2. The Smyrna Experience – Persecution

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  2. The Smyrna Experience: Persecution

Rev 2:8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write” 

Speaker: To this church Jesus comes as the One who brings, “the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” (v.8) As the “First and the Last” he is the eternal one of God, the one who was there with the Father at Creation (see Jn 1:3, Heb 1:2, Prov 8:27-31) and will be there at the end (see Rev 5:12,13, 19:11-16, 20:4, 22:1). He was there in heaven with the Father, he left heaven and came to earth (Jn 6:33,38,41,42,51), he died, rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven where he now rules in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, 1 Cor 15:25). He is thus the One who has experienced this world and all its trials and suffered in it.  He knows what this world is like and therefore he is able to empathize with those who go through similar things, he understands it all perfectly.

He Knows their Affliction: Because he is also the all-seeing One with the Father, he ‘knows’: I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.” (v.9) Again, I don’t want to go into the details here but just respond to the basic words. Jesus says he knows their afflictions, their sufferings, their trials, he knows it is sometimes a difficult life. The Greek word for affliction implies being crushed beneath a great weight.

He Knows their Poverty: But he also says he knows their poverty and the Greek word implies utterly destitute. There is a false teaching that links affluence with holiness, but that doesn’t accord with Jesus’ teaching: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” (Lk 6:20) and “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3) These aren’t one and the same. When we are materially poor, we still can know the love of God and even His provision. In some parts of the world the affluence the West knows is absent and yet believers rejoice in the Lord. But there is also poverty of spirit, that awareness that outside of Christ I have nothing, and that is the start of the journey of blessings from heaven. We don’t know whether the Christians at Smyrna were materially poor or whether they simply felt poor in spirit, although in the light of their afflictions and suffering, it is more likely to be the latter.

He Knows their true state: “yet you are rich”. It is Jesus’ challenge to them to hold a right perspective. Yes, they may lack worldly wealth and they may feel down in the face of their struggles but the reality – and it is a truth we all struggle to hold at times – is that in Christ we are very well off. The apostle Paul said, “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19). These are spiritual riches. Elsewhere he spoke of “the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:7) James said, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith.” (Jas 2:5). The resources we have from heaven are unlimited. We have a relationship with the Father, we have a friend in the Son, and we have power in the Spirit. We have his provision and protection today and a home in eternity in the future. Wow! Lord, help us see the reality of this.

He Knows their Opponents:  But he knows the causes of some of that opposition, and it is an opposition the apostle Paul experienced again and again, that of the opposition of his own people, the Jews: “I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.”   Even as Paul himself had been in his zealous ignorance, so many of the Jews opposed the early church who they saw as a threat to what they considered was the true faith. But Jesus doesn’t mince words. These Jews regularly attend Synagogue and appear to be religious, even pious and zealous but the truth is that they refuse to hear the word of God: “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46) No, says Jesus, they think they attend the synagogue of Judaism but in reality the place they go to for teaching belongs to Satan! Wow! Again it is a call to hold a right perspective, to understand the truth of any situation.

He Knows their Future:  Now comes encouragement if we dare call it that. Jesus doesn’t only know what has been happening, he also knows what is coming and he wants to prepare them for this: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” (v.10) Note some key parts of this. Testing. It will be instigated by the enemy but don’t be put off. Pass the test! Handle it well! Ten days. It will be of limited duration. Job 1 & 2 show us that God controls Satan and His instructions, if He allows him to test us, may be summarized as, “This far and no further.” i.e. it is always limited to what God’s will is. Be faithful. That is our calling, what we are to learn from such testing, that God’s resources are there for us in it, and His eye is watching over us throughout it, and His will decrees how long it lasts. To the point of death. People do die for their faith because death is not the end, and sometimes the Lord allows such things, e.g. James – Acts 12:2, and Stephen – Acts 7:60. But it may not be death, it may only appear that that is what is coming, e.g. Paul (2 Cor 1:8) but yet lives are preserved. We in the West may struggle with this but Christians in China disdain death. Who is the stronger?

Triumph: The triumph for the one who is victorious and overcomes and remains faithful is that their eternal future is guaranteed and death here on earth is merely a steppingstone to that: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (v.11) Note, “to the churches”. It is what we said previously that this letter would be communicated across the whole area and therefore this is a call to every believer – including us – that we may die here but that simply leads us into eternity. The second death is destruction in the lake of fire (Rev 20:15) and we are expressly excluded from that. The message is loud and clear: don’t be afraid of death and what follows it, your eternity with God is guaranteed. The fact that you may die at the hands of enemy agents does not mean God has given up on you; to the contrary, it is because you stood strong and faithful and will be rewarded in heaven accordingly.

And Us?  If we live in the West at the beginning of the twenty-first century, these words my appear alien because we have had such comfy, cosy lives but that is not what many Christians around the world experience. Jesus’ teaching implied and stated that persecution was often common for believers (see Mt 5:10,12, 10:23, 24:9) and the apostle Paul echoed that (see 1 Cor 4:12, 2 Cor 4:9, Gal 5:11, 2 Tim 3:12). It is a part of Christian history, not always, but often. If we are not experiencing it, let’s be grateful and pray for those who are. In it all, let’s trust Him who reigns over all things, and seek, with His grace, to remain faithful through whatever comes. Amen? Amen!

48. Unjust Employment

Meditations in James: 48 : Unjust Employment

Jas 5:4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

One of the things we have sought to draw out again and again in these meditations is the truth that spirituality, if it is real, will have practical outworkings. In other words, faith is expressed in a godly and righteous lifestyle, and more often than not this is about how we respond to or deal with other people. Now rich people get rich because they have the ability to get poorer people to work for little (by comparison) and to get other people to pay larger sums of money so that profit is made. That is a simple economic assessment. Profit is made because the entrepreneur sells his products for more than it costs him to make them. None of us would argue with this, because without a profit no producer is going to make the goods we use in modern life. God isn’t against modern goods, but if their manufacture involves keeping the poor, poor then He has, we believe, an issue with those manufacturers who exploit the poor.

God’s intentions in these issues are clear in that they are revealed in the Law that He gave Moses. We find, Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.” (Lev 19:13). In other words, when you hire a man on a daily basis to work for you, don’t delay paying him at the end of the day. Such a man hiring himself out for daily work is not likely to be well off and so he needs the money straight away to buy provisions for his family. To withhold his money is to deprive his family unfairly. Similarly, Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” (Deut 24:14,15).

There the Law was quite specific. Whether it was an Israelite or a foreigner, ensure you pay the man working for you promptly. Failure to do that is sin, and you have an issue with the Lord. Perhaps a modern equivalent to this is modern large companies holding back money owed to smaller companies or individuals, a fairly regular and unrighteous practice. Not only did the Law speak against this sort of thing, but the prophets also denounced it: Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” (Jer 22:13) and So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.” (Mal 3:5). The practice of holding back wages that have been earned is clearly injustice and is unacceptable in God’s sight.

Now James picks on this subject because, as we’ve said several times previously, he either has heard about this injustice, or he knows that this is how the rich employer so often works, so that he denounces it and is saying by implication that this must not happen when Christians are involved. The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you is a prophetic way of saying simply that this injustice is crying out to be deal with. There he says it is the wages that are still in the coffers of the rich that should have been paid out to the poor worker that is crying out to God. But then he goes further: The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. Those who are being exploited cry out in their anguish and frustration, and God hears their cries. When there is injustice, it is like that thing cries out to God and draws God’s attention to it. It needs dealing with.

God is concerned for the poor. God is concerned for justice and it is no excuse to say, “Well, everyone does it.”  That is no excuse; it is still wrong! If the employer is a Christian that is doubly bad for they should know better. How can you say you love your neighbour (Lev 19:18,  Mt 22:39) is you are exploiting him. If you are a Christian and you are involved in these practices in any way, you are involved in something that the Lord speaks strongly against.

We conclude as we started, with a reminder that spirituality always has practical outworkings if it is really spiritual, because God is concerned about the very way we live. We may appear very spiritual, reading the Bible, praying publicly, and worshipping on a Sunday, but if the weekday life involves doing something that the Lord is against, all that apparent spirituality is meaningless. Check out your working days!

19. Avoid Lawbreaking

Meditations in James: 19 :  How to Avoid Becoming a Lawbreaker

Jas 2:8-11 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

They say that in the modernist movements of the twentieth century, artists sought to paint ‘universals’, things that summed up all other things in that group, such as a human being, or a chair. What James refers to as the royal law,Love your neighbour as yourself is a spiritual example of a universal because it sums up all other laws that protect human beings from human beings, because that is what most laws do. That particular law was found in Lev 19:18 and the Lord knew that each person has a self-love, a concern for their own well-being. What that simple law says is that anyone should view other people as they view themselves.  Now if we do that, we will always be concerned for the well-being of others, just as much as we are concerned for our own well-being, and if we do that any other law about human relationships will be covered. Now it is called the royal law because it is a law that comes out of the character of God Himself, and God of course is the King of all things.

The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote: The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” (Rom 13:9,10).  Jesus had likewise previously declared this: One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:35-40). So, instead of having to think about the technical legalities of any particular situation, we ask ourselves, “If this was me, how would I like to be treated? This is how I ought to act towards this other person.”

But this is not a theoretical, abstract discussion; this is all to be seen in the light of what James has been saying about local gatherings of Christians. In case you’d forgotten, he was castigating them for showing favouritism and exalting the rich and ignoring the poor.  Implied in all this, he is saying, “Think about this, how would you feel if you were the poor coming into your congregations?  How would you feel if you saw the rich being exalted and yourself being ignored?”  There is an obvious answer to that which implies that the behaviour being referred to – favouritism – is wrong, because it demeans the poor and makes them feel bad about themselves, if not about you!  This favouritism must stop!  It must stop if for no other reason that it is wrong and ‘wrong’ is sin.  The law of love has revealed you as a lawbreaker. You are not loving part of your congregation as yourself.  If you were in their shoes you would not feel good; you would feel hurt, rejected and isolated.  Oh no, if you thought the previous meditations were the rantings of someone with a chip on their shoulder about being rejected, you have missed the point.  It’s all about sin in the local church!  Sin is breaking the Law whether it is the ethical Law of Moses or the law of love that summarises it.  Did you not realise this?   Favouritism is sin and we should never knowingly continue in sin.  We should repent of all known sin, and repentance involves giving up the sin.

To make his point even more forcibly James points out that if you break the law on just one point it makes you a lawbreaker.  If that doesn’t say much to you it’s simply that you haven’t thought about it yet.  If you are a lawbreaker you are a criminal in the eyes of the law. It doesn’t matter which law you break; if you break ANY law you are automatically a criminal.  Indeed for the purpose of definition every sin is the same, so once you sin by whatever means, it makes you a sinner and that puts you on the same footing as every other sinner, including those that you might have thought were ‘big’ sinners. No, a sinner is a sinner.  We are all lawbreakers if we knowingly do this thing. Once we say that, we need to add three comments:  First God is against knowing-sinners.  Yet, second, Jesus died for all sinners.  Third, all known sin is to be confessed and rejected.  When we do the third thing, the first thing ceases to be, because of the second one.

So, check it out. James has spent quite a while on this subject.  If not dealt with it can undermine the very foundation of the Church.  If not dealt with it causes division and hurt and is an issue that God is deeply concerned about because it flies in the face of His very character – love.  So, are there people we exclude?  Are there people we look down on?  Are there people we feel negative about, simply because of their looks or the culture they come from? Perhaps it’s time to do a reassessment of our church life.

18. Rich & Poor

Meditations in James: 18 :  Understanding the Rich & Poor

Jas 2:5-7 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

For the most part we just live our lives and accept people as they are.  In the United Kingdom there is not poverty as parts of the world know it, but there are the poor, those who are on state benefit perhaps; they are there.  At the other end of the scale are the great and the glorious, those with more money than they know what to do with, but we only see them occasionally on TV.  In between is a range of people ranging from the postman to the banker but, as far as James is concerned, as we saw yesterday, we are to be class-blind.  So strongly does James feel about this that he continues on in these next three verses to expound this subject. This new Christian faith is to be something completely different in terms of valuing people, from the ways of the world, and if we didn’t get the message yesterday, he ploughs on to stir our consciences in today’s verses.

To do this he makes comments first about the poor and then about the rich. First of all, let’s consider the poor.  He speaks about those who are poor in the eyes of the world with the clear inference that material poverty may be seen as a demeaning thing in the eyes of those who are godless and don’t understand these things, but there is another side to it.  These people have been chosen by God to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom. So why should this be?  When you are poor and struggling, you tend to be much more aware of your personal need and when Jesus comes along the poor tend to be far more responsive to him.  From God’s perspective the poor are frequently much more like a bunch of responsive little children who want to be adopted than the rich who stand aloof in their self-sufficiency.  For this reason alone the Lord’s heart is strong for the poor.  Yet how did the church then and how does the church today respond to the poor?  According to James, the church then at least, was insulting them by paying more attention to the rich and almost disregarding the poor who came into their meetings.

I gave three illustrations yesterday, of modern instances of this happening, not that I or my family were poor but that, by our clothing, in the minds of certain local churches, we appeared poor and were thus given a negative reception.  New churches tend to be far less formal and people dress far less formally for church, but do we actually accept those who come in from a different cultural background to the majority of middle class England?  America, I observe, is often equally bad at this.  It isn’t merely a matter of clothes, if you think that it what I have been saying; it is all about heart acceptance of others, whoever they are and whatever they look like.

But, in case we haven’t got the point yet, James pushes on even further.  Who is it in the world who exploits the rest of us, either (surmising) by land grabbing, making use of money, or by being a harsh employer?  It’s the rich! And you are welcoming them and giving them pride of position?  Today we tend to think of large corporations as being the big ogres who charge too much interest, give out mortgages that are too big that lead people into financial difficulties, or require their workers to work on a Sunday, or work ‘flexible’ hours to make more for the company, but which means that family life is weakened.  However large corporations are run by people.  Managers are just as culpable as directors of the company.  If you are a manager or senior person in a financial institution, have you salved your conscience over these practices by saying, “Well everybody does it; it’s business.”   Really?  You are still answerable to God.

Part of my history was in a Baptist church, and I’ve seen the same in other similar churches.  The deacons or elders were all the big business men of the community, but in today’s life, they probably feel uncomfortable or defensive about my comments above.  Well according to James you have a right to feel uncomfortable.  In many parts of the church it is run by people from middle or upper-middle class cultures.  I’m beginning to let loose other people who actually may have a more open heart to God and who may have more faith. These words of James aren’t an outdated ranting of an early church leader with a bee in his bonnet!  They are the prophetic declarations of a man of God, one of God’s chosen voices, and so we would do well to listen to him, as uncomfortable as that may be.

We are to keep a right balance in all these things.  It is not wrong to be well educated and well off.  It is wrong if we use questionable methods to get to that place.  It is wrong if we look down our noses at the poor (slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong).  It is wrong if our riches make us feel secure so that our spiritual relationship with Him is shallow.  It is wrong if we ignore the needs of those around us that we could meet.  Oh yes, there are inherent dangers in the kingdom of God for the rich, and we need to be aware of them and avoid them.  The biggest danger in terms of church life, as far as James is concerned, is that wealth separates out people and demeans those who don’t have it, and wrongly elevates those who do have it.  The kingdom of God is about spiritual realities and not material realities, and the poor are often much more well off in the kingdom than the wealthy.  We need to take these things on board, because they are as relevant in the twenty-first century in the West as they were in James’ time.

7. Humility

Meditations in James: 7 :  Pride within Humility

Jas 1:9-11 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

If yesterday’s verses were those that we didn’t like the sound of, today’s are verses that make you do a double-take of what is being said.  One of the problems of living in the affluent West in the beginning of the twenty-first century, which we have commented upon elsewhere, is that it is so easy to loose perspective. Our value systems say that the successful person is the rich person who has done great things in business or achieve fame or stardom in the entertainment world. These are the people we so often put upon a pedestal in our thinking. These people we elevate to the ‘great and the glorious’ but for James the heavenly perspective, or perspective from the kingdom of God, is quite different.  In the kingdom of God, the poor are elevated and the rich are debased. Why is it like this?

Well let’s start with the poor. Jesus taught, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Lk 6:20) Why should the poor be blessed? Well, very simply, the poor are likely to be more aware of their own poverty and be more open to the Lord and find it easier to receive the salvation that is being offered. Also the Bible is full of references to God’s care for the poor, e.g.Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” (Psa 82:3) and Blessed is he who has regard for the weak (Psa 41:1). Also much of Moses’ Law was about caring fro the poor, e.g. When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien.” (Lev 19:9,10). There are many such references. The reality is that God wants the poor to be cared for. In this world of abundance, He doesn’t want anyone to starve.

But James is speaking to the church and recognizes that not everyone has the same level of provision and so refers to the brother in humble circumstances. At this point he’s not chiding the rest of the church; he’s just saying to that person, you can take pride in, or rejoice in, the fact that your position makes you high up on God’s agenda, you are under His eye. You may feel poor in material things, but in spiritual things you are rich in God’s love and concern for you.

Let’s look next at the rich. As the Bible shows God’s concern for the poor, so there is also concern for the rich, but it’s a different kind of concern. It is concern that the rich don’t become self-reliant and loose their spiritual inheritance: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21).

The reason that people are rich is usually because they have devoted their life to making money. Jesus felt so strongly about this he went on to say, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Mt 6:24). When James says the one who is rich should take pride in his low position he is saying that the rich man should realize his vulnerability, his disposition to rely upon wealth and not God, and realize the danger he is in and realize that spiritually he is in fact a small person, even if he is big in wealth or stardom. To emphasise what he feels, he illustrates it by reference to a plant growing up but being scorched by the sun. The rich and famous are often like that, is what he is saying. They grow up to riches and stardom, but how easily their business can collapse or their stardom collapse. There is great vulnerability in being rich and famous!

The teaching of these verses is first of all a challenge to us to assess our personal circumstances. If we are poor, can we rejoice in the fact that in God we are rich? Do we appreciate the shear wonder of God’s salvation? Living dispersed in this world, other people’s affluence is so often made very obvious to us, and this in turn makes us feel even more inferior. It shouldn’t, if we are Christians. We are rich in Christ.  If we are rich, are we really aware of how spiritually vulnerable we are? It is so easy to focus on the money making side of our lives and neglect our spiritual health. In the money making process it is so easy to stray into unrighteousness in our dealings with money or injustice in our dealings with people. James’ call to the church dispersed into the world is to hold a right perspective in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Make sure you do it.

Woe to well-fed

Readings in Luke Continued – No.19

Lk 6:25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.

It is important always to check the context of Scripture, and sometimes the context is critical to understanding a verse. Yesterday, when we started looking at these extracts from this sermon on the plain, we said that they were two sets of verses, the second being the counterpoint of the first. We therefore need to go back and see the second verse in the first, preceding set: “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” (v.21a). In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel we find it recorded as “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” (Mt 5:6) indicating a clear spiritual purpose behind Jesus’ words. It is probable, therefore, that Jesus’ words here in the first phase recorded by Luke have spiritual impact, and, as we noted yesterday, the second phase have impact on physical life with a spiritual significance.

So, in that case, Luke observes Jesus balancing out the spiritual with the physical. Those who hunger after God will be satisfied – for He will respond to their hungering by drawing them to Himself and satisfying them with Himself and all that flows from Him. Now comes the counterpoint, the opposite ‘woe’ that balances out the blessing: “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” We need to see this verse in the light of the one before it that we considered yesterday: “woe to you who are rich,” and see the same sort of thing. With that verse we said that Jesus was warning against affluence that can anaesthetise us to our need of God. When we are well off we can feel secure, though it is a false security, and not seek the Lord. The same thing now applies in today’s verse.

Be warned, implies Jesus, when you are well fed, you can feel comfortable, at ease and careless of your real need. Have you ever had a big meal and afterwards just felt almost on the edge of sleep? Good food and plenty of it can leave you feeling like that. In that state you have no concerns, you just feel good. But that feeling will wear off until the next big meal. Some of us eat for the comfort we find after such a meal, but this is a temporary comfort, one that lasts as long as the food in my stomach. There is very obviously a danger therefore in being ‘well fed’. It anaesthetises us to the real state of affairs. We can be well fed physically but starving spiritually. As Jesus said to Satan, “Man does not live on bread alone,” (Mt 4:4) and he didn’t mean we need lots of different sorts of food. He meant we need spiritual food as well as physical food.

Is there an implication in our verse today that judgement will come on the well fed so that one day we will be hungry? I suggest not. As with riches, it is not wrong to be well fed, but we are to be careful that being well fed does not mean we slip into spiritual poverty, which is easy to happen in a state of ease. But what about if we are well fed and ignore the plight of those who are starving? Now that is another situation. Yes, the Bible does indicate that there will be an accounting and so if we have ignored the plight of the poor when we have riches, we will be held accountable, and yes, God’s judgement does often take the form of the opposite to that blessing we have been carelessly enjoying.

Yet, here there is an obvious difficulty. Because there is still so much poverty in the world, we sometimes feel powerless to affect it in any meaningful way, especially when we appear to live in a ‘global village’ where we are aware of the plight of people across the globe. Will our slender resources (slender in the light of the world’s need) even make the slightest dent in that need? Can we affect the political situations that promote poverty and keep people poor? The answer is probably no, and the best we can do is ask the Lord to show us how we may help somehow and ask for wisdom to bring ongoing change. Giving to enable a man to start a business, through which he can feed his family, may be far better than simply providing only the food. Both are needed but the start up for a business means that in the long term the need is reduced. There are also those who would argue that unless we give to enable the spread of the Gospel to enable changed lives, we will simply create less hungry sinners. These are just some of the issues that arise when we start considering the plight of the needy which this verse starts making us think about.

God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor 9:7) wrote Paul and perhaps that verse more than most indicates God’s desire to find people with open, generous hearts, who are not only concerned to provide for themselves. Perhaps giving should start on our own doorsteps. What are the physical and material needs in our own locality? How can we help those in our own congregations who are on benefit? How can we invest in their lives to ease them out of situations that perpetuate the need for benefit? No, man may not live by bread alone, but it helps! There are obviously clear spiritual warnings behind this verse, but they may extend to cover warnings about our attitudes and actions in terms of what we do with the wealth that we have. There is much food for thought here.