wrong but it seems in the case of the Centurion it is a problem that has just occurred. We assume there has been an accident and it has left the Centurion’s servant paralyzed and in great pain. He would never have had this servant if he had had this affliction for a long time. No, it is more likely that it is something that has only recently happened.

Yes, physical afflictions can be illnesses (which may or may not be long-term) and they can be injuries that occur as a result of an accident. In the later case they may similarly be something that will heal up quickly, or possibly remain a long-term affliction. Whichever they are, we want to be rid of them. When we are not ill or not afflicted, we can sound very spiritual about such things, but when we are on the receiving end of such things, we just want to be rid of them. We show that by taking medicines or by going to a doctor or even by asking for prayer. In each case we want to be rid of this thing. Such things spoil or mar our lives and it is natural to want to be rid of them. What is incredible about Jesus’ ministry is that whenever people came to him to be healed – he healed them! Now that may sound obvious but it isn’t. Many of us today don’t believe he still heals and yet the New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) Why do we see so little healing? Perhaps, before we can see more healing, we need to see more of the characteristics of this Centurion appearing in the church.

The story seems to start out simply enough, as our verses above indicate but the wonder of the story is yet to come: “The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, `Go,’ and he goes; and that one, `Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, `Do this,’ and he does it.” (v.8,9) There is within this, first of all, a remarkable humility: “I do not deserve…” This Centurion is a Roman, part of the conquering forces in the land. He could have held a very superior attitude, but he doesn’t!

But not only is there a remarkable humility in this man, there is also a remarkable strength of belief and understanding. This man has heard about Jesus, but hearing isn’t enough. This man believes what he has heard. When he has heard that Jesus has the power to heal people, he believes it. But there is more to it than that. He understands that Jesus is motivated by compassion and that compassion means that when anyone comes in need, he will meet that need (but of course we have to come). Thus he explains to Jesus that his servant is in ‘terrible suffering.’ That will be enough to motivate Jesus – and it does – and that triggers off even greater faith in this man. Jesus has expressed his willingness and so now all that is needed is for it to be done.

It is at this point that the depth of faith and understanding of this man is revealed. He has understood that Jesus doesn’t have to go through any ritual or performance or particular actions, he doesn’t need to come to the house. Oh no, he knows that Jesus has the power and authority simply to speak a word and it will be done. This man already understood more than most of us understand today.

That this is remarkable is evidenced by Jesus’ response: “When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (v.10) This is a not very subtle commendation of this man, and a challenge to the rest of the community of God’s people! Jesus then simply speaks the word and the healing takes place: “Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.” (v.13)

There are clearly levels of belief (and unbelief) revealed in Scripture. In terms of unbelief, Paul was to one day write to the Corinthians, “anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:29,30) i.e. sin in the church can bring illness and even death. That is a terrible extreme we really want to avoid. When it comes to faith we will see in these studies, differing levels of faith, the height of faith, perhaps, being seen in this Centurion. To recap: he heard about Jesus, he believed Jesus could heal, he believed Jesus wanted to heal because of his compassion, and he believed Jesus has the power and authority to heal simply by speaking a word.

Notice in conclusion that there is no penance required, no weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over repentance; it is all very much more straight-forward. The very act of coming to Jesus indicates a person willing to submit themselves to him. When we come to him, we recognise that he may require us to put issues right in our lives, but we are willing for that. James laid it out as follows: “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (Jas 5:13-16) Those verses deserve some serious consideration and they are extremely challenging. Why not work through them slowly and allow the Lord to speak to you through them. In trouble – you pray. In sickness – call others to pray. If there is sin, confess it and open the way for healing. Wow! Challenging stuff!