51. Obedience

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

51. Obedience

Mt 28:19,20   go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Acts 5:32  the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him

Jn 8:51 whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

So Obvious: It is so obvious this thing about obedience that you might wonder why we are bothering to think about it. Perhaps it is because it is so obvious that we tend not to think about it. Consider: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mk 1:17,18) Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” (Mk 1:20) Jesus said to James and John, follow me, and they did. That was obedience. Then, “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” (Mk 2:14) Jesus said to Levi, follow me, and he did. That was obedience.

Reasons for Doing: Do you see the pattern? It is one that is followed throughout the Gospels. Jesus tells the disciples to do things – and they do. That is obedience. At the heart of discipleship is obedience, and because it is so obvious that we might forget it, let’s state it, obedience means DOING what Jesus says.  In the ‘Great Commission’ in Mt 28, it is to “obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice the strength of these words. ‘Obey’ means to respond positively to whatever God says. “Everything” means that we cannot take bits of things we find in the New Testament and exclude them. This is all-inclusive, it means nothing Jesus said is outside our discipleship. “Commanded” means instructed with authority. God doesn’t give nice advice. He says, do this. And He expects us to do it. It is not obligatory, and it is a call to all disciples.

Focus: I found myself writing the following the other day: “Church is not for your entertainment. It is for your salvation, your transformation, your equipping and your sending.” Many of us turn up on Sunday morning expecting to be entertained by nice lifting music, and a humourous entertaining sermon so we go out feeling happy. Last Sunday I listened to the minister ask the congregation, “Why are you here? What have you come for?” As I sat there and pondered that, my answer was, “To meet God, to meet with His people, and to be changed.” I was surprised by the force of that and so I think it is worth thinking about.

To Meet with God: As I have indicated a number of times in this series, if the Holy Spirit is leading us when we gather together, He will have inspired the worship team, inspired the leadership and hopefully will inspire us, and it will all be to the end that we encounter God.  Now Job is an uncomfortable book in many ways, but it is also enlightening. Not only does it reveal to us some of the inner workings of heaven, as well as the anguishes of living on a fallen world, but we also see (at the end) the effect of encountering God: “My ears had heard of you  but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself   and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6) When we truly realize we have met with God, we are humbled. When Peter encountered Jesus at the lakeside, and Luke gives us the fuller picture, a miracle ensues and Peter realizes he is in the presence of someone who is much more than a mere man: “he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) Encountering God, means I am changed. This might challenge us to ask, how often do we on a Sunday morning encounter God?

To Meet with God’s people: The picture that comes from Paul’s writings to the Corinthians is that when the Holy Spirit is present when we come together, He will flow through us, one to another. He longs to speak, He longs to convey His power and when He does that through one and another, we are blessed, we are challenged, we are envisioned, we are released, we are changed.

To be changed: Well there it is, we saw it twice in the two paragraphs above, the end result of meeting with God and meeting with His people is that I am changed. But where, you might ask, was obedience in all that? It is in the ‘end product’ if I may put it like that. When I encounter God directly or through His people, the end result is that I am more aware of who He is, more aware of who I am, more aware of His love for me, more aware of His goodness and I am a more pliable, open disciple than I was before. I am changed and the end result is that I desire more to be obedient to all He says, because I have seen the wonder of who He is, and the wonder of His intentions towards me – and I want more and more of that. As that transformation takes place I realize even more clearly that blessing follows obedience because all He ask of me is for good.

The Process: May I take two of my favourite verses (and there are many others) and ponder on them in this context. First, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Here is the background for my life. God is working in my life to bring good – through everything that happens. But it is not a case of God waving a magic wand so that everything will turn out right. No, He will be working into the situation from outside of me, if I may put it like that, but He will also be working from inside me, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who seeks to guide me and lead me in right paths. And there it is again – so simple – He says, ‘follow me’ and the blessing flows when I do. That is obedience.

The second verse is, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) There it is so clear. God has got plans for my life, that He has “prepared in advance” or as the Living Bible puts it, “long ago” with the inference that fits what is said over half a dozen times in the New Testament, that this was planned before Creation. So what is happening now is that the Holy Spirit, living within me, seeks to guide me and inspire me into moving into those things that God Has got on His heart for me. The ‘good works’ are simply the things He wants me to be doing, the things He knows I am suited to doing, equipped to be doing by His enabling. When I move in these things, that is obedience and I am blessed.

A Warning: Now I dare not finish this without warning against complacency. This teaching is not so that we can have a life that is utterly problem free; never be under the illusion that when we speak of God’s intent to lead us into a place of His blessing, it means a life where we are lounging in a hammock in the sun with not a care in the world. It is clear from the Gospels and from Paul’s testimony in the New Testament, that it is often far from that. The reality is that we live in a fallen, broken, dysfunctional world, a world where stuff goes wrong, and God does not sit idly by. Remember what He said to Moses: ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them “ (Ex 3:7,8) This shows a God who sees and who feels and is moved to action, but note what follows: I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10) Moses won’t be alone for God will be with him every step of the way.  That’s how it is with you and me. We aren’t saved for our entertainment, we are saved for our transformation, our equipping and our sending. We were part of the world’s problem; now we are part of its answer – in God’s hands. As we, the church, step out in obedience to His word and His Spirit, He will use us to bring life, freedom, deliverance and transformation to the world round about us. That is what this is all about. Amen? Amen!

23. Obedience

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 23. Obedience  

Phil 2:8   And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

We have been looking at ourselves, at how the Cross impacts us in our lives today. We’ve considered the physical act of crucifixion, the event, and we’ve gone on to consider its significance and meaning, but let’s go back and consider Jesus himself, what he was doing. There are so many aspects of this whole thing to consider and Jesus is central to it all, an example for us to follow, a wonder for us to worship.

Our verse above is part of what many consider a summary paragraph of the work of Christ, or maybe even one of those sayings the early church used to teach the basics of the faith, a saying that runs from verse 6 to 11. To catch the wonder of this verse we need to also consider the verses before it: “Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing.” There it is, the glorious Son of God who left heaven (see all of Jesus’ references in John 6 to coming down) and put aside his glory to live as a human being. Thus, when we come to our verse 8 above we now see the significance, the importance, the thrust of this words, “being found in appearance as a man”.

To carry the sins of the world, and to take the punishment that would satisfy Justice, the Son of God would have to do it all in human form. Consider the significance of that. That punishment would be meted out to a human body but in that human body he not only suffered the pain and anguish of the experience of execution on a cross, it also meant he received and took the total rejection and abandonment of the world and in so doing, for a moment, maybe longer, suffered a terrible sense of separation from the Father in heaven, observed in the terrible cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).

No, if we believe in the fact of Jesus taking the punishment for our sins, that punishment is far greater that merely the physical agony, as terrible as that was. To do this the glorious Son of God had to leave the side of his Father in heaven and put aside all his glory and come in human form and in that form take the anguish and pain of both the act of crucifixion and the separation of the Father.

Now, and perhaps only now, can we see the significance of the other words of that verse, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death –  even death on a cross!”  Everything about this would scream against him doing this. No wonder he prayed, My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,” as he anguished, but still concluded, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  What followed was total obedience to the will of God, preplanned by the Godhead. Hallelujah!

22. Love is

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   22. Love is

John 14:31      the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

We have commented that sometimes these ‘themes’ run all the way through John and at other times they are simply a short burst of light in one place. Well, the word ‘love’ appears 27 times, I think it is, in John and the word ‘loved’ another 21 times. Having reached chapter 14 in our studies I found I was arrested by this short but strange verse above which links love and obedience. In the verses just before this one Jesus has spoken about his ‘going away’ (14:28,29) and then says, I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me.” (Jn 14:30) That in itself is a strange verse because it says although Satan is coming to do something soon, he has no hold on Jesus. The implication has to be, in hindsight, that this refers to the coming time when Jesus will be arrested, tried and condemned and put to death on a cross. Satan may provoke all this but the implication is clear that Jesus is allowing this to happen and, we know, that is so that the will of God planned before the foundation of the world can be worked through and salvation brought through the Cross.

So, implies Jesus, by observing all that I am about to go through the world must learn of my love for my Father that will I will go through the Cross because it is exactly what my Father wants, it is exactly His will. My love for him must be seen through my obedience of Him.

Now love, in John’s Gospel, is seen in two ways: first in God’s love for us, but then it is seen in us, for Him, by our obedience. To receive His love we have to be obedient to His calling and His directions and that obedience reveals His love now in us, reflecting back to Him. Well we said above that the words ‘love’ and ‘loved’ appear nearly fifty times all together in John so we haven’t enough space to cover them all, so let’s just pick out a few to consider.

Our starting place must be to see His love for us in that classic verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) Later in his first letter John will write, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) This is the way round it is. God first loves us and that melts us so that we can come to love Him.

As the end approaches we find, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (or to the uttermost)” (Jn 13:1) One commentator’s version puts it, “although he had always loved his own people in the world, decided to show them what his love was like in a way which went to the ultimate limit.” Now we may take that to refer to going to the Cross but what he then did immediately after this verse should also be taken into account. He strips down and as a servant washes their feet and then proceeds  to eat the Passover Supper with them and explain many things of the kingdom that are found nowhere else.

This is Jesus sharing his life with them and revealing the sort of people they are going to have to become to follow him. This is the love of the Godhead opened up and revealed – the Son is given from heaven, he enters into intimate relationship with his followers, reveals his servant heart, and literally lays down his life so that we might be saved and be able to come into that same close relationship with the Father.

It is with this in mind that he instructs his disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (Jn 15:9-17)

Watch his teaching:

1. Love is revealed in the way Father loves the Son and the Son loves us.

2. We are to live in the light of this love at all times.

3. Proof of that is obeying God in all things at all times – but that brings joy.

4. Jesus love in us is a sacrificial love that puts others first.

5. This love takes us from being servants to friends of Jesus, chosen by him to come into a deep relationship out of which fruit flows.

6. As we live like this the Father will give us whatever we ask as we live in His will.

7. His will? To love one another!

Love starts with the Father, is seen in the Son and is expressed towards us. As we encounter it and allow it to melt us, so we are transformed and express it. Being the sinful beings that we are though, it isn’t something we only do naturally, it is something we have to actively put on (see Paul in Col 3:14). We may not feel (emotion) loving all the time and so it is simply an act of the will to be obedient to the Father’s leading and teaching. Love and obedience are inseparable as John shows in his first letter again and again.

Love is shown as the essential character of God (God IS Love – 1 Jn 4:8,16) revealed in His sending His Son (Jn 3:16) and in Jesus laying down his life for us (Jn 13:1). As we receive his love and receive him into our lives so this love becomes a basic feature of our lives and behaviour and as such is seen in our obedience of him. Amen!

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 Old Command

Meditations in 1 John : 14 : The Old Command

1 John  2:7,8    Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

This is one of those times when context is very important. In verses 3 to 6 John has been speaking all about obeying God’s commands and this will be both an indication of our response of love to His love, and an expression of His love. Love and obedience go together.

It is in this context that John says, “I am not writing you a new command but an old one.” i.e. I’m not writing anything new when I say this. This love-obedience command, he says, they have “had since the beginning.” Now that must refer, not just to the beginning of the revelation of the Gospel, but way before that, right back to the earliest days of Israel’s existence: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4,5) and of course, love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev 19:18), which Jesus brought together: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)

The link of love and obedience was also right there from the beginning. Following that first call to love God with all you are, Moses immediately followed it with: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut  6:6-9)  In other words, he was saying, hold to these commands as closely as you can, reminding yourself of them every minute of the day.

John continues, “This old command is the message you have heard.” Indeed throughout Jesus’ teaching in his time with his disciples, he emphasized this link. The Sermon on the Mount is a good example of this. He declared that he had come to fulfil the Law (Mt 5:17) and so they should hold all the commands in high esteem (Mt 5:19,20) He then took Old Testament commands and challenged us to think what was the meaning behind them, and required a heart of love response instead, that went further than simply legalistically following rules. Specifically he extended the call to love your neighbour to even loving your enemies: You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:43-45)

When a young lawyer came to talk and hedged on who his neighbour was that he was supposed to love, Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, clearly extending neighbours to mean more than those from your own group or culture, but to mean everyone.

At the Last Supper, Jesus put to the disciples that humility and obedience go together as expressions of love, when he washed the disciples’ feet and then said, “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:15,16)  So obedience was the call there at the beginning of the Last Supper.  After he had dealt with the matter of being betrayed, and after Judas had left the room, he instructed the rest of them: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35)  The love he now spoke of was a sacrificial love that looked beyond exteriors and accepted people as they were and indeed went further and laid down life for life.

Perhaps the pinnacle of obedience was being referred to when he later said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Jn 14:12)  Then came the key link between love and obedience that we also find here in his letter: “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (Jn 14:15) and then, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (Jn 14:21)

There it is again and again, the teaching that came through Jesus that took the Old Testament commands that had been there from the beginning, and expanded on them and applied them into living the Christian life. Love and obedience go together and we deceive ourselves if they don’t! This is why it is so important to read, take in, understand and then apply all that Jesus taught and all that we find throughout the rest of the New Testament. May it be so!

12. Obedience

Meditations in 1 John : 12 :  Obedience

1 John  2:3,4   We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

In some parts of what appears the Church, it seems that Christian faith is more like a nice social club where we turn up a few times a week and go through various rituals but which have little relevance to the rest of our lives. “Going to church” is just one box in the variety of boxes that make up our lives, and one box does not affect the other boxes. In other words we compartmentalise our lives so the ‘religious’ box does not affect or influence the other ‘boxes’ of business or society or family, or whatever else it is.

Yet this ‘style’ of Christianity is about as far as you can get from Jesus and the New Testament’s teaching. Using the analogy above, what has happened is that, if our encounter with Christ has been genuine, a genuine repentance and surrender to God, then it is like all the boxes of the parts of our lives have been put in one big box and that big box determines, directs and decides all that happens in the smaller boxes. They are now all influenced by the bigger box.

For John obedience is the key issue and it will come up again in his letter. Watch a person’s life and hear of their conversion and then watch and see what happens. If that person’s life starts changing and clearly takes on a new Christ-like nature, where the individual is now clearly following the New Testament teaching and is being filled with love and goodness, and is doing what they are learning are Christ’s instructions, then we will know that what has happened to this person is genuine.

However, watch another person who makes a profession of conversion and we see no changes taking place, then we are being given grounds to suggest, as John does, that this person neither tells the truth about what they have done nor has the truth living within them. Where there is an absence of visible love and goodness growing in this person’s life, then we have every reason to doubt that anything meaningful has taken place in their life, despite whatever they may say.

The individual may claim to be a Christian, but if that simply means they have a high moral outlook on life, that’s not what it is all about. To tie this down we have to go back to their originating experience when they say they became a Christian. If they say they have been a Christian all their life, they are deceived. A person becomes a Christian at some specific point of time. It may indeed be in childhood and that little person may have invited Jesus to be their friend, and that may have been a genuine experience but what invariably happens is, as they grow up, sometime in their teens they have a fresh encounter with God with a fresh, deeper, more meaningful experience of Christ.

But whenever it is, it will be a specific experience. I can accept that for some people it will be a crisis moment and they can clearly identify the moment, and for others it is a growing awareness whereby there is a gradual coming to repentance and surrender, but repentance and surrender there must always be for a genuine conversion where someone encounters God and receives the Holy Spirit.

There is the significant issue: when a person comes to Christ, he imparts his Spirit so that the Holy Spirit indwells us (1 Cor 3:16 & 6:19). He does this when he sees we come to a place of genuine repentance and surrender and he sees we are committed to be obedient to him. The apostle Peter spoke of, the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32) Thus there are two things that will bring about the change we referred to earlier, possibly over simplistically, as bringing love and goodness visibly into our lives. Yes, there are lots of other things, a desire to read the Bible, a desire to pray, a desire to be with God’s people and a desire to share what has happened with others. All of these things are part of the ‘visible package’ that is this new life and they will be seen in varying degrees of clarity,  but the overall characteristics of love and goodness are THE two primary things that start to be observed in this new life and they are both expressions of obedience.

A disciple was a person who followed a Master, to receive teaching and guidance but they were not a disciple if they did not then obey or put into practice the teaching of the Master. Thus in the famous ‘Great Commission’ Jesus instructed, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). To be a disciple meant you obeyed Jesus’ teaching. No obedience = no disciple. It IS as simple as that!

24. Don’t Forget

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 24 :  Don’t Forget

(Focus: Deut 8:6-20)

Deut 8:6,7 Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land–a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills

Let’s quickly catch the context again:  at the beginning of the chapter the command had been, Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers,” (8:1) and we commented that this was a command and conditional promise, obedience and success in taking the land were linked.

So it now is that Moses reiterates that command and spells out the blessing of the promise: “Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land–a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills;” (8:6,7) The previous expression in verse 1 had simply referred to entering in and possessing the Land, but now Moses elaborates on that, for it is a “good land” with plenty of water. How different it will be from the desert they have known for forty years!

But he doesn’t leave it there; the water he has just referred to will enable them to grow crops and fruit in abundance, and where the ground will yield many minerals: “a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.” (8:8,9)  Remember, this is Moses encouraging the people and the encouragement is two-sided. Here the emphasis has been on the goodness of the land that they are about to take, but that was the outworking of their obedience to the Law. Keep all the laws and God will bless you in taking this wonderful land. The Law is still there in the background.

But the very thought of the goodness and fruitfulness of this land raises a concern about the future which Moses needs to present to them: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.” (8:10,11) There is a grave danger when they enter the land, settle it and enjoy the fruits of the land, that they will settle into apathy and neglect their relationship with the Lord. In countries that are prosperous this is always one of the greatest dangers for the church. Who needs the Lord when you have everything? How foolish!

Moses expands on this danger: “Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (8:12-14) There it is!  When you are doing well and living in abundance, the danger is that you start thinking how well you have done and forget that it is the Lord’s blessing that has brought all this, and thus you turn from Him and start on a downhill slope!  Seven times in Deuteronomy Moses warns Israel not to forget where they have come from and who it is who is the source of all their blessings!  He, has prior to this chapter warned them not to forget in 4:9,23 and 6:12. In this chapter he warns in 8:11,14 and 19, and then later in the book in 25:19.

They need these warnings! They need to be reminded of their past experiences of the Lord: “He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.” (8:15,16) Yes, these are just some of the things the Lord did, examples of His goodness to them.  There are, of course, many more things that they could remember. Don’t forget!

In their affluence in the future there is a very real danger: “You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” (8:17)  How foolish we are to so easily forget and attribute our blessings to our activities. It is all because of the Lord’s goodness! So, “remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.” (8:18). This is vital. Keep a right perspective. The Lord is our provider!  There is a terrible danger lurking behind all this: “If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.” (8:19,20)

If you abandon your relationship with the Lord, if you cease to rely upon Him, you will shortly become like all the other nations in their sin, and will incur the judgment of God. He seeks to deliver you from that but if you go the way of the rest of the world, why should you not be judged for your wrong doing?  It is a sober warning!

23. Humbled

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 23 :  Humbled, Provided For, Disciplined

(Focus: Deut 8:1-5)

Deut 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

A casual reading of parts of these early chapters of Deuteronomy might conclude there is just a lot of repetition, but a closer reading shows that where there is repetition it is for a different specific purpose and it usually has different elements to it. This is what we find here.

So chapter 8 starts out with something that has been said a number of times before.  Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers.” (v.1)  Note again that there is a command and a promise so the promise is conditional on the command. The command is a simple call to obey all the laws being reiterated by Moses, and the promise is blessing on their lives and an enabling to go in and take the Land. Normally, previously, the promise has been to have long life in the land but the promise here is the ability to take the land. So the obedience to the Law needs to start right now for it impacts all that is going to follow.

But now it is followed by yet another call to remember the past, but this time it is a call not only to remember it, but understand it, understand what was going on and why! Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (v.2) The basic facts of their recent history were that God had led them while they wandered for forty years in the desert having originally failed to enter the Promised Land. But what was going on while that was happened? God was humbling them and testing them.

When you look back on the records of that time they are limited mostly to different crises that occurred – lacking water, lacking food etc.   Now, says Moses, that wasn’t coincidental, that was God testing you to see how you would react. The crucial issue at every crisis was would they turn to the Lord, would they stick to what they had been told about Him, would they adhere to the Law?  Rather than just waste that forty year period, the Lord used it to teach and train Israel.  The most important thing was that they had to learn to trust the Lord and stick to Him.  Often they hadn’t done very well, but a learning process is like that, you don’t do very well initially but you get better as you learn.

But there was a specific aspect to this teaching: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (v.3) When they had eventually decided to enter the land on the previous occasion it was a pure example of self-confidence, not confidence in God.  They had to lose that self-confidence because it was not the thing that would see them through in the centuries to come, it was a confidence in the Lord, which is what the Sinai covenant of love was all about – about coming into a relationship of trust in God. So a number of times they had a crisis of provision and the Lord looked to see if they would turn to Him for provision – they didn’t, they grumbled instead, but nevertheless the Lord DID provide for them – manna.  They had to learn that their future lives did not simply depend on material provision, but also provision of the wisdom of God, every word that comes from Him!

He reminds them of what happened: “Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” (v.4)    Not only did the Lord provide manna, quails and water.   He also ensured that their clothes did not wear out.  One pair of sandal for forty years!!!  Then comes the key principle behind all this: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.” (v.5) There it is! What had been going on throughout those years had been God’s disciplining. Now don’t misunderstand this.  So often we equate discipline with punishment but in the Bible, discipline is God training His people. Yes it does involve correction and yes sometimes it is painful, but the purpose is always good. It is that the people of God learn to trust God.

When crises happen today, how do we view them?  Panic?   Or do we turn to the Lord to hear from Him to see what provision He wants to bring us to cope with the present?  These are profound questions and they deserve some careful thought so that we may trust Him more and more.

 

12. Nothing Like This

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 12 :  Nothing Like This!

(Focus: Deut 4:32-40)

Deut 4:32 Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of?

It is essential, in these studies within Deuteronomy, to constantly remind ourselves of the context. At the beginning of chapter 4 we saw: Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” (Deut 4:1,2)  It looked like Moses was about to launch into a reminder of the various decrees or laws that God has imparted to them but his long warning to keep those laws reverted into yet another reminder of what God had done for them back at Sinai and how He had forbidden Moses to enter the land. He then went on prophetically to warn about the future apostasy and the Exile, but concluding that even there, if they sought the Lord He would be there for them. Under-girding it all are historical references. You cannot study the Law without seeing its historical context.

But now, for yet further encouragement towards obedience, he take a broad sweep of history asking if they know anywhere in history have they heard of any such a thing happening to a people? He becomes more specific, detailing why what had happened to Israel is unique: “Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?” (v.33) The Sinai experience was unique in history. “Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” (v.34) i.e. in all the world religions and miscellaneous religious beliefs, have you ever encountered a God who has done what the Lord has done for us?

He then moves on to give explanation for what has happened: “You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.” (v.35)  No, the only answer to all this is that God IS and He wants you to know Him – and there is no other like Him!  He speaks again of Sinai: “From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire.” (v.36)  You’ve heard Him, not just heard about Him!

He goes back a stage to remind them about the Exodus from Egypt: “Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength.” (v.37) Yet again, there is that hint that goes right back to Abraham. But He has a specific purpose for delivering you: “to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.” (v.38)  Taking the Promised Land is the end product of the present stage of His plan for Israel.

Now, remember that this is a quick overview of history that says what has happened has been unique. He is saying all this, as we’ve noted a number of times, to reinforce his calls for obedience and to encourage them to take note of, hold on to and obey all the laws that the Lord has given them. As a conclusion to this last overview he instructs them: “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” (v.39). That has got to be the end conclusion: there is only one God and they have encountered Him.

So why, again, is he saying this? To encourage them to “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.” (v.40). There is a cold, progressive logic in all that Moses is saying. What is His ultimate goal? It is to get them to obey God’s laws when he is gone. How? It is by helping them see the laws in historical context. Never lose contact with the truth that they are a people promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a people miraculously delivered from Egypt, a people who encountered the Lord at Sinai and a people who have been both disciplined and blessed by Him since! These laws are not a bright idea from Moses. They are the rules for a peaceful life from the Designer of the human race Himself. Never forget it!

For us today this is not just cold academic information. It shows us the base for the nation of Israel – their testimony and their law. But it also reminds us that we too have a faith that is grounded in history. We are what we are because God came to earth in time-space history two thousand years ago in the form of His Son. All else follows from that! The experiences we have today, of the Lord Himself as expressed by His own Holy Spirit, are measured and assessed in the light of all that was said and done in that period of history as recorded in our New Testaments. Without it we are at sea, adrift in a world where anything goes. We are anchored by the word of God which is grounded in history. Hold on to that, remember it, and be assured by it.

9. Remember Sinai

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 9:  Remember Sinai

(Focus: Deut 4:10-20)

Deut 4:10-12 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.

Moses has just made a preliminary call to obedience, to obey the laws that God has given them, to learn those laws, take them in, understand them, keep them, and hang on to them, never forgetting them. This is what this book is all about. But now he goes on to reinforce that call with a reminder as to how all these laws came about. They were not just a good idea that Moses had; they originated with God.

He calls them to think back to that encounter at Sinai (otherwise known as Horeb): Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb.” (v.10a) That is what this is all about – working out the fruits of that encounter! He continues, “when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (v.10b) God had spoken and called them together with Him.

So, he says, “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (v.11-14) That’s what happened – do you remember it? You saw it all and you heard it all – this is part of your memory – it happened forty years ago, but you were there so you know it is true!

Now look, he continues, “You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars–all the heavenly array–do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” (v.15-19) Now this is very important. God did not show Himself to you in any form that you could see; you just heard Him. Stop and think – this IS important (you may not realise how important!) – you must never try and make any representation of Him and worship that, for (implied) whatever you make can never represent Him, it will only make Him smaller in your understanding and you mustn’t do that – He is the all-powerful Creator of all things.

I have come to believe that mostly we just do not understand the significance of the call to refrain from idolatry. All the nations of this area had images of their gods but they were lesser deities in their thinking, superstitious expressions of their fear of the world. These deities, images, idols, call them what you will, needed to be appeased or satisfied and the ways that the peoples of the world did that were often horrific, even sacrificing their own children. That is what superstition leads you into!  This was so far from the truth – that there is only one God, the almighty God of Creation who is all-loving and who does not need appeasing. Israel must never fall into the error of their neighbours for they have had the unique experience of encountering The Living God at Sinai and they must never forget that.

Indeed, they must never forget the bigger picture: “But as for you, the LORD took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.” (v.20) They were a people who had been slaves and God had come and miraculously delivered them from that slavery in Egypt and was taking them to give them an inheritance of a new land to be lived in under His guidance and that means under His laws. Laws are simply rules for living in a harmonious and peaceful society. That is what God has in store for this people. First of all they have to take the land from the pagan Canaanites and their idols, and we are going to see reminder after reminder not to get entangled in that idolatry.

It is absolutely vital to their future welfare. If they turn to idols it means they will be turning away from God and if they turn away from God they will not be able to receive His wisdom or His guidance or His help and provision. They will be moving into a life of isolation whereby they will have to rely on their own wisdom and their own strength – and they don’t have enough of either to survive in a world that will be out to get them! They need to cling on to the memory of Sinai and of their experience of the Lord and cling on to Him for their future wellbeing. The same is true for us today!