17. A Guaranteed End

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  17. A Guaranteed End

Phil 2:9-11    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The problem with these verses is that they are on the end of verses that seem even more attention-getting and so I think we almost take these amazing verses for granted. Many think that verses 6 to 11 were part of an early Christian hymn or even one of those famous ‘sayings’ that crop up in Paul’s writings, that the early church used to teach new believers.  Together they are full of immense significance  and I wonder why I haven’t picked them up before in this series – except for the reason I’ve just given of taking them for granted.

Verses 6 to 8 are staggering enough – that Jesus who is and was God, put aside all his glory and came and lived as a human being with little or no glory and gave his life for us on the Cross. That in itself it staggering enough to be worthy of a meditation on its own, but then you come to our three verses above.

Because Jesus did that, the Father raised him from the dead and then took him back to heaven (see the remarkable event in Acts 1:9) where He seated him at His right hand – “the highest place” (Check it out – Mark 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Ephes. 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22 – reference after reference to Jesus being exalted at the Father’s right hand. It is of major significance in the New Testament!)

And there He “gave him the name that is above every name,”  a recognizable identity of which there is no doubt, a name that is now exalted above EVERY other name. There is no figure in history who – claimed to have come from heaven – who lived out a life and ministry that used the miraculous power of heaven to bless humanity – who gave his life to satisfy justice with its demands on our sinful lives – who rose from the dead – who ascended visibly into heaven – who empowered his church to do the miraculous and transform millions of lives with love. NOBODY from any other faith, belief system, political persuasion or whatever has ever done all this. No wonder Paul could say this name was above every other name.

But it doesn’t end there. Because of who he is and because of what he is done, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  Now I used to read this wrongly as, I suspect, a lot of us do, because it doesn’t say “every knee will bow”. Now I believe that every knee will eventually bow to Jesus as the picture in Revelation 19 of the conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords shows, but this verse doesn’t say that. It says that they should bow (one of two versions say ‘shall’ but most say ‘should’) and that ‘should’ suggests ‘ought to’ rather than ‘will’. Commentators often suggest that there is little difference in meaning or outcome but the word is there.

Now why this particular way of putting it? I suggest it is because of the context. Paul starts out, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” (v.5) and so he is teaching attitude or outlook. He’s saying, follow Jesus example who put aside his glory and became nothing, and leave the outcome to the Father, as Jesus did. He has been exalted by the Father to a place where he is now worthy of worship – and that including from us. It ought to be but it isn’t always and we too can be remiss and not be part of that worshipping company, but that just puts us in the wrong because Jesus deserves our worship.

But this verse with its ‘should’ shows us that is conforms to the reality of the world which often doesn’t worship Jesus. The truth is that it should and in its failure to, it will be held answerable to God. Jesus is the bench mark of the wonder of heaven. He reveals the wonder of the grace and goodness of the godhead. Failure to realise this and respond in worship is an indication of spiritual blindness and willful self-centred godlessness. Yes, there will come a time when every knee will bow before Jesus and confess he is Lord, as we’ve already indicated that Revelation 19 shows, but in the meantime there are those who go against what should be happening.

This is significant because it explains what is going on in the world today. There is coming a guaranteed end when Jesus will reign over all but the reality of the present is that many fly in the face of that ‘should’ and will be judged precisely on that one thing. They may appear to be allowed to get away with it in the present moment, and that is true, but the truth is there, and they will be judged according to it, and that WILL happen in a day ahead of us.

These verses elevate Jesus above all else and set the level of expectation. Failure to reach that level is the bench mark against which all will be judged. That is why these verses are so amazing. They not only show what Jesus has done, but they also establish the measure against which every person will be judged. As a Christian, I have already bowed the knee and confessed that Jesus is Lord; that was an essential part of the process that brought about my conversion, that opened the way for me to be born again, and so it is for every believer.

But the measure has been clearly displayed in the New Testament and in these verses in particular – Jesus IS Lord and we SHOULD bow before him and declare him as Lord. If we have not already done that, we stand before God judged. We have whatever time we have left on this earth to remedy that; the only problem is that we do not know how long we have left. You dare not leave it if you have never bowed before him and surrendered your life to his lordship. Action now is the only sure way. Do it.

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28. Righteous

Meditations in Romans : 28 :  Righteous in God’s Sight

Rom 2:12-15 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

Paul now comes with a clear logical flow of doctrine. Earlier he quoted from the Old Testament: “God will give to each person according to what he has done.” (v.6) and then, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.” (v.9). Now he anticipates questions about how sin will be assessed. Will it be according to the Law? What about those who don’t have the Law, the Gentiles? How will God assess them? These are the thoughts that flow through his mind. He lays down a number of principles that we need to look at.

Principle one: If you have the Law you’ll be judged by that; if not, you’ll be judged by another means: All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” i.e. one way or another sin WILL be judged. That’s the first thing to note.

Principle two: It is doers of the Law, not merely hearers of it, who will be declared righteous: For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Merely because the Jews had the Law and were taught it, that did not mean they were automatically righteous. That is what is being inferred here. God gave the Law for it to be obeyed. But what about the Gentiles who don’t have the Law?

Principle three: Even if you don’t have the Law and yet live according to the things found in the Law, it becomes obvious that goodness is a natural thing found by a good conscience. Paul breaks this down into a number of statements: Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves.” i.e. when people outside the Jewish community, who do not know about the Law, do things similar to things found in the requirements of the Law, they show that they have a law within themselves, the law of right and wrong. That is how God has made us: even though they do not have the law, … they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” That is the truth; every person has within them an innate sense of right or wrong and it is shown by the way people try to live according to standards. We don’t live wildly and recklessly, by and large. We live according to various pre-determined standards and by that we show something of God’s design within us, to be moral beings.

This is revealed even more by the awareness of conscience: their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” Conscience is simply that inner awareness that we are moral beings and there are standards to be lived up to, standards that say there is a distinction between right and wrong.

We live in a day of moral relativism in the West, where people say there are no absolutes and that we live according to culture or our times, but the truth is that this is merely an excuse because, in reality, everyone does have standards. We may try to think that we are free and can do whatever we like, but when others start doing whatever they like and it harms us or affects our property we quickly squeal for the Law to come and apprehend those who have hurt or harmed us. We would all say that it is wrong for another to come and murder me or rape me. We all say it is wrong for someone to come and vandalise my car or steal my goods. Oh yes, as soon as it touches our lives these relativistic excuses are rapidly thrust away. They are the play toys of philosophers and those who want to excuse their bad behaviour.

The truth is that the moment you speak about something that “is not right” you reveal that you are a moral being and you have to wonder where that comes from. It is not merely a survival thing because I have so many possessions that if you steal one it does not threaten my survival. No I appeal to a hidden standard that says this is wrong, give me back what you have stolen. Even more we may appeal to the Law of the land to punish the person who took my goods; we appeal in the name of ‘justice’.

No, whether I like it or not I am a moral being. The only trouble is that I don’t even live up to my own standards. I think it is wrong to get angry and upset but I can’t stop myself sometimes. I know it is foolish to worry and get stressed but I can’t stop myself sometimes. Here is the human dilemma that Paul is inching towards: we are moral beings who have standards – whether laid down by God (the Law of Moses), laid down by our society (the law of the land) or laid down by me (my conscience) – but unfortunately we cannot abide by those laws. (Paul will expand on this in Chapter 7). Accept the truth: we all live – or fail to live – according to the rules. We have the rules, fail to keep them, and then feel bad. That is the major human dilemma.  That is the dilemma that the Gospel addresses. Hallelujah!

64. God corrects

Meditations in Job : 64. God of Correction

Job 36:5,6 God is mighty, but does not despise men; he is mighty, and firm in his purpose. He does not keep the wicked alive but gives the afflicted their rights.

Elihu is aware that he is giving a long answer to Job: “Bear with me a little longer and I will show you that there is more to be said in God’s behalf.” (v.2)  He believes that what he has to say comes out of his relationship with the Lord: “I get my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe justice to my Maker. Be assured that my words are not false; one perfect in knowledge is with you.” (v.3,4) His knowledge comes from the Lord and he will show that God is just, for God is here to make it clear.  Then he makes the declaration we have in our verses above, that although God is great He doesn’t look down on men. He is true to His nature, true to His purposes for the earth – He will disregard the wicked and bless those who are in need. He comes to bless the righteous: “He does not take his eyes off the righteous; he enthrones them with kings and exalts them forever.” (v.7). He purposes to exalt them.

But then there are those who are suffering because of what they have done: “But if men are bound in chains, held fast by cords of affliction, he tells them what they have done– that they have sinned arrogantly. He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil.” (v.8-10) He comes to them and points out the reason why they are like they are; He brings conviction with the objective of bringing change to them: “If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment.” (v.11)  Yet, He will not force them and so, “if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge.” (v.12)

The reality is that there will always be those who refuse to heed Him: “The godless in heart harbour resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help. They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines.” (v.13,14) They have no one to blame but themselves, for those who have an open heart will heed Him for He speaks to them, calling to them: “But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” (v.15)  What is He doing?  He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.” (v.16)  i.e. He is trying to draw you to a place where you can face the truth about yourself and be set free.

But not everyone will let God do that: “But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you.” (v.17) This appears to be directed at Job. Read it carefully though. He’s suffering from the judgment that is usually reserved for the wicked and has become the focus of a whole argument about judgment and justice. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he has been judged, just that he’s in a place where he’s suffering in the same way as those who are judged. A fine distinction!

In this place of suffering it is easy for our thinking to be distorted and we can be vulnerable to temptations, so Elihu warns him, “Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside.” (v.18) i.e. in your thinking, don’t let the thoughts of riches, of the life you’ve known in the past, bring you into wrong thinking. Don’t even think that a bribe could get you out of this. No, don’t even let your mind go in that direction; money can’t help in this sort of situation: “Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress?” (v.19) No, nothing of what you have known in the past can help here.

Don’t let your imagination wander to getting back at others who are less fortunate than you when no one else can see: “Do not long for the night, to drag people away from their homes.” (v.20) Elihu has heard Job scrabbling to make sense of what has happened, almost coming to the end of himself and the end of his righteousness, so he gives him a further nudge in the right direction: “Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction.” (v.21)  Don’t give up, don’t step over the line, off the path of righteousness.

Then he turns back to the Lord again and maintains His greatness and His integrity: “God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, `You have done wrong’?” (v.22,23) Make sure you maintain a right perspective about the Lord: “Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it; men gaze on it from afar. How great is God–beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.” (v.24-26) In the closing verses (v.27-35) he speaks about the way the Lord works in nature, revealing His mighty power. The inference is that we would do well not to contend with such a Mighty One.

There are commentators who are very negative about Elihu’s words in this chapter. I have sought to interpret them in line with the grace that comes from this young man earlier on. He has shown that he respects the aged and so I believe his words are gracious words. I believe he recognises, with the wisdom given him by God, that in deep anguish our minds wander (v.18-21) into wrong thoughts. How many of us fanaticise about what we might like to do – but that it very different from what we would actually do!   Elihu, I suggest, is helping Job face his fantasies and thus see that they are foolish. Perhaps here is a very great lesson that comes through in Job.  It is one thing to let your mind wander all over the place, even into completely wrong thinking, because who knows how much of that is inspired by the enemy, but the righteous, at the end of it all, will still remain righteous and will not give way to those thoughts. Take hold of what you think; assess it and make sure you do not step off the path of righteousness in what you then say and do.