25. Contemptuous

Meditations in Romans : 25 :  Contemptuous?

Rom 2:3,4 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

The trouble with life is that it is so easy to jump to wrong conclusions about God. If you read the book of Job you find Job’s three friends jumping to the conclusion that all his misfortunes were the judgment of God on his sin, but the truth was that God had declared him righteous and the misfortunes were simply a test. Now I say this because so often silly people jump to the conclusion either that there is no God or that he is impotent, because they see so little of His corrective activity. The sinful man doesn’t realise that God is holding out a hand to him to save him, and because he doesn’t see God moving to deal with and stop him sinning, he is contemptuous of God’s inactivity and so carries on sinning even more. Wrong assessment of God, friend!

In the previous meditation we considered the danger of pointing fingers at other people and judging them for being less than perfect. We did stray into verse 3 and recognise that we are in trouble if we do that when we ourselves do similar things to those Paul listed, if not actually some of them.  We did observe our inability to live completely righteous lives and therefore the folly of judging others when we are just the same.

So now we move on a little bit from that and consider in more detail the second folly, that of being contemptuous of God’s grace and mercy, for that is what it is when we disdain God’s restraint in respect of us. This restraint of God has always been a stumbling block to people. We see it in the book of Job when even Job himself falls into the trap of wondering why bother being righteous when God seems to let sinners get away with it.

In fact so big a problem is it to some that even the apostle Peter weighs in on this subject when he says, By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:7-9). Yes, says Peter, there is coming a day of judgment when God will wind everything up on the earth but don’t be confused by the fact that God is waiting for this day; it is just that He is giving you every opportunity to come to repentance and be saved.

Now do you see that last bit? That is exactly the same as Paul is saying when he speaks of people, “not realizing that God’s kindness leads you to repentance.” That is what God is working for, our repentance. Repentance simply means a one hundred and eighty degree turnabout. We have been living self-centred, unrighteous lives and He is waiting for us to come to our senses and do an about turn to seek after godly and righteous lives. That is why He is waiting and not bringing destructive judgment on you. Merely because you seem to be getting away with it for the moment, don’t think that you are safe! You’re just being given breathing space in which God wants you to come to your senses and see the hopelessness of your godless situation and turn to Him for salvation that he wants to bring through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This is the frightening thing about life before God who looks on and sees all that we do. In His grace, instead of striking us down, He gives us this awesome responsibility of taking decisions for our lives, decisions that can take us further and further away from Him and further and further towards destruction. And what is even more scary is our apparent blindness while this is happening; we fail to observe the symptom of sin and its effects and we take for granted the fact that we feel miserable or depressed, that we seem to always be striving to achieve self-worth, that we seem to always be at odds with other people, that we are having money problems, sex problems, health problems and indeed, problems in every area of life. We don’t realise that these things are NOT natural, are not part of the lives that God has designed us to live, but are symptoms or effects of the sin that drives self ever deeper into these things. We seem utterly blind to these things!

And all the while, there in the background is God’s “kindness, tolerance and patiencethat continues to desire good for you.  All the while He is giving you free reign to do your own thing in the desire that you will eventually realise that ‘doing your own thing’ is not the best way. In fact it just leads you down this downward slope towards ultimate destruction – and you thought you were free! No, this is God giving you space to come to your senses. How far down the slope do you have to go before that happens? If this is you, it’s time to stop and take stock of your folly and come to your senses. You’re heading for destruction but God wants something wonderful for you – to bring His blessing into your life, to call you a child of God with an eternal destiny and a new purpose in life while still here on this earth, but that can’t come until you turn to Him. What if He calls, “Time’s up!” tomorrow. Don’t presume that His grace will last for ever. Today is a day for action.

50. God, the Judge

Meditations in James: 50: God is the Judge

Jas 5:9    Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

On the basis of this verse and what I have observed over many years as a Christian, I suspect that there is a lot of judging going on in the church – by God! Now because the Gospel of grace is preached in the church, Christians sometimes think it doesn’t matter what they say or do, because they will be forgiven by God through the work of Christ on the Cross. Well this is a big subject that needs a variety of answers.

The first answer is that God’s salvation is for all who repent and put their lives into God’s hands. Now implied within that is that they surrender to Him and are obedient to His word and to His Spirit as they ‘follow Jesus’.  Is it possible for salvation to be lost?  I believe on the basis of such verses as Ezek 18:24 and Heb 6:4-6 (as well as many other incidental verses) it is, but not by occasional lapses but by purposeful apostasy.

The second thing to note is about the question of whether a Christian can ‘get away with’ sin.  Paul taught that we have died to sin and should therefore no longer sin (Rom 6:1,2). Sin, for the Christian, should ever only be the occasional lapse when we are tripped up by the enemy. John wrote, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) i.e. we shouldn’t sin but if there is a lapse, Jesus will be there for us.

But supposing we accept a particular behaviour that we tolerate because we think it is all right – such as grumbling against others – but which isn’t!  Does God just sit back and let us ‘get away with it’?  Well, remember that His purpose is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18).  He is not going to put that purpose aside because we have decided we like doing this particular thing.  Oh no, He will take action to deal with that in us.  The writer to the Hebrews understood this: My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5,6). Later he wrote,No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11). No, if you tolerate unrighteousness in your life, then along the way you will encounter circumstances that the Hebrews’ writer refers to as ‘hardship’ – Endure hardship as discipline.” (v.7). Will you lose your salvation? No! Will you incur God’s discipline? Yes!

We say all this, of course, in the light of our verse in James today.  God will discipline me for grumbling, you ask?  Again the writer to the Hebrews points us back to the Old Testament when he says, we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert (Heb 3:6-8).  There he was referring back to the time when Israel ‘grumbled’ in the desert and were judged for it.  Many of them died (Num 11:1-3).  Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses and Miriam was left leprous (Num 12:1-15).  Because the people grumbled against going into the land, the Lord forbad that generation form entering (Num 14:26-29).  Grumbling in each of these instances was complaining about the leadership of the people. That’s where grumbling occurs, when God’s people are negative about their leaders, and this is also grumbling against God (because they are His representatives.

So it is that James realizes the severity of grumbling and warns the church against it. Yet he doesn’t spell out the negative consequences of disunity in a church, he simply reminds us that we are accountable to God: you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” i.e. God is watching and He will not let this go.  He will see it, know exactly what it is – sin – and will come and deal with it.

We have already commented recently on Paul’s warnings over Communion but it applies again here: For 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. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:29-32).  The Corinthians were being casual about how they came to God and were abusing one another. Because they would not heed the Spirit of God within them, the Lord had simply taken a number of them to heaven to be with Him.  He wouldn’t let them carry on there on the earth in the church.

When a couple named Ananias and Sapphira decided to lie and appear more holy than they were, the Lord used them as an example to the rest of the church and took them to heaven. That doesn’t mean they lost their eternal salvation but it does mean they were taken out of His plans here on earth.

There are serious issues here, and perhaps they may be summed up as, don’t be casual about sin, for you will be answerable to God and the very least He will do is discipline you here and now in your present circumstances. We would prefer not to think about the alternative, as we value our lives here on earth. What does this verse say? God holds us accountable. Think about it.

20. Judgment & Mercy

Meditations in James: 20 :  Judgement & Mercy

Jas 2:12,13     Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Sometimes in Scripture we move into areas where there is language being used that is not used in common, every-day life, and which, therefore, requires some definition.  This is one such place. ‘Judging’ is fairly easy because we have TV programmes where people have to perform and are then ‘judged’ by a panel. When we talk about judging, we talk about assessing or, to use an older phrase, being weighed in the balances. ‘Mercy’ is not so commonly used. Mercy is unfounded compassion. Mercy isn’t earned or deserved; it is just given. Now we have to apply these two words to see what James is saying in these rather complex verses.

First of all he makes a call in respect of our behaviour – speak and act. But we are to speak and act in a particular way, a way governed by what is going to happen to us in the future. He says, when you speak or act remember that you are going to be judged or assessed by the law of love that we have been recently considering. That law of love brings a freedom of movement; it allows us to reach out and touch others in very positive and purposeful ways. The law of love will be the yardstick by which we are measured.

Now earlier we didn’t go the full extent with the definition of judgement because it doesn’t only refer to the act of assessing, it also involves the act of determining what happens to the person being judged.  On these performance-TV shows the person or couple who is judged to have been bottom of the contestants, leaves the show and doesn’t appear any more. When we read of judgement in the Bible it can be either eternal judgement – where our eternal destiny takes us – or judgement that is short-term discipline, or even long-term if that discipline doesn’t bring the fruits that God is looking for when he brings it.  Judgement is also used in terms of rewards in heaven.

There is a clear Scriptural teaching that we Christians will receive in heaven according to how we have lived here: If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor 3:12:12-15) and For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10) and Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Rev 22:12). The message is very clear. When we are Christians we have an eternal destiny in heaven with God, but the nature or character of that destiny (to start with at least) appears to be determined by the nature or character of the lives we lived here.  That is the judgement that James is possibly referring to.

But we need to consider his comments about mercy as well. Remember that he has just been speaking against favouritism and favouritism puts some people down while it elevates others. The poor needed our kindness and we didn’t give it.  We failed to show them mercy is what James is implying.  Oh yes, this isn’t a branch off to some completely different subject; this is an extension of his argument about treating all people equally and well.  If you don’t show people mercy, is what he is saying, you will not be shown mercy when it comes to your judgement time.  When you have finished your performance and are being assessed on it, if you haven’t included mercy in your performance, don’t expect to be shown mercy.  Expanding that word, if you haven’t shown undeserved compassion to those who needed it, don’t ask for special favours to get more than you deserve in heaven. Everything we have and will have, comes by God’s mercy and grace. He doesn’t HAVE to give us anything. We deserved eternal punishment, but in His mercy, His undeserving compassion, He offered us salvation through Jesus. That gave us a new eternal destiny.

But within that new life, He still gives us free will to choose how we will respond to His word and His Spirit and, therefore, we can be dilatory and casual and fail to be the people He wants us to be. If we are like that, we need to realise there are consequences. We may not loose our eternal destiny (though I believe Scripture indicates that is possible where there is apostasy) but we may not get all we could get if we had fully entered into the will of God, what He desired for us – which included letting His love reach out through us to those who were poor and needy.  Oh yes, there are definitely long-term consequences to what we do or don’t do today, and we really do need to consider those in determining how we will live now.

23. Trial or Rejection

Meditations in Job : 23 :  Trial or Rejection

Job 8:20 Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.

We commented previously that not only is Job being tested, but so are his three friends and so are we when we read about him – and them! In fact the truth is that we are being tested – and revealed – every time we encounter another human being. How do we ‘cope’ with other people? How easy it is to be defensive about other people, or judge or assess them if they don’t quite match up to what we think a ‘nice’ person is, or even ‘our kind of person’ is. If we are Christians it is even easier to find ourselves assessing or judging people because of how they appear to us. We each of us have our ‘theological viewpoints’ (even though most of us would deny we are theologians), because we have certain understandings and those direct us how we should think about others.

Bildad is no different. We’ve seen him throughout Chapter 8, directly challenging Job, and about what has happened to his family. We saw his assessment of what had happened to Job’s children (v.4) even though there was no indication whatsoever that they had been sinning. How often, I wonder, do we jump to conclusions when we don’t have all the facts? One of my favourite short stories by Adrian Plass is about a poor man who wouldn’t take Communion in an Anglican church. The vicar jumped to the conclusion that there must be sin in his life until, when pressed, he confessed he had a hole in the sole of his shoe and didn’t want to kneel at the communion rail so that people would see the hole!

The implication that went with what happened to the children was that Job was to blame for their bad behaviour, because Bildad then went on to explain to Job (as if he needed it explaining) that if you straighten yourself out before God He will forgive and restore you (v.5-7). Of course it was being said as a general principle but Job knew that it was aimed at him. He then called on previous generations (tradition) to confirm what he was saying (v.8-10) and went on to explain that if we drift away from God we can be snatched by the enemy (v.11-19). In all that he is saying, there is either a direct or indirect link between sin and judgment (suffering).  This is Bildad’s world-view and there is a lot of truth in it. The only problem is that chapters 1 and 2 reveal to us that actually sin wasn’t at the heart of all this! This is not happening because Job sinned, because he didn’t!

This is why Bildad now comes to this condemning piece of logic: Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.” God doesn’t reject a blameless man and so wouldn’t dream of judging him with suffering – that’s the implication – so what should follow but which remains unsaid is, “And so, Job, the logical conclusion has got to be you are a sinner and we all know that the only hope for a sinner is that they repent of their sin.” That’s all wrapped up in the implication of what has just been said, and now what follows it: He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. Your enemies will be clothed in shame, and the tents of the wicked will be no more.” (v.21,22) Yes, if you repent of your sin then God will make everything right again.

See it yet again, that we have truth applied to a wrong situation. He’s absolutely right, God does not reject a blameless man, but who’s to say that what is happening is God rejecting Job?  For us as Christians the New Testament bears witness that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5). If we stumble and fall, Jesus is there interceding for us (1 Jn 2:1). Yes, we can purposefully walk away but while our hearts are inclined in His direction, even weakly, He is there for us and nothing can separate us from His love (Rom 8)

So why is all this happening if it isn’t God rejecting Job? We’ve seen it before a number of times but we need to say it again and again until it has utterly permeated our hearts. God doesn’t reject us but He does try us. Yes, He does put us through trying times so, as James says,the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:3,4) That is what more often happens when things are ‘going wrong’; the Lord is allowing us to be tested so that we will learn to stand and be strong and remain faithful. Little children want to keep on giving up when things are difficult, but the mature person settles in for the duration, determined that with God’s grace they are going to see this difficulty through.

Trials or tests come in lots of ways in life. In fact one might say they are a necessary part of life. A piano tuner tests all the keys of a piano to ensure they are in tune. A doctor puts a stethoscope to your chest to test that your heart is functioning properly, and takes your blood pressure for the same reason. When a piece of electronic equipment breaks down, the engineer carries out a series of ‘diagnostics’ to find out what has happened to stop it working properly. In each of these instances, a test is being carried out to ensure that whatever it is, is working properly.  We are being tuned by life to function as Jesus. Paul said we are being changed into his likeness gradually by the working of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:18).

The Bible speaks about maturity as something that we are working towards (e.g. Eph 4:12,13, Col 4:12, Heb 5:14). This is what God is doing with our lives – helping us grow up into maturity. How does He know how well we are doing? By putting us through a test! That is what is happening to Job and the only trouble is that his three friends don’t realise that, which is why they keep making a wrong diagnosis. When things go wrong in our lives, do we realise that this is a diagnostic test being carried out in heaven? God’s desire is that a) we learn through it, and b) we pass it with flying colours!  May it be so!