6. Aspiring to Self-Control

Aspiring Meditations: 6.  Aspiring to Self-Control

Prov 25:28  Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.

2 Pet 1:5,6    For this very reason, make every effort to add….  to knowledge, self-control

Gal 5:22,23  the fruit of the Spirit is…. self-control

Goodness is something that is easy to put on the list of things to which we should aspire, but ‘self-control’ sounds a bit like hard work. In fact until you start looking up references to ‘self-control’ you might not think it features very highly in apostolic teaching. Think again. So why should we aspire to ‘self-control’? First, because the apostolic teaching clearly says so. Paul to the Thessalonians, to Timothy and Titus and also Peter, are big on self control.

First a warning: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will …..without self-control(2 Tim 3:1-3) At the time I write this, the Western world is almost reeling under a deluge of propaganda about ‘sexual diversity’. Now I have no problem in accepting that here and there in the vast population of the world there are people who struggle with which gender they are but, I would suggest, until recent years they have been few and far between. The talk today is of choosing what gender you want to be, and this talk of freedom to choose is alarming wise people from journalists to doctors to social workers, but it is a tidal wave that is rushing through western society, often with strange results – and this flows over into the whole area of sexuality where the words of Paul in Romans 1 are so clearly seen at work.

The concept of Gay marriage is a hot potato in many western countries, and I heard only recently of three (!!!) men who have been afforded legal status in a South American country to be seen as ‘married’ to each other. The boundaries are falling and anything goes in the godless world around us. Self-control is falling everywhere and so in the sexual realm anything and everything is being declared as acceptable. Not in God’s kingdom!  We must learn to be discerning and wise when the rest of the world, having abandoned God, have thus abandoned any concept of right and wrong, and anyone who challenges a particular lifestyle is branded a bigot. Discern between a tendency (e.g. homosexual orientation) and practice (e.g. sodomy). Observe also this is no worse in God’s eyes that rejection of marriage for cohabitation and that after ‘sex-on-the-first-date’ activity that is so common today and clearly portrayed on the media. This, more than most things, suggests to me that we are clearly in the ‘last days’ but whether that is equated with the End Time may be something different. But it certainly motivates me to pray that God will send revival to save us if He is not coming back yet.

So a second reason why I should be aspiring to self-control is to ensure I conform to God’s word, God’s standards and God’s will. Giving way to temptation is always a relinquishing of self control, and Paul warns us of it in the time we live. Hence he exhorts us, “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled,” (1 Thess 5:6) and then goes on to add, “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Thess 5:8)

Self-control is one of the standards for a spiritual leader: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled.” (1 Tim 3:2  -also Titus 1:8). Having said that when he instructed Titus what to teach his flock we find, “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance,” (Titus 2:2) and then, “train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure” (Titus 2:4,5) and then, “Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2;6) That seems to cover everyone except older women, although if he lived today I suspect he would include them.

Paul contrasts two lifestyles: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say (1) “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and (2) to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” (Titus 2:11,12) Again he warns us to be ready for when Jesus returns: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:13) and “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Pet 4:7) I suspect the implication there is that if self-control falls, sin follows, then guilt follows, and subsequently you stop praying. He also sees it as something Satan will seek to undermine: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”(1 Pet 5:8)

So I think the importance of self-control appears quite clear, but what is it and how can I aspire to it and develop it? What is it? Control of self, self-discipline, being able to rationally decide what I will or will not do, and not give way to temptations that the enemy may place before me, and not giving ways to desires that go beyond God’s boundaries, or giving way to fads and fancies of the modern world. Remember we referred to Paul’s description of what we used to be like before we came to Christ, which included, “at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:3) Jude wrote to the church about, “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” (Jude v.4) The abandoning of self-control goes with godlessness, and rejects grace.

So how do I develop it? Well, from the recent verses, develop an ever more godly life. As we’ve seen previously, as with all fruit of the Spirit (and this is one of the list) it develops naturally when we allow the Spirit to lead our lives. That is not to say that I do not need to exercise my will – I must. It is not a case of Him or me; it is both of us working this out in my life. May it be so.

4. Aspiring to Goodness

Aspiring Meditations: 4.  Aspiring to Goodness

Ex 33:19    And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5   make every effort to add to your faith goodness 

Gal 5:23    the fruit of the Spirit is … goodness

So a reminder: this series is about things we are to aspire to found in the Scriptures. We will now follow the list that the apostle Peter gives us and after faith which we considered yesterday, it goes on to speak of ‘goodness’, and so we have to ask, what is it, how do we aspire to it and how may we increase it in our lives?

There is a call in the Old Testament that comes up more than once: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (e.g. 1 Chron 16:34) and then we have the intriguing statement of the Lord to Moses, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you.”  (Ex 33;19) Not just some goodness but “all my” and why goodness?

We need to anchor that word ‘good’. A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with.  Now the Psalms declare again and again that God is good (see Psa 25:7, 34:8, 86:5, 119; 135:3).  Very often in these verses, love and goodness are linked, in other words goodness is an expression of love; it’s how it works.

So goodness is an expression of God’s character and it is what He wants for our lives, but still, what is it? There is another intriguing voice in Nehemiah speaking of Israel’s life since they entered the Promised Land: They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.” (Neh 9:25) This ‘goodness’ brought forth good for Israel which was experienced in so many ways in the Land, good things they found there, good things that happened to them. Goodness is about bringing forth good in this world.

If I am to say that goodness is something I aspire to, it means that my life will bring forth things that are good.  Now when we say that, we naturally ask so what is ‘good’? Well we saw the definition above and so good in this context will be things that generally people will see and agree are helpful, pleasant, worthwhile, even excellent, very positive things. A modern book on such definitions says goodness “stresses moral excellence and an underlying compassion.” That was interesting! So goodness, love and compassion are linked together. An antonym (opposite) of goodness is “wrong doing”. Even more interesting!

If I am to aspire to goodness, I am to aspire to good-doing, moral excellence, expressed through love and compassion. If I do this I will be a person with whom you can feel comfortable, secure, even more, someone who will be a blessing to you. Yes, that is the truth behind this word.

So, how does it come? Where does it come from? Well we saw above that God is good, it is a characteristic of Him. In the previous study we also noted that some of these things – and goodness is included – are fruit of the Spirit, and there we noted that walking in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, will naturally bring forth this characteristic. In other words if I let the Spirit fill my life more and more, then goodness will be a fruit that will appear more and more.

The other day, I heard someone speak about another person and they said, using an expression that may be unknown to some, “she hasn’t a bad bone in her body.” It means there isn’t an ounce of anything bad in her. Perhaps, in trying to anchor this word, apply this characteristic, it is helpful to observe the opposites, the things we are not to tolerate in our lives. Already we noted the antonym ‘wrong doing.” If goodness is to be a feature of my life, then there must not be an ounce of wrong-doing in me. There is to be no room for anything questionable.

Now I have to admit that at this point I feel uncomfortable because I see behaviour in some of God’s children that worries me – those who smoke, those who drink too much, those who sometimes swear or blaspheme, those who tell crude stories or laugh at crude jokes. I have to say there are comedians around who I will no longer listen to, whose humour is without doubt ‘blue’. This has no part in one who aspires to goodness.

Now there is a danger I recognize here and that is to become a culture hermit. This requires discernment for Jesus met with those whose characters were decidedly off-beat, but that didn’t mean that he had to be the same. His goodness remained static and his love and compassion for the tax-collectors and sinners of his day meant he was able to win them. Zacchaeus (Lk 19) was a classic example. Matthew (or Levi) had been a tax collector but became an apostle. Jesus held on to his goodness but in a way that was not arrogant or condescending or judgmental and so won over those who were not good.

But back to modern culture. We have to learn to be discerning. For me films that are filled with constant ‘f’ words I find seriously annoying because the word then stays in my mind and the producer of the film could get away without it. Films or books constantly portraying the sex act similarly are on my ‘Not to Watch’ and ‘Not to Read’ list. Films or videos, TV series or books that are ‘dark’ or portray the occult are likewise not for me. Don’t let’s go into the world of computer gaming, it is the biggest nightmare going and many parents are criminally (literally) and spiritually negligent in the things they let their under-age (and over-age!!) children play. I saw a headline the other day that said that the younger a child is exposed to pornography, the more likely they will grow up to be abusive of their partners or their subsequent children. Pornography in any form is a no-go area for the Christian. The word about false prophets has a much wider meaning: “By their fruits you will know them.”

I used the word ‘dark’ just now to describe some TV, some movies and some books, and so we should add, fully in line with the New Testament, that we are called to be children of light and darkness has no place in the life of one aspiring to goodness (check out 1 Jn 2:9-11, 1 Pet 2:9, Col 1:13, Eph 5:11). A simple check: are there anything you saw, watch or read, about which you would be embarrassed if it was known in your church circle? Time for action if the answer is yes.

So, to summarise, goodness is a characteristic of God, a characteristic that will be formed in me as fruit as I walk in the Spirit. It is the expression of wholesomeness, the expression of right-doing and as I aspire to it I will reject all doubtful or dubious things, things that are ‘dark’, for we are children of light. As a child of light, where I am goodness should be spreading. Let’s be known for our goodness, let’s be attractive and let’s draw people to Jesus by his grace in us in this form. Let’s not be ashamed at being different but let our goodness be seen in the grace that is obvious in our lives. Can we be Jesus to our generation?

(I will be away from Internet access for the next two weeks on and off)

3. Aspiring to More Faith

Aspiring Meditations: 3.  Aspiring to more faith

Rom 10:17 “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

Heb 11:6  without faith it is impossible to please God,

Mt 14:31  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Hebrews 11:6 suggests the significance of faith – it is a vital requirement to have any sort of relationship with God – and so after grace, I believe it is possibly the most important idea or concept in the New Testament as far as our relationship with the Lord goes, outside the work of Christ himself on the Cross. It is how our lives with God are worked out.

We would be remiss is we missed out the words of the writer to the Hebrews defining the nature of faith: faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) Now as good as that verse is, it doesn’t give the whole picture for it simply describes what I would call ‘passive faith’. Passive faith is all about knowing the basics of The Faith, all about God, Jesus, ourselves and what God has done for us through Jesus. That is all invisible, unseen, but as the Holy Spirit has come and convicted us to bring about our conversion, we become sure of these facts, sure about the existence of God, sure about the salvation His Son has earned for us.

But of course it doesn’t end there; that is but the beginning. If we really believe these things then they will have an impact on our lives and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our lives will change. We will become people who are concerned about moral and spiritual standards and so, to cite the apostle Paul, we will, for example, “put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” (Eph 4:25) in other words our whole outlook on life changes and produces a completely new way of living, and our examination of these things to which the Lord wants us to aspire, are part of that. This positive change to our outlook, our attitudes and our words and our behaviour, in response to that basic body of truth we have come to believe in, are what I would call Active-Character faith, and in that sense every Christian is a person of faith.

How does this faith – both passive and active – come about?  “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) In our previous lives we were ignorant of these things and then somehow, we were told the Gospel – we heard it. Someone shared it with us, and the Holy Spirit convicted us with it and when we responded the rest followed. From then on we ‘hear’ the word when we read the Bible, when we use Bible Notes, when we listen to sermons, when we receive a word of prophecy, when we receive that quiet inner nudge by the Spirit, and indeed sometimes as we pray we may sense Him speaking to us by what we find the Spirit leading us to pray. All of these are ways we ‘hear’ the word from the Lord and as the Holy Spirit gives us the sense that that is what we are experiencing, He may also convict us, challenge us to action.

Much of the time there will be a character-response, it will be something that affects how I think, feel and need to live. So a change comes about in me and in my lifestyle as I respond to Him – that is Active-Character faith. But there is also another branch of Active Faith that I would call for convenience, Active-Service faith. It is simply responding to His prompting and almost always comes from an inner conviction, an inner nudging of the Holy Spirit and it seeks to prompt me to act in a particular way. So I may sense a nudging that says, “Go over there and encourage that person,” or as I listen to someone sharing their anxieties, or their worries about their health, say, the prompting may come, “Ask them if you may pray for them now, pray over them.”  Or it may be more generally, “Share my love with them, tell them how much I love them,” or is maybe, “This is the time for you to share your testimony.” Each of these promptings are a prompting into action, or to serve the Lord in a specific way, to bring about something He wants to happen through you, His will in this specific situation. Faith occurs when you, having made yourself available to Him, respond positively and you find something rising in you that says, ‘Yes!’ and so you act and do what the Spirit said. That was Active-Service faith.

Now I am good at doing that with Christians and my wife is good at it with non-Christians, which suggests something I have noted in life: faith expressions are different for each of us. Some of us will have great faith for giving, some will have great faith for hospitality, some will have it for showing acts of charity or mercy, some of us will have it for sharing the Gospel with others, and so on.  Now when we see these things in one another we speak of them having the gift of this or that, and the apostle Paul wrote, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6)

Now in the previous study, remember we spoke of grace as being God’s resources for us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. This particular resource is called faith and it is always a gift. God gave it to us through His Spirit, so some find it easy to evangelize, some easy to teach, some easy to be caring and compassionate and so as we step out in that gifting, we are expressing faith, what I am calling Active-Service faith.

Now we should also note that there is a gift of the Spirit called faith (see 1 Cor 12:9a). This simply means that a particular person – and I suggest this will not be happening every day – suddenly has total confidence that they can do a particular thing before them that the rest of us consider impossible. “But, no, we can do this thing!” Peter received it when Jesus urged him to step out of the boat (Mt 14:29). At that moment, he knew he could do it – and did!  For the more everyday faith when it comes to our particular gifting(s) we know we can do this thing and it will be good, because God is inspiring it, and so as we step out and do it, that is faith in action.

So can we develop faith? Can we increase it? The answer has surely got to be yes, otherwise Jesus would not have chided his disciples sometimes for their ‘little faith’, implying they could do better, and that he surely hoped for the future.  Well if faith comes from hearing, may I suggest we first need to learn to be more alert to what is going on inside our heads – because that is where we are going to ‘hear’. And having discerned that we are hearing God, determine to respond positively to Him every time we catch something. The more we do it, the more it will happen.  It is, I believe, that simple! Go for it! Let’s aspire to be people of faith – not merely having passive faith (although that is an essential start), but moving in Active-Character faith where we let His word shape our lifestyles, and then on into Active-Service faith where we do the works of God, just as Jesus said (Jn 14:12). Amen? Amen!

18. Creativity

Meditations in Meaning & Values  18. Creativity

Ex 32:1-6    Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts– to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you:

We have been considering some of the things that make us human, some of the things that separate us from the animals. When we come to reflect upon creativity we find ourselves really treading on holy ground for what we see as artistic or creative expression is nothing like the instinctive senses that, say a bird has to form a beautiful nest. No, the puzzle about human creativity is why we do it when so often it has no value in sustaining us, it is not something to do with survival and often the end product may not be seen by the rest of the world.

It is interesting that the very first reference in the Bible to anyone being filled with the Spirit is in our verses above and is to enable them to be highly creative. Now there are clues earlier in the Bible about creativity:His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.” Gen 4:21,22) Here we have reference to one early on who made music but to do that you have first to create instruments. But then there were those who worked in bronze and iron to make tools. In all these things there is a sense of creativity.

And so now we come to this important time in the life of Israel when the Lord instructs them to make a large tent, the Tabernacle, which is to become the place of meeting between God and Israel. Now there is nothing purely functional about this tent because consider the end product of the work of the two men mentioned and their team of workers: “artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.”

So, note the content of these verses. First, God chooses this man, Bezalel. Second, He fills him with His Holy Spirit. Third, the reason for this is so that the creative power and wisdom of the Trinity (as a Creator God) will impart “skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts,” to do the work we just saw above.

Now when Moses reminds Israel about all this, he adds, “He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers–all of them master craftsmen and designers.” (Ex 35:35)  and moreover “he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others.” (Ex 35:34) These were the first art teachers, and the description of their work being taught in v.35 would fill the curriculum of an Art College. These verses in chapters 32 and 35 are rich with artistic  creativity. God could have had them form a very basic and very plain tent, but He didn’t. He enabled these two men and the team that they trained up to create the most beautiful of objects.

I believe every single human being is made in the image of the Creator God that you and I worship. This is irrespective of whether or not they are a believer. They are a human being and therefore they are made in the image of God and reflect His creative flair. I suspect that many of us have this creativity knocked out of us. I was recently talking with an artist in middle age and she told me how as a child she had wanted to move in artistic ways but her mother wanted her to “have a proper job” and so it wasn’t until very recently that she allowed that creative nature to rise up within her again. Sadly this is the truth for many of us but fortunately there are sufficient numbers who do express their creative side that they remind us of this side of life.

I know a man who is a leading gemologist and works with precious stones. He also works with diamonds and gold and silver and platinum and sells beautiful jewelry. I know a girl who, in the past few years, has trained as a silversmith and now creates the most beautiful necklace pieces. It’s not just about money. What is it about us that thrills at the wonder of beauty in artistic things. My friend the jeweler once showed me different qualities of diamond rings and I stood there with my mouth open as he showed me rings that were more and more amazing.

I recently talked with an artist who said that if you are an artist, you just can’t help it coming out of you.  I watch people in various art groups and marvel at the variety and wonder of their creations. They are not making them for money, but just for pleasure. How is that? My atheist friends say we only do things for evolutionary survival. These paintings, drawings, sculpted works of art contribute nothing to survival.  I have a wife who knits, partly to provide clothes for the grandchildren, partly to raise money for charities but largely for pleasure.

I once asked a middle aged housewife, if you could put aside the past, put aside all financial considerations and put aside everything people have told you that you can’t do, what inner yearning is there in you, what would you like to create? She said very simply, I would like to write children’s books.  Creativity!  What is your creative hidden inner yearning? Don’t say nothing. It may be you have had it knocked out of you, but you are still made in the image of our Creator God.  Dare you ask Him to reveal to you, that hidden inner desire?   Is it to write, to compose, to knit, to crochet, to work in wood or stone or textiles or to paint or draw? What is there in you that the Lord wants to bring out to bless you and to bless His world with?

17. Superficial Religion

CHAPTER 2: Part 8: Freedom from the old religious ways

Meditations in Colossians 2: 17:  Superficial Religion

Col 2:16    Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

If you’ve followed these meditations for any length of time you’ll know we always pick up on ‘link words’ because they tie the verses together. So here we have a ‘Therefore’ which means the logic or instruction of this verse comes in response to what has just gone before. Paul, in the previous verses has focused on the spiritual realities of salvation, that we were dead, and have been made alive by God, and have been forgiven by Him, after all law or rule-keeping and the failure and guilt that go with it have been dealt with by the Cross. The final focus was on now having to major on keeping the rules and that is why Paul now homes in on these particular expressions of rule-keeping.

When I became a Christian in the last third of the twentieth century I found myself part of the good-evangelical wing of the Church but sadly the refocusing on the life in the Spirit had not come to the fore and therefore so much of instruction to new believers was all about what you can or cannot do. Our verse above is all about behaviour and although the words “You must,” or “You ought,” or “You mustn’t” or “You shouldn’t,” aren’t here, there is an implication that they lurk beneath the surface.

As I hinted above, when the power of the Spirit is absent, all you are left with is keeping rules. This is not to say that we should rely only on the Spirit, for we need both word and Spirit, but if we focus on rule-keeping, again as we said above, we are doomed to failure and then to be subject to guilt. So how does it, or should it, work?

If our awareness of the Lord’s presence is weak and if we know little of the life of the Spirit, then we may come across a simple little instruction from Paul’s teaching such as, Be joyful always,” (1 Thess 5:16) and our human thinking says, “Good Christians are happy Christians. I must be happy, I must be joyful,” and so we put on a superficial ‘face’ whereby we make ourselves look happy; we always smile and we always sound full of the Lord’s goodness – even if inside we are deeply upset over something. The trouble about this is that we convey an  unreal or false Christianity and most people see right through us, and the thing we are upset about does not get dealt with properly and, even more, other people (often non-Christians) think we are on a superficial plane well above them and cannot empathize with where they are at. Untruth and self-deception reign.  The truth is that we are sufficiently insecure in our uncertainty of God’s love for us, our lives are one of pretence.

Now watch this person get filled with the Spirit and start to enter into the wonder of being loved by God. They don’t try to be joyful, they just are as the Spirit who has been given the freedom to work within them, brings out the joy of the Lord – that is real – as they wonder in the glory of God’s love for them. Joy is the outworking of the Spirit (see Gal 5:22) not a hard and difficult thing to be put on by self effort.

But then we come across another of Paul’s little guiding lights: “Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thess 5:21,22) Back in my early days in the late twentieth century immediately it became, “Oh don’t go to the cinema and watch bad films, don’t drink alcohol and so don’t go to pubs where you will be mixing with ungodly unbelievers.” We didn’t worry about social injustice, caring for the poor, working to deliver people from slavery, saving women out of prostitution and so on; we simply focused on a few superficial prohibitions and as I look back now, I believe it was because our faith was so weak that we were ultra-defensive, unlike Jesus who mixed with sinners and tax-collectors and prostitutes.

Thus Paul says, “do not let anyone judge you by…” and goes into a list of things where ‘do’s and don’ts’ will apply: “what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”  The reference to eating was probably in respect of kosher food or food given to idols that he deals with elsewhere in his writings. Drink was almost certainly to do with alcohol. Religious festivals was about having to keep the various Jewish feasts. No longer for the believer were these significant matters. To the Corinthians Paul was to say, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20). It is not about words (directing behaviour) but about life in the power of the Spirit. To the Romans he said,the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17)

As we said earlier, the expressions of our Christian life are to be the outworking of the Holy Spirit in us, not a hard and difficult thing to be put on by self effort. Yes, we will not get angry, or whatever other prohibition is given in the scriptures, not so much because we have to make an act of will and make a great effort, but because the Spirit of love fills us and flows through us and prevents that thing having space. May it be so!

8. United by Spirit

Meditations in Colossians 2: 8:  United by Spirit

Col 2:5   For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is

A number of times in this letter Paul has given reasons why he is writing to this church he has never visited. He had heard about them from Epaphras (1:7,8) and had heard about their faith and love (1:4) and from the moment he had heard about them he had been praying for them (1:9) with his apostolic heart yearning for them to built up in their knowledge of God’s will (1:9) so they can grow and be fruitful (1:10), and so he wants to extend to them his knowledge of the mystery of God (1:25-29) which he always wants to impart to the church, whether people he has met or not met (2:1) in order to encourage, strengthen unity and build greater understanding (2:2).  He may be away from them in the physical sense – “absent from you in body” – but his spirit is with them – “I am present with you in spirit” – and so rejoices in what he hears of them – “ and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is“ which, again, is why he writes.

We perhaps do not realise fully the wonder of the Holy Spirit within us and the unifying effect he has between us. A number of years ago I had the privilege of being able to teach in churches in Borneo, in East Malaysia. On one occasion I and my small team flew into a small landing strip somewhere deep in East Malaysia where, being the only Westerners on the plane, we were clearly recognised by some locals who signed to us to follow them. They took our luggage and again signed to us to follow them and we trekked a mile into the jungle until we came to a village where they deposited us in a large house on stilts. For the next few hours, while we waited for an interpreter to arrive, everything was carried out by sign language. We were given bedrooms, we were ushered into a room with a single long mat spread down the middle of it and were invited to eat from the many plates of food laid out. Now here is the thing: these men (and they were all men) were clearly Christians. Maybe it was their demeanour and the way they treated us but I realised for the first time – really realised – that we all had the Holy Spirit within us and He united us. It was a strange and, for us, a unique experience and I found myself bursting to want to communicate with these brothers in Christ because I was so aware of the unity there between us. It was the Holy Spirit.

Fellowship is a unique experience to Christians. It doesn’t happen between a Christian and an unbeliever and it doesn’t happen between two unbelievers. There may be a unity of thinking and so on but ‘fellowship’ is a coming together of two Spirit indwelt believers and it is the unity that is there because He indwells us both.

But there is another dimension to this fellowship and what Paul feels for these believers he has never seen; it is our past Christian experience. We are united by our common experience. We all know that we came to the end of ourselves, we surrendered to Him, we were forgiven our sins, we were adopted as God’s children and we received the indwelling Holy Spirit and were born again. This has not happened to my non-Christian neighbour.

But there is also our present Christian experience. Because we are each indwelt by His Holy Spirit we know His guidance, His teaching, His help, His enabling, His empowering. We enter into expressly Christian experiences – we pray we read His word and receive revelation and understanding and we worship. My unsaved neighbour does not do this.

But is it also about our future Christian experience. Our goals ‘in Christ’ are to grow in him and be available to serve him, until one day He takes us to be with Him in heaven. This is not the experience and hope of my unbelieving neighbour.

The apostle Paul indirectly referred to these different experiences when he taught the Corinthians, Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.” (2 Cor 6:14-17) I always feel very sad when I see young Christians disregarding this warning and marrying an unbeliever. Yes, God in His grace does sometimes bring the unbelieving partner to the Lord but often I see Christians struggling with the anguish of their partner not having the unity we have been talking about in this study.

But look at these verses in the light of what we have been saying: we have unity as believers, a unity in light, a unity in Christ, we are each a temple of the Holy Spirit with the Lord living in us. No wonder Paul was able to speak about how they were present with him in spirit. Again when I have travelled I have been thousands of miles away from my wife and yet sense that unity in the Spirit. It doesn’t matter how may miles divide us, it doesn’t matter if language divides us, all these other things unite us, and especially the presence of His Holy Spirit in us. Isn’t that wonderful!

15. A Filled People

Meditations in Colossians: 15. A Filled People

Col 1:9   For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Simple words, profound meaning. Have you ever poured someone a cup of tea or made them a cup of coffee and for whatever reason didn’t fill it very full and got the ribald comment, “So, I’m only getting a half a cup then?” We want a full cup and feel deprived if we get a partial one. Watch children in a sweet shop going to the Pick ‘n Mix counter and they take a cup, and one thing you can be sure of, they will fill that cup right up;  they want to get every bit they can.

These pictures from everyday life simply say that a full cup is what we want because we like the contents and want as much of it as we can get in the cup. How we take Paul’s writing for granted! I wonder how many times we have read this verse above with little thought of the meaning of this phrase we are focusing on today. What is the alternative to what Paul says?  We’re asking God to give you a little glimpse of the knowledge of his will. Which bit? How would that help us?  We’ll come to look at the knowledge of his will in the next meditation but the apostle’s intent is not that we just get by with a minimum of knowledge. No, he wants us to be filled up with this knowledge. Just like those cups, he wants us to get every bit we can.

This presents a challenge. Is that how we view the knowledge of God’s will? Are we a bit indifferent to it? Well, I expect if I study the Bible long enough I might catch a bit of the stuff that is on God’s heart, sufficient perhaps to keep me happy, sufficient to reassure me, but just sufficient……   That is a minimalist approach to faith. It’s a bit like the person who says, “Yes, I’ll have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed.” (Mt 17:20) Well, yes, according to Jesus you can move a mountain but why think in tiny bits. Jesus was deriding the disciples for their lack of faith. He wants us to have lots of faith, not just a tiny bit!

To the church in Ephesus the apostle Paul wrote, And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:17-19) That is staggering! There he speaks about having knowledge and love as much as God can give, and the picture is of a never-ending resource. You can never get to the end of God!  Paul wants abundance, no, super-abundance of knowledge and love for us. Later in that same letter, he said to them, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) The world says wine is good for it lightens the heart (Psa 104:15) and makes merry, but the apostle says being filled with the Spirit does it so much better.

How we take that expression for granted – being filled with the Spirit. Let’s not worry whether it happens for every believer at conversion or is a separate experience but let’s note that it’s always “filled”. Paul didn’t say, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, have a little bit of the Spirit, just sufficient to lift you up without becoming an embarrassment!” When it comes to descriptions of the ‘amount’ of the Spirit, it is always ‘filled’ and make no mistake that means filled right up. It means have a lot, have all you can take.

Look at another of Paul’s prayers: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1:9-11) He doesn’t say, “I hope you will have a little bit of righteousness,” he says he wants us filled up with righteousness so there is no space for anything else.

The apostle Peter used this ‘abundance-type language’ as well: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet 1:8,9) In other words, may you be blessed up to the hilt with the shear wonder of this salvation we have.

How do you get all these ‘fillings’? Jesus said it so simply: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6)  You want to be like Jesus? Watch this: “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.” (Mk 1:30-42)  You don’t touch a leper with just a glimmer of compassion. To be Jesus we need to yearn for all that Jesus has, and if that includes compassion to touch lepers, let’s have it in abundance!

So when we read on and consider the verses that follow on here in Colossians, will you read with a hungry and thirsty heart, a heart that says I want it all, I want everything God can pour into me, His word and His Spirit; they are both so wonderful that I want this cup filled to overflowing!  Now there’s a good word to meditate upon – overflowing! Not just a bit, not just filled to the brim, but overflowing! That’s what the Lord wants us to aspire to. Go for nothing less!

Just one more thought: when believers were ‘filled with the Spirit’ it was always to overflowing so on the Day of Pentecost they overflowed with languages that praised God, when the disciples were filled they spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31) and when Paul prayed over the Corinthians, they poured out tongues and prophecy (Acts 19:6). Rather like the love and faith we considered before, when the Spirit is poured in to overflowing, it is visible, it is in abundance. Accept nothing less. Hunger and thirst!