90. A Final Recap

Meditations in Exodus: 90.  A Final Recap

Heb 3:5  “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house.”  

In many ways the story of the Exodus is the story of Moses. Yes, it is all about the deliverance and ups and downs of Israel, the forming of this embryonic nation, but behind all that is the presence and leadership of Moses. In this final study we will first recap the things that happened and then consider lessons  to be learned from this amazing story.

  1. Recap:

Part 1: Background – Studies 1 to 7 – Ex 1 & 2

The early life of Moses after a unique saving from death in his first months to live as a Prince of Egypt for the first forty years of his life until he rashly killed an Egyptian and had to flee Egypt and ended up looking after sheep for his next 40 years in Midian.

Part 2: Encounter with God – Studies 8 to 18 – Ex 3 & 4

After 40 years looking after sheep, Moses has an encounter with God at a burning bush on Mount Sinai where he is called to go back to Egypt and deliver Israel and take them to the Promised Land of Canaan.

Part 3: Returning with a Mission – Studies 19 to 25  – Ex 4 to 6

Moses’ return to Egypt, and meeting with the leaders of his own people – an inauspicious start.

Part 4: Into Battle – Studies 26 to 36 – Ex 6 to 11

The Battle of the Snakes, the first nine plagues: Blood, Frogs, Gnats, Flies, Livestock,  Boils, Hail, Locusts, and Darkness

Part 5: Wrapping it up – Studies 37 to 48 – Ex 11 to 15

Getting ready to leave, the Passover and tenth plague, leaving, being chased by Pharaoh, and the destruction of Pharaoh and his army.

Part 6: The Road to Sinai – Studies 49 to 60 – Ex 16 to 19

A time of early learning to trust God with trials by bitter water, no water, abundant water, learning to fight, and their arrival at Mount Sinai.

Part 7: The Divine Encounter at Sinai – Studies 62 to 75 – Parts of Ex 20 to 33

Meeting with God and receiving the Law, followed by an awful failure with the Golden Calf and much talk about the relationship with the Lord

Part 8: Sinai to Kadesh – Studies 76 to 81 – Num 11 & 12

Leaving Sinai  and travelling to Kadesh  with testings and failings

Part 9: The Events at Kadesh, and on – Studies 82 to 90 – Num 13 to 20

Israel’s refusal to enter the Land and being consigned to wander in the desert for forty years. Further failings and judgments and then travelling up the east side of the Dead Sea until arriving at the Plains of Moab opposite Jericho after having vanquished four enemies.

       2. Lessons:

i) Moses: Moses, as we said above, is the primary character who features throughout this period of time and the story of the Exodus. Brought up as a prince of Egypt we saw his fall and his period as a shepherd in the wilderness of Midian, a time when all self-confidence would have left him. This is then the man God chooses to deliver his people. As the apostle Paul wrote, God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.” (1 Cor 1:27,28) When will we learn what Isaiah learnt: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” (Isa 55:8) or what Samuel had to learn: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) It was not going to be by princely power, smart wisdom or even wealth that God’s people were delivered – and they are not today.

Associated with this we learn of the Lord’s calling. I believe the lesson that comes throughout the Bible is that God calls those to follow Him and do His bidding who He knows He can change and who have potential for great things. That means you and me.

 ii) Pharaoh: here is the epitome of human pride and foolishness, a man who hardened his heart by his self-centred and godless desire, reinforced by the occult, to withstood all of God’s persuasions that got tougher and tougher and more obvious as they went along. His eventual death was down to his own pride – and so it is with men and women today.

iii) Israel: Israel we would like to think well of, but cannot! Their self-centred concerns, and so often godless attitudes, sum up what the Bible calls Sin, and it is constantly there! Again and again the Lord provides for them and although we may consider a number of things they encountered to be trials or testings through which they should learn, they never learned the simple lesson – when in trouble ask God for His help! However if we are honest, Israel simply portray mankind as a whole, of whom we are a part. We, all of us, have this propensity to be self-centred and get it wrong, failing to seek God’s help at every turn. No, we are just like Israel and without Christ are just as bad.

 iv) God: On one side of the coin, the picture of God is scary. Here is a God of power and might, a holy God who holds people to account and when they fail to repent, brings judgment. However, the other side of the coin reveals a God who understands the frailty of those He calls and so perseveres and perseveres with them until they grow and mature. The fact that He did not wipe out the whole of Israel very early on in their life as a nation, simply reveals a God of immense grace and mercy. He is also seen as a God who draws near to His people, provides for them, blesses them and brings them all the guidance they need. i.e. He is a God who interacts with His people constantly.

Now these are massive lessons, I would suggest, and if you have managed to follow all these studies right through to the end you are to be congratulated because they have not always been highly enlightening. And therein is another lesson: not every page of the Bible is as enlightening as all others, yet we can learn something even from those that do not seem to inspire us. Inspired they may be but not every word is thrilling BUT it WILL be “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that (we) may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17) The only criteria, I have learned over many years of writing these studies, is that we need to pray both before and after what we have read, and THEN the word comes alive as we encounter Him and He opens it up to us. OK, what’s next?

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26. Preliminary Battle Briefing

Meditations in Exodus: 26. Preliminary Battle Briefing

Ex 7:2    You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country

We observed chapter six as a summary time which we also said was a turning point and from now on the action really starts. At the beginning of chapter 5 the first approach had been made to Pharaoh, and it had not gone well. The result? Pharaoh had refused their first request for Israel to be let go  and had then made life harder for the Hebrew slaves. But so far he has not seen God move, That is about to change! But first of all again the Lord has to instruct Moses. Over the years I have noticed that of there is something big to do, the Lord says it more than a couple of times. If you have received fresh direction for your life from the Lord, then you may expect Him to speak at least three times. Why? Because He knows we need reminding and constantly reassuring.

We need to say something at the beginning of this Part 4. Although this will be a portion of Scripture that will be very difficult to apply to our personal lives, it will reveal the folly of man and the grace of God as it appears so clearly nowhere else in the Bible. The warning that must come through must be against pride and against spiritual blindness. The revelation of God that comes through is of one who hesitates in bringing judgment on this foolish occult-driven, superstitious people and gives them opportunity after opportunity of coming to their senses and repenting. Hold on to this picture of God for it is quite amazing. Power, yes, grace even more so.

So it starts: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” (v.1) Actually, this is going to be a bit eerie because Moses is going to be there always but will remain silent while Aaron does the talking. Without doubt Moses will be the leader and Pharaoh will realise that but Aaron will be the one bring the word from his boss. Yes Moses is going to be the one who does the stuff and so he is going to be seen as the power broker to Pharaoh. If Pharaoh comes to revere one of them because of their power it will be Moses. Moes will get the instructions from God, pass them to Aaron who will them convey them to Pharaoh (v.2). That’s the plan anyway.

Then comes a fourth warning of what will actually happen: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.”  (v.3,4) Observe very carefully this order of events again; this is God’s war strategy to bring judgment on this foolish king and his people:

  • I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and
  • though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt,
  • he will not listen to you.
  • Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment
  • I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites.

We have already touched on this before but it needs repeating if we are to fully understand it. Pharaoh has a hard heart to start with. That simply means he is proud and arrogant and set in his ways, the ways he thinks. When you push a hard hearted person they just get harder and so in that sense, God IS going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. I would suggest that this hardness is made more acute by the use of occult activity in the land, which we’ll soon see. Those who are involved in the occult, whether it is witchcraft, spiritist fortune telling or even freemasonry, always find it more difficult to comprehend the Gospel.  The apostle Paul said of people generally, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:4) there referring to Satan’s activity. It is even more so when people have dabbled in his works in the occult.

So God will press Pharaoh and his heart will just get harder so, second,  the Lord will multiply his signs and wonders in Egypt, the spectacular ‘plagues’ but, third, because of his hard heart Pharaoh will not listen. It will be crass stupidity because it will be so obvious what is going on, but blind hard hearted people are crassly stupid. It’s an aspect of Sin. So, fourth, those acts of disciplinary judgment (for that’s all the early plagues are, seeking to bring changes in behaviour) will eventually turn into terminal judgments, ones where people are dying, so that fifth, the end result will be that Israel are freed and allowed out of the country.

But there is an even bigger and even more important end result to all this: “And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” (v.5) God’s objective again and again revealed in Scripture is that he is revealed to His world.  He wants His world to know Him and, wherever possible, to enter into a living relationship with Him. THAT is the end goal. There will be some Egyptians who will leave with Israel and there will some who will remain in Egypt but never be the same again; they will know the truth, that all their present gods are petty superstitions, and that there is just ONE all-mighty, all-powerful God, the Lord of all, and He alone is worthy of worship, not all these other foolish make-believe entities!  That is where this is going eventually.

The to the success that is coming: “Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD commanded them.” (v.6) Awesome! Obedience releases the power of God or, to put it another way, it opens the way for God to come and move.  And just in case you thought you couldn’t do something like that, the record adds, “Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.” (v.7) Doing the will of God has nothing to do with age. Whatever He gives you to do, it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you are obedient, he will bless that obedience and you will see great things happening.

Remember you and I cannot do miracles, only God can. We’ll need to remind ourselves of this again and again for this is a primary lesson that is about to come out of what is about to take place. It is God who provides the plagues, not Moses. Moses and Aaron are only there to make it more clear for Pharaoh. Without them he would be so deaf as well as blind that he would not hear God, so Moses and Aaron become loudspeakers for God so that Pharaoh does hear.

So what have we seen in the first seven verses of chapter 7? We have seen the Lord, yet again, laying out the battle strategy. This is what WILL happen. The Lord knows and understands Pharaoh completely so He knows exactly what will happen, how Pharaoh will react and so what He will then go on to have to do. It’s all about showing to the onlooking world the folly or stupidity of pride. Don’t think you can outwit God. Never think you can beat Him in the chess game of life; you can’t. Surrender NOW!

61. Humility for all

Meditations in 1 Peter : 61: Humility for all

1 Pet 5:5,6 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,   “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time

The world in which we live tells us to stand up and be ourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do; be yourself! Stand up for yourself; make something of yourself. Don’t be a wimp, rise up above the rest. Be exalted in your greatness; make yourself even greater. These are the words of the twenty-first century. Rise up and go for it. They are, of course, words of deception. They are basically saying, pretend to be what you are not; make yourself something more than you are. Take one of the many ‘self-help’ courses that are available, change yourself.

Possibly an analogy that comes near the truth is of a cancer patient who is told, think positive thoughts. Positive thoughts can help – in a measure – but you still have cancer. Or to take an even more extreme idea – a man who is delusional and who genuinely believes he will never die. Yet in old age his body starts to decay and he keeps on telling himself, “I will never die.” Fear makes many of us deny the truth. You see it in a conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian. As the talk gets on to sin, the non-Christian starts getting edgy. “Don’t you tell me I am a sinner; I’m as good as the next man!” Deep down, that fear that the truth may be that “I am indeed a sinner” collides with the wrong thought that God is an angry, vicious, spiteful dictator who loves punishing people, and as the two ideas collide, fear acts in the only way it knows how and denies the truth – I am not a sinner!!!  But however much you say it, it doesn’t change the truth.

Now why, you may be thinking, am I rambling down this particular path? What is the connection with humility? Well, humility is simply an honest recognition of who we are. I am a sinner and without God I am utterly lost. I owe my entire life to the Lord. All that I have, which is good, has been a gift from Him. Left to myself, I am a mess. I am certainly no better than any other person. All I can do is say, thank you. Humility faces the truth about ourselves. Over the past few years I have become more and more aware of the incredible goodness of God that has blessed me over the forty years that I have known Him. I have grown incredibly thankful, mightily grateful for what He has done for me, in me and through me.

But there’s been something else growing in parallel with that sense of gratefulness; it is the awareness of who I am and, looking back down the years, a recognition of the weakness, failures, inadequacies and so on, of my life. That simply makes the good things that God has done, or made of me, even more wonderful. I can be blessed at who I have become, yet aware that I have nothing to be proud about because it has not been of my working. If anything, it has been despite me!  I have absolutely nothing to boast about. I have done some great things and blessed a good number of people, but I know the truth about that! It was Him! It was at His directions and it was with His enabling and still, today, I am incapable of any good thing without His guidance, direction, inspiration or power. I know who I am! Humility is not a “I’m a nobody,” but an accurate assessment of who you are.

Pride, by comparison, is having an inflated view of who you are or of your own importance. Now, says Peter, clothe yourself with humility – put it on like you would put on a coat. How do you do that? You do what I’ve just done; you state the truth about yourself, both the bad news and good news. The bad news is that left to myself, I am a wreck. The good news is that in Christ and with his direction and enabling I am a child of God who can prove to be a real blessing to people. ‘Putting on’ humility is declaring those truths.

Why does God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble”? The answer is because He is always working for the truth or for reality. The proud are not being truthful about themselves and so He opposes their untruths, but the humble who are being utterly real and acknowledging their frailty, weakness, inadequacy etc. of themselves, these ones He is able to take and use and so blesses them with His grace, His enabling to cope, serve or triumph.

And so what about when he says, Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time? This means bring yourself into a right attitude or outlook in life where you realise your utter dependency on Him so that He may take you, pick you up, and exalt you as He uses you. Consider Elijah (1 Kings 18) who opposed the prophets of Baal. He was utterly dependent on God – and knew it – and he was exalted in people’s minds because of what God was able to do through him. Jesus, likewise spoke of the glory he had received which in fact belonged to his Father as he served him. We don’t seek it; in fact we seek nothing except to be obedient to the Lord, utterly reliant on Him, and when we do that we will be exalted – but we’ll still know the truth!

 

41. Boasting

Meditations in Romans : 41:  No Room for Boasting

Rom 3:27,28 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Pride is a pitfall for the religious. How easy it is to think you are pious and godly and THEY are worldly and ungodly. Now indeed ‘they’ may have the spirit of the world (see 1 Jn 2:15-17) and indeed they may be ungodly, then so were you once! This is especially insidious for those of us who found a relationship with the Lord when we were young. All we can remember is being a Christian and so we are, surely, superior?  No, I would never ask you to abandon your faith so as to see what it is like without it, but the person who becomes a Christian later in life has a much greater idea of what it means to without God, what we are like before we come to Christ. The person who knew the Lord from a young age has the privilege of a much less tainted life, but we are still the same, for without Christ we would still be a wreck and we are Christians not because of our works but because He drew us to Himself and Jesus died for us. The basics are still the same. It is also very easy, when we have known the Lord a number of years and, even more, when He has greatly changed us and used us, to forget what it was like without Christ and to forget that we didn’t do anything to earn this life we now have.

Oh no, Paul is absolutely right; there is no room for boasting. We have seen a number of times in these more recent meditations that when we try to keep the Law, when we try to follow the rules, we can never be sure that we are keeping them all or keeping them perfectly. No, trying to keep the law means doubt at best and guilt and condemnation at the worst. We may be utterly deluded and think we are a good person but we’ve never looked at our lives, our words and our actions in detail and in the light of God’s perfection. We may excuse or justify ourselves but the truth remains the same: trying to keep the rules means doubts at best and guilt and condemnation at the worst. There is no way that we can be a Christian by keeping the rules; that is a path doomed to failure and it is not what the Lord calls us to. So first of all, although that’s not actually what Paul is saying, we have no grounds to boast on the basis of our keeping the Law.

But actually he says something else: there are no grounds to boast because it is all of faith, and similarly to the Law, faith doesn’t leave us any grounds to boast. Why? Well what is faith? It is simply responding to what God has said. Faith comes from hearing the message from God (Rom 10:17). God tells us what He has done through His Son, Jesus and, when we simply respond to that, it is faith. But it isn’t a big thing on our part that gives us grounds to boast, because actually what happens is that we realise what a state we’re in (as we’ve been seeing in recent meditations) as the Holy Spirit convicts us of the truth about us – helpless and hopeless – and we come out of a state of desperation to a place of surrender to God.

We give up all our self-efforts and self-justifying and we confess we are sinners needing to be saved. We don’t actually bring anything of value to the table, just our miserable selves who need God to save them. That is the truth of what happens! We don’t come to the table to negotiate with God for we have nothing of value to put on the table. No, we come empty handed in need and seek God for His mercy and grace which comes through the finished work of Jesus. Have you ever thought, God doesn’t have to receive us? He could utterly reject us and sent us to eternal separation from Him.

The death of Jesus doesn’t force Him to accept us.  If there is anything that makes Him act, it is His character, it is His love. He always wants good for us and always looks to save us if we will only come, but when we come it is not with any great fanfare on our part. In fact to the contrary we come with a whimper, we come with humility and sometimes we come with tears. Conviction is not a happy thing; it is not something to boast about. We cannot triumph about ‘our conviction’ because it was simply the Holy Spirit showing us our need. We can’t boast about being in need; it’s not something you boast about, being a needy soul, is it?

So when we exercised faith and responded to God’s word about Jesus, we were simply taking the only way out as we saw it. We saw our need as the Holy Spirit showed us it (as we keep needing to remind ourselves) and so when God showed us a means of meeting that need, we grabbed at it as drowning man grabs at a straw. When a man foolishly goes to close to the edge of the sea wall and falls into the raging sea, and then someone throws him a lifebelt on the end of a rope and he’s pulled in, does he clamber out declaring, “Wow did you see the incredible way I grabbed hold of that lifebelt? Didn’t I do well?”  No, it is a very different story. He knows it was his foolishness that got him into a life threatening position to start with and he is just very grateful that someone provided the means to save him and then pull him out.

So, no, there is no room to boast about our faith. It is the way we are saved, not following the Law, but even then it’s 99% the work of God and the 1% that involves us is a ‘clutching’ at God’s lifebelt. Wow!

40. Pride & Humility

Meditations in James: 40 : Pride & Humility

Jas 4:6     But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

The danger or difficulty of meditating on just one verse, especially when we don’t have a Bible open in front of us,  is that we don’t see the context and the context is so often all-important. Yes, we can get a general meaning from thinking about the verse on its own, but it is much more useful to study it in context so that we see why the writer was saying it and what it relates to that has gone before.

So let’s take the verse as if it were on its own and then later let’s put it in context to illustrate what we’ve just said above. First, he gives us more grace. God is in the business of giving us grace, and grace in this sort of context simply means the divine ability that he imparts to us to enable us to cope. Many of us struggle with this. We just can’t believe that God is standing in the wings, so to speak, just waiting to provide us with all that we need to cope with life today – wisdom, strength, health etc. That is grace, His divine ability imparted to us, but we have to receive it, and more often than not, we have to first ask for it.

But then the verse continues, That is why Scripture says…. It is referring back to the Old Testament, to Proverbs 3:34. We need to realize that the New Testament is built upon the Old. Jesus quoted from virtually all of the books of the Old Testament, and the epistle writers do the same. God’s will was declared in the Old and fulfilled or applied in the New.

The verse continues: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. This is the Old Testament quote, the teaching that came through Solomon.  Those who are proud rise up and reject or ignore God and basically seek to oppose Him, so He opposes them, for He is God and He is exercising His will for the good of mankind. When we oppose Him we oppose this activity of His. As soon as God sees us coming to the end of ourselves, giving up all of our own self-endeavours, and turning to Him, He is instantly there as a loving Father, ready to pour out all of His wonderful goodness, the resources we need for life, His grace. Yes, when we are humble and acknowledge our need, He is there for us, but He can’t provide for us until we turn to Him and become desirous of His help. That’s what Solomon was saying, and is now quoted in this verse.

Now let’s see what has gone before so we can put it in context to see the wider picture. Having spoken about the tongue in the middle of chapter 3 and then gone on at the end of it to talk about the life style that is a reflection of the wisdom received from God, James has gone on to face us up with what goes on inside us and while doing that we realized that without God we were a mess. The key or turning point is when we come to the end of ourselves and we seek God. Before we do that we have wrong attitudes and motivations which are those of ‘the world’, godless humanity, but God is jealous for us and yearns to draw us more and more into a deeper relationship with Him.  However for that to happen we have to crucify our pride and come acknowledging our state and our need. When we come like that God’s grace is freely available to us. While we are holding on to those old worldly attitudes where self is paramount, we are likely to be in opposition to God (which is a frightening thought when you realize how great and powerful He is!) and we are doomed to failure.  It’s all about what we let Him do on the inside of us, as He brings His wisdom to bear on our lives and we are allowed to see ourselves as we really are, with all those self-centred desires in conflict.

This is what this is all about; facing up to ourselves so that we can come in humility to God, acknowledging our need of His help, and then receiving His grace which transforms our life. What is His grace but His own presence, His own Holy Spirit, dwelling within us.  It is He Himself empowering us, but as we’ve commented so many times in the past, He will not force Himself upon us, and so He waits until He sees we have a genuine, penitent attitude, which really does see that He alone is our answer. When we come to this place He releases His power in us – and that is the grace we need to cope. It is that which changes us, which transforms us, and gives us the ability to live the lives He’s designed for us.

Do you see now the importance of the ‘But’ at the beginning of the verse? He’s spoken about His Spirit, who He has given us, as yearning for us or being jealous for us when He sees we have a tendency to drift away, and so now he reminds us that God’s grace is there to stop us drifting and to help us back into a good place. That’s what the ‘But’ is about. It’s about the provision He has made to draw us back when we are drifting. Isn’t that wonderful!  He sees us drifting but He doesn’t scold or chastise us, because He is yearning to just get us back. It’s like when a teenage child runs away. What they have done is foolish, but you are more concerned to have them back than to remonstrate with them! And this is true of God as well. He is there, zealous to bring you back, and for you to be able to do that, you need His grace – and here it is!  Receive it today if you have been drifting. It’s there for the asking.

38. Enemies of God

Meditations in James: 38 : Enemies of God?

Jas 4:4     You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Observing people taking sides is not a pleasant thing  because it is divisive, yet we accept division in society at the many different levels. At its basic level, politics is all about how is the best way to run a country, what sort of rules, what sort of laws, how to look after people. The problem is there are so many different ways, and so different ideas have, in the past century or so, created different political parties and we are encouraged every few years to vote in favour of one party and against the others. There is this natural taking of sides that takes place. In the whole realm of football, people take sides, and support one team as against all the others. It is a taking sides that demands fierce loyalty so often. Wherever there are options and alternatives and competition for one or the other, there is taking sides.

The tone of James’ letter sometimes suggests that he has heard things about the church scattered far and wide, and some of the things he has heard upset him.  The whole issue of favouritism in church was obviously one such thing. Now he speaks with a passion about the church that he has been hearing about, that sides with the world.  Now we have commented previously that when the Bible uses the world ‘world’ it can mean the physical planet on which we live, the people who live on it, or the attitudes of godless and unrighteous mankind. It is the latter meaning that he uses here.

Probably the classic passage about ‘the world’ comes in 1 John 2: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16). There the world’s ‘life approach’ is defined.  First, cravings of sinful man.  It is a world that is motivated and driven by sensual desires, living according to self-centred desires, regardless of what they are. Second, lust of his eyes desire stirred on by visual impact. This is what the whole advertising industry is about. Make you ‘see’ something and then want it, because of those unrestrained desires already there that just need stirring on. Third, boasting of what he has and does, pride that exalts self. To summarise: the world means self-centred living according to desires, that are inflamed by what you can see and which go to building up the ego to exalt the individual.

How is this hatred toward God? First it is self-centred and godless.  Second it is purely materialistic – and thus godless. Third it exalts self to the exclusion of God  – and is therefore godless. In every way the ‘way of the world’ is a godless mentality, and by godless we mean it excludes or ignores or rejects God.  No wonder James says that Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. This is another case of taking sides, because there are opposites to choose and if you choose one you will be hostile to the other. If you accept a mentality that is, in reality, self-centred, materialistic and self-exalting, you cannot call yourself a child of God, because all of these expressions are in opposition to God.

Perhaps the classic instance in the Scripture of this choice came through Joshua to the people of Israel near the end of his life: if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15)  Look, he was saying, if you want you can go and serve the idols that our primitive forefathers served, but me and my family will serve the Lord.  There was a clear choice you did one or the other.  The choice is exactly the same today.  You either serve the idols of materialism, or of self-centred human endeavour, or of scientific endeavour or whatever other godless expression of modern life that you can find, or you will trust and serve the Lord.  The reality of that choice comes when you see who or what it is that you rely upon. That is why James finds it so important to think about talking to God.  Talking to God is perhaps the clearest sign of relying upon Him.

A New Testament parallel is, perhaps when Jesus had been saying difficult things:From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:66-69) Some of those who had been with Jesus now drifted away. They couldn’t cope with or understand some of the things he was saying. For Peter, there was no question. Jesus was the Messiah and was the one bringing answers and eternal life. There was no competition as far as he was concerned. That conclusion meant he gave up all rights to his life and went and followed Jesus wherever he led. I once asked a group what they would like their epitaph on their gravestone to be. One answered, “She followed the Lord wherever he said to go.” May that be true of each one of us who call ourselves Christians!

29. Steered

Meditations in James: 29 : Steered by the Tongue

Jas 3:3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.

We take life for granted. We don’t think about the things we do, because they are so natural. We get up in the morning. We get dressed, eat breakfast, go out for the day, come home, eat, rest and sleep – every day!  We have eyes to see, ears to hear and mouths to speak, and we take them all for granted.  Take the mouth for example.  We may get up in the morning and so we groan about the day negatively.  We turn on breakfast TV, or breakfast radio, or read a morning paper, and grumble about the state of the world.  We complain about a bus or train being late, or about the weather.  We criticise people in the news and at work.  And we wonder why we feel so negative about life.  We speak thoughtlessly to someone and we hurt or upset them and a relationship is broken.  We speak hastily and the die is cast and a decision made that was unwise.  Our mouths play a large part in expressing what we feel, in determining what we feel, and in creating or breaking relationships with other people.  Oh yes, our tongue is a powerful bit of our body, and the wise person thinks about this.

James has been guiding us to think about our lives and has been challenging us about the nature of them as we live them out in the midst of the world that is so often hostile to us and to God. He’s talked about the link between faith and deeds, and he’s gone on to allude to spiritual maturity, something we should be aiming for.  Have you ever used Google Earth or some other satellite system that looks down on the earth? You see the earth from a distance and then you can zoom down and roads become visible and then, as you get nearer, buildings take shape, and then details can be seen and, if it was a real shot, even people seen.  We zoom in and more and more detail is seen.  That’s what James is now doing.  He is zooming in on our lives and focusing specifically on that all-important organ, our tongue!

He doesn’t go into immediate teaching about it; he paints pictures that make us think about it.  He speaks first about the bit in the mouth of a horse.  It’s a very obvious picture.  As the rider pulls on the reins the horse’s head is pulled round and its body follows the direction of the head.  The implication is that we go where our tongue takes us.  There is a sense that the tongue controls the whole body.  Yes, we know that the tongue speaks what is in the heart: out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Lk 6:45).  As we feel on the inside so we speak, but it is as we speak so our direction is set.  We speak and others hear what we say, and we are committed.  If we keep quiet, we are not committed; it is only as we speak is our path set.  What we say, we tend to do.

Then James gives another picture, that of a ship. Oh yes, he says, there may be big waves and strong winds, but it is the rudder of the ship that determines where it goes.  The rudder is so small in comparison to the rest of the ship, but it is still the part that determines the course of the boat.  The same implication is there.  Our course is determined by such a small part of us. Someone offers us as job.  We say, “Yes, I’ll take it.”  Our course is set by our tongue.  Someone chides us for wrong behaviour.  We lash back with our tongue defensively.  Unfortunately they were our manager, and our future hope of promotion has just gone.  Our course is set.  In a marriage, a row ensues and angry words create division.  No healing words are spoken and the rift gets bigger. A course is being set. It is our words that set our course. Think back over the past week or month and see if you can identify times when your words set the course of what was to follow.  Think about things that are yet to happen today or tomorrow and consider how your words will set the course of what is to follow.

James gives a strong warning to finish this verse: the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. What is boasting?  It is speaking out and making claims that are untrue, claims that we are bigger and better than is really true. The tiny tongue can say such silly things, but they are things that make other people think less of us; they are things that lead us further into self-deception. Boasting reveals pride and it reveals foolish thinking, but even worse, it leads us along a course that is damaging to us.

Before we go anywhere else with James in this consideration of the use of the tongue, can we realize how significant our words are? Can we realize what our words do? Can we see that they reveal the state of our hearts and the also commit us to the path ahead. We will, in the days ahead, be determining our paths, partly by what we will be saying. That needs thinking about!