18. Outworkings

Meditations in 1 Peter : 18 :  Practical Outworkings

1 Pet 2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

In the previous meditation I wrote about appreciation of words, and particularly link words. Well, here we have another important link-word: “Therefore”. Therefore simply means, so or because of what has gone before, this is what should now follow. It is a word that implies logic. What does this “therefore” link to? Surely it must be, you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again… therefore….” Peter is saying because you have been born again, because you have received this new Holy Spirit empowered life from God, because you are to have love for one another, it means that there are a number of things that you can no longer have in your life; they just don’t go together.

Check out this list of things that Peter speaks of here.  First of all malice. Malice is a desire or intent to harm physically or verbally another person. It is ill-will towards others. If you love others, how can you possibly hold malice in your heart toward them? Perhaps another way of putting it is to say how can you hold on to the malice you used to have in your life before you were born again, now that your life has been empowered by and filled with love for others?

Then there is deceit. Deceit is deceiving or lying to others, creating false or wrong impressions and seeking to lead others astray. How can you possibly seek to lead others astray if you love them?

Then comes hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is pretence, pretending to be what you are not. It is putting yourself forward as one thing but in reality being something else. Normally it is someone pretending to be greater than they are. It may be pretending to be a friend when in fact you are not. Where there is a loving relationship, truthfulness and honesty are required ingredients and there is, therefore no room for hypocrisy.

Next envy is mentioned. Envy is discontent and dislike because someone else has got something you haven’t, and very often it can be in respect of a personal position or standing. If we love others deeply, we can never feel envy about them for we will always want the best of them and we will not begrudge them what they have.

Finally there is slander. Slander is simply speaking badly and wrongly about others, saying things about them which are untrue. If we love others deeply, how can we possibly speak ill of others?

Each of these things is something that is directly contrary to love. They are ‘bad relationship’ issues and as such have no place in the life of the person who has been born again and who is indwelt by the loving Holy Spirit. Yet how easy it is to allow negative feelings to grow within us about other people! There is, I believe, only one way to make sure that these things do not get sown in our lives by the enemy and that is to have a positive strategy for good towards everyone else you know. If we pray for them and seek God’s blessing on them, we will counter these things and stop them growing in us like weeds that eventually fill the garden if left unattended. No, we have to be proactive and look for their good, look to bless them in prayer, in word and in deed. Where there is hostility towards us from others we need to be loving and understanding and forgiving so that their words or actions cannot be taken and used by the enemy to sow these things in us that Peter has been speaking about.

There is a general point that we should pick up in passing, and it is that when a person is born again and becomes a Christian there are practical changes that we should expect to see coming about in their lives if this has been a genuine conversion. I am always very unhappy if there is an apparent profession of faith but no change in the life style. It simply says that the Holy Spirit has not done the life-changing work that is referred to in the phrase “being born again”. Whenever it does genuinely happen there will immediately be big changes in the person. They start on the inside and work outwards. For a friend of mine it was the conviction that he should stop smoking. It took him a little while but it happened. For me, one of the things was the desire to stop swearing once I became a Christian. However, so engrained was it in my life that it took six months before I knew the Lord had totally set me free from swearing. For others it may be the knowledge that they have to deal with anger, or even the things in Peter’s list today. The things vary according to the person – but there will be change. A heart change always brings a behaviour change, a life change. Check it out.

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15. Tongue & Heart

Meditations in James: 15 :  Tongue & Heart

Jas 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

I have this picture of a heavenly watcher keeping score of all the different sorts of sins being committed on earth. I’ve got this horrible feeling that it’s not the sins of physical or sexual violence, or of taking other people’s property, that score the most, it’s sins of the tongue. Why? Because it is so easy to do!  Go into any room where there are a lot of people and just listen.  People talk. People talk a lot. In the 12th meditation of this series I quoted a verse from Proverbs which has convicted me in the past: When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19).  Some of us are quieter than others. Perhaps they are the wise ones.

Being in a church context, I’m often in a room with lots of other people and I enjoy just sitting and watching what is going on. I hope that in the church the talk is good. Mostly in my presence it is, but what about behind the closed doors where just two or three are discussing the many facets of a church’s life. If Jesus was sitting quietly in the background, listening in on what was being said, I wonder if some of the things actually would be said?  Paul challenges us about malice, slander and telling lies (Col 3:8,9). Malice is speaking unkindly about another person. Slander is speaking falsely about another person, and lies are simply not speaking the truth. Listen to the gossip in the street and it’s always about other people, and so often it is either unkind or inaccurate. For people in the world, we should expect it for they have no standard to keep to, but for people who claim to be religious, now that is something else!

But it may not be behind people’s backs; it may things said directly to someone. They may be unkind and harsh. They may be critical and demeaning. How about the husband who makes derogatory comments about his wife, or the wife who is nagging or even scathing about her husband? According to James’ general comment here, these things should not be. Or there is the parent who snaps at the child or the teenager who answers back to their parent’s rebuke. These things should not be.  Or maybe it is at work. Here is the boss who acts like a bully to his or her employees. Listen to their forceful demeaning words. If they are ‘religious’ it should not be so. Or here is the employee making excuses why their work is substandard, and the truth is not being completely told. Then there is school or college, fertile grounds for harsh use of the tongue, especially when discipline is not all it could be. Everywhere you turn, there are people and people have a habit of using their tongue and not for good and edifying purposes.

With his use of the words religious’ and ‘religion’, James seems to make an all-sweeping inclusion of anyone who purports to have spiritual beliefs, beliefs about God. Forget it, says James, if you can’t even control your tongue, your ‘religion’ is worthless. Now that is strong language! It actually says to a lot of people that their beliefs and even actions on a Sunday are worthless.  Why is he so strong on the subject of the tongue? Well it will come up again in his writings but let’s consider the motivation behind what comes out of the mouth.

Isaiah said something very simple: For the fool speaks folly (Isa 32:6). What he was saying was that because a person was a fool, he will speak foolish things. The two go together. The opposite is true also. Later he spoke of: He who walks righteously and speaks what is right (Isa 33:15). If the intent of your walk through life is righteousness, then you will speak righteously. On one occasion Jesus challenged the Pharisees of his day: You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Mt 12:34,35). Did you see what he said? The mouth speaks what is overflowing from the heart. If you have a heart that is not fully God-centred then out of the mouth will come self-centred words.  Sometimes people speak hostile attacking words because deep down they feel threatened.  Their outward angry words reveal an inner defensiveness. Young people today, from broken families, so often speak hard and harsh words as they reflect the inner pain and insecurity that they feel.

Oh yes, the reason James is so strong about what comes out of the mouth is because it reflects what is going on inside. You may ‘say’ you are religious, but if that faith is not bearing fruit inside you and bringing inner change to you, as evidenced by the words you speak, then that religion isn’t worth much, is it!  The truth is that if we really want to we can rein in our words, but that is very difficult if the heart hasn’t been dealt with. Becoming a real Christian is a heart experience. Our heart is broken and we give it to God to transform. In that attitude, He works and we are brought into a new place of security and love, and that is reflected by the words that then come out of our mouths. However, all along the path, the enemy is trying to stir up something else within us, so that out of our mouths come hurtful, harmful, unkind or untrue words. Yes, there may be the occasional slip, but if the heart is being transformed, then they will only be an occasional slip. For the most part, our words should be as Paul said, Let your conversation be always full of grace (Col 4:6). But remember, it’s a heart thing first and foremost, so check out your words and then consider whether you need to go to the Lord for further heart surgery. 

38. Changed Lives (2)

Ephesians Meditations No.38

Eph  4:29-32 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you

We continue with this list of very practical things that Paul is writing about, ways of living out the life we now have with Christ. We remind ourselves again that the Christian life is first of all about what has been done to us by God’s Holy Spirit on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and then about how that works out in our everyday lives, the part we have to play in it all. In the previous meditation we saw the first three things that Paul highlighted – the way we speak (truthfully), the way we feel (limiting anger) and then the way we respect other people’s possessions (no stealing). So let’s see how he continues.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Now that is challenging, especially in the light of the today’s tendency to be free and easy in respect of speech. Recently we watched a comedian known for one line jokes, performing for about ten minutes. For the first seven minutes you could not fault his humour but in the last three minutes he slid into sexual innuendo (and not innuendo!). It was as if he just couldn’t keep away from it. We heard of another comedian who decided to do an evening without swearing and found he got just as many laughs and so decided to reduce the language from then on. Comedians (and our acceptance of them) are good gauges of society and sadly in the Britain, we don’t show up very well. It used to be said, “Only say what you could have said in front of your grandmother.” Why a grandmother? I think it is because of our assumption that standards used to be much tighter. We’ve lost a lot. Have you? If you have, it’s time to do a clean up on your language if you are a Christian.

But Paul doesn’t leave the language issue negatively. He continues: “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” He says what Solomon so often says in the Proverbs: your tongue can be a means of blessing others. Do you bless other with what you say to them? Do they feel built up and encouraged by you?

But then there comes a hidden implication: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The And’ means that is a continuation from what has just been said. In other words you have the capacity, by what you say, of grieving or upsetting the Holy Spirit who lives in you. He is holy and pure. Is your language holy and pure? If not you will be upsetting the Lord who lives within you. (And then we have the nerve to ask things of Him!!). When you first met your husband/wife/partner and fell in love, I am sure you would have only said things to them that you know would have blessed them, and not said things you knew would have upset them, so why do we say things that we know will upset God?

He then continues with a sweeping list: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The fruit of the spirit is gentleness (Gal 5:22,23) so how can we equate that which He wants to work out in us with any of the things in this list? We shouldn’t need to work our way through this list should we? These things are things in the life of someone who is disturbed and not at peace with themselves or with God; these are the outworkings of a person who is out of control of their life. Yet the fruit of the Spirit is also self-control (Gal 5:23) and we are told to add self-control to our lives (2 Pet 1:6). Rage and anger’ are expressions of a person out of control, but as Christians this should not be us.Slander and malice’ are expressions of a person out of control, unable to be gracious and that must not be us. ‘Bitterness’ is an emotion that has taken us over, and we must not let that happen.Brawling’ is out of control (drunken?) behaviour that often results in harm or damage – and that must not be us. Check it out: get rid of these if they occur in your life!

But again Paul puts in the positive to counter these negatives: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This is a totally different sort of person and this is what Christ calls us to. Is that you? Good hearted and gentle and caring and feeling for people? Is that you? Not holding onto grievances? The message is simple and straight forward: Christians are supposed to be nice to be around! In an article I came across recently, an atheist grudgingly conceded that “Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” I thought that was a tremendous testimony, especially coming from an atheist! But that’s how it is supposed to be. As another writer wrote, “Part of the reason for Christianity’s rapid spread, historians have remarked, was simply that the early Christians were such nice people.” Let’s keep it like that!

(This will be the end of the series in Ephesians for a while – we’re going to have a break but will come back and finish the book in a couple of weeks time)