19. Aspiring to Purity

Aspiring Meditations: 19.  Aspiring to Purity

2 Cor 6:4-6 “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness”

1 Tim 4:12   set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

1 Tim 5:1, 2 Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

The awareness of falling short or of being less than we should be, so often makes us want to step back into the shadows and hide. If the mischievous preacher says, “Hands up all those who can claim to be pure,” we hunch down in our sits and together with most others have a sense of guilt and of inadequacy. Purity means free from fault or defect, free from anything that taints or pollutes or spoils, and few of us would dare to make that claim; we know that hidden thoughts are sometimes less than glorious, words sometimes come out that are less than gracious, and acts sometimes emerge that are less than goodness.

And yet, as we peer into the depths of the New Testament this word comes to the surface in this search of those things that suggest we should be aspiring to them. The apostle John nails it when he says, “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:2,3) He speaks of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ at his Second Coming, and he reminds us that Jesus is pure and so we should ensure, to the best of our ability that our lives are pure and clean.

I remember a time, many years ago, in the church where we were members as fairly young Christians, the leaders had invited a prophet to come and speak. This was a man with a serious ministry and the stories of that ministry went ahead of him. He saw through people and he ministered with authority. At one church where he went, he called out two leaders and challenged them about having been at loggerheads for years and told them to repent. In fact he went further than that and said if they did not they would not see the week out. By the end of the week one of the men had repented and the other was dead!

We cleaned up our lives before he arrived. Paul’s words at Communion took on a whole new meaning: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:28-30) Wow! It was real, people in Corinth had been dying because they failed to acknowledge their sins.

In our verses above Paul said they commended themselves to the believers by their purity of life (2 Cor 6) and encouraged Timothy as a young leader to be an example to his flock of a pure life (1 Tim 4) and especially in the way he had dealings with the women of the congregation. But when Peter counseled wives with unbelieving husbands, how to win over their husbands, it wasn’t with word but with their purity: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Pet 3:1,2)

Purity is at the heart of who we are: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Pet 1:22) Obedience to the truth, responding to the gospel, means as we come to Christ we are purified: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8,9) It didn’t matter whether it was Jew or Gentile, whoever comes to Christ IS purified: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7)

Now the danger, when I come to think how I can aspire to purity, is that we focus on outward actions or outgoing words so a person who is working on purity in their life, will not abuse their body with wrong use of drugs or excess use of alcohol and, I suggest, will be careful what comes out of their mouths. Swearing or blasphemy are definitely out. Something I have observed, especially in some across the water from me, is the common use of “O my God!” as an expletive. It is using the name God in a derogatory manner, it is abusing His name and it is, I believe, offensive to Him, and yet it seems it has become culturally acceptable. I am not so sure.

But those are outward things and Jesus also warned about what went on inside our heads. Lust comes from imagining things. Hatred comes from allowing oneself to think badly against another. But tainting the mind can come to easily through the eyes, whether it be from online pornography, men’s magazines, sexually explicit novels (and there are more and more of them around) or sexually explicit videos or films, or whether it is extreme violence or torture, again whether it is on videos or films or even video games, a mind that is tainted by these is no longer pure. Not long ago while traveling, I picked up an innocent looking novel to read from the airport bookstand and was horrified a few hours later to find myself in the midst of the most sexually explicit questionable sex you could find. Realizing what I was doing, I shut the book and dumped it. I hadn’t seen it coming, but now it was too late; the imagery was there – impurity!

What do we do when such things happen? Ask the Lord to forgive us that we allowed ourselves to get into such a position and then ask Him to blot out those memories and replace them with good images. We need a work of grace and cleansing and purifying. But it can be thoughts about another that can only be described as fantasy, and if they are not our partner or if they …..  no, let’s stop there and suggest that fantasizing of any kind needs to have the lid put on. By definition, such thoughts are unreal and often stray over the line of what is acceptable if you spoke them out, so if you want a test, imagine speaking out this fantasy before the congregation. If you see horrified looks on their faces, you know the truth.

So, here we are, in the realm of the mind or of words or even deeds, anything that is at all questionable; these are the things that pollute the pure life. Let’s be real, let’s be honest and let’s face the truth of this study: I need to aspire to purity and therefore I may need to check my lifestyle, my thoughts, and the things I have so far permitted into my life. Perhaps some of them offend the thought of me having a life of purity. Maybe some action is required, but His grace will be sufficient. Do it.

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35. Heavenly Wisdom

Meditations in James: 35 : Heavenly Wisdom – Godly Guidance Guidelines

Jas 3:17,18   But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Yesterday we pondered on the so-called ‘wisdom of the world’ which, in fact, is no wisdom at all.  Wisdom, we have said, is the knowledge of ‘how to do’.  That can range from ‘how to do’ life generally to ‘how to’ specifically bless someone, an individual, or ‘how to’ work out a specific problem.  We know wisdom was lacking when we completely mess up a job or a relationship, because we always assume that wisdom ‘works’.  It is one of the characteristics that we perhaps take for granted that we should maybe add to our definition: wisdom is ‘how to do so that it works out well’.  Yes, please hold onto that because it is important: wisdom implicitly works.  It’s not ‘how to do it badly’; it’s ‘how to do it so it’s a success’.

Now yesterday in the previous verses James spoke about earthly wisdom, but he doesn’t leave us simply with the negative; now he completes the picture with a positive picture of the characteristics of wisdom that comes from God. At the beginning of the letter, James told us, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (1:5)  As Christians, the source of our wisdom should, therefore, be the Lord.  When we are confronted by a difficult set of circumstances we should turn to Him and ask Him to tell us how to deal with them.  When we do that we suddenly find that ideas start flowing.  Follow them, they are from the Lord.  Is this wisdom from the Lord or is the enemy trying to trip us up?  Well this is where these verses are so important because they describe the nature or characteristics of the outworkings of wisdom that comes from God.  If your guidance seems to produce the opposite of these characteristics, then they are not from the Lord.  If these characteristics appear, you are on safe ground.

He says this wisdom is first of all pure. Pure here means that is morally untainted, so if there is anything morally questionable about it, it’s not God! God will not guide you into anything that is morally questionable, so if your conscience worries you about a particular path, stay away from it.

The second description is peace-loving. God is constantly seeking to lead us into peace so if your guidance seems to lead to upset, think again.  Wisdom coming from God will always seek to bring you into harmony with other people.  It unites, not drives apart.  It heals, not harms.

The third description is considerate.  When we are considerate we think about what is good for other people.  Remember Jesus’ teaching: “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Mt 7:12).  When you are thinking how to deal with other people, let a check be, how would I like them to deal with me in similar circumstances?

The fourth description is submissive.  That seems an odd description for wisdom until we remember Paul’s teaching, Submit to one another (Eph 5:21) or as he expounded it to the Philippians, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3) and went on to describe the submissive way Jesus came.  When we come submissively we come in humility counting others better than ourselves. That is a heavenly attitude.

The fifth description is full of mercy. Mercy is that characteristic of God that loves and doesn’t mete out what a person deserves but instead gives them good. Mercy is unwarranted blessing where perhaps circumstances suggest that the opposite was deserved. Wisdom from God means we will always seek to bless others.

The sixth description is full of … and good fruit. You know what the fruit of the Spirit is – love, joy, peace etc. (Gal 5:22,23).  Well let your wisdom be seasoned with these.  Let your wisdom be permeated by goodness, for that is what comes from God.

The seventh description is impartial. Wisdom from God does not take sides. Do you remember Joshua’s question of the man outside Jericho: Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Josh 5:13) and the man replied,Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” (v.14).  In other words, I’m God’s commander and God doesn’t take sides.  God wants us to bring blessing to all sides, and James has already spoken strongly about not allowing favouritism in the church!

The eighth and final description is sincere.  When we are sincere there is an absence of guile, there is no scheming. We are open and honest.  We will also have to be loving and gracious to temper this, so that it is not a selfish sincerity but a sincerity which is linked to all the other characteristics.

Eight descriptions!  Eight is the number of resurrection in Scripture, the number of God’s resurrection life, which follows death. When we die to self, and seek God for His wisdom then life will flow, which is why James concludes, Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. When we come with this sort of wisdom, then we come as God’s ambassador, we come as a bringer of peace, and righteousness will be seen to be the end outworking, or harvest, of all of this.  Righteousness, you may remember we have said, is simply living and acting in God’s prescribed and designed manner, and that is life.  May we be bringers of such life as we turn to Him and seek His wisdom.

54. Righteous?

Meditations in Job : 54.  How can a Man be Righteous?

Job 25:4 How then can a man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?

Job has been protesting his righteousness and the three ‘friends’ have been struggling with that!  Bildad comes in, for the last time, with an attack on that assertion. It is in fact the last of the words from the friends. In the remainder of the book we will see Job speaking, then Elihu an outsider speaking, and then the Lord.

To start this last argument, Bildad exalts the Lord: “Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven. Can his forces be numbered? Upon whom does his light not rise?” (v.2,3) i.e. God is the supreme ruler who brings peace (implied)  and order to heaven. He calls upon countless angels to serve Him and His glory shines on all of creation. This is the God with whom we have to deal. So far, so good! Implied within all this is God’s perfection, perfection in His being and perfection in all He does. Before Him, Bildad continues in our verse above, how can any man stand righteous? How can any human being claim to be righteous?

He then sets up a strange comparison: “If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot– a son of man, who is only a worm!” (v.5,6) If the moon and the stars are not bright in comparison to His glory (implied), how much less be a mere human being, who is but a maggot in God’s order of things?  I have heard the same being said in the sceptical derision of modern day atheists: If God is so great how could he possibly worry about such mundane and minute figures such as we are? And there is a great mystery – the love of God!

When we seek to examine Scripture as a whole, we come across two amazingly different pictures of mankind. The first puts us down:

  • For instance the apostle Paul wrote, “death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
  • David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” (Psa 51:5) and “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one,” (Psa 14:3) and, agreeing with Bildad, “no one living is righteous before you.” (Psa 143:2).
  • Jeremiah spoke similarly: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jer 17:9)

So, this first position shows mankind as utterly sinful and in that respect, in their original state, there is nothing good about them. But there is a second view of mankind:

  • “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honour and put everything under his feet.” (Heb 2:6-8 quoting Psa 8) – this is mankind who God made to rule over the earth.
  • Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) i.e. God delighted in mankind when He made us!
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17) i.e. God still loved this world – the people on it – even though we are sinners.

This latter position shows that we were created to a position of authority and rule and honour and even though we are fallen, God still loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. So, can we be righteous? That is Bildad’s concern. Can we be righteous apart from Jesus, we might add?

Consider: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9) and “Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut 24;13) and “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” (Psa 1:5) and “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God (Psa 68:3) and “Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous.” (Prov 2:20) and “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry” (Prov 10:3). ‘The righteous’ in all of these cases (and very many more in the Old Testament) are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright.

Let’s move on a step: Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) and “to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Rom 4:5). Here we see ‘righteousness’ clarified as that which God declares over a person when they simply believe Him! Where there is faith, there is righteousness.  Can we be righteous? Yes, by walking with God – by receiving His salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and being led by His Holy Spirit. This IS righteousness. We could say so much more on this subject but space forbids for the moment. Bildad, you’ll  need to see the wider testimony of Scripture and realise that although we are fallen, we are loved and, being loved, we can enter into a living relationship with God whereby He declares us righteous for believing what He has done for us and then for what He is doing in us.