14. Aspiring to Kindness

Aspiring Meditations: 14.  Aspiring to know Kindness

Acts 14:17   Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Gal 5:22   the fruit of the Spirit is ….kindness

Rom 2:4  do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

With this next ‘aspiration’ we move into a less definite or specific area. Kindness is one of those things most of us accept and say we understand in the English language and yet when it comes to defining it, it is not so easy.  So let’s start with a dictionary definition: Kindness = the quality of being friendly, generous, helpful and considerate.

In the first of our verses above Barnabas or Saul, speaking about God, said that the fact that we have rain helping grow crops which provide us with our food, is a sign of God’s kindness, i.e. He is good because He does this. Kindness is clearly something good that can be observed in a person’s attitude or behaviour. There is a gentleness about this word, a sense of soft approach in doing good to another. It has behind it a feeling of well-being towards another which may involve concern and consideration.

When writing to the church at Rome, Paul said it was God’s kindness that worked to lead us to repentance. In that sense God was being gently helpful in leading us towards Himself and to repentance and on to salvation. To Titus, Paul linked it to love and mercy: But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”  (Titus 3:4,5) When it is used in connection with how the Lord dealt with Joseph in the Old Testament, it has the same feel: “while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” (Gen 39:20,20) Because God was with and for Joseph, His loving mercy was being expressed to him in the way the Lord spoke into the heart of the prison warder to think well of Joseph and see the good in him. Jeremiah put this characteristic of the Lord right up front: “let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” (Jer 9:24) The Lord, he says, delights in being kind, in exercising kindness. It is apt that this study follows on yesterday’s for we see, “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Cor 13:4). Kindness is indeed an expression of love.

All of this so far has been about trying to tie down kindness as seen in the Lord, but what about us? It is interesting that the apostle Paul considered kindness as something that commended to apostles to the church: “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness (2 Cor 6:4-6) Kindness, he implied, is a characteristic of a servant of God. This he spells out to Timothy: “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Tim 2:24)

But even more than that, it is to be seen in all of the people of God: “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col 3:12) To the Ephesians he simply said,. “Be kind and compassionate to one another,” (Eph 4:32) and to the Thessalonians he said, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thess 5:15). Of course we have already touched on ‘brotherly kindness’ in Peter’s list in his second letter, but from what we have seen above, it is a requisite for every believer according to the apostle Paul.

We need not ask therefore, why should I aspire to this, for it is obvious from the above. But how do I do this, how can I increase it in my life, how can I aspire to more of it expressed through me?  It has to start by the way I view all other people. Many years ago I formulated a church mission statement that started, “To create a growing community of God’s people that is loving, accepting and caring, and which is able to minister God’s love, reconciliation and healing with a servant heart….” If I hold to that statement I will, I believe almost inevitably express kindness to both those inside the church and outside it.

Kindness will be the gentle expression of good-will towards all others, desiring the best for them, but expressed in small and simple ways, showing interest, concern and compassion, being willing to give time and a listening ear and then simply be there with whatever is needed. Again I ponder the question, by what will I be remembered? It almost sounds too soft, but it is certainly a scriptural requirement, so will they be able to say, “He was such a kind man,” or “whenever you were with him you could be sure of receiving kindness,”? If we are kind, people will know it; it is something that communicates, even if we find it difficult to attach precise meanings to it. In the story of Abraham’s servant encountering Rebekah, the servant prayed, “By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” (Gen 24:14) Perhaps we might put that, “By this I will know that you are working for good for my master,” because that is what is being ‘kind’. When you and I are kind to another, we are doing something for their good, something to bless them. May it be so.

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23. God’s Work in us

Meditations in Titus: 23:  God’s work in us

Titus 3:4-7  But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

We’ve said previously that there are in Titus short passages that succinctly lay out essential doctrines, and these verses are another one of those. The previous verse had been full of the negatives of our old life but now Paul brings it right round to the positives of what God has done for us, the work of the Gospel.

He first of all describes this Gospel work as when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared.” Jesus coming was first and foremost an expression of the kindness and love of God. It was God’s love that motivated the godhead to devise this plan before the foundation of the world that would entail the Son of God leaving heaven and coming to earth. Behind everything we read in the New Testament is this kindness and love of God. What did he do?

“he saved us.” That is it as briefly and succinctly as you can make it – he saved us! We were lost, helpless and hopeless and Jesus came and saved us. But, says Paul, be under no illusions, it was “ not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” God did this, not because he found righteous people on the earth, because none of us were righteous. We were lost, we were away from God, doing our own self-centred, godless thing and unrighteousness was the outworking in our lives. No, God did this for no other reason than His mercy. Mercy is something that is not earned but just given for no other reason than He wants to.  So Jesus coming to die for us wasn’t because God saw something good in us. To the contrary, He saw that there was no good in us and we couldn’t escape this state on our own; we had to have His help

So what has God done in us as a result of Jesus dying on the Cross for us?He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” This is a funny way of putting it because it doesn’t focus on the work of Jesus on the Cross taking our sin and our punishment, but it focuses on the outworking of that work in us, what has happened to us as a result. He reminds us that we have been washed clean and free of our old life by the fact that we have been ‘born again’ and our lives have been completely renewed  by this working of the Holy Spirit.

Now why is Paul emphasizing this outworking rather than focusing on the work of the Cross? The reason, I suggest, is because he is emphasizing again and again that the new believers are now completely different people, different from what they used to be and different from all those who lived round about them. He wants to remind them what has happened to them to make them different. He wants them to live out new holy and righteous lives but to do this they need to understand or be reminded that they can do this because they are new creatures in Christ, empowered and made new by his Holy Spirit. This is all about living sanctified lives.

So he emphasises the work of the Holy Spirit, “whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”  Jesus’ work on the Cross opened the way for us to receive his forgiveness and cleansing so that when we turned to him, Jesus could pour his Holy Spirit into us so that we would be born again and be able live Spirit-empowered lives. Jesus has done all that was needed for us to receive His Spirit and so now all that remains is for us to receive the fruits of his work, or as Paul now puts it, “so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (v.7)

Jesus’ grace was his act of dying for us so that now we may be justified before the Father – made right in His eyes, just as if we had never sinned, and now we have been put right with the Father, we have now become heirs of all that He has for us, eternal life and all that goes with that, living out our lives here on earth as His sons and daughters and then living with Him in eternity.

So there we are, new people with a future, all because of Jesus’ work on the Cross and the work of his Holy Spirit in us. How wonderful!  All we’ve got to do is live out these lives in the recognition and fullness of that.

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!

31. Reputation

Meditations in Romans : 31 :  A Question of Reputation

Rom 2:22-24 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

One of the tragic things about the tidal wave of attacks from crusading atheists in the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century in the West, is that although they purport to attack the existence of God, their ability to attack Him on the basis of Biblical doctrine is virtually non-existence. Instead their attacks are based on the behaviour and activities of those who purport to be the Christian Church, past and present. We give them a great deal of ammunition! It should not be! It seems that the history of Judaism and of Christianity both simply go to confirm the Bible’s teaching that man is sinful and gets it wrong – even when they are supposed to have a relationship with God!

Paul is challenging the Jews of Rome who rely upon their knowing the Law and apparently having some sort of relationship with the Lord.  He has been saying that it is not sufficient to know the Law in your head; you need to be obeying it, living it out.  Here he now gives two examples: You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” It’s all very well to proclaim the Ten Commandments (e.g. “You shall not commit adultery – Ex 20:14) but actually if you commit adultery you are dishonouring God and are breaking the commandment. Simply knowing about the command is not enough! Stealing from Pagan temples was obviously a common occurrence. Believers might have justified such behaviour that it was only pagan temples they were taking from. Certainly later in history that happened and one assumes from Paul’s comment that it had probably already happened.

In these two things we see Paul’s charges against these almost-believing Jews to be summarised as  a) you fail to keep the commandments of the Law, and  b) your general behaviour in the world is questionable!  i.e. it’s not only your failure to keep the Law, it’s also your failure to live decently anyway.  As he goes on to say, the result of this is that they dishonour God.  They purport to be followers of God but their behaviour is just as bad as anyone else and so this demeans God in the eyes of the world.

In fact he then goes on to quote the Septuagint version of Isaiah: As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Our version of Isaiah 52:5 reads, “And now what do I have here?” declares the LORD. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,” declares the LORD. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” A similar accusation was found in Ezekiel: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” (Ezek 36:22)

In both cases, Israel’s behaviour was less that would be expected from those who claimed to follow a holy God. In both cases the world was mocking the Jews and deriding the name of the Lord because of the behaviour of the Jews. Such a thing should not have happened but it did.

Thus we say again, today the Christian community worldwide should not be providing fuel for the world to mock.  We more than any others should be living ethically correct lives; we should be showing an example of goodness, kindness, gentleness and love to all around us. We more than others should be peacemakers: those who bring reconciliation, who speak only truth, who refrain from gossip, slander and speaking badly about others. We, surely, should be those who shy away from dubious business practices, away from greed and covetousness and taking advantage of others. We in our churches should, surely, seek to be simple in our worship and adoration of our Lord and avoid charges of excesses.

We, surely, should be bringers of the love of God with respect and gentleness and with honesty and integrity. We, surely, should be lights to the world, doing good things that bring glory to our Father in heaven (Mt 5:14-16). We, surely, should not be argumentative but gently persuasive. In us, surely, should be seen patience and perseverance. But how often do we fail!  How often does the name of the church or the image of the church be derided on TV?

How often is the image of men of the church portrayed in weakness and silliness? How often are people of the church portrayed as weird? We are different but that shouldn’t mean weird! We, more than any others, should be seen as ordinarily good, not freaky but good to be around!  Aren’t we called to be salt and doesn’t salt bring out flavour? Aren’t we those who should enhance the quality of the lives of our communities?  Or do we hide away in religious ghettos? These are questions that leaders of the Church, and we who form the Church, need to face and be honest about otherwise, like the Jews Paul was speaking about, we will continue to let the name of the Lord down! May it not be!