34. God who is Perfect

Getting to Know God Meditations:  34. God who is Perfect

Mt 5:48   Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

A Challenging Concept: The thing about reading the Bible is that every now and then you come across statements that you can either skim over and pretend aren’t there, or you pause up and give them due consideration, and think deeply about that they might mean. That is true, I believe, of this instruction from Jesus. The instruction itself is bad enough – “Be perfect” but the claim it goes on to make is equally challenging: “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  God is perfect? What does that mean?

Definition: I am simply going to use the incredibly basic definition of “complete and faultless, cannot be improved upon”.  Stop and think about that definition, what it implies. If God is perfect, and the Bible asserts that He is, then if that is right there is nothing about Him that can be improved upon. If God is perfect then NOTHING He thinkssays or does can be improved upon!

Aside: Assessment: In whatever ways or by whatever measuring sticks we might use to go about assessing Him, we must say that to match this definition, there is no way that we could improve on the things we assess, whether it be His Being, His Character, His words or His deeds. Let’s emphasize this by reference to His expressions.   But when we go to do that can we distinguish  between

  • The statements of witnesses in the Bible about God’s perfection, i.e. what they said and believed, and we have recorded in the text,
  • The apparent historical incidents that appear to involve God, e.g. judgments, what actually happened, as recorded in those texts,
  • Our understanding of those incidents, the reasons we assume that are behind them.

I make these comments because very often we are prone to misunderstandings because we do not assess correctly how we reached our end conclusion.

Definition (2): The Greek (original) word for ‘perfect’ means whole or complete, lacking nothing. That is God! Complete! This is vital to the teaching for it makes Him unique, as no other can make that claim (we will examine this more fully in a moment). According to the verse above, that is also His objective in working within us, to enable us to come to full-grown stature, living for the purpose for which we were designed, completely fulfilled – an expression of His loving design for us.

 ‘Incomplete’? Perhaps to understand ‘complete’ in respect of God as being complete, it would help to consider first ourselves as ‘incomplete’ beings. If I apply the word ‘incomplete’ to myself (and it is valid to do so), I may think of, for example:

a) my lack of knowledge:  I cannot hope to grasp the enormity of what I don’t know.

b) my lack of strength and energy – mental, physical and spiritual –  I need constant replenishing and refreshing and rest.

In these ways I indicate my incompleteness. But God is complete. He doesn’t lack and is not limited in the ways I have just considered.

God is ‘complete’? We have said in earlier studies that God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing) and all-wise. This is what Jesus means when he says God is ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’.

  • if God knows everything (to lack knowledge means He is not complete), then He will never be  caught on the hop, never surprised by anything that happens and
  • if His wisdom is perfect (because He lacks nothing – our definition above) then He will always know how to act or respond to whatever is happening, and
  • if His power is unlimited (because He lacks nothing – our definition above, again) then He will be able to respond however He wants in accordance with that wisdom.

Do you start to see how significant this definition of ‘perfect’ is? He has no need to act with hostility towards us because,

  • He knows everything there is to know about us, and
  • we are not a threat to Him and He can never feel defensive.

He is utterly capable of handling anything and everything that ever happens.

Further Testimonies: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”  (Deut 32:4)   This is the testimony of the Bible again and again. This verse was declared by Moses after 120 years of life and experience. Ethically, morally, however you want to put it, God is perfect, God is faultless. Then, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.”  (2 Sam 22:31) This is the testimony of king David after his years of experiences with the Lord. Then, “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvellous things, things planned long ago.”  (Isa 25:1) This was Isaiah’s testimony, the testimony of a prophet who gets the inside knowledge form God.

Implication: I started out by suggesting that Jesus’ words really need thinking about. But why? Well, consider what we have said so far: God is perfect which means He is utterly complete in every way possible so He lacks nothing and everything about Him – whatever He thinks, says or does – cannot be improved upon!

Now here’s the crunch point: this means that when we read through the Bible and we see God speaking or acting, and these things seem questionable, we need to think again, why are these words, why are these actions perfect, why cannot they be improved upon? When we come to the Bible text with this approach, we will start seeing things, we will start learning things, we had never seen before. It will transform our understanding.

An Example: Let’s take a situation that sometimes confuses some people. Read Ex 32 which is the incident where Moses is up the mountain with God and, because he has been there some time, some of the people down below demand of Aaron, Moses’ brother and second-in-command, that he makes them a ‘god’ to worship. Idolatry raises its ugly head. Up on the mountain, “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Ex 32:9,10) Now if we had been God, and we felt utterly frustrated with this foolish people who we have gone to great lengths to deliver from Egypt and bring here, we would probably not waste the words but just do it. But then we might think about it and wonder how that will go down for our image in the world. Now as we think a bit further, we hear the cynic saying, “But I thought your God was a God of love? How come He’s talking of destroying these people?”

Hold on! Think on. So you do nothing and the word gets out that God is a soft touch and you really never need to bother to obey Him. Disaster, anarchy will reign, and Israeli will fall apart and cease to be a light to the rest of the world. So why is God saying this, how does this fit the ‘perfect’ God picture? The answer has to be He is testing Moses, to see how His man will respond to this offer.   Moses responds brilliantly – you can read it yourself in the following verses of that chapter. Moses himself goes down and deals with the minority who had gone astray and intercedes for the rest. It’s a messy situation but when God deals with it, it is with control and restraint. At the end of it a purged nation, a nation still able to continue with its task. Whenever we come across one of these situations, ask yourself, if you were God, what would you do, what is the only thing you could do, to control the situation, preserve the nation and pursue the goals that we have considered in earlier studies. If we will do this, we will think more deeply and become wiser and be less likely to join the unthinking crowds who make shallow negative responses.

And So? So, if your circumstances are going pear-shaped, pause up and ponder: God is allowing this, why? Whatever He is doing here cannot be improved upon. What am I to learn here? What has caused this? Why is this happening? Where is God in all this? What does He want me to learn in all this? Have we not realized that God has allowed this fallen world to be as it is to act as a learning laboratory for us? It is as it is because of our Sin, our choices, and He has provided His salvation through Jesus that is now available to us, administered by His Holy Spirit, and within that, we will learn to grow up ‘in Christ’. So many facets of this to think about.  Dare we do that? Go for it.

9. Confidence

Short Meditations in Philippians: 9. Confidence

Phil 1:19b   what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance and make me dwell in safety.

So here is Paul in prison writing to the saints in Philippi and, speaking about his own circumstances, declares he is able to rejoice, both in the circumstances because of the things that are happening while he is still in them, but also because he is sure he is going to be delivered out of them.

Let’s try and apply this to our own circumstances which are not always, it seems, truly glorious! Hold these two things from above. Are we able to rejoice both IN them and also because we have an assurance that we will be delivered OUT of them?

What is the key to these two things? I believe it is a sure confidence in who God is.  In my studies over the last few years, I am absolutely sure that the Bible declares three things about God. First, He is love. Second, He is good. Third, He is perfect (meaning He cannot be improved upon). Now these three characteristics apply to everything God thinks, says or does. Now having said those three things I have to admit there are times in my life when I may struggle to reconcile what is happening to me with these three things, but I have concluded that they ARE true; it is just that for the moment I cannot see how my present circumstances are going to work for good – mine or others, and it may be that these circumstances are going to work for the good of others as well as for me (somehow they WILL always work for MY good). It may take a time to see this – and that may be months or years  even – but it will eventually come through.

Now the more we experience this sort of thing and see that this is God’s intent, the more, when the next set of trying circumstances come along, we can declare by faith what we have learned previously: God will bring good IN this and He will deliver me OUT of it.

Now these sorts of things are real trials of faith. When you cannot see the way ahead, when it seems impossible for any change to come or any good to occur, it is a real declaration of faith to be able to say, “I don’t understand how this can bring good or can change, but knowing the Lord, I KNOW He will bring good in it and He will deliver me out of it.  Now don’t try and out-guess God. Don’t try and work out how God will do it, because in an impossible situation only HE can do it. When wine runs out at a wedding, only He can turn water into wine. When too many ‘guests’ turn up, only He can extend the limited resources to feed them all. When a blind person asks for sight, only He can bring it. When death confronts you, only He can bring resurrection. Jesus proved it. He is the grounds of our assurance.

5. Long-term Plan

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  5. God’s Long-Term Plan

1 Pet 1:18-20   you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

Every now and then as I am reading the Bible a word or phrase stops me in my tracks. Reading the other day, in the verses above, it was that phrase, “chosen before the foundation of the world.” I marvel every time I come across this idea, that God’s plan of salvation was not something dreamt up along the way when mankind seemed to be going off track, but was something He worked out BEFORE He made anything. But it is not just one odd verse, it comes up again and again:

Jn 17:24  you loved me before the creation of the world – Jesus with Father in loving relationship.

Eph 1:4   For he chose us in him before the creation of the world – agreed how we would come, who would come

Rev 17:8  The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world – saw who would not come

Rev 13:8  the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world  – agreed Jesus would die

2 Tim 1:9  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time – agreed God’s grace would be given us

Tit 1:2  eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time – agreed he would give us eternal life

There it is; including our verse above, seven times in the New Testament, references to the fact that the Godhead planned this before anything about Creation happened. But the more you think about this the more amazing it becomes. God planned for Jesus to come as a sacrifice. This means that God knew that we would fall and that sin would enter the world.  And still He went ahead and created this world as we know it. He made us in His image and yet He knew from the outset that we would turn our backs on Him.

Now in a previous series of these meditations I have pondered on the will of God and one thing we do know about it is that it is perfect. In other words you cannot improve upon it. So although God did not invent sin, He knew that it would soon exist in any human being He made with free will. Sin is simply self-centred godlessness, and He knew that if He gave us free will, we would be free to turn away from Him, become self-centred and godless and therefore our thinking, speech, and behaviour would become unrighteous (deviating from Gods perfect design for us).

Now there is something else about the Lord that appears in Scripture: He appears to know everything before it happens and yet He also seems to live in the present. He knows long term history before it happens yet when sin starts to abound on the earth He is grieved. Perhaps an answer to this quandary comes from the thinking of C.S.Lewis who imagined history as a line like a road down below with God looking down on it from about, outside of time. Thus from above He can see the whole scope of material time-space history and knows everything that is coming and everything that has been. But the truth is that He is God and the Bible shows us Him interacting with His world and so He is not only above it looking down on it but He is also ‘down here’ being part of it, and in that sense He experiences it ‘as it happens’.

Thus (because He is God) He both knows it all AND experiences it in a moment by moment experience. Thus one part of ‘Him’ knew that the Cross of Calvary would have to happen at a given point of history but the other part of Him (that lives in the here and now)  experiences it as the here and now. Thus for Jesus the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, he came down from heaven (see John’s Gospel, chapter 6) and knew in his mind what would have to come when he reached the age of (about) thirty or thirty three, but the actual experience of it was a real to him as it would have been to you or me.

Was the crowning work of salvation the fact that God comes and dwells in all believers, and is able to do that because of the work of the Cross, and thus is able to share intimately with us as we experience the day by day living out of the time-space experience? Perhaps that was stage one, stage two being us going to be with Him in eternity (heaven) and be one with Him there.

Yet the marvel of all of this is that the Lord didn’t merely plan it as an academic exercise before He uttered a creative word, but planned a material history in which He would come and express Himself and live out and share in the experiences of each of us. That is what love does; it wants to become united with the object of love. It an only be that love that energises the Godhead to share in and experience our lives which are always (even after conversion) so far short of perfection. But He is here, sharing with us in our trials and tribulations and our struggles and strivings to help and bless us, for that is what love does. How incredible! Hallelujah!

1.3 A Perfect God

Meditating on the Judgements of God:

1.3  A Perfect God

Mt 5:48  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect 

We said previously, by way of laying a foundation to consider the judgments of God, that it is imperative that we consider first the character of God if we are to have any hope of understanding His judgments.  We have noted that God is love and that God is good, and we have sought to put content to those two words.

But now we come to a third description of God and it was spoken by the Son himself: God is perfect. Because ‘perfection’ is a somewhat difficult concept to grab hold of, I am simply going to use the incredibly basic definition of  “complete and faultless, cannot be improved upon”.  The Greek (original) word for ‘perfect’ means whole or complete, lacking nothing.  That is God!  Complete!

Now we need to do the same as we did with love and goodness and now suggest that everything that God thinks, says or does is perfect and cannot be improved upon. Another way of putting it is that when God spoke or acted, what He said or did in those circumstances was the very best and could not have been improved upon. This is going to be really challenging because when we come across a judgment of God and there is death or destruction, the logic that we have been following through says that that has to be the best outcome and no other outcome would have been as good in the surrounding circumstances.

Now please note the words I have used – ‘surrounding circumstances’ – because God acts into time-space history as it is.  When we come to specific judgements, as we hope to do shortly, we need to ask the Lord for wisdom and understanding to see these events as acts of love and goodness and be seen as acts that could not have been improved upon. That is the real challenge.

Now in the first meditation we identified the God who is revealed in the Bible as the Creator God who is all-powerful, all-wise and all-knowing, eternal and unchanging. Here are further points to ponder if God is perfect and complete:

  • if God knows everything (to lack knowledge means He is not complete), then He will never be caught on the hop, never surprised by anything that happens and
  • if His wisdom is perfect (because He lacks nothing – our definition above) then He will always know how to act or respond to whatever is happening, and
  • if His power is unlimited (because He lacks nothing – our definition above, again) then He will be able to respond however He wants in accordance with that wisdom.

Do you start to see how significant this definition of ‘perfect’ is? He has no need to act with hostility towards us because we are not a threat to Him and He can never feel defensive. He is utterly capable of handling everything that ever happens.

In case you are note quite sure of the Scripture testimony we ought to pick up on one or two verses. “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4)  Everything He does cannot be improved upon; there it is again!

“As for God, his way is perfect.” (2 Sam 22:31) The path that God walks, the way He operates, cannot be improved upon.

“Do you know how the clouds hang poised, those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?” (Job 37:16) He knows everything in nature! (Because He made it!)

“From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” (Psa 50:2)  We really cannot comprehend what perfect beauty means but that He is staggeringly wonderful as a Being.

What He does, the way He operates, what He knows and in His very being, He is perfect and even if we could (a foolish thought!) we could not possibly improve on Him. When, one day, we meet Him face to face we will realise these things as reality. This is why, when the prophets had heavenly visions (Isaiah, Ezekiel, John on Patmos), the prophets struggled to describe what they saw because it was beyond human comprehension and so they used the word ‘like’ again and again. He was ‘like’ this or that. He wasn’t this or that but that was the nearest their limited forms of expression could get to the wonder and the awe of His beauty, of His perfection.

Now, having set this framework in place, we need to hold on to them when we eventually start working our way through the Old Testament, examining each case where God brings His judgment to bear. Hold on to these three things (love, goodness, perfection) because they will appear as markers or signposts to guide us toward the truth about every situation, something that is usually in short supply when people speak on these matters. Let’s pray!

8. Nature of God’s Will

Meditating on the Will of God: 8:  The Nature of God’s Will

Rom 12:1,2  I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

These verses from Romans 12 bear looking at again. Previously we considered something of verse 1, this call to give ourselves over to God so that He can do with us what He wills. There are two aspects to that – what He wills in terms of changing our character, i.e. what He can do in us,  and then what He wills in respect of what He can do through us. Perhaps before we go considering those two things further, we will consider His will as it is described by Paul in the second verse.

At the end of the verse he describes God’s will as “good pleasing and perfect” Now on the assumption that we so often take for granted the words we read in scripture, let’s analyse each of those words. First of all, ‘good’. Good simply means fine, igh quality, excellent, morally excellent and if something is good, we approve of it. When we come to understand God’s will – and an assumption behind each of these studies is that we do not naturally understand it but have to think about it and seek it, and it comes by revelation – we will see that it is good.

But it is also ‘pleasing’ and we have just said that we will approve it, but more than merely approving it we will see its excellence and that will create an emotion within us that we describe as pleasing, we’re feeling good about it. Now if we take a  tangent and remind ourselves that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) then everything God thinks, says and does is an expression of love. Now love might be described as  warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for us and in God it shows “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us. If that is so – and it is – then if there is someone who constantly has for us “warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings” for us and who shows “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us”, I think we can say without contradiction, we will be blessed by that, we will like that, and it will be pleasing to us.

Yet there is also a third description: “perfect”. Put in its most simple of terms, if something is ‘perfect’ it cannot be improved upon.  When we come to understand the will of God we will come to see that there is no way that it could be improved upon. It is because we do not understand it that we find criticisms rising up within us, but once we come to see the fullness of His will we will understand that there is no way that whatever He did or didn’t do could be improved upon.

Now that is actually staggering when you come to think about it. Whatever it is that God has on His heart for us, is good, is pleasing and is the absolute best so there is no way it could be improved upon. I commented previously in a series on Romans in respect of these scriptures that if when we get to heaven God allows us to look back on our history through His eyes, we will never be able to criticise anything He has ever said or done or not done in respect of us. We don’t have the whole picture at the present and so sometimes it seems confusing or unclear, but when we see the whole picture and it becomes absolutely clear, we will say that what happened in respect of our lives was good, pleasant and perfect.

But we need to backtrack in these verses to note something important. Paul’s order is 1. Give yourself wholly to God, 2. Change your thinking to conform to God’s thinking, so that THEN 3. you will understand God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. In other words until you have been through the first two, you will not be able to come to the third one. The Christian life starts when we give ourselves over wholly to God for Him to save us, change us and then lead us throughout our lives. In the process of all of that, we then starting learning the truths of the Gospel and we start to understand that God has created His world in a particular way, and so it works best if we live according to the divine design.

We come to understand that part of the process of sanctification, us being changed into the likeness of Jesus, involves us changing our thinking to realise that He knows best, that He has a design for our lives that means the best being worked out in and through them. In all of this our thinking is being changed to conform to His and not to the self-centred and godless ways of thinking found in the fallen world. As this process develops within us, we come to ‘see’ what He is about and, even as we are doing in these studies, start to understand what His will is all about. The details may not always be clear and they will perhaps only be come clear as He reveals them in our relationship together with Him.  

God knows what He is about. He sees everything, He sees the big picture – past, present and future – and He understands everything, how the thoughts, ideas, plans and ambitions of mankind work out. His wisdom is such that He also knows what He can do to promote what is best, within the context of the fallen world and within the context of our blindness and limited understanding because of the effects of sin. As He releases us from sin, He works to change our thinking from the patterns of thinking we had before we came to know Him, and bit by bit He wins our cooperation with Him as He seeks to work out the best for us. How amazing, how incredible, how wonderful! Hallelujah!

26. God’s Will for you

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 3 :  26. God’s Will for You

1 Thess 5:16-18   Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

These is still one part of this verse that we have not yet covered: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It may look fairly obvious but we should not take it for granted. These things that Paul has been speaking about are God’s will for us, the things God wants for us, the way He has designed us to be. We speak so easily of ‘God’s will’ but perhaps we should examine it carefully.

God’s will is His particular desire, purpose, pleasure, choice, which may be expressed in respect of us as a command or decree. But what determines God’s will? Why does He purpose one thing as against another?  The whole thing must come back to His character, His very being. Now in previous studies we have noted two things about God: first, He is love, and second, He is perfect. This means that everything God wants, desires, purposes or decrees must be good for it comes out of love but, more than that, it is perfect and cannot be improved upon. Hence Paul spoke to the Romans about His “good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2)

Now in the meditation on giving thanks we spoke of God’s ‘permissive’ will. We said His loving wisdom has given mankind free will and therefore whatever takes place – including all bad things – come within His permissive will. He permits it for the sake of granting us free will.  Now we should not think that ‘permissive’ means less than perfect. Consider, would God rather we had not sinned? Would He rather Jesus didn’t have to go to the Cross? Would He rather never bring judgment? I am sure the answer is yes to all those questions but because in His perfect design, for love to operate with meaning (and He is love, expressing love and wanting to generate or bring about opportunity for more love) He made us with free will and permitted those things to follow, but they were the perfect responses or outworkings of that free will and the plan of salvation is perfect, which means it cannot be improved upon. The biggest mystery starts with God Himself, the mystery of love, this benign attitude towards all else that wants the best for them. Why IS He love? We don’t know, but He is and EVERYTHING else flows out of that.

Everything He thinks is an expression of love and is perfect, so when He thought of the world to be – including human beings capable of receiving and giving love, they had to be beings with free will, for love only operates within such a state. His ultimate goal is a people who will love Him but without coercion, and we do that only when we have fallen in sin, realised our terrible state, and received His forgiveness through the Cross and been united with Him by His Spirit. At the end we are redeemed beings, but beings who love Him without coercion.  This is His ultimate will, He ultimate desire and everything else is subservient to that, He creates a world of beings united with Him who receive and return His love, and between whom that love flows.

So what do we have this side of eternity, here in the years we have on this earth? We have the start of that eternal life, a life linked to Him by His Spirit, a life where love starts to flow and grow, starts to overcome the Sin that previously bound us.

To understand this more fully we have to appreciate the difference between what we HAVE been made and what we ARE BEING made. One is a matter of standing and the other is a matter of outworking. For example the writer to the Hebrews said,by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:14) To the Romans Paul said, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom 5:9) In each case there is the present standing (or reality) set against the future outworking which will be completed in each case when we come face to face with Him.

The point I need to make more strongly is that although we have been established as God’s forgiven children, the outworking of us learning to live as His children will now take up the rest of our lives. We are helped to apprehend that new life by realizing who we now are, but that is only part of it. We are also helped to take hold of that new life as we relate to God by His Spirit in us,  and receive guidance through His word how to live. Thus all the things Paul has been seeking to convey to the Thessalonians have been part of God’s design for us new beings, part of His will for us. Everything you read in the New Testament is about this – bringing you and me into the fullness of sonship. It is what He is working for and what he wants us to be working for.

Paul spoke of this: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Col 1:28,29) Note the order: teaching – presenting as perfect – working empowered by the Spirit. We ARE perfect in His sight and He is working to change us to become perfect in daily outworking. THIS is His will for you, to realise who you ARE and who you ARE BECOMING, to rejoice in the first and to work for the second. Hallelujah!

11. Judgement

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  11 :  Judgement

1 Thess 1:9,10   They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath

I said in the previous meditation that it is very easy to pass verses or words by with little thought – especially when we don’t like the word and ‘Idolatry’ was just such a word. “Wrath” is another of those words. It occurs here in verse 10 and it also appears later in respect of the unbelieving Jews: The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) and then later more generally, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:9)

Now before we look at what it actually means, may I deal with our psychological or ethical hang-ups about this word. We’ll accept from the outset that it means righteous anger, but I want to remind you of a particular teaching that comes out again and again in the Bible – that God is perfect. Now be under no illusion that perfect means complete and faultless, and cannot be improved upon. Therefore whatever God thinks, says or does is perfect, is faultless and cannot be improved upon.

We need to let this truth sink in. Let’s see it as it crops up through the Bible: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4 – song of Moses). “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.” (2 Sam 22:31 – song of David). “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” (Psa 50:2 – song of Asaph).  “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.” (Isa 25:1 – Isaiah). “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48 – Jesus). “You will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2 – Paul). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8,9 – writer to the Hebrews)

There you have it: Jesus was begotten and was thus perfect because he was God.  God is perfect and everything He says or does is perfect – they cannot be improved upon!  Now start thinking about these difficult subjects from that angle or through that lens if you like. If God is angry about something then it is right, proper and appropriate to be angry and we can even go further and say it would be wrong not to be angry. We tolerate wrong and shrug our shoulders over it, but God sees it and sees it spoils the Creation that He made which was “very good” (Gen 1:31) and if God says something was “very good” you may take it that it was perfect. And now sin spoils it. The wonder and the beauty and the perfection has been spoiled and marred and desecrated. Imagine you were a master painter and you had spent months creating a most beautiful masterpiece and a teenager, say, comes in spits on it, writes on it in felt pen, throws paint on it and finally cuts it to pieces with a Stanley knife. Would you still be as calm and equitable about it as we so often are about wrongs in our world? No, we would be livid that this wonderful masterpiece with all its beauty has been utterly desecrated.

Why don’t we get angry? It’s all a matter of perspective. If we could see the whole picture with the completeness and perfection of God our emotions would be different. It is right to be angry, it is right to be upset and indeed, to go further, it is wrong not to be. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “right and just passionate displeasure”. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. What follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate assessment of what to do about it. God’s judgment is His dispassionate assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His anger. Anger is instinctive. Our passionate displeasure rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assess what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future, for only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.

So when we look at His acts of judgement in the Bible, realise you don’t have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been The best, The only right thing to be done.

Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgement and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God’s judgement is this particular thing – which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!

So note again what Paul writes in this letter: Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath  (1:10) and God did not appoint us to suffer wrath (5:9). The Old Testament reveals a “day of the Lord” when He will come to judge all sin and unrighteousness. Rev 19 shows us Jesus coming again to bring in that ‘day’. But we, now as God’s people do not, as Paul says, have to suffer wrath for Jesus rescues us from it by his death on the Cross dealing with all our guilt and shame, so we no longer fear a punishment. The second reference to the Jews, The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) can be rendered, “upon them to the uttermost,” or “on them entirely” or “on them fully”. It is suggested that this simply refers to them being rejected while they stay in unbelief. Scripture seems to indicate a possibility that before the end they will turn and believe and those will be saved, but salvation follows belief; wrath and judgement follows rejection and unbelief.

6. Still Sinners

Meditations in 1 John : 6 :  Still Sinners

1 John  1:8   If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Commentators often struggle at this point in John’s letter. In fact a whole big part of the Church struggles with this verse because it seems to say something that many don’t like – we’re still sinners. There are those who claim perfection when we come to Christ. Did not Jesus say, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”? (Mt 5:48) After all, they say, when we came to Christ he dealt with all my sins and the power of sin over me is broken and I am free from sin’s domination – all of which are true! The Matthew verse would be better explained as, “Aim for the perfection that you see in your heavenly Father.” Also you have to be a very unknowing person to believe that you are perfect and you never think, say or do anything wrong, anything that is contrary to God’s will for us.

There are also those who say this verse is a verse for application to unbelievers, before they come to Christ but the verses before it clearly indicate John is speaking to Christian believers. Is this an important issue? Yes, it is very important because the person who denies it fails to recognise their own vulnerability. Why would Jesus – and indeed the whole New Testament – warn us to be on our guard against temptation and failure if it wasn’t a real possibility for the disciple? We’ll examine some of those warnings in a moment.

But a bigger argument in favour of what we have been saying comes through the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 7. Again there are those who say he speaks about the past, but that is not how it reads and he concludes that chapter with, So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Rom 7:25) When he moves in to the next chapter the force of his argument is that it is only in Christ and submitted to the Spirit are we free from sin. Are we always submitted to the Spirit? Again, it is a very unknowing person who claims to be so.

But an even stronger argument comes from Paul’s reference to what is clearly one of the ‘sayings’ of the early Church: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15)  Was that something that seekers had to declare on the path to salvation or was it something the believers recognized about themselves. I have to say that the older I get – and my confidence in Christ gets stronger – the more I am aware of this truth in this early Church saying – applied and applies to me!

A little later in his letter John brings the balance that we need to hold: “My dear children, 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.” (1 Jn 2:1) His desire is that we will not sin BUT he recognizes that there IS the possibility for us believers and he tells us Christ’s response to us when that happens. (In our next verses in this present chapter he tells us how we are to deal with it when it happens – see the next meditation). No, John is a realistic pastor and he knows the vulnerability of his flock.

But we said there are warnings in the New Testament that would be meaningless if we are perfect and cannot fall. Jesus himself taught, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Mark 13:5) and deception is about wrong thinking that leads into wrong behaviour. He concluded in that talk, “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back ….. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.” (Mk 13:35,36) He is clearly warning against wrong behaviour. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is speaking to disciples and there we find much practical teaching and warnings against wrong attitudes and wrong behaviour – all of which we as disciples are still prone to!

The apostle Paul’s letters are littered with practical teaching, warning against wrong ways of thinking and wrong ways of behaving – to which all believers are vulnerable. Probably the letter that reveals most practical teaching is that of James, full of instructions to do this or not do that. The fact is that we can get it wrong and that is why all this teaching is there for us. In the meantime we need to be aware of our vulnerability and with the help, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, seek to avoid those things. May that be so!

28. Stumbling Christians

Meditations in James: 28 : Stumbling Christians?

Jas 3:2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

Have you ever wondered why all the pastoral letters of the New Testament were written?  The simple, short answer is because people aren’t perfect.  Once we can accept that simple truth, the Christian life becomes so much more simple.  If you haven’t realised that, then when you do fail you will feel guilty and the guilt will cling and keep on making you feel bad.  When James says We all stumble in many ways he is saying it to both reassure and to challenge.  When I was a younger Christian I encountered those who preached perfection, and because I knew I was not perfect, I felt really bad about myself. I didn’t realize that when Jesus said, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48) he was giving us a target to aim for, something to work for.

Now theologians sometimes refer to ‘imputed righteousness’ and ‘imparted righteousness’.  Imputed righteousness is the righteousness that God imputes or credits to us when we receive Christ’s salvation.  He declares us righteous in His sight on the basis of the work of Christ.  When we receive Christ we are ‘justified’ or, as some have said, God makes it so it is “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.  In His sight we are declared righteous.  But any honest Christian knows that from time to time they get it wrong, and there are character imperfections in us that need working on, and this is where ‘imparted righteousness’ comes in.  He has given us His Holy Spirit who is totally righteous, and as we learn to let Him lead us and express Jesus through us, so His righteousness is imparted to us and expressed through us.

John in his first letter also alluded to this: 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 defence–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1). In other words sin, or getting it wrong, should not be a common thing in our lives now, but the reality is that we will stumble, we will trip over our feet and get it wrong sometimes.  John gives two answers to that.  Answer number one: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness(1 Jn 1:9). That is our side of it. Answer number two: if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence–Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1). That is God’s side of it, Jesus speaking up in our defence, reminding the Father that he has died for all our sins.  The challenge that comes with all this, is can we aim to keep sin out of our lives as much as possible?

But then James says something that seems both an impossibility but at the same time a challenge: If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. The person who is careful in what they say and is never at fault in speaking, is a perfect person and that ability to speak righteously reveals the heart that is within and that heart enables us to control our whole life.  Now is it possible to be perfect?  Well, we’ve already covered that above in the first paragraph.  Maturity is certainly something that the Bible suggests we can achieve.  The writer to the Hebrews commented,solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14).  There are therefore mature people.  Paul also said, We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature.” (1 Cor 2:6) implying the same thing.  James said earlier, Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:4).  There he linked it with being complete or whole. Jesus’ call to perfection in Matthew 5 is actually a call to wholeness or completeness. So, rather than worrying about being ‘perfect’, and constantly feeling bad when we spot things that are less than perfect, can we instead aim for maturity, for wholeness and completion? This then becomes a goal to work for rather than a means of condemnation. Recognize that you have some way to go, but actually set yourself the goal of letting God change you, like his word says (2 Cor 3:18), to become more and more like Jesus.

There are two things we can do to facilitate this process of change. The first thing is to let the Holy Spirit search you and help you face up to how you fall short. This is similar to the assessing that Paul says should go on in us when we come to take Communion: A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Cor 11:28). There are some things that will be obvious and we need to confess them and deal with them.  Some things we may feel we need the Lord’s help to overcome.  Ask Him.  The second thing is simply to develop your relationship with the Lord.  As we do that, His presence will change us.  Now there are basic disciplines that Christians through the ages have found build and change us – reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, fellowshipping with other Christians, being a witness to others – all these things work in the process of changing us.

So, to summarise, recognize that sometimes you will get it wrong but there are two things to help us there (see above).  Don’t be content with those imperfections: confess them, seek God’s help to overcome them, and at the same time work positively to develop your relationship with Him.  Be changed!

31. Perfect

We pick up and now continue the series on God in the Psalms

God in the Psalms No.31 – God who is Perfect

Psa 18:30 As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.

We have previously considered God who is good and God whose words are flawless, but because we so often struggle with this concept we consider it more widely with this verse now.  Why do we struggle with the idea that God is perfect? Because we often don’t understand what is going on in life and we can’t see the whole picture and so we wonder why God doesn’t turn up and do something.  Perhaps it’s also because we have had negative experiences in life, especially when we are young, and those experiences act like a stain or scar on our lives and the hurt of them distorts our thinking and makes us question God’s goodness. This questioning is not unusual.

Gideon did it: “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about(Judges 6:13) He looked at their circumstances and concluded that God could not be with them. Abraham struggled similarly: Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Gen 17:17) and this after he had previously believed and been declared righteous (Gen 15:6), and later his wife similarly struggled, Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him…..Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Then the LORD said to Abraham, “…..anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son. (Gen 18:10-14).  When confronted with what seems impossible, we wonder and question, but God is perfect and when God says something He means it!

This idea of God being perfect comes out many times in Scripture:He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4) God is entirely dependable (a rock) because everything He does is utterly good. The law of the LORD is perfect” (Psa 19:7). All of God’s decrees are perfect.  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). Perfect here means complete, whole, lacking in nothing. Whereas we may look at our own lives or the lives of people around us and see that they lack a lot (strength, grace, wisdom, humility, love, gentleness, peace – the list goes on and on!) NOTHING is missing from God.  Think of any good characteristic and He has it.  When John wrote, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear (1 Jn 4:18) the perfect love he was referring to was God.

But our verse above speaks of the way of the Lord.  The Lord’s way refers to the way God thinks, moves, acts, lives and works. It’s all about the way He expresses Himself and interacts with us. This is why this is so important. It’s not only that He himself is perfect but it’s about how He relates to us. We may not understand what is happening, either because it is too complex for us to work out, or because we can’t see the whole picture, but our call is simply to trust Him, that because He IS perfect, He is working the best for us in it. We may not be able to see that fully until we get to heaven, but for now we have to learn to accept this amazing truth. It will transform us!