49. Don’t Listen

Meditations in 1 John : 49 : Don’t Listen to them

1 John  4:5,6   They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Get the context. Who are the “They” at the beginning of these two verses? Well right back in chapter 2 John referred to ‘the world’: Do not love the world or anything in the world.” (2:15) meaning all those who were godless, and self-centred and motivated by purely fleshly desires, and after that he kept on making comparisons between us Christians and the rest, for example speaking of those against Christ, “even now many antichrists have come,” (2:18) and “the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son,” (2:22) and he warned “those who are trying to lead you astray,” (2:26) and went on to declare, “Everyone who sins breaks the law,” (3:4) and even more, “do not let anyone lead you astray…. He who does what is sinful is of the devil,” (3:7,8) and for further clarity, “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother,” (3:10) with yet a further warning, “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you,” (3:13) and then into the present chapter, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (4:1) Then, we saw, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them.” (4:4)

So, whether he is saying it as a warning or simply to differentiate us from the rest of the world, John does distinguish us from all unbelievers and they are the ‘They’ he now refers to here, and when we look back it should now come as no surprise (because it’s just a continuation and reiteration of what he’s said previously) when we find, “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.”  Anyone who speaks with a spirit that is in opposition to the Holy Spirit is part of ‘the world’. Now we may wonder why John appears to make such a meal of this, repeating these things again and again and the answer, I would suggest, is because so often we tend to see no difference between us and the world around us. We forget that they are hostile to God, and they are hostile to the truth. Their whole world outlook is anti-God and this is true whether they are crusading atheists, materialistic and humanistic scientists or simply the person in the street who declares strongly, “Don’t you talk to me about your God!”  They listen to one another because it is to their advantage to do so, because they thus bolster up their unbelief and confirm to themselves that they don’t need God.

But then John does a comparison again, as he has done so many times in this letter: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.”   In the same way as the world listens to the world, so Christians listen to Christians, and especially to apostolic leadership who bring wise teaching, counsel and revelation.

So, he continues, you want yet another indicator of who belongs to which kingdom or dominion? Well it’s about who listens to who: “This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.   If you want to discern what spirit is behind what you hear on a daily paper, whether it is on the news or simply the talk of the community, see where it comes from and who is listening to who. Watch out for the atheistic or materialistic or humanistic speaker or originator of what you hear. Watch how they are accepted by the world around you who will so easily agree and fall in line. Then watch how, when a member of the church speaks out, they are derided by the voices of the world, and watch how people respond to the two sides.

We are called to be discerning and we are called to understand the difference between the kingdom of God and the dominion of the enemy. We should not be surprised by these things but we should understand them and recognize the origins of the things we hear around us, and recognize them for what they are. There IS a clear distinction between the two camps and we should not be afraid of declaring those distinctions.

48. A Greater Source

Meditations in 1 John : 48 : A Greater Source

1 John  4:4   You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

I repeat how I started the previous meditation because it still applies to this verse that we are going to look at in more detail now. There is often a danger in Christian circles, especially among younger Christians for fear to creep in, and especially when the talk is of the enemy or of enemy warfare or of opposition and persecution. It is very easy to get an unbalanced picture which Satan then plays on to create fear within us which them immobilises us.  John started off what we have as chapter 4 with warnings about wrong spirits and antichrists. He’s going to say some more about them in a moment but for this verse he establishes our base or our foundation, the thing which should hold us steady in the face of any wrong thoughts.

There may be all this work of the enemy in people around us in ‘the world’ but we, he continues, “are from God”.  How simple those three words are, but so meaningful. We are what we are because of God. Somehow (perhaps because He looks down from outside time) God looked down from the beginning of time and knew that we would be responders at some point in our lives to the good news of Jesus. Thus at some point, unrecognised by us at the time, the Holy Spirit started His work of convicting us of our need and of the truth of the Gospel. All we did was surrender to His convicting power and cried out for forgiveness and submitted to God. It was at that point God did what we had been unable to do, and we were ‘born again’ by the Spirit of God (See Jn 3). At that point we were also adopted as God’s children and justified – made right in His sight by the work of Jesus on the Cross. We were new beings, we were “from God”, the work of God, His workmanship (Eph 2:10)

Because we “are from God”, by its very nature it means that we have turned our back on the world, the ways of the world and on untruth and in this sense, when it comes to all those ‘antichrists’ those people against Christ, we have already “overcome them”, we have beaten back their lies and deception from our minds and we have stood in the light of Christ’s truth and been transformed – while they remain in the darkness.

Then comes the most marvellous truth of all and this part of the verse at least we should memorise and always remember. We are what we are and we have overcome the world, sin and the enemy, because “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”  Whenever you hear talk about Satan or about his works or about the awful things happening in the world, remember this truth – that God, who is infinitely bigger and more powerful, lives in you! If you want a comparison, as poor as it may be, imagine all the oceans of the word – that is God. Now imagine a single drip from a tap – that is Satan. He is simply a created being, a being created by almighty and all-powerful God. He may be a powerful fallen angel as far as we are concerned but as far as God is concerned he is simply another created being and God could wipe him out with a single world. God could look at him and say, “Die!” and that would be the end of him and Satan would be able to do nothing to stop it happening. That is the truth. The Lord allows Satan to exist and do what he does, simply to use him to bring about His will. If you look in our ‘Spiritual Warfare’ section of our ReadBibleAlive Site (see side bar), and Part 1 – The Enemy – His Profile, and then part 5 of that page, “Why God permits Satan”, you will find NINE Biblical reasons why God allows Satan and how God uses Satan for His own purposes.

So, when you read about ‘the world’ being under the dominion of Satan, keep it in perspective. Again think of another analogy. Think of the tiny country ofLuxembourg. Imagine that is Satan’s domain, and so if you lived there it would seem he is all powerful. But then you take a rocket and blast out into the stratosphere and are able to see all the countries of the world – and all the rest are under God’s rule, this is how it is. Satan has been given authority over sinful human beings on this planet, but that is all. He has no sway elsewhere and certainly not in the kingdom of heaven. He is a tiny despot. Yes, he holds sway over those who are given over to sin and godless living, but he has no sway over the children of God. He may appear to shout loudly sometimes but the truth is what we are inhabited by almighty God Himself, we are part of thekingdomofGod, living under His reign, under His protection and receiving His provision. We shine like lights in the darkness and the angels of heaven see this and rejoice – and they know the truth! Hallelujah!

25. Aliens/Strangers

Meditations in 1 Peter : 25:  Aliens and Strangers

1 Pet 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

A hundred years ago the word ‘aliens’ would not have been familiar but in the space age and sci-fi age, as well as the age of falling national boundaries, ‘aliens’ is a word we easily understand. An alien is simply someone from somewhere else, from another planet or another country, someone who is quite different from us. That latter phrase is quite significant and important. People who live in the next town or the next county aren’t aliens. No, aliens are those who come from a completely different place and from a completely different culture and who probably have a completely different way of thinking from us.

Now Peter has just been talking about us being a chosen people, a people of the light, a people who have received God’s mercy and who have become God’s people, but now he adds anther description which should speak volumes to us if we are willing to think about it for a minute of two. We are, he says, “aliens and strangers in the world.” Now before we move fully into that we have to note something associated with this. When we think about the world being the planet on which we live, we should be those who appreciate it and enjoy it more than most, because we see it as a gift from God to us. Sadly Christians in the middle of last century had adopted a platonic view of the world and saw spirit as all important and material things as worldly. Now that is an ancient philosopher’s assessment of life, not the Bible’s. The Bible sees the world as God’s wonderful provision for us; He made it and He gave us the capabilities to enjoy it. If we make that the most important thing in life we loose sense of perspective, but it is important because it is God’s gift and we should appreciate it as such.

But there is another sense to the word ‘world’.  The apostle John wrote, Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16) It was misunderstanding this verse that pushed many Christians into a platonic way of thinking. When these apostles used the word ‘world’ in this sort of context they were referring to the godless mentality of mankind, the human race that does not know God. Hence man without God is driven by sin and the ‘cravings’ that John speaks about simply refer to the man who is driven by his senses and those linked to what he can see with his eyes, drive him. He is quite self-centred and so boasts about what he has and does, in an attempt to make something meaningful out of himself. This godless ‘world’ is self-centred and sense-driven.

Now Peter says we are aliens and strangers to this ‘world’. We are culturally different, we think differently and we behave differently because we are different because we have a different origin. The world has been born but we, we have noted earlier in this letter, have been born again, or born twice. They were born of natural flesh; we have been born of God’s Spirit. They are energized by natural physical desires; we have natural physical desires but are now energized by the Spirit of God within us. They work to please themselves and seek to get fulfilment from personal achievement and have goals that are purely material; we seek God, to please Him who loves us, and get a sense of fulfilment by being children of God living out God’s design-purposes for us and have goals that are first to please Him and, second, that end in heaven and eternity. They seek to emulate pop stars or football stars; we seek to be like Jesus. In all of these ways we are utterly different.

This is why Peter concludes with a very practical appeal: to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” The ‘world’, we have just noted, works on the basis of desires for self-pleasing, self-aggrandisement. Because they have no boundaries because they have rejected God as the arbiter of what is right or wrong, they go into things that are clearly wrong, things that are against God’s design for human beings, things that are therefore ‘sinful’. These are things that are alien to us and so if they are allowed in our lives they will be warring against the Spirit of God who dwells within us.

Because of everything else we said above, about who we are today, such things will be alien to us. It’s like having an eyelash in our eye; it will be irritating until it is removed, or perhaps it is like having a small stone in your shoe which, again, is uncomfortable until removed. If we allow the things that the ‘world’ do, to be in our lives they will cause discomfort and upset. Is this why some of us feel a lack of peace in our lives? Is it because we are allowing attitudes or practices or behaviour in our lives that are alien to the presence of God in us? These are very real issues for us and we ignore them at our peril.

46. Opposing God

Meditations in James: 46 : Opposing God’s will

Jas 4:16,17 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins

What I find one of the most amazing things in life, is that God seems to allow us to go on in the way we live and tolerates our godlessness, often for many years, without apparently doing anything to correct it. The apostle Peter understood this: do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8,9). For instance I didn’t come to the Lord until I was nearly twenty two, my mother until her late fifties and my father until his early sixties, and a friend of mine until his early sixties.  Examples abound of people who the Lord allowed to go through decades of their lives before He drew them to Himself.  Yet, as I have pondered this I have thought two particular things. First, I suspect that the Lord had been speaking many times but we had just not heard. Second, the Lord knows there will be a time when we will be most open to Him and He may have to wait many years for that. He doesn’t mind waiting because He knows that our time here on earth is but a prelude to eternity with Him. Of course there are many people who seem never to hear and who never respond, yet God doesn’t want that, but will still not force our wills.

Now I say this in the light of where James has brought us to. He has spent the last chapter calling us directly and indirectly into relationship with the Lord, and away from the world. As we questioned before, we’re not sure if he had specific people in mind when he wrote who he knew were like this, or whether he was speaking generally because he knew that we are all prone to this sort of thing. We’ll again assume the latter. He has just written about our tendency to plan life ignoring God, and now he sees people even bragging about what they do. ‘Christmas letters’ come to mind in this respect. An article in the paper commented on the trend of sending out Christmas letters that tell of all the holidays the senders have had that year, making those who can’t afford such things feel bad when they are recipients of such letters. To display such activities of the past year must be a form of boasting, however naïve the senders may be. “Look at what we have done” is clearly the sense of these letters. Such letters must evoke comparisons and even envy. Indeed that has got to be a form of boasting.

However James’ comments have more of an edge to them than merely chiding against pride – although he is not averse to doing that as we’ve seen previously in his comments about favouritism in church. Yes, he says, boasting is evil, pride is evil, doing your own thing is evil, making others feel bad is evil, but there is something more. He speaks of anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it. There is an implication here that there is more to this flitting around, doing what you will, going where you will. There is the implication that Christians – for remember, he is writing to Christians – know within themselves that there is another way they ought to be living, but don’t. Because we have the Holy Spirit living within us, He will be speaking to us to guide us, correct us, and lead us to be doing other things, things that are not just self-centred, things that bless others in the will of God.

Of course these things raise far bigger issues, issues about use of time and money and other people.  We have spoken about it being the well-off members of society who can afford a variety of holidays, afford to spend their surplus money on self. Isn’t it right to take times away to recharge our batteries? Yes, of course it is. That isn’t the point that James is making. His point is the origin of our travels or our activities. Is it the Lord? Do we refer all our activities to the Lord, recreational as well as work, and especially work?

James is right in our face on this issue. Look, he says, if your conscience or the Holy Spirit within you is bugging you about other possibilities, other ways to live your life, other things to do with your life, and you disregard either of them, if you disregard what you know is right, don’t you realise that that is sin.

Can it be that many of us are inadvertently sinning, simply because we carelessly disregard the quiet voice of God speaking to us, seeking to lead us into a less self-centred, more God-centred lifestyle, one that is far more fruitful, that impacts and changes the world instead of allowing the world to change us, as this chapter has been saying?

When it came to Communion, the apostle Paul had to chide the Corinthians: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:27-30). He was chiding them because they were not caring for one another, and the result was that some of them were being taken to heaven prematurely!  If that applied then, how much more in the context of what James has been saying. Put in its simplest form it says that God may often tolerate non-Christians slowness of response, but once we are in the kingdom, we are answerable to the King who will hold us accountable. Food for thought?