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.

32. Lawless or…

Meditations in 1 John : 32 : Lawless or…

1 John  3:4,5  Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.

I once bought a fairly substantial book, a theological book I hasten to add, about ‘Sin’.  Although there are generalizations and even definitions from the Bible about sin, as I commented in a previous meditation, when it comes down to assessing individual thoughts, words or actions, it is frequently very difficult to know whether particular things are ‘sins’. Obviously there are lists of behaviour in the New Testament that are clearly things we are told not to do which must suggest they are sins, but in daily life it is not always easy to say this or that thing is a sin, and over the centuries Christians have often tied themselves in knots over these things.

When we come to our verses today, we find one of the fairly rare occasions where sin is defined. But we must, as always observe the context because one verse flows on from the other. In the verse before these today, we find John speaking about purity in the Christian life. This is just him expressing the same thing he’s said before in a different ways.

John has used light and darkness (e.g. 1 Jn 1:5-7) to contrast godly and ungodly or righteous and unrighteous living. He’s an old man and he wants to ensure that the Christian community is living in reality and reality declares that when you come to Christ and are born again you will start living differently. It’s not theoretical, it’s practical, it’s about what you do. He doesn’t want us to sin (1 Jn 2:1), he wants us to obey God’s commands (1 Jn 2:3-6) as an expression of His love in us. You can’t be light and darkness at the same time (1 Jn 2:9-11). The world is self-centred (1 Jn 2:15-17) and there are many antichrists (1 Jn 2:18,19) but we are different and know the truth (1 Jn 2:20-27) because we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit,  and look forward to Jesus’ return (1 Jn 2:28). So now we are children of God (1 Jn 3:1) looking forward to being like him when he returns (1 Jn 3:2) and thus we purify ourselves in preparation (1 Jn 3:3)

Now John is a good teacher and he repeats himself many times in different ways to drive home the point. He also uses contrasts to make it clearer, so having just spoken about purity in our lives, by stark contrast, he now describes the life of non-Christians, a life that should not be seen in us! He’s already encouraged us to keep the Law or obey God’s commands, so now he declares that, “Everyone who sins breaks the law.” If you are trying to follow all God’s commands in the New Testament, you can’t sin, because sinning is breaking the commands. In fact, he goes on, “sin is lawlessness.” There’s the definition!

Let’s try and get a bigger picture. When God designed this world, we said in an earlier meditation, He designed it so that we work in particular ways and to work best, we have to work in one way and if we work contrary to that we will ‘break down’. But working contrary to God’s design is disregarding or rebelling against God’s design. It is us saying that we know better than God. All the Law is, or the commands of God that we now find in the New Testament, is an expression of God’s will or, in other words, the way He has designed us to live best.

To speak of us being ‘lawless’ simply refers to our tendency or disposition to do our own thing, disregarding God’s wisdom as revealed in His word. Sin, very simply, is anything that runs contrary to His will, to His word. It is us disregarding Him and what He has said. Now we must see that this is folly and must not be part of our lives. As we noted earlier, sometimes it is not always easy to discern what exactly is the Lord’s will. When it is specifically stated in the text of the New Testament, that is easy, but sometimes things occur which do not seem to be tied down so clearly. At such times we need to seek him, asking for clarity, and then listen to the witness of the Spirit, who will seek to convey and communicate His concern when we do stray.

If we do stray, we must realise that it is contrary to all that Jesus came to do, as John says, “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.”  Jesus life and death on the Cross and subsequent resurrection and ascension was all to deliver us from sin and enable us to come back into a right relationship with the Father. If we continue to sin, we are pushing all that work of Jesus aside.

But there is more than that for, “in him is no sin.”  If we are supposed to be ‘in Christ’ it is inconceivable that we can carry on sinning because there is no sin in Christ, it is alien to him and should be alien to his body. In all these ways, John is saying: you are different, so live differently!

15. Love is

Meditations in 1 Peter : 15 :  Love is

1 Pet 1:22 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

In recent years I have concluded that the most important characteristic of the Christian is love – and yet it doesn’t seem to get the amount of air-time that it deserves. I’ll start by suggesting you love as much as you have been loved, as John said, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” (1 Jn 4:10) but perhaps I should temper what I’ve just said by saying we love as much as we realise how much we’re loved.

Peter obviously thinks similarly because he is going to encourage us to love one another: love one another deeply, from the heart.” The last three words are interesting. How else can we love, we might ask? Well we might love with our mind, an intellectual love. We know love is what should be in us and so we declare that it will be. But love is far more than a mere mental assent. Perhaps that is why the commandments about God are summed up as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37). Put most simply, our love is to be whole hearted, mind and emotions together, if you like.

But in this verse there is an order of events: obey the truth – purify yourself – love for others.

The truth is simply that which has been revealed to us – the Gospel – which includes the truth that Jesus is both Lord and Saviour. As we have recently noted, he calls us out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of God where the rule of God prevails. The Gospel is first all about surrender to God. We give up our own rights to rule our lives because we realise (with the convicting help of the Holy Spirit) that we have made a mess of them, we are hopeless and we need saving. It is only then about what God does for us and in us. John the Baptist came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 3:2) and Jesus followed preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) It was exactly the same message: do a one hundred and eighty degree turn and submit to the rule of God which is about to come. “Jesus answered, “I am the …. truth.” (Jn 14:6)  Everything Jesus speaks is the truth for he is the very expression of The Truth – God! . Jesus never said anything that was not the truth. That’s why, again and again, we find him saying, “I tell you the truth.” (Jn 3:3,5,11, 5:19,24,25 etc. etc.) Thus to obey the Father, we obey everything the Son has told us. The Christian life is first about submission and obedience.

But part of our obedience is moving into a life of purity. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt 5:8) When we think of something that is pure – e.g. gold, silver etc. – we mean that it is free from impurities. Impurities in the Christian life are any forms of sin, or anything that mars our relationship with the Lord. The ‘pure in heart’ do not let anything taint their heart that might spoil their relationship with the Lord. A heart that allows pride to reside in it is a tainted heart and not pure, and the pride will turn the heart hard. A heart that allows covetousness to reside in it is a tainted heart and not pure, and will cause the heart to be restless, discontented and critical of God’s provision. There are a myriad of ways that our hearts can be tainted and not pure, but these are not the ways of the Christian for the Christian has submitted to Jesus and allows his rule to prevail, and that means the Christian realises their weakness and frailty and there is not room for pride. They also rest in their Saviour for he is alone is the means of their ongoing daily salvation.

As this purity comes to us at salvation and we are cleansed from our old life and empowered for a new one by the presence of the Holy Spirit, He wipes away all self and all opposition to other people. It is only as the enemy comes and we listen to him, do those things take hold again if we let them. But that is not what the rule of Jesus wants in our lives. He wants them to be as pristine clean as they were at the moment of our conversion when we were born again. At that moment at least we were utterly surrendered to him, at that moment we were utterly pure, and at that moment utterly open to him we were open to all others; there was within us this love for others that Peter speaks about. It was a natural part of the new us when we were born again, for we received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, and he expresses the love of the Father to all. It is only as we take hold of our lives again and start thinking and rationalizing and reasoning, that we think negatively about others and forget that of ourselves we have nothing to commend us.

That is how we are naturally in Christ, is what Peter is implying and so, he says, let that work out in you and love one another deeply, from the heart. Now we see another reason why it is from the heart, because that is where purity resides and there it is that is the motivation that we have. Our hearts were surrendered to him, and our hearts are made pure and that purity means in respect of how we view others as well, with the eyes of Jesus. Oh how easy it is to stray from the truth and take up the rights of self again, and as soon as we do that we find negatives about other people rising within us. It should not be so, for it means we have been listening to the enemy and not to our Lord. Let’s check out who we’ve been listening to!

8. The Pure in Heart

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 8

Mt 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Many of the key words in the Beatitudes are not words in common usage today. Perhaps this says more about us today than about the beatitudes. The idea of purity, or the word ‘pure’ is one such example. Purity is something that only gets referred to when we are talking about gold or silver, very rarely about qualities of our lives. However, that concept, of purity of gold or silver, does help us understand something more about what is being said in today’s verse. All of the early uses of ‘pure’ in the Bible are to do with “pure gold” that was used in the construction of the tabernacle. Forty times in the historical books in the first half of the Old Testament there are references to “pure gold”, gold without any impurities, the very best, the very finest gold possible. That was to be the quality of material used in connection with the worship place of God.

But our verse refers to purity of heart. Now Vines Expository Dictionary identifies ‘heart’ as meaning, the ‘inner man’ (Deut 30:14), and the seat of ‘desire or inclination’ (Ex 7:14), the ‘emotions’ (Deut 6:5), ‘knowledge and wisdom’ (Deut 8:5), ‘conscience and moral character’ (Job 27:6), ‘rebellion and pride’ (Gen 8:21 ).

Now remember we have said again and again that we must see each verse in context, as a follow on from what has gone before. In the previous meditations we said that there was a submission to the will of God and a desire to receive God’s righteousness, and then having a merciful attitude towards all others as an indication of the reality of understanding of our spiritual poverty and need for God. One of the key verses in the Old Testament that is pertinent here is, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). As we come to God to receive His salvation, the Lord closely examines us to see how effective the convicting work of His Holy Spirit is. Having a merciful attitude towards others is one good indicator, but our attitude towards God is the key thing, and that is where this verse applies.

So, to quote what we said about what we find in Vines Dictionary, the Lord looks on the inner person (as our verse above says). He looks to see the reality of the desire that is there. It is only when our desire for his salvation is pure or real, that He gives it to us, and of course He is the only one who can see that reality. Perhaps that is why some people appear to come to a place of commitment but don’t seem to ‘come through’.

The Lord also looks at the reality of our emotions. How pure are they? Are our tears, tears of remorse, tears of having been found out, revealed for who we are, or are they tears of genuine contrition, tears of anguish over the awfulness of who we are? The Lord alone knows the reality of our emotions at that point.

The Lord also examines our knowledge, the awareness of our state. Some people in big meetings have an emotional experience but there is no content to it. They do not know why they are feeling what they are feeling, but when we truly come to Christ under the conviction of his Holy Spirit, we know that we are sinners, we know that we are lost, we know that we are helpless and we know that only God can help us.

The Lord also looks at our conscience, our desire for moral standing. This is very similar to the previous one – He looks to see that we are going beyond mere emotions, that our cry is a genuine cry from deep down to be put morally right.

Finally the Lord looks deep inside us to see if, at the moment of conviction, there is a genuine dying to the old rebellious nature. When the Lord sees that, He knows that we are truly sincere and willing to forsake the past and let Him bring us a new life.

The second half of the verse gives us an amazing promise: they will see God .. The first implication is that when God sees this heart purity we have been considering, He then reveals Himself to us. By His own Holy Spirit coming to indwell us (Jn 14:17, 1 Cor 3:16) He enables us to have the most intimate relationship possible. “See” in that sense would simply mean ‘experience’. In the longer term, the promise of the New Testament is that when we die we will go to heaven and there we will see the Lord face to face. Purity of heart opens the way for the Lord to bring us His salvation, the ultimate expression of which is eternal life with Him in heaven. Yes, we have years to live out that relationship here on earth and possibly through dreams and visions we will ‘see’ the Lord, but the final outworking of that relationship is a face to face encounter in eternity in heaven. That is our destiny; that is the destiny of those who come to the place of purity of heart.