26. Why this history

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 26 :  Why this History

(Focus: Deut 9:4-6)

Deut 9:4 After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you.

When God calls us or blesses us, there is a temptation to think we have some merit that has caused Him to do it. I have concluded after many years of thinking about this, that the only reason the Lord saves us (apart, obviously, from His love) is because He sees what He can do for us and with us; He sees that we are people who will surrender to Him and in our place of surrender, He can take us and lead us and use us and bless us and change us more in to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. Your only merit is your ability to surrender! The apostle Paul wrote, He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him,” (1 Cor 1:28,29)  and then, For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7) i.e. God chose you because you were weak and you are what you are because of all that He has given you. We have absolutely no grounds for boasting!

Previously Moses had said to Israel, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery.” (Deut 7:7,8)  No Israel, you are what you are, and chosen by God, NOT because you were big and powerful because in fact you are a small nation. It was God’s love and His desire to express good-will towards a nation that He chose you and, perhaps in the light of what we have read in the New Testament, because they had been weak and desperate as slaves.

Thus now Moses seeks to put their call into perspective again. Don’t say the Lord is doing this because we are a righteous people because, in fact, he will conclude this paragraph with “for you are a stiff-necked people.” Oh no, it will be despite you that you will go in and triumph!  No, the primary reason that is now given for what is taking place is because God is going to deal with a bunch of very wicked nations and bring judgment on them and end their national status by either driving them out of the land or utterly destroying them – and He’s going to use Israel to achieve that. In fact, as we’ve noted before, it goes right back to Abraham etc., (the oath he swore to your forefathers), to promises that the Lord made to bring blessing to them, their families and their future people, and part of that included dealing with a very ungodly, unrighteous, occult-driven, pagan, idol-worshipping part of the world! (see Gen 15:12-16)

Moses presses the point: “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you.” (9:5). One commentary declares, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artifacts and from their own epic literature, discovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the north Syrian coast beginning in 1929. Their “worship” was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination.” That was the ‘wickedness’ of the inhabitants of Canaan. It had got to such a point that it was in danger of polluting the earth and so the time had come for the Lord to deal with it. That was part of the package that involved Israel! They were to be the instrument that dealt with this people.

If we hadn’t been sure about the reference just now to “the oath that he swore to your forefathers”, Moses explains it further: “to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (9:5) As we noted just now, this was a promise that their families would inherit this land and at the same time bring judgment on a people who were sinking deeper and deeper into sin which was reaching its peak at this time. It is now time for them to be dealt with.

So, he concludes, “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” This is not all about you and about how good you are, for indeed, history has shown how you are a rebellious and stubborn people who have a knack of getting it wrong!  The history of the people of Israel, in a nutshell, simply reveals that sinful mankind can’t get it right even when God talks to them and gives them guidance – it needs something much more to deliver the human race from its Sin; it needs the work of Jesus on the Cross and the Holy Spirit’s empowering and changing power today. Nothing less than this means we keep on in our foolish and sinful ways!

 

45. Sins Sorted

Meditations in 1 Peter : 45: Sins Sorted

1 Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are a limited number of verses in the New Testament that stand out as encapsulating the Gospel. Obviously John 3:16 is probably the best known one: 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.” Next to that, our verse above should perhaps be a close contender. There are three parts to this verse and each part heralds an amazing truth which, put together, comprises what we call the Gospel.

It’s starting point is outstanding but tragically we perhaps take so much of what it says for granted because maybe these truths are too familiar to us. It speaks about Christ, the Messiah, the Sent One and Anointed One, the one sent with a task from God, the Son of God who left heaven and came and lived in a human body called Jesus. This Christ came and died. But everybody dies! Yes, but this person died on purpose for a purpose. His death, it is claimed, had an eternal significance; it wasn’t an accident but a carefully planned and orchestrated strategy of God. This death had to do with dealing with sins!

How we take sins for granted!  Sin has so permeated the world that we take it for granted, just like the air we breathe, and so we take sins for granted. It is sins that create the interest in TV ‘soaps’ or mystery dramas. Without sins we wouldn’t have these things. Without sins families would be happy and content and faithful, businesses would be honest and integrity the name of the game, and life would be free from threat and fear and untruth.

And what we don’t see so often is that sin always has its consequences. That, at least, is seen graphically in the TV soaps. We also fail to remember that every sin will be answerable to God and punishment awarded. If we punish criminals in courts, why should we think that the mass of sins that we accumulate throughout our lives – all the things we thought wrong, said wrong or did wrong, things we shouldn’t have done and things we should have done but didn’t – all these thing incur a penalty or punishment, but we try to forget that.

But then this verse tells us that Christ died for sins which is another way of saying, he was and is the eternal Son of God who could die in the place of each one of us, and take the punishment for any and every sin we will commit in our lives while on this planet. His death was the absolute punishment that would cover every sin. It happened once in time-space history some two thousand years ago. It doesn’t need to happen again and we can’t add anything to what he achieved.  THAT, heaven declares, is the truth, and all we are called to do is believe it.

But then there is the second phrase, “the righteous for the unrighteous.” Just in case you hadn’t taken in the wonder of what Christ did as I just explained, we are reminded that he was righteous and we are unrighteous. Note the two things. Jesus was the only man in history who did not sin: “just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15). He was exactly as the Old Testament offerings required – a sacrifice without blemish. He was righteous in a negative way in that he never sinned but he was also righteous in a positive way in that he did exactly what was required of God’s will. He was an obedient Son fulfilling the Father’s will, fulfilling the plan formulated before the foundation of the world.

But we are unrighteous. Sometimes, on a good day when the sun is shining and everything seems to be going well, we think we just might be righteous, but we kid ourselves. Lurking there, just waiting for the opportunity to express itself is this thing called Sin, that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. Wrong thoughts predominate, wrong words so easily come to our lips, and wrong actions so quickly follow. Every time we criticise, gossip or judge, we have fallen into the murky depths. We are unrighteous, but then The Righteous One comes and declares us righteous in God’s sight when we surrendered to him, sought his forgiveness and his sovereign leading. Suddenly, but only then, he declares us righteous – at least in God’s sight. (We have yet to work it out in our practical lives).

Which brings us to the last phrase: “to bring you to God.” Again, because it is so familiar we take it for granted, this sense that we are alone in the universe and if there is a God He is a million miles away.  Indeed deep down we are glad of that because deep down we know we are guilty and we fear the thought that we will be answerable to God. We were separated from God by our sins and our guilt and something had to happen – something beyond us, because we were incapable of changing – and it was Christ coming to die in our place as an expression of the Father’s love. There came a time when the Holy Spirit convicted us of the truth about our lives and like a drowning man or woman we grasped for the wonder of what was being presented to us – there IS a way for you to be forgiven, there is a way for you to be reconciled to God. Jesus has done it on the Cross and now all it requires is for you to believe it. THAT is the Gospel! Isn’t it wonderful!

Just should you be reading these things for the first time and it is the first time you’ve heard these things, it can’t remain just passive knowledge. It is true and it requires a response from you, a response that acknowledges your Sin and your sins and your need of God’s help, a response that declares belief in all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross, a submission to him and a request for forgiveness, acceptance and help from God Himself on the basis of these truths. May it be so!

41. Heavenly Watcher

Meditations in 1 Peter : 41 : The Heavenly Watcher

1 Pet 3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

The biggest lie that Satan tells people is that they are alone in life – that there is no God, and if there is one He doesn’t care about them. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is the witness of the whole Bible – that God IS there and He is active!    One of Francis Schaeffer’s early books was called, “The God who is There” and it was all about knowing that this is true. The Bible never explains it; it takes it for granted that God is there and He moves and does things and communicates with people.   Take God’s movements and activities and words out of the Bible and you will have nothing left; it is that simple!

Yet again our verse above starts with a ‘For’, a connecting word. Peter has just quoted from Psalm 34 and the prior verses give guidance for living a good life and it then concludes with a word of motivation which could have started with the word ‘because’. In its shortest form this could be put, “Do those things to live a good life because God is watching and He responds to what He sees!”

Now the actions of God in this verse are not what you might expect. They are responses to the righteous and those who do evil; two groups of people who evoke two different responses from the Lord.

First the Lord is watching and listening to the righteous: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.” The Lord sees the righteous and He listens when they pray, i.e. He is attentive to them and the implication is He is doing this in order to bless them. The Lord is positive about those who are righteous. That may sound an obvious thing to say but it is true. That is the motivation, in Peter’s mind, for us doing good and seeking to be righteous, because the Lord responds well to such people and blesses them.

The other side of the coin is slightly strange at first sight: the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” This rather suggests that He turns His face away from such people and leaves them to their own devices. Now why should such a thing be? It is, I suggest, because Scripture testifies again and again that the wrong things that people do come back on them. It is like a form of judgment but it doesn’t need God to take action for He’s already allowed for it in the way He’s designed the world. We often think that God has to act against evil people but the Bible testifies that they will get what it coming to them simply through the way that the world works.

For example, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7), i.e. what he sows, his bad actions, will eventually develop and grow into something that will come back on him. It’s a simple law. Of course there are also Paul’s famous words in Romans: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Rom 1:24) and “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.” (Rom 1:26 and “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:28) In each case God just stood back and did not try to restrain them but allowed them free rein to get deeper and deeper into sin which was destroying them. His judgment is already built into the way things work. Unrestrained sin brings destruction. You see this especially clearly in respect of sex and of taking drugs. Unrestrained expression brings destruction – literally!

It is possible that the latter part of this verse can mean that God does act, for “the face of the Lord” being against someone can also mean He does act against them. It can be taken both ways, and there are times when the Lord stands back and lets evil destroy itself and there are times when the Lord steps in and brings action that prematurely destroys it or even brings someone to their senses. There are examples of both in Scripture. The Lord is not bound by a situation but exercises His knowledge and wisdom to decide the best course of action to be taken in the light of the sort of people involved.

This concept, of alternative responses from the Lord, is seen throughout the Bible. For example, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (Isa 1:19,20) There was a clear warning to Israel: obey and be blessed, disobey and be destroyed.  Sometimes it is a simple word of encouragement through the promise of blessing for obedience: “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety.” (Lev 25:18,19) At other times alternatives are given: “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God…. However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” (Deut 28:2,15) Promises of blessing and warnings against destruction abound in the Bible. God’s desire is to bless us but if we refuse to heed His guidance, then the alternative is there and no one should complain about it. We choose the path we take and what goes with it: “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.” (Mt 7:13,14)  Choose rightly.

38. God’s Rightness

Meditations in Romans : 38:  God’s Rightness

Rom 3:21-24 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

The point that Paul has been making again and again in a variety of ways, is that however much we try to keep the rules, we fail to be righteous. We’ve seen his arguments and we’ve thought through some of the issues, and the conclusions are clear: we are helpless and hopeless and cannot make ourselves righteous. Now if God wasn’t a God of love He would just leave us like that and condemn us to this futile way of living, leaving us to our frustrations and our guilt – but He is and He doesn’t!

This is one of those passages that starts with a ‘But’. ‘But’ here means that is not the end of it, for God has stepped in and done what we couldn’t do. We couldn’t make ourselves righteous but God can and it is a righteousness… apart from the Law.” God’s righteousness does not depend upon us having to keep that Law, for we’ve already seen that that is a lost cause! We can’t do it, so He has to do it on some other basis.

So what is it? Hold on, we need to see where we find out about this first: “to which the Law and the Prophets testify”. When a writer speaks about ‘the Law and the Prophets’, that is simply a shorthand way of meaning all of the Old Testament. Yes, says Paul, this righteousness from God is something that has been hinted at throughout the Old Testament – as we’ll see as we go on through Romans. It isn’t something that God has just dreamt up; it has been in His heart and mind from before the foundation of the world. There are at least half a dozen references in the New Testament that testify to that (look up 1 Pet 1:20,  Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Titus 1:2). It is only now’, says Paul that it has been fully revealed.

So how does this righteousness from God come to us? This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Instead of the Law, God places His Son, Jesus Christ, as the focus of our attention.  Are we to become Christians by copying Jesus? No, because again, on our own that would be absolutely impossible – even more impossible than keeping the Law! On our own could we heal the sick and raise the dead? Definitely not! No, the point of Jesus’ three years of ministry was not to give us something to imitate (although there is an element of that about it) but to reveal the Father’s love to us and to show us that he was God’s Son. And that is where the focus now comes, on us simply believing that which we have just said – that Jesus revealed God’s love for us and showed us that he was God’s Son.

But there is also a third thing that he did which is vital: he died on the Cross for our sins, so that we might be forgiven; that is the third element of belief. This is how this righteousness from God comes: it comes by us simply believing these three things: a) that Jesus revealed God’s love for us (He does love us!), b) that Jesus was and is God’s Son, and c) being God’s Son he was able to step in for us and take the punishment for our sins. When we come to a place of being able to say “I believe” and it is real, so real that it causes us to respond to it and surrender to God and ask for it to apply to our lives, then He declares us righteous. This is what the Gospel is all about.  An act of faith? Yes, of course, because the Bible tells us that faith is responding to what God has said. We hear it, we believe it, and we respond to it. That is faith.

Now is this purely for Jews or purely for Gentiles? Who is this for, Paul now considers. No, he says, it is for everyone. Everyone? Yes everyone, because, There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Oh yes, we’ve seen it already,  every single one of us, Jew and Gentile are hopeless and helpless. All of us are in the same boat. We all need God to come and do what we cannot do on our own. Every one of us does wrong and every one of us fails to reach the standard of God’s perfection. There’s not one of us who could stand before God as an equal in holiness. No, we’re all doomed unless we receive the salvation that God offers through His Son.

Look at Paul’s final description of this salvation: are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. We don’t have to work for it; it is something that comes freely from God. It is an act of His grace that He doesn’t demand we keep on struggling to be better and gives us a way out by simple belief. No, we have been redeemed, bought by the blood of Jesus, snatched from the jaws of death and hell and from Satan. Jesus has paid the price and we can do no more than believe it and live it! Jesus HAS done it. Receive it, live it!

37. Sin Conscious

Meditations in Romans : 37:  Conscious of Sin

Rom 3:19-20   Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

The human race is a strange animal!  Seriously, when you look at us carefully, there are some things about us that we take so much for granted but which are actually quite strange. They are even more strange if you believed the atheist who says this world is just chance and there is no meaning or purpose behind it. There are two features of every human being that strike me as very strange in the light of that dogma.

The first is the tendency of most people to have a sense of failure or inadequacy. Oh yes, people cover it up and in fact they spend much of their life covering it up, but if you can catch them at a rare moment of honesty they will confess to you that they are not the great person that they would like the world to believe they are. No, they will confess their inadequacies and even their failures (but you will need to get them at a rare point of honesty). All of us have this particular awareness even though, as I’ve said, we go to great lengths to cover it up. Why should people who are, according to the atheist, random acts of chance, worry about such things, but worry we do!

The second strange tendency, which goes with the first one, is the concern to be seen to be good. We feel bad about ourselves deep down, and yet we want everyone to see us NOT as a failure. We want others to see us as successes. We want to be thought of as nice people, good people, people who get it right and do well. Of course those descriptions vary according to the social group we belong to but we know the standards that our particular group has and we want to live up to their standards so they will think well of us. You see it in any and every social grouping, but why should it be if we are just random chance creatures with no meaning or purpose. Everything within us challenges that assessment of us. We measure ourselves and our assessment is important!

Now the Jews of Jesus’ day and Paul’s day, were one such social grouping and within that cultural or social group was a sub-group who made the rest feel it was important to abide by a certain set of life-rules, the Law of Moses. They were the people that people refers to as under the Law.” The Law was the standard by which they assessed one another. If you were good, you kept the Law. For instance Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” (Lk 1:6); that was the assessment of people who knew them and later told Luke about them.  Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father was described as “a righteous man,” (Mt 1:19) which would have meant that he was a man who sought to keep God’s commandments; hence his action in wanting to quietly divorce Mary.

The not-so-nice people of that society didn’t bother about the Law. They were lawbreakers or sinners and were looked down upon by those who did adhere to the Law. Now if you lived in a society where this Law prevailed, where you were very much aware of it, even though others adjudged you righteous, you knew deep down that that meant righteous in most things, for there would always be a little something somewhere where you didn’t come up to the mark. Indeed with some it is difficult to know if you come up to the mark. For instance, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5)  Could you ever be sure that that was how you truly loved God? You kept the practical commandments you were aware of, but was that enough to ensure you could say that you loved God like this?

Suppose there were laws that you didn’t know about? Perhaps you weren’t keeping them? No, the truth was that you could never boast of being a perfect law-keeper, which is what Paul meant when he said, so that every mouth may be silenced.” Yes, you were never quite certain and so it was better to remain quiet. Yes, you knew that deep down, just like were considered at the beginning of this meditation, you had something that left you feeling inadequate and as such you would be “held accountable to God.” Oh yes, you could never stand before God with a totally clear conscience. You feared that future where you knew that one day you would have to stand before him and be answerable for your imperfection!

Thus Paul can conclude, Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Yes, if you are going to measure me by the Law I can never say I am totally perfect and therefore I can not say with a clear heart that I am righteous. All focusing on the rules has done, has been to make me more and more aware of the bits where I fall short.

This is it, isn’t it? Whatever set of rules we have to abide by, the Law of Moses or the laws of our little group in society, we fear failure, and we are constantly struggling to achieve approval of others who measure us by the rules, but deep down we know they will judge us because we are not perfect and will fail even their expectations of us! No, if you base life on keeping to a set of rules or even expectations upon you, know that you are doomed to a life of failure and the only way to cope is to pretend you’re not, while all the time knowing you are. What a deception!

35. God Revealed

Meditations in Romans : 35:  God Revealed

Rom 3:5-8 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say–as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say–“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved.

The difficulty of meditating on a few verses is that it is so easy to forget the context, and especially what has just gone before. Paul has just said, What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” He is, of course, referring to the Jews, and then added, “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” i.e. God is revealed as righteous when He judges the unrighteous Jews. So now Paul envisages his Jewish readers in Rome answering, “Hold on, if our wrong doing only shows God’s righteousness more clearly, isn’t it unfair that He then judges us? If our actions make Him look better, isn’t it unfair that He then punishes us?” I know I’m arguing as a foolish human being, but that’s what you are and that’s what that sort of arguing is, Paul implies in a quick aside.

Of course He’s not being unfair. God is Judge and it is right that He judges all wrongdoing. Then he does a double take, as if hearing them continuing to think down that wrong path, Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” i.e. OK, I admit I might not be always a truth-teller but if that only goes to contrast God’s utter truthfulness and show how wonderful He is, why should I get smacked for being less than perfect? (That’s how we might say it!)

Look, Paul continues, you might as well say – as some people wrongly say we do say – that we should do wrong so that God’s grace is seen more clearly. That is probably what is behind verse 8, because when we properly preach grace, it can almost be mistaken for this wrong thinking. The worse the sinner is, when they come to Christ and are forgiven and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, the greater the grace that is seen to operate. But that is not an argument to sin more. It simply says that God’s grace is big enough for whoever the repenting sinner is and for whatever they have done in the past. There is only one thing that proves a stumbling block to salvation: “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Mt 12:31,32). The word blasphemy used here refers to “speaking against.” Look, said Jesus, you can speak against me and that can be forgiven but if you speak against the moving of the Spirit as He seeks to move in you and bring conviction, it is obvious that you are rejecting Him and while you do that you can never come to repentance and receive forgiveness.

So the truth to be held on to is that God’s grace is sufficiently big to forgive whatever sin you have committed when you come to God in repentance. God’s ‘good intent’ towards you will never vary. It doesn’t matter how big or serious you consider your failure; if you come to Him in repentance then His forgiveness IS there for you. It’s not a question of what you feel, but of God’s declared truth: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and WILL forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9). However behind all this there is a fundamental truth we need to hold on to: the other side of this coin is if you sin and don’t repent you will still be answerable to God and God does judge and discipline. It is right that God judges sin – all sin, yours and mine. Jesus has died on the Cross to bring us forgiveness but if we do not repent we cannot be forgiven. The Cross is only operative when we confess and repent. Remember that!

28. Righteous

Meditations in Romans : 28 :  Righteous in God’s Sight

Rom 2:12-15 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

Paul now comes with a clear logical flow of doctrine. Earlier he quoted from the Old Testament: “God will give to each person according to what he has done.” (v.6) and then, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.” (v.9). Now he anticipates questions about how sin will be assessed. Will it be according to the Law? What about those who don’t have the Law, the Gentiles? How will God assess them? These are the thoughts that flow through his mind. He lays down a number of principles that we need to look at.

Principle one: If you have the Law you’ll be judged by that; if not, you’ll be judged by another means: All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” i.e. one way or another sin WILL be judged. That’s the first thing to note.

Principle two: It is doers of the Law, not merely hearers of it, who will be declared righteous: For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Merely because the Jews had the Law and were taught it, that did not mean they were automatically righteous. That is what is being inferred here. God gave the Law for it to be obeyed. But what about the Gentiles who don’t have the Law?

Principle three: Even if you don’t have the Law and yet live according to the things found in the Law, it becomes obvious that goodness is a natural thing found by a good conscience. Paul breaks this down into a number of statements: Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves.” i.e. when people outside the Jewish community, who do not know about the Law, do things similar to things found in the requirements of the Law, they show that they have a law within themselves, the law of right and wrong. That is how God has made us: even though they do not have the law, … they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” That is the truth; every person has within them an innate sense of right or wrong and it is shown by the way people try to live according to standards. We don’t live wildly and recklessly, by and large. We live according to various pre-determined standards and by that we show something of God’s design within us, to be moral beings.

This is revealed even more by the awareness of conscience: their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” Conscience is simply that inner awareness that we are moral beings and there are standards to be lived up to, standards that say there is a distinction between right and wrong.

We live in a day of moral relativism in the West, where people say there are no absolutes and that we live according to culture or our times, but the truth is that this is merely an excuse because, in reality, everyone does have standards. We may try to think that we are free and can do whatever we like, but when others start doing whatever they like and it harms us or affects our property we quickly squeal for the Law to come and apprehend those who have hurt or harmed us. We would all say that it is wrong for another to come and murder me or rape me. We all say it is wrong for someone to come and vandalise my car or steal my goods. Oh yes, as soon as it touches our lives these relativistic excuses are rapidly thrust away. They are the play toys of philosophers and those who want to excuse their bad behaviour.

The truth is that the moment you speak about something that “is not right” you reveal that you are a moral being and you have to wonder where that comes from. It is not merely a survival thing because I have so many possessions that if you steal one it does not threaten my survival. No I appeal to a hidden standard that says this is wrong, give me back what you have stolen. Even more we may appeal to the Law of the land to punish the person who took my goods; we appeal in the name of ‘justice’.

No, whether I like it or not I am a moral being. The only trouble is that I don’t even live up to my own standards. I think it is wrong to get angry and upset but I can’t stop myself sometimes. I know it is foolish to worry and get stressed but I can’t stop myself sometimes. Here is the human dilemma that Paul is inching towards: we are moral beings who have standards – whether laid down by God (the Law of Moses), laid down by our society (the law of the land) or laid down by me (my conscience) – but unfortunately we cannot abide by those laws. (Paul will expand on this in Chapter 7). Accept the truth: we all live – or fail to live – according to the rules. We have the rules, fail to keep them, and then feel bad. That is the major human dilemma.  That is the dilemma that the Gospel addresses. Hallelujah!

18. Rewards

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 18 :  Rewards

Eccles 2:26 To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind

It is interesting; even the man or woman who is far from God knows some truth. We can’t but help know truth because it is the way God has made us. Here is Solomon, jaded by a largely godless life and yet as he works through the truth of life, he can’t help himself but arrive at truth. He knows it because he’s come from it. In our society there are many elderly people who know the truth because they heard it when they were children and went to Sunday School. Yes, when the older generation were young it was the usual thing to go to Sunday School and there they heard and learnt things they’ve never been able to quite forget.

Others have had ‘chance’ encounters with religion and briefly they heard the truth, and it is still there in the back of their minds. Oh yes, God has a strange way of confronting us with the truth. Solomon felt moved in his old age to write these things down. He had written the Proverbs and the Song of Solomon; he was a prolific writer and even in old age he can’t stop himself and so he finds himself writing this rather jaded diatribe about life, but even in the midst of it the truth rises up and has to be written.

Put in its most simple form, it is that God blesses the righteous and curses the unrighteous. Or, if you like, in purely materialistic terms the person who lives God’s way has a good life and the person who doesn’t has a wearisome life. Why is that?  Partly it is the way God has made us and partly it is to do with the relationship we have with him.

Two lives. Let’s take the sinner or the unrighteous man first. This is the person who is self-centred and thus godless and who seeks to live their way and only their way, living for personal peace and comfort. This person ultimately has no restraint, they have nothing on which to fix their standards or their ethics, and so they find themselves cutting corners in life, doing others down, ever pressing themselves upwards, and all the while the edges of what is permissible gradually move more and more until there are no boundaries. This person is ever striving to achieve, striving for more, and all the while deep down there is an unhappiness, a discontentment, a feeling of being jaded with life.

The best they feel they can get is just to work and work to get more, but deep down they know they it is all a waste of time because they cannot take it with them, so what’s the point? Perhaps if I work harder, perhaps if I achieve more, perhaps if I can climb one more rung up the social or business ladder, I will feel good, and so they strive and strive, but the feeling good never actually comes. They try to cover it up and pretend it is not there, but the feeling of lack of fulfilment and lack of purpose is still there, because after all is said and done, without God that is all there is. Quite often along the way, the Lord brings circumstances into their lives that are designed to drive them to Him, but like Pharaoh with Moses, they harden their hearts and refuse to respond and come to Him. But on the last day they will never be able to say they didn’t know.

But then there is the ‘righteous’ man, the man or woman who pleases God. How do people please God?  They are honest about who they are; they acknowledge their sinfulness, their godless tendencies and their unrighteous tendencies and they recognise their need. Then when they hear about Jesus Christ, they come to God with penitent, open, seeking hearts, hearts that are willing to surrender and give themselves to Him for Him to do whatever needs doing. They are people who are then forgiven and cleansed and adopted as God’s children; they are people who receive His Holy Spirit. They are people who start learning about God’s way of living from His word; they are people who start learning to live in response to His Holy Spirit’s guidance.

As they start living with God’s standards, they find that a life of honesty and integrity, of love, care, thoughtfulness, consideration for others, acceptance of others, and plain goodness, is good! They find God speaks to them and guides them. They find that His guidance means they do things well or good things happen and they are blessed. They find that living as a child of God is good and wholesome and enjoyable. They catch a sense of purpose and as they go with the will of God for them, they realise it is good and a blessing. They find a sense of fulfilment in flowing with that will of God and they marvel at the wonder of God’s love for them.

Did you notice in this paragraph above there was no spiritual language? Yes, they probably read their Bible to find out more of God’s way for them, they probably pray as they talk out their lives with their heavenly Father, they probably worship as they let their hearts rise up in adoration for God, and they probably share God’s love with others, because it is the natural thing to do. But those are all additional expressions of their lives with God. The important thing is that they live, and living with God is good and they are blessed. Knowing God is a life transforming thing. It’s not just for Sundays or for Quiet Times; it’s for the whole of life. Their relationships, their learning, their working, are all transformed by the love and blessing of God. Oh yes, the statement, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness almost seems an understatement, but perhaps that was because it was coming from the pen of a jaded man, but it is still the truth, even if it doesn’t say the half of it!

68. Final Comment

Meditations in Job : 68. A Final Comment

Job 1:1, 2:3, 42:7 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil…  Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”……         the LORD .. said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

So, we have come to the end of what has been quite a long and difficult book. The first two chapters were all-important to our understanding; they show us the reason why Job was suffering – and it wasn’t anything to do with his sin. In the arguments that follow the three ‘friends’ declare again and again that it must all have happened because of Job’s sin.  Their arguing is like the waves on the shore, coming in one after another and trying to encroach up the beach.  But Job won’t have it.  He looks back and he is certain in his mind that he has done everything he possibly could to be righteous: I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27:6)

In this he surely challenges those of us who are modern Christians, for rarely does one hear this being spoken about, this possibility of living a righteous life where we can be called ‘blameless and upright’. The New Testament is clear on its teaching, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” (1 Jn 1:8) and that is all most of us hear! Righteousness doesn’t deny that we are sinners, but it does declare that we can be all out for God and, as much as we are that, we are living according to His will and are righteous.  Righteousness, Paul tells us, is believing God, not living according to the rules but in harmony with God: “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” (Rom 3:20) and “God will credit righteousness–for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24). In one of the meditations in this series we concluded that ‘the righteous’ are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright. From our New Testament perspective they are those who walk with God in a clearer relationship than ever before because of the coming and the work of Jesus on the Cross on our behalf.

The battle that is seen in Job is whether he will hold on to the truth or whether he will be diverted and curse God. Twice Satan maintains he will be able to get Job to curse God and once Job’s wife exhorts him, “Curse God and die!” (2:9) but instead we read, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (2:10). The worst Job can eventually be chided for is speaking into a situation that he did not understand: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (38:2). Neither he nor we know what is going on in the courts of heaven. Sometimes we would do well to heed Solomon’s wise counsel: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19).  Moreover, it is probable that our words are never perfect and we come short in understanding.  The lesson is very clear: when we do not know what is going on, may we just continue to be faithful.  If we cannot see the way ahead or we do not understand what is happening around us, let us simply declare the foundational truths that we who live in New Testament times should know: God loves me, Jesus died for me, and God is working in all that happens for my good.  There may be many more things we can give thanks and praise for, but those are always foundational basics that we should be declaring.

Job did not live with the revelation that we have and so it makes it all the more wonderful that in the midst of his anguish and in the midst of fending off the guilt inducing comments of his friends he can declare some amazing truths: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (13:15). That is a great statement of trust. But see what follows: “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.” (16:19-21). In heaven there is one who will speak up for him. How could he known about the Son of God???? But he continues: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes–I, and not another.” (19:25-27)   What an amazing declaration of truth of his eternal destiny was that!  These are some verses that almost defy our understanding. They appear as pure revelation. They are absolutely true but come in a time when no such knowledge was available.  As such they remind us that when we are living in relationship with the Lord, He will share things by His Spirit that can be known in no other way than directly from heaven.

If you are like me, the complexity of the words and the arguments are so great that you are left thinking, what was that passage all about, and that simply means that we will need to go back over and over this book until we are familiar with it.  I think it will be well worth the effort.  Enjoy – again and again.  For myself, I am left feeling very much aware that what I have written through this series needs rewriting again and again for there is so much more to be seen.   So, of you come back here in six months time, the words may be different, but isn’t that what learning is all about.  May Job challenge us to be learners, going to new depths of understanding. Amen.

58. Introducing Elihu

Meditations in Job : 58.  Introducing Elihu

Job 32:1-3 So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him

We come to a major turning point in the book which is spelled out simply for us: So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” The tirades against Job have finally come to an end because the three ‘friends’ have run out of words in the face of Job’s intransigence. Job has refused to give way in his determination to declare that he is righteous.

Then Elihu is introduced: “Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram.” Elihu means “God is Jehovah” and Barakel means “God blesses”. Buzite suggest from the family of Buz who was the son of Nahor, brother of Abraham.  We are also told that he is younger than the others: “Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he.” (v.4). Some have suggested that because so much information is given about him that he may be the author of the book, but it may just be that the others were well-known and he wasn’t and so more detail had to be given to identify him.

As we read on we see his response: “But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused.” (v.5)  It is when he sees that the others come to a halt and the situation has not been clarified that his anger arises and our verses above indicate that his anger focuses on two things.

First he becomes angry at Job because he has been justifying himself rather than God. This young godly man is passionate for the glory of God and in all that has been said, generally God has not been glorified!  Job has been more concerned with his own righteousness than he has with God’s. Perhaps the best Job could have come up with might have been, “Well, I don’t understand why this has all happened but I trust God. I know that He always has good reasons and if this is of Him then I am certain that He has a good reason for it.”  The nearest he came to that was his reaction after the first wave of disasters, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (1:21) and his response to his wife who called him to curse God: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10)

For us today we can hold on to that promise spoken by Paul: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)  Our response in the face of lack of understanding needs to be, “Lord, I don’t know what is going on here, but I trust that you are working for my good in it because of what Jesus has done for me on the Cross.”

Second, he becomes angry at the three friends: “He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.” A note in the margin of your Bible suggests that an alternative may mean ‘have condemned God.” In other words these men hadn’t been able to puncture Job’s arguments but had nevertheless condemned him and in so doing had condemned the work of the Lord.  This is what the modern atheist does – blame God, IF there is one.  Very often they don’t so much put up reasons why there can’t be a God (that very rarely happens!), as they say why they don’t like God, and therefore reject the God who they think is revealed in the Bible.  They condemn what they don’t like but it’s not the real God described there!  These three friends misrepresented God!  At the conclusion of the book we find, “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)  That’s rather a bad assessment of them!  But how do we represent God?  When we speak of Him, when we witness about Him, are we faithfully representing Him or do we attribute things to Him that the Bible doesn’t say?

Before he moves into his speech properly, Elihu explains why he hasn’t said anything before, even though, apparently, he has been sitting in the background listening to it all:  “So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, `Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.” (v.6,7)  Herein is humility!  The young giving way to the old – exactly according to Scripture but not very common in the modern world! He graciously acknowledges that wisdom should come with age, which is why he simply sat listening to those older than himself – but he was disappointed!

So next he turns to an alternative source of wisdom, the Lord Himself: “But it is the Spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” (v.8)  i.e. the Holy Spirit can communicate truth and wisdom and, by inference, this is what Elihu relies on, the Lord Himself. Where this is true, where there is such a relationship with the Lord, then, “It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.” (v.9). There is a profound truth here: wisdom should be learnt with the experience of the years, but a living relationship with the Lord opens the individual up to a source of wisdom that is not found otherwise. James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” (Jas 1:5)  James later describes this wisdom that is available to the children of God: “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.” (Jas 3:17)  Will we see that in what Elihu says?  We’ll see!  To close this particular meditation we may ask ourselves, have I learned the wisdom that comes with the experience of the years, and am I open for the Lord to share His wisdom to me through His Spirit?  May both answers be able to be in the affirmative!