19. Self Gone

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 19. Self Gone

Rom 6:6   For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—

We pursue this link between death and resurrection, especially as it is worked out in spiritual terms and applies to our lives as Christians. In yesterday’s study from Galatians Paul spoke of his own life as having been crucified or put to death, with Christ, so that the risen life or power of Christ could live in him.

Now in today’s verse from Romans, Paul says the same thing but now expounds on that life that has been “done away with”, the old life that we lived before we came to Christ. He uses this same parallelism to what happened to Christ when he says, “we know that our old self was crucified with him,” i.e. to be able to live the new life our old life had to be put to death.

Now there is nothing very mystical about this, indeed it is very practical. For you to become a Christian you had to come to a point in your life where you recognised that the life you were living fell short of what it could be and, when you eventually understood it all, fell short of God’s wishes for you. In simple language, you repented. No repentance, no salvation. Not only did repentance mean a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turnabout, turning from an unrighteous life towards a God-empowered righteous life, to obtain that you had to surrender the old life to God, give it to Him and be prepared to walk away from it. Everything from then on would be Jesus focused – the means of receiving forgiveness, and the power to live a new life.

But the big issue about your old life was that Sin prevailed in it. There was this propensity to being self-centred and godless and that was worked out in wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong actions, maybe not all the time to your awareness at least, but you were certainly aware that that was how you were – and as much as you might try you couldn’t break free from that (see Paul in Rom 7).

Paul referred to that as “the body ruled by sin.”  Notice the word ‘ruled’; we were not masters of ourselves. The reality was this ‘Sin thing’ dominated us, controlled us and in Paul’s words made us “slaves to sin.” The only way of changing the situation was for that old life to die and so we put it to death – crucified it – by giving it to God, surrendering to Him. By NO other way can that life change. But it didn’t just finish there with us being empty, lifeless beings; He justified and adopted us and empowered us by His indwelling Holy Spirit. It is now by His indwelling presence that we have the means to live different lives that are selfless and godly and righteous. Hallelujah!

3. Exodus (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 3.  Exodus (1)

Ex 3:7-10  The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them ….So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

On into Exodus the episode at the burning bush has to be a highlight that surpasses most but the danger will be that we focus on Moses, for chapters 3 and 4 are all about him arguing with God, but it is the bigger context that is all-important in respect of our verses above. As we noted in the previous meditation Israel, the family, had ended up in Egypt and we suggested the handiwork of God behind this, preparing for the Exodus, but it is even bigger than this. Was it a coincidence or an accident that Israel were in Egypt? Definitely not; not either of those two things.  All of this had been spoken about by the Lord to Abram over four hundred years before (Gen 15:13,14), as we saw before, but that previous warning had been as much about the land they would find themselves in, as the Exodus itself.

The fact was that Egypt had become a blot on the world’s landscape, the world God had created as perfect, a world where people would be at peace, relating to one another in peace and harmony, and similarly with God. What do we find in Egypt? A land full of idols, a people who see ‘gods’ at every turn, a people who turn to occult powers and who even sacrifice children to their gods and the powers, a people utterly self-absorbed and a people who are utterly godless. One of the problems of such a nation is that so often they become dominant and start invading and overtaking other nations and taking their pagan worship further and further afield. In other words, they are like a contagious disease that keeps on spreading. God, in His wisdom, knows that such things can only be tolerated for so long.

So, that is the basis of the Exodus, the land where Israel find themselves, and here is the terrible thing: they could have left at any time but they didn’t. When they entered the land originally, they came with the prestige of being the family of the Prime Minister of the land, Joseph. As shepherds, they were despised (Gen 46:34) but Joseph had given them the area of Goshen, (Gen 45:10) which was considered the best of the land (Gen 45:18) and ideal for raising sheep. There they had prospered and grown and over the next four hundred years, some suggest they had grown in excess of two million people. As such they had become a threat to the current Pharaoh (Ex 1:9,10) who made them slaves. However, during that four hundred years, it would appear they settled and became like the Egyptians and there are historic and prophetic indications they even took on board some of the idols of Egypt, or at least took some of them with them when they left Egypt (see Josh 24:14 & Ezek 20:7-9).

The exodus was to become a threefold strategy. First it was to deliver Israel out of this land to go to a new land, Canaan. Second, it was to judge Egypt for the things we’ve noted above and, third, it was to judge Canaan for these same things. That is the background and that is the bigger strategy for all we find here.

Now let’s step down and look away from the big picture to what takes place here. The Lord catches Moses’ attention by the burning bush and then speaks to him. Observe the number of things the Lord says:

Part 1: The things He has done and the end result:

  • “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.
  • I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers,
  • and I am concerned about their suffering. (v.7) The end result

Part 2: What HE intends to do and what He wants MOSES to do:

  • So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians
  • and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land (v.8)
  • So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10)

What are we seeing here? First, yet again, we see God with a plan. Second, we see that He has a plan because He watches over the earth and, in particular, over the people He has chosen, He understands their need, and He is moved by it. Third and, from our point of view, the most significant thing, He wants to use Moses to achieve their deliverance.

Now why is that so significant? Because He could so easily have brought a devastating plague judgment (or simply wiped them out with a word – He IS God!) that would have dealt with the sins of Egypt and then the sins of Canaan, but He decides against doing that. Instead we have the long record (chapters 5 to 12) in Exodus of how He dealt with Egypt and an even longer record (Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges) in dealing with Canaan. So why adopt this method? Pure suggestions.

First that the record will be there, in detail, that lays out the sins, the warnings, and the methods involved that enabled those on the receiving end to repent at any point along the way. Second, through this record, it will reveal the goodness, grace and mercy of God as against the sinfulness, pride and arrogance and stupidity of fallen mankind. Third, in using people, they will be changed and their relationship with the Lord deepened. Moses was a transformed man. Israel were a transformed people. Summarizing these three things, it is all about revelation and transformation.

And that’s where it comes to us. In all His dealings with us, the Lord wishes to reveal more and more of Himself to us. He wants us to know who it is that we are related to in the heavenly realms. That is the revelation side. On the other side, He wants to deliver us from being the self-centred godless people we were before we encountered Him, that produced wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong actions that were harmful to ourselves and harmful to others. We were a damaged people, and so the work of salvation is about transforming us, healing us up, changing us so we are something completely different, a people characterized by love and goodness, peace and harmony, and who reveal Him to others around us. That, I believe, is what we find in these verses.

31. Employers/Employees

Meditations in 1 Peter : 31:  Employees and Employers

1 Pet 2:18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

For some of us, when we come across references to slavery in the Bible, and especially when it is in the New Testament, we immediately move into negative mode but that, I would suggest, simply indicates our lack of thought about history. It is legitimate to wonder why God didn’t eradicate slavery because the Bible speaks often of Him being a God of justice. The truth, I believe, comes in the recognition that God gave humanity free will and He never forces His will on us. Thus when we go back to the New Testament period we see that slavery is common in the world and that nowhere in that world are there any stirrings to suggest change. The Lord would have to wait centuries for the likes of William Wilberforce so the battle to remove slavery would be won. Yet, tragically, even now there are places in the world today where there are slaves.

Thus when we come to the Gospels or letters of the New Testament we find they simply accept the fact of slavery and live within it. Peter has been telling his readers to stand out in the world and live in such a way that they bring honour and glory to their Saviour. Now he turns to a group of people who might have every cause to feel negative about others. But no, he doesn’t let them get away with that; he demands that even slaves respect their masters.

Now this takes the teaching about respect that we considered yesterday, to an even higher level. It is a strong word: “Slaves submit yourselves to your masters with all respect.” Now when we think about this more fully in the light of the whole revelation of the Bible, we realise that within Jewish society at least, and according to the Law, slaves would be those who had sold themselves into slavery, probably to help the finances of their family. The Law also required slaves to be released at regular intervals, so slavery in that society was not the same as that which had been seen, say, in the southern states of the USA. This was more like a case of employment but the wages had been paid up front.

The quality of the life of the slave would depend on the master and theoretically if you sold yourself into a family for seven years you would only do it with a master with a good reputation. Yet Peter recognises the reality of living in a Fallen World, that there will be slave owners who are harsh. This was more likely in that period where Rome had subjugated all the nations of that area and so slavery in that context would not have the protections provided by the Law of Moses and in the area to which this letter would go, slave owners were mostly not Jews who respected the Law of Moses..

So, as much as we might wish to think otherwise (as it should have been in Israel in earlier centuries) now with Rome being the dominant force, slavery was a much tougher experience, which makes Peter’s teaching all the more amazing. If in the previous meditation we saw that we should value every person – whoever they are – as people made in the image of God with their own unique special features, this still applies to slave owners. They are still people! They are still people and so, if we have understood this teaching, they deserve respect. We don’t have to like the bad side of their lives but they are still people who perhaps God wants to reach.

This is purely an academic discussion until we place it in the context of modern life, of you being an employee who has a harsh or unkind or unfair employer. Now on occasion the labour market means that sometimes it is possible to change jobs if you don’t like your employer, but that isn’t always possible, and so we need to face this teaching. With God’s grace we have the opportunity to be completely different employees to the rest or the world. The truth is that if there is an employer, manager, supervisor etc. who is harsh, unkind etc. then the other employees will probably be thinking (and talking) badly of them as well.

You and I, with the grace of God, may wonder, why is it that this person is like they are? I remember a teacher at school who was known for being tetchy and harsh with discipline and it wasn’t until I was older and further up in the school that I came to hear that he suffered with constant pain. Understanding what that person is carrying may help us cope with them. Seeing them as someone that Jesus loves and would like to draw to himself – through us? – may also help us adjust our thinking and our behaviour in respect of that person. Causes and possibilities! What causes them to be like they are? Does my bad work add to their attitude? Maybe it’s me who need to change first. What possibility is there of God moving in this person’s life? What could be the outcome if I will be open to what the Lord might want to do in them?

When we suffer an unkind, insensitive or harsh person above us in employment, the temptation is to go down under it and to be negative about them. That is not the way of the New Testament. There is always hope of change and faith looks to the Lord for such change to come. Be a blessing at work. Change the world!