18. Outworkings

Meditations in 1 Peter : 18 :  Practical Outworkings

1 Pet 2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

In the previous meditation I wrote about appreciation of words, and particularly link words. Well, here we have another important link-word: “Therefore”. Therefore simply means, so or because of what has gone before, this is what should now follow. It is a word that implies logic. What does this “therefore” link to? Surely it must be, you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again… therefore….” Peter is saying because you have been born again, because you have received this new Holy Spirit empowered life from God, because you are to have love for one another, it means that there are a number of things that you can no longer have in your life; they just don’t go together.

Check out this list of things that Peter speaks of here.  First of all malice. Malice is a desire or intent to harm physically or verbally another person. It is ill-will towards others. If you love others, how can you possibly hold malice in your heart toward them? Perhaps another way of putting it is to say how can you hold on to the malice you used to have in your life before you were born again, now that your life has been empowered by and filled with love for others?

Then there is deceit. Deceit is deceiving or lying to others, creating false or wrong impressions and seeking to lead others astray. How can you possibly seek to lead others astray if you love them?

Then comes hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is pretence, pretending to be what you are not. It is putting yourself forward as one thing but in reality being something else. Normally it is someone pretending to be greater than they are. It may be pretending to be a friend when in fact you are not. Where there is a loving relationship, truthfulness and honesty are required ingredients and there is, therefore no room for hypocrisy.

Next envy is mentioned. Envy is discontent and dislike because someone else has got something you haven’t, and very often it can be in respect of a personal position or standing. If we love others deeply, we can never feel envy about them for we will always want the best of them and we will not begrudge them what they have.

Finally there is slander. Slander is simply speaking badly and wrongly about others, saying things about them which are untrue. If we love others deeply, how can we possibly speak ill of others?

Each of these things is something that is directly contrary to love. They are ‘bad relationship’ issues and as such have no place in the life of the person who has been born again and who is indwelt by the loving Holy Spirit. Yet how easy it is to allow negative feelings to grow within us about other people! There is, I believe, only one way to make sure that these things do not get sown in our lives by the enemy and that is to have a positive strategy for good towards everyone else you know. If we pray for them and seek God’s blessing on them, we will counter these things and stop them growing in us like weeds that eventually fill the garden if left unattended. No, we have to be proactive and look for their good, look to bless them in prayer, in word and in deed. Where there is hostility towards us from others we need to be loving and understanding and forgiving so that their words or actions cannot be taken and used by the enemy to sow these things in us that Peter has been speaking about.

There is a general point that we should pick up in passing, and it is that when a person is born again and becomes a Christian there are practical changes that we should expect to see coming about in their lives if this has been a genuine conversion. I am always very unhappy if there is an apparent profession of faith but no change in the life style. It simply says that the Holy Spirit has not done the life-changing work that is referred to in the phrase “being born again”. Whenever it does genuinely happen there will immediately be big changes in the person. They start on the inside and work outwards. For a friend of mine it was the conviction that he should stop smoking. It took him a little while but it happened. For me, one of the things was the desire to stop swearing once I became a Christian. However, so engrained was it in my life that it took six months before I knew the Lord had totally set me free from swearing. For others it may be the knowledge that they have to deal with anger, or even the things in Peter’s list today. The things vary according to the person – but there will be change. A heart change always brings a behaviour change, a life change. Check it out.

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43. What you say

Meditations in James: 43 : Beware what you say about others

Jas 4:11,12    Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?

A passage like today’s two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent?  Well he isn’t, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4).  He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.

So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people.  In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!

James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.

This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don’t say wrong things about other Christians. Now I’ve just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles.  Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip’ in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.

He says,Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: 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 neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It’s like we make a judgment, “I don’t need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You’re not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!

After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.

43. What you say

Meditations in James: 43 : Beware what you say about others

Jas 4:11,12     Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?

A passage like today’s two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent?  Well he isn’t, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4).  He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.

So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people.  In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!

James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.

This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don’t say wrong things about other Christians. Now I’ve just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles.  Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip’ in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.

He says, Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: 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 neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It’s like we make a judgment, “I don’t need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You’re not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!

After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.

30. Tongue Burnt

Meditations in James: 30 : Burnt by the Tongue

Jas 3:5,6 Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

There are two sorts of TV programme that don’t excite me. One is the morning TV where there is a studio full of people talking about a contentious part of life.  The other is so-called soap operas.  Imagine both of them without any sound.  First of all imagine the contentious couples debate if they, and the other participants, were dumb.  Nobody would watch it, would they, because it is the angry words spoken that stir people’s interests.  Imagine soap operas as real life dramas and imagine again the people being dumb.  Most of the ‘difficult situations’, that go to make up the interest of these ongoing television fillers, are what they are because of what the various people say.

Oh yes, the tongue is the instrument that has this devastating potential for causing upset and upheaval. Having just written about how the tongue guides our life, James now goes on to warn us of the tremendous power of the tongue.  Solomon was aware of this when he wrote Proverbs: With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor (Prov 11:9) andThrough the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.” (Prov 11:11) and A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.” (Prov 18:6) and A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Prov 26:28).  Note the things in that short list that the tongue is capable of doing: destroying a neighbour (presumably by slander), destroying a city (presumably by lies, deceit, and generally leading into unrighteous business deals), personal strife (probably by rudeness and verbal attack which invites retribution), and general hurt and ruin by harshness and flattery which deceives.

If you are a watcher of these “sort out the problems” morning TV programmes or of soap operas, next time think about what all the people are saying.  Observe where there are words that are attacking, words that are demeaning, words that are violent, and think how different the situation would be if the exact opposite sort of words were spoken instead.  James says, Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark and so watch and see how a few words can ignite a situation and cause hostility and upset and division and hurt and anger and….. the list goes on!  In families there are words that should never be spoken: “I hate you!” or “I wish I’d never been born!” or “You’re ugly” or “You’re stupid!”  Each one of these is a small spark that has devastating effects.  Once said they cannot be withdrawn and they set a fire of passion blazing which is not easily put out.

But James pushes it further.  He says, The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. That sounds awful!  Why is he using the analogy of a fire?  Because a fire is something out of control and capable of spreading destruction.  But why does he say that this fire is a world of evil among the parts of the body? Well we sometimes speak about how we ‘compartmentalise’ our lives, and he’s saying imagine our bodies like different compartments.  If you imagine the tongue as one ‘department’ in the running of your life, it seems that in so many people it is a department that is evil.  It may be the expression of the heart, but it is the visible, or rather audible expression of evil.  The mouth is the propaganda machine of the human body, that is able to reach out and influence or harm others by the words that come out.  It is seen in many people as evil, speaking out hurtful, harmful words.

But he goes on, It corrupts the whole person. If you corrupt something you spoil or mar it, you taint it or pollute it.   Speaking out words is very influential, and tragically most of us don’t realise this, so that when we put something into words it’s like it strengthens something in us.  While it only remains a thought, it is fairly powerless, but once we speak it out, it seems like it has the effect of spreading that negative right through us, so it is something that becomes more established in us.  If our lives were like a glass of clear water, when we speak negative, unkind, hostile, impure, unrighteous words, it is like black ink is being dripped into that clear water and it is polluted and no longer clear.  The words have the ability to change the life.  The heart was wrong, but the words established that wrong in a deeper, firmer way.

But James then piles on further pictures: It …sets the whole course of his life on fire. If the tongue is a fire, then the words are like flaming pieces that soar up into the air and where they land they spread the fire. As we’ve just suggested, when the words are spoken they affect the rest of the life. We used the analogy of clear water; James uses the analogy of fire.

Then he finishes with a strange expression: and is itself set on fire by hell. Can I use an analogy that I use often, that of anger? A person may use anger to get their own way, but that is unrighteous. Now if a person uses unrighteous anger regularly, then they open themselves up to Satan’s influence and he can press in on that person so that their anger flares up and is completely uncontrollable. Now the same thing is true of the tongue. Some people use the tongue to put down others, as a means of having influence over them, but this is unrighteous.  So what happens is that when they do this they make themselves vulnerable to Satan (and hell is just shorthand for ‘the powers of darkness and all that they bring’) and so Satan takes the fire (emotional words) that they have used, and blows on it so they become completely out of control.  What this person finds is that no longer can they control what they say; they are motivated or driven by these emotions which are beyond their control, and the fire burns and burns and burns until the person is destroyed. Did you realise the terrible power that is there in the use of the tongue and the forces of destruction that can be released by it?  Well think about these things.

15. Tongue & Heart

Meditations in James: 15 :  Tongue & Heart

Jas 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

I have this picture of a heavenly watcher keeping score of all the different sorts of sins being committed on earth. I’ve got this horrible feeling that it’s not the sins of physical or sexual violence, or of taking other people’s property, that score the most, it’s sins of the tongue. Why? Because it is so easy to do!  Go into any room where there are a lot of people and just listen.  People talk. People talk a lot. In the 12th meditation of this series I quoted a verse from Proverbs which has convicted me in the past: When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19).  Some of us are quieter than others. Perhaps they are the wise ones.

Being in a church context, I’m often in a room with lots of other people and I enjoy just sitting and watching what is going on. I hope that in the church the talk is good. Mostly in my presence it is, but what about behind the closed doors where just two or three are discussing the many facets of a church’s life. If Jesus was sitting quietly in the background, listening in on what was being said, I wonder if some of the things actually would be said?  Paul challenges us about malice, slander and telling lies (Col 3:8,9). Malice is speaking unkindly about another person. Slander is speaking falsely about another person, and lies are simply not speaking the truth. Listen to the gossip in the street and it’s always about other people, and so often it is either unkind or inaccurate. For people in the world, we should expect it for they have no standard to keep to, but for people who claim to be religious, now that is something else!

But it may not be behind people’s backs; it may things said directly to someone. They may be unkind and harsh. They may be critical and demeaning. How about the husband who makes derogatory comments about his wife, or the wife who is nagging or even scathing about her husband? According to James’ general comment here, these things should not be. Or there is the parent who snaps at the child or the teenager who answers back to their parent’s rebuke. These things should not be.  Or maybe it is at work. Here is the boss who acts like a bully to his or her employees. Listen to their forceful demeaning words. If they are ‘religious’ it should not be so. Or here is the employee making excuses why their work is substandard, and the truth is not being completely told. Then there is school or college, fertile grounds for harsh use of the tongue, especially when discipline is not all it could be. Everywhere you turn, there are people and people have a habit of using their tongue and not for good and edifying purposes.

With his use of the words religious’ and ‘religion’, James seems to make an all-sweeping inclusion of anyone who purports to have spiritual beliefs, beliefs about God. Forget it, says James, if you can’t even control your tongue, your ‘religion’ is worthless. Now that is strong language! It actually says to a lot of people that their beliefs and even actions on a Sunday are worthless.  Why is he so strong on the subject of the tongue? Well it will come up again in his writings but let’s consider the motivation behind what comes out of the mouth.

Isaiah said something very simple: For the fool speaks folly (Isa 32:6). What he was saying was that because a person was a fool, he will speak foolish things. The two go together. The opposite is true also. Later he spoke of: He who walks righteously and speaks what is right (Isa 33:15). If the intent of your walk through life is righteousness, then you will speak righteously. On one occasion Jesus challenged the Pharisees of his day: You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Mt 12:34,35). Did you see what he said? The mouth speaks what is overflowing from the heart. If you have a heart that is not fully God-centred then out of the mouth will come self-centred words.  Sometimes people speak hostile attacking words because deep down they feel threatened.  Their outward angry words reveal an inner defensiveness. Young people today, from broken families, so often speak hard and harsh words as they reflect the inner pain and insecurity that they feel.

Oh yes, the reason James is so strong about what comes out of the mouth is because it reflects what is going on inside. You may ‘say’ you are religious, but if that faith is not bearing fruit inside you and bringing inner change to you, as evidenced by the words you speak, then that religion isn’t worth much, is it!  The truth is that if we really want to we can rein in our words, but that is very difficult if the heart hasn’t been dealt with. Becoming a real Christian is a heart experience. Our heart is broken and we give it to God to transform. In that attitude, He works and we are brought into a new place of security and love, and that is reflected by the words that then come out of our mouths. However, all along the path, the enemy is trying to stir up something else within us, so that out of our mouths come hurtful, harmful, unkind or untrue words. Yes, there may be the occasional slip, but if the heart is being transformed, then they will only be an occasional slip. For the most part, our words should be as Paul said, Let your conversation be always full of grace (Col 4:6). But remember, it’s a heart thing first and foremost, so check out your words and then consider whether you need to go to the Lord for further heart surgery. 

40. Misc. (1)

Meditations in the Law : No.40 : Miscellaneous Laws (1)

Lev 19:1,2 The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: `Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.

Chapter 19 takes us into a batch of miscellaneous laws, a number of which pick up on those found either in the Ten Commandments or in the covenant laws of Exodus 21 to 23.  The point that is made from the outset is that these are laws given by God to make Israel distinctive (holy) like He is distinctive. This distinctiveness is because God is pure and perfect and this people is thus to be the same. These laws will make Israel stand out in the world, as a people who live according to God’s design for humanity, and as such they are to be a light to the rest of the world.

Immediately after this introduction we have a double relationship reminder: Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God,” (v.3) echoes of the fifth and fourth commandments (Ex 20:8-12) Relationship is at the heart of community – of life with others. The family is the basic building block of society and a respect for God built into community life is the umbrella over it all. This is followed by a warning against idol worship: “Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.” (v.4)  which echoes the second commandment (Ex 20:4,5). Hold fast to the One True God!

Verses 5 to 8 basically say, if you want fellowship with the Lord then make sure that when you bring your fellowship offerings you do it in the prescribed way. Fellowship with God is not to be equated with casualness: “When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the LORD, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because he has desecrated what is holy to the LORD; that person must be cut off from his people.” (v.5-8). Thus, as with the Ten Commandments, the initial commands are about relationship with the Lord. If we get that right, then there is hope for everything else to follow and fall into place.

This is then followed by instructions that were meant to bless the poor: “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. I am the LORD your God.” (v.9,10) Thus the ‘leftovers’ of harvest are to be accessible and available to the poor, as an additional form of God’s provision for them. God’s concern for the poor and needy also comes a few verses later: “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD,” (v.14) as an obvious protection for the disabled.

The verses that follow are a mixture of laws about property and ownership, and truthfulness in life. First the property and ownership laws: “Do not steal” (v.11a) is a repeat of the eighth commandment (Ex 20:15), “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him,” (v.13a) is a general instruction to let there be right dealings in society, and “Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight,” (v.13b) takes the right dealing into the work place so that employers do not hold back what they owe employees.

The laws of truthfulness are, “Do not lie,” (v.11b) which is a simple and straight forward call for truthfulness to always be yours, followed by, “Do not deceive one another,” (v.11c) which takes truthfulness into behaviour as well as speech. Indeed part of that deception may include making false oaths, and so they are forbidden: “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” (v.12) i.e. don’t try to use God’s name to bolster up your wrong doings. He is holy and so if you invoke His name in such dealings you will be in serious trouble!  This takes us into the area of justice: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (v.15) Again, let honesty prevail in society. Again, more on truthfulness: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.” (v.16)

From there the Law becomes more general in concern for well-being in society: “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD,” (v.16) but it is not only actions but attitudes: “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” (v.17a). It is not only negative or passive, it is also positive and active: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” (v.17b) i.e. if you see your neighbour moving into wrong, do something about it, go to him and talk to him. Wow, that is community care!

Positive heart attitudes will have strong effects in society: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (v.18). Again and again where we have that final reminder, “I am the Lord” we are being reminded that this is to be a holy people, a people who are distinguished from the self-centred, ungodly, sinful nations of the world – or at least, that is how it was supposed to be if Israel had heeded these laws. What a wonderful society it could have been but, tragically, so often it wasn’t as they ignored or forgot about these guidelines from the Designer on how to create a good, secure and caring society. The blueprints were there, but they just didn’t follow them – just like we don’t in modern Western societies today!

38. Changed Lives (2)

Ephesians Meditations No.38

Eph  4:29-32 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you

We continue with this list of very practical things that Paul is writing about, ways of living out the life we now have with Christ. We remind ourselves again that the Christian life is first of all about what has been done to us by God’s Holy Spirit on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and then about how that works out in our everyday lives, the part we have to play in it all. In the previous meditation we saw the first three things that Paul highlighted – the way we speak (truthfully), the way we feel (limiting anger) and then the way we respect other people’s possessions (no stealing). So let’s see how he continues.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Now that is challenging, especially in the light of the today’s tendency to be free and easy in respect of speech. Recently we watched a comedian known for one line jokes, performing for about ten minutes. For the first seven minutes you could not fault his humour but in the last three minutes he slid into sexual innuendo (and not innuendo!). It was as if he just couldn’t keep away from it. We heard of another comedian who decided to do an evening without swearing and found he got just as many laughs and so decided to reduce the language from then on. Comedians (and our acceptance of them) are good gauges of society and sadly in the Britain, we don’t show up very well. It used to be said, “Only say what you could have said in front of your grandmother.” Why a grandmother? I think it is because of our assumption that standards used to be much tighter. We’ve lost a lot. Have you? If you have, it’s time to do a clean up on your language if you are a Christian.

But Paul doesn’t leave the language issue negatively. He continues: “but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” He says what Solomon so often says in the Proverbs: your tongue can be a means of blessing others. Do you bless other with what you say to them? Do they feel built up and encouraged by you?

But then there comes a hidden implication: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The And’ means that is a continuation from what has just been said. In other words you have the capacity, by what you say, of grieving or upsetting the Holy Spirit who lives in you. He is holy and pure. Is your language holy and pure? If not you will be upsetting the Lord who lives within you. (And then we have the nerve to ask things of Him!!). When you first met your husband/wife/partner and fell in love, I am sure you would have only said things to them that you know would have blessed them, and not said things you knew would have upset them, so why do we say things that we know will upset God?

He then continues with a sweeping list: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The fruit of the spirit is gentleness (Gal 5:22,23) so how can we equate that which He wants to work out in us with any of the things in this list? We shouldn’t need to work our way through this list should we? These things are things in the life of someone who is disturbed and not at peace with themselves or with God; these are the outworkings of a person who is out of control of their life. Yet the fruit of the Spirit is also self-control (Gal 5:23) and we are told to add self-control to our lives (2 Pet 1:6). Rage and anger’ are expressions of a person out of control, but as Christians this should not be us.Slander and malice’ are expressions of a person out of control, unable to be gracious and that must not be us. ‘Bitterness’ is an emotion that has taken us over, and we must not let that happen.Brawling’ is out of control (drunken?) behaviour that often results in harm or damage – and that must not be us. Check it out: get rid of these if they occur in your life!

But again Paul puts in the positive to counter these negatives: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This is a totally different sort of person and this is what Christ calls us to. Is that you? Good hearted and gentle and caring and feeling for people? Is that you? Not holding onto grievances? The message is simple and straight forward: Christians are supposed to be nice to be around! In an article I came across recently, an atheist grudgingly conceded that “Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” I thought that was a tremendous testimony, especially coming from an atheist! But that’s how it is supposed to be. As another writer wrote, “Part of the reason for Christianity’s rapid spread, historians have remarked, was simply that the early Christians were such nice people.” Let’s keep it like that!

(This will be the end of the series in Ephesians for a while – we’re going to have a break but will come back and finish the book in a couple of weeks time)