20. Aspiring to Understanding

Aspiring Meditations: 20.  Aspiring to Understanding

2 Cor 6:4-6 “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness”

Job 12:13  To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.

Isa 11:2  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

We might be surprised to think of understanding as something to which we should aspire, but it is here, first of all, in Paul’s list of things which, he said, commend them as apostles, and if them, then surely us.  Understanding is one of the three things that go together – knowledge, wisdom and understanding.   Knowledge is about perceiving fact, collecting information.  Wisdom is knowing how to act, what to do, how to live. Understanding is realizing the significance of knowledge. Knowledge might be the fact or information that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God”. Understanding is the realization of that significance of that statement. Wisdom is then knowing how to live in the light of that statement. (Note our constant use of that word ‘significance’).

In our verses above we see that understanding is one of the things that God has. (Job 12:13). It is also one of the things given to the Messiah (Isa 11:2). We so often say that the attributes of God include the fact that He is all-knowing and all-wise, meaning He knows everything and knows what is best in any and every situation. His understanding is what drives that wisdom. He not only knows everything that can be known, but He also knows the significance of every fact, how it relates to every other fact.

Paul writing to Philemon said, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Phile 1:6) Now that suggests that understanding so often follows experience. As we live out the Christian life, as we share our faith, more and more we find we are coming to a deeper understanding of this life, of this faith, more and more do we perceive the significance of so much in our lives, and of that faith.

For Paul it was obviously a mark of maturity: “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.” (Col 1:9) We come to know the will of the Father as we come to know the basic facts of the Gospel and as we start to realise the significance of each aspect of our salvation.

Indeed, said Paul, understanding is vital if you are to come to really see this thing I have called a mystery, this thing, this Gospel that was hidden for centuries but has now been revealed. To take this in and fully comprehend it, you need understanding: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” (Col 2:2)

Again and again in his writings, he says this same thing: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.” (Eph 1:7-9) There in the sublime writing of Ephesians we have him speaking of redemption that comes through grace and is apprehended by wisdom and understanding, this mystery we referred to before. We take hold of it and live it out as we see what we need to do (wisdom) having heard the truth (knowledge) and realised its significance for us (understanding). Those three things together are what motivate us forward.

But this ‘understanding’ plays a part in keeping us sharp and alert in our daily lives: “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Rom 13:11) The ‘this’ in these verses refers to all that has just gone before it in Romans, living out our lives of love in the light of the will of God.  So, he says, as you realise that your time on earth is limited, as you understand these things, go all out to fulfil the will of God in your lives. Understanding the limitations on us, should energize us even more to seek out His will.

So, it seems to me, there are different types of Christian. There are those who are happy to turn up on Sunday morning and are happy to be spoon fed portions of the Bible – knowledge – and walk out untouched but with more facts. Then there are those of us who hear the basics, yearn for more, yearn to catch a sense of the plan and purpose of our lives, seeing how it is to work for us. These are people who realise the significance of what they read in God’s word or hear spoken on a Sunday morning, people of understanding and that understanding motivates and energises them to ask, “And what should I do, what does God now want of me?” and as they get answers they receive wisdom, the knowledge of what to do, how now to act.

I want to be in these latter groups. I aspire to not only have more knowledge but also to work for understanding and wisdom. Why? Because it is available and there for us and it is clearly what the New Testament teaching implies is essential for a vibrant life that grows and develops and bears fruit. It also makes me realise that we have missed out on (knowledge and) wisdom in these studies, so watch this space.

29. Proverbs (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 29.  Proverbs (2)

Prov 1:7    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

I feel a coward! I often want to say to groups studying the Bible, hey, let’s move away from the comfortable and easy stuff, let’s study the more difficult parts of the Bible, and yet here in this part of the Scriptures I wanted to shy away from some of the most basic and fundamental truths of the Bible – and perhaps that is why I wanted to avoid them, because they are so basic and really need thinking about.  So forgive me, and come with me, please, to this very basic verse early on in Proverbs. Let’s chew on it, let’s wrestle with it and see what it might say to us today.

Our obvious starting point has to be to consider the word, ‘fear’ but more especially, ‘fear of the LORD’. The expression, “the fear of the LORD” occurs a number of times in the Scriptures: 2 Chron 17:10, 19:7,9, Job 28:28, Psa 19:19, 34:11, Prov 2:5, 9:10, 10:27, 14:27, 15:16,33,  16:6, 19:23, 22:4, 23:17, Isa 11:2,3, 33:6, Acts 9:31. Moreover there are countless other injunctions to fear God. When Scripture speaks of “the fear of the LORD,” it refers to a characteristic or attitude that a person can hold. I confess I used to play this down and speak of ‘awe and respect’ for God but in reality it is stronger than that. Let’s consider one such use of this phrase, “the fear of THE I AM” (see Ex 3 – remember that’s what LORD in capitals in your Bible means).

Let’s consider what the psalmist David taught: listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psa 34:11) He then spoke about behaviour that avoided wrong speech, that turned from evil and did good, seeking and pursuing peace (v.12-14) i.e. this behaviour would be a response or outworking of this attitude. But then David gives two things the Lord does, things that should cause us to have a holy, awesome, even fearful respect for God: i) “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry” (v.15) and then ii) “the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (v.16)

Wow! This is a God who acts against wrong. He watches over the righteous and responds to their cries, but those who do evil…. He wipes them out!!!! Now whether He does this quickly now, or delays and then does it, or even waits until the Final Judgment, is really irrelevant; the fact is that He IS going to hold ALL sinners accountable and He will bring judgment on those who refuse to repent. Now if that doesn’t make Him scary, I don’t know what does!

Now the next word that bears consideration here is ‘knowledge’ which in ordinary usage simply means a body of facts or information. Knowledge is often linked with ‘understanding’ but understanding means realizing the significance of something. Knowledge at this moment refers to observing and recognising and taking in this verse. Understanding speaks of realizing its significance. So, the fear of the Lord refers to the attitude that has come to learn that ‘THE I AM’, the Eternal One, the one Abram, Moses etc. encountered is one who holds people accountable and when they fall short, He deals with them, e.g. Eli in 1 Samuel, Saul in 1 Samuel, and so on. ‘Understanding’ this phrase means we realise that His demand for accountability puts us in the firing line, it puts ME right in front of Him, having to account to Him. This is what this is all about.

But there is another word we need to consider: ‘beginning’. Now that is tricky because the writers here and elsewhere are saying that the starting point for any real knowledge about existence starts at this point. That drives us back to the word ‘knowledge’ which in this use must be more than that basic usage – information, facts, data etc. – it must mean the basic, fundamental knowledge of what life is all about.

Really understanding what this world, this life, is all about starts here, it starts with the realization that a) there IS an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God as revealed in the Bible and b) He is not far off but is here and c) He involves Himself in the lives of the people on earth – His earth, the earth He designed and made and thus d) He acts for those who are righteous (living according to His design) and against those who are unrighteous (living by rejecting His design and contrary to it). The end product, as far as we are concerned, should be fear of Him, an awesome, scary respect, that recognizes that He holds ME accountable and without His grace, His mercy and His salvation I am doomed.

When we truly understand this, then when we are confronted with the news of His salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, we will grab at it like a drowning man at a straw, and we will receive it with gladness and wonder and thankfulness.

And the rest of the verse? “but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” OK, quickly. ‘Wisdom’ = the knowledge of how to do, or how it works. Wisdom comes to realise that the knowledge and understanding we have been considering needs to be applied to me. ‘Discipline’ = taking control of oneself and bringing change. A footnote in your Bible probably says, “The Hebrew words rendered fool in  Proverbs, and often elsewhere in the Old Testament, denote one who is  morally deficient.” The person who ‘falls short’ does so in God’s sight. It is God who declares them what they are. They are what they are because they refuse wisdom, they refuse to take note of these truths that will be put before them at some points in their lives, and they refuse to respond accordingly.

So, sorry, we nearly missed the wonder of this verse that is clearly a highlight verse. Think on these things, act on them, for they are fundamentals of life, and a key to how we live and to our future destiny.

4. Complete Understanding

Meditations in Colossians 2: 4:  Complete Understanding

Col 2:2,3   My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,

In the previous two meditations of the verse above we said we have made bold the three aspects of Paul’s purpose together with his end goal, and we went on to consider the first two of these three aspects, that of being encouraged in heart and being united in love,” Now we move on to the third aspect of Paul’s purpose which is to bring complete understanding to the church.

What is sad about so much of modern day Christianity is that so many people are unsure of their faith or unsure of the basics of their faith. If this assertion is right then I suggest there are two reasons for that. First, the quality of a person’s new birth experience (if I may put it like that) appears so often shallow. A well founded believer is hungry for God’s word, hungry for God, and longs to learn what the Bible has to say. This lack may be because of the day in which we live where materialistic desires compete with spiritual desires. Second, this lack of assurance must be put at the door of church leaders who convey so little (ten minutes on a Sunday morning to impart the invaluable teaching of the New Testament – even twenty is inadequate!) of the truth in a systematic way that is anointed of God.

Paul, I suspect, would be shocked by the state of the modern church when compared to his own heart. When he thinks about the teaching we find in the New Testament, he speaks of it as ‘riches’ and he wants us to have ‘full riches’, not just a bit. These teachings, that he has already been referring to in chapter 1 and now continues in chapter 2, throw light on reality, throw light on who God is, what He is like, who Jesus is, what he is like, who we are and what we are like before and after conversion. Understanding these things establishes, strengthens and stabilizes the new believer. One modern version speaks of “so have the full wealth of assurance which true understanding brings.”  That doesn’t bring out the wonder of the truth of what ‘riches’ brings but it does highlight the impact of these riches, that they bring a full wealth of experience.

Perhaps the most challenging word is ‘complete’. Not just partial understanding but complete understanding. Timothy admittedly was a leader and to him Paul said, Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) The NKJV is stronger: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God.” Yes, it may be that he was a leader but if we are to apprehend the “full riches of complete understanding” isn’t the challenge for each of us to study His word?

In earlier centuries they used catechisms to teach and train new believers. As one famous Puritan catechism starts of,

Question 1: What is the chief end of man? Answer 1: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, (1Co 10:31) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps 73:25,26)

 Question 2: What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify him?  Answer 2: The Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Eph 2:20 2Ti 3:16) is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him. (1Jo 1:3)

Question 3: What do the Scriptures principally teach? Answer 3: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. (2Ti 1:13 Ec 12:13)”

Some of these catechisms had well over a hundred questions, and every new believer was required to learn them. A bit legalistic we might say, but they certainly had a broader understanding of the truth of God’s word than many today!

There is a small point we have not yet touched upon n this verse: “my purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding.”  The implication of this translation is that understanding comes from encouragement and being part of the loving community of God’s people. Translators are unsure of the real intent of the joining words and so some simply say, “and they may have….” making the riches of understanding just another one of the things to be worked on. One can see that understanding the wonder of the New Testament teaching will come with the encouraging of heart brought in the context of the loving community.  When the community of God’s people expect these things then they are more readily brought about and creating that experience and understanding is the role and duty of the leaders of the church.

These things, we have noted before, bring about an end product and we will go on to consider that in the next meditation.

17. Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding

Meditations in Colossians: 17. Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding

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.

Commentators and translators appear to struggle a little with the word before our highlighted words. Our NIV says ‘through’, some others say ‘in’. I mention this because ‘through’ seems to suggest ‘comes via the means of’ while ‘in’ suggests that ‘His will is found in the midst of all spiritual wisdom. The latter makes wisdom etc. the starting place in which God’s will is found, while the former makes it simply a channel for comprehending God’s will. Perhaps it is a moot point and maybe we’ll consider both.

Let’s take the former first. Paul wants them to come to know God’s will and they will do that as they comprehend spiritual wisdom and understanding. When they work with spiritual wisdom and understanding they will come to see God’s will. In the latter approach, when they comprehend God’s will, they will see that it is full of spiritual wisdom and understanding. In the former it is a means of arriving at God’s will; in the later it is a description of God’s will. As we said, it may be a moot point and whichever it is, it makes us realise the importance of spiritual wisdom and understanding as far as God’s will is concerned. So let’s examine the phrase.

‘Spiritual’ immediately puts us in to the realm of God. Spiritual says this is not human wisdom and understanding; this is not what you or I could dream up. Wisdom means the knowledge of ‘how to do’ and spiritual wisdom is all about how God works, how things work in the kingdom of God, how things work pertaining to our salvation, how things work in the spiritual world. Understanding means insightful appreciation of the meaning of things so we go beyond the surface appreciation of bare facts, beyond how to do things, on to why things work as they do.

Remember Paul has been saying, “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.” i.e. we want you to come to the full knowledge of God’s will for you as you learn how all these things work and the Holy Spirit applies specific things to you. Putting it like that, imagine a great pool of knowledge, wisdom and understanding that encompasses everything we suggested in the above paragraph, and as we come to see it, realise what we are seeing, and come to appreciate it, it is as if the Holy Spirit shines on parts of it and applies it specifically to us, so we come to realise how He wants to change us, in what specific ways He wants us to become like Jesus, and what sort of activity He wants to lead us into to serve Him and minister to the body of Christ, the Church, and to the world.

I think that picture brings together the two possibilities we considered first of all. The understanding of His will for us comes via the means of us considering this pool of knowledge, wisdom and understanding (revealed through His word by His Holy Spirit) and as we see the contents of the pool so He applies parts of it to us. The moment we put it like that we find we are into the second understanding, we find His will in the midst of the pool of spiritual wisdom; they are in reality the same.

You may feel this has been a somewhat convoluted argument but I hope behind it all the basics shine through:

  1. God wants us to come to realise His will for us.
  2. As we (and He in us) work to understand how He generally works – the facts, the ways and the reasons for His activity – we find He also applies parts of it to us for our specific lives.
  3. Out of His ‘general will’ (how He works generally) emerges His ‘specific will’ for us.

For instance we come to learn about spiritual gifts, what they are and how they work and why He uses them, and then we find the Spirit emphasises some particular gift in us, which He not only emphasises but increases in us, and we find we ‘have’ a particular gift which may develop into a particular ministry.

To take a completely different aspect of God’s heart, we may learn that He has compassion for the poor, the weak and needy. That is His ‘general will’ but then we find almost a burden building within us about these things and we realise His care and compassion is growing within us that prompts us to reach out to those who are poor and needy ad before we know it, that is the main thrust of our service, which may develop into a full blown ministry of caring for the under-privileged.

Spiritual wisdom becomes the beginning, the means and the end, to us perceiving His will for us, and entering into it. We don’t merely ‘know about’ this particular facet of His will, but we ‘know it’ in as far as we have taken hold of the facts about it, we have been taken on to see how they work, and we have been moved to realise how it all works together. The final phase is when we enter into it by doing the things we have seen. We are then living and working in His will and to His glory.  Hallelujah!

12. The Truth of Grace

Meditations in Colossians: 12. The Truth of Grace

Col 1:6   All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

I am finding with this letter to the Colossians that there are words or phrases that I have for so long taken for granted but failed to consider in any depth. For instance in verse 6 above Paul speaks of the Gospel that the Colossians had heard and understood it as “God’s grace in all its truth”. Now what does that actually mean? We have considered ‘grace’ in the fourth meditation and noted a variety of meanings or applications of it, but there seems a different emphasis here.

Let’s cheat, let’s use the Amplified Bible: “ever since the day you first heard and came to know and understand the grace of God in truth. [You came to know the grace or undeserved favour of God in reality, deeply and clearly and thoroughly, becoming accurately and intimately acquainted with it.]”

Our NIV verse above simply speaks of how they “heard it and understood”. The Amplified expands that to, “heard and came to know and understand” Observe the ‘came to know’ which makes us realise that when grace impacts our lives we not only hear it as someone speaks to us but we get involved with it in our minds and come to understand what it means and the implications of it.

Now why am I apparently backtracking in this verse? Because we are talking about truth and for truth to impact us we must first hear it, then absorb it and then come to a place of understanding it. There is something to be thought about, effort given to coming to see what it is really all about, coming to understanding what it means.

One of the things the enemy whispers into the ears of the unwary is, “It’s all right, you don’t need to worry about these things, they are things for the very religious or college professors, but ordinary believers don’t need to worry over these things. The result is a shallow and therefore weak Christianity.

As the years have passed I have come to see more and more that those who stand strong against temptation and against deception are those who have spent time in God’s word, not merely reading but seeking for understanding. That’s why the psalmist wrote, Blessed is the man (whose)… delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”(Psa 1:1,2) He goes on to give a beautiful picture of what this person is like: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psa 1:3)

In the Amplified version, after the expression, the grace of God in truth,” it goes on to point out that this means, “You came to know the grace or undeserved favour of God in reality, deeply and clearly and thoroughly, becoming accurately and intimately acquainted with it.”  Grace is simply expanded to mean “undeserved favour of God in reality” i.e. in reality everything about our salvation is a pure gift of God and not deserved by us. We did nothing to ‘earn’ it.

But look again at how it says we received this grace: “deeply and clearly and thoroughly, becoming accurately and intimately acquainted with it,” and just in case in all of this you have lost the thread, we are looking at an expansion of  “you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”   The compilers of the Amplified Bible know, as we said above, for grace to have impact in our lives we need to “deeply and clearly and thoroughly” ponder it, think on it, meditate on it, until we become accurately and intimately acquainted with it.”  i.e.  we correctly understand what it means, and become very closely or very clearly familiar with what it means.

Now yes, you can get by in your Christian life with a shallow understanding of this but you leave yourself vulnerable to deception and temptation.  Why? Well when you understand something of the wonder of God’s grace it will thrill you, strengthen you, encourage you, build you up and generally bless you. As a result of that you will stand with head held high, rejoicing in God’s goodness to you and the enemy will run a mile!

So here’s a final question: how much do you know of God’s grace – (a) what it means and (b) by experience of it?  A help with the first part may be to go back and reread Meditation number 4.  You will know you have moved on in the second part when you find yourself rejoicing daily in the wonder of what God has done for you and you rest in His love and simply receive what He has for you, rather than struggling and striving to achieve. The experience of God’s grace is all about receiving it from Him, allowing Him to lead you by His Holy Spirit and empower you to change to become more like Jesus, and to equip you to serve without struggle, and all this is made possible by what Jesus did on the Cross – and you cannot add to it – this is God’s grace!

9. Maths of the Kingdom

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  9. Maths of the Kingdom

Matt 13:10-12   The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

There were times when Jesus appeared to speak in riddles, we might say today, and in our verses above is one of those: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Now this is one of those times when context is very important (it usually is!).  Jesus has just referred to “the secrets of the kingdom”. In other words he is speaking about how the way His Father’s kingdom works.

If we were talking about material possession it would sound quite unfair: whoever has a lot will be given more and whoever is poor will have the little he has taken away. Yes, in material terms that sounds quite unjust. And surely the Bible shows that God is concerned for the poor!  But if this is about the principles of how God works then it is more likely to be about spiritual principles than about material ones.

So what is the ‘has’ and ‘more’ and ‘abundance’ that is being referred to? Look at the text: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more.”   It is the knowledge of how things work in the kingdom. As you come to God, and His Holy Spirit starts teaching you about the new way to live as a Christian, you first of all start learning basics: you can now pray,  worship, read your Bible; those are what are sometimes called spiritual disciplines. But then we learn that this new life means no to bad attitudes, words and behaviour and yes to good, Jesus-like behaviour. Christians are good and loving people as they are being remade in the image of Jesus.

Then we start finding that God has equipped us by the presence of His Holy Spirit and has given us gifts and abilities to be used to bless us and bless His world. Some we may call natural talents and so a person may be a good dancer, or artist, or homemaker, or a hundred and one other things that help them enjoy living in this world and making it a better place. But then we find out about spiritual gifts and we realise that as God leads us we can do the things Jesus did, bringing revelation and power into His world as he enables us.

But in a sense, this is merely the start. As we grow in Christ, we grow in our understanding of how God works. Moses asked, “Teach me your ways,” (Ex 33:13) meaning teach me the ways you work so I can know and understand you more fully, obey you and please you.  What he actually said was, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” He wanted to know God and please Him. That was Moses heart and it is the heart of the seeker.

And that brings us back to our starting verses. Again and again in Scripture there is this clarification that it is seekers who will find and know God.  Moses’ call to Israel was to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4) That was a basic. But before that he had warned about Israel going astray and the path back was quite clear: “if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) Note in each case it is a whole-hearted seeking after God. The person who is wishy-washy in their intent towards God is not going to find.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount taught about right priorities: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) The “these things” in this verse are material things and so Jesus is saying make spiritual issues priorities and God will sort out your material issues for you. Jesus also taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” (Mt 7:7) but the tense in each case there means, for the present context, “seek and go on seeking and you will find.”

It’s a little bit like the meaning behind James’ teaching: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) If you ask for wisdom believe that God WILL give it to you. The faint hearted half-believer won’t get it because they won’t believe it when it comes!

So returning to our original verses,  “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance,” it is the whole hearted seeker who will have insights and understanding of the ways God works and what God wants, and the more he has the more he will see and want to see more. Seeing and understanding is satisfying and makes you want more. Thus the seeker isn’t a seeker just for a moment but for a lifetime.

But then we have the other person: “Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  This is the half-hearted person who is really little concerned for the kingdom, little concerned for what God wants and, although at the beginning of their spiritual life the Holy Spirit does a work in them, their response is still half-hearted and, failing to have a whole-hearted seeking approach, they shrivel spiritually or stay in a state of suspended spiritual animation, losing any real signs of life.

Jesus taught this in the parable of the Sower that precedes this teaching and is explained after this teaching: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” (Mt 13:3-7) and then, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Mt 13:20-22)

The message is clear: different heart conditions produce different results. The final one is “the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Mt 13:23) Good ground is a good heart. A good heart is a seeking heart. A seeking heart gets more and more from God. What a gem of truth!

9. Understanding Coming Together

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 9 :  Understanding coming Together

 Acts  2:23    This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

In an earlier meditation we considered the tight-rope walk of balancing between not living according to the Law and yet honouring and responding to the word of God as found in the Bible, and especially in the New Testament as far as we Christians are concerned. When we come to Peter’s message, given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we find Peter is speaking with an amazing understanding of the purposes of God, an understanding that could only have come through a combination of the teaching of Jesus while he had been with them, and then by the enabling of the Holy Spirit on that day.

He has explained the phenomena of the gift of tongues as a prophetic fulfilment, and now he continues to put all that happened to Jesus in the context of God’s eternal plan which involved God using the sinful actions of men to bring about the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. However, rather than focusing on the details of what Peter preached, here we simply want to note the level of revelation that he brings. This revelation at that moment in his explanation of all that had happened, led on to requiring repentance of all his hearers and, as a result, some three thousand people turning to God. The revelation brings about change.

Now that incredibly simple principle is at the heart of all motivation of spiritual acts. Everything we do as Christians comes about because of the revelation we receive. The first revelation that we had was of our sinfulness and our need for God’s forgiveness and salvation and that ‘conviction’ was brought about by the Holy Spirit taking either the Bible or a person to bring those truths to the person in question (us), in such power that they (we) responded to that conviction with repentance.

We may take so much of what we read in the Bible for granted but the truth is that there have been times when different parts of it have come alive and brought about great changes in the church. For instance we may take ‘justification by faith alone’ for granted but it took Martin Luther in the early 1500’s to preach it and bring about the start of the Reformation.

Similarly today we may teach about the church being the body of Christ and take that for granted but I have lived through the 1960’s and 70’s’ when that was being taught as a new doctrine by teachers in the Church. What had been there for centuries suddenly came alive and was taught and a new understanding of it received.

We might say the same thing of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, brought into the Church by Pentecostal churches at the beginning of the 20th century and then appropriated on a much wider scale in many denominations through the charismatic movement of the 1960’s and 70’s.

In the 1970’s and 80’s the whole of the so-called Restoration Movement sought to take hold of a fresh understanding of the Church and of ministries and of discipleship. Some of us at least, may take these things for granted but before that period there was little understanding of these things. This was not adding to the word of God in any way, just a coming to understanding of it.

This ‘revelation’ received by the individual, comes in main two ways (and there are probably others). First of all revelation comes when the individual is reading their Bible and suddenly the truth of what they are reading strikes them in a new way and with a fresh strength and vitality and when they say, “I see it!” they mean that although they may have read it many times before, suddenly it came alive to them at that moment.

I believe that is part of John Wesley’s testimony. At a Moravian society meeting in Aldersgate Street in May of 1738, while someone was reading Luther’s statement of the change which God works in the heart through faith, Wesley went on to say, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I ‘felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” It was like light broke in on him and he ‘saw’ the truth as never before and it brought about his conversion. In his case it wasn’t so much the raw Scriptures that did it, but the truth found in them that did it.

Nevertheless there are plenty of testimonies of people who had been reading particular passages when suddenly it came alive as the Holy Spirit impressed on them the truth of what they were reading.

The second main way, I believe, that it happens, is when the word is being preached or taught through anointed ministry. How many Christians must have the testimony that as the preacher brought the word, they realised they needed to bring change in their lives to conform to that word. Again it is a simple work of the Holy Spirit and without Him the word would remain dead information.

It is for this reason that whenever we teach about Bible reading we always emphasise the need to pray first. Don’t just read it; ask the Lord to bring it alive to you and He will. Similarly when you are listening to a preacher or teacher, ask the Holy Spirit to bring God’s word alive to you.

Revelation brings understanding and understanding brings change – an ongoing process in our lives – and it is as we receive it, we are changed. This is part of the process we call sanctification, the ongoing process throughout our lives changing us into the likeness of Jesus. The change is brought about by the truth and the truth is brought to bear on our will by the Holy Spirit. We are convicted, we respond and He enables us to change. Hallelujah!

8. Insanity

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 8 :  Insanity

Eccles 1:16-18   I thought to myself, “Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

Solomon was certainly a privileged person. Without any doubt he was naturally gifted with wisdom for when he began his reign he dealt with a variety of people with wisdom. Then when he has a dream of the Lord (1 Kings 3:5) and is asked what he would like he replies, give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (v.9) This pleased the Lord and so He gave him (more) wisdom (v.12) which was clearly seen (v.28). Now the thing about wisdom is that it grows, and thus he was able to say late in life, I have grown and increased in wisdom. Wisdom recognizes its limitations but wants to overcome them, so he had spent a lifetime using and increasing that wisdom. That’s why Jesus once said, For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.” (Mt 25:29) Solomon certainly had an abundance – but tragically wisdom and common sense or even straight obedience don’t always go together. You can see it for everyone else but not yourself. Thus Solomon had pursued wisdom but along the way had allowed his relationship with the Lord to drift with the result that all the wisdom he had accumulated was tainted with a jaded feeling.  He had been able to say that he had increased in wisdom more than anyone else before him – yet it still left him feeling jaded. The sharp lesson is that knowing the Lord and maintaining a relationship with Him is THE most important thing that we need to work on, otherwise everything else loses its meaning.

Then he says something interesting: I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” This means it wasn’t just up in his head, but it had been worked out practically in life. That’s why he had been so successful and become so rich. He had put to use what he had learned. It didn’t just remain academic, it was put to practical use. This should also be true for us, that what we learn we put into practice. Jesus, in his closing words in Matthew’s Gospels said, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). If you were an academic you might look at what he started saying, and could respond, well, yes, I can teach people the knowledge of the Gospel, and the knowledge of what the Bible says, but all that does is create a lot of knowledgeable people, and that wasn’t what he was aiming for. Oh no, look what he says: teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus left us with many instructions (commands) and he doesn’t want us to just know about them; he wants us obey or do them.  Christian teaching is to be practical. We are to do because of who we find we are, but we can’t find out who we are and not respond by doing what children of God do.

But Solomon doesn’t stop there. He goes on:Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom.” Then?  He’s already got wisdom, he’s applied it in his life, so what more can he want? Understanding! Understanding is ‘knowing why’. Understanding is knowing the motivation behind actions, knowing the reasons behind instructions, knowing why things work. Solomon wanted to get behind the façade, he wanted to go deeper and understand why we work as we do. But then he realised that there was a whole area that he didn’t know about, and that he called insanity. What is madness? Why do people go mad? For the Christian this is also a useful avenue of investigation. Why do people get stressed? Why do they get pushed beyond their limits? What happens when they have what we call “a nervous breakdown”?  How do people recover? How can we help them? How can we avoid going down this path ourselves? What happened when God took Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity from him? (Dan 4:33,34). What is mental illness? Can God be in it?  Can God be in a person’s deepest depression?  These, perhaps, might have been areas that Solomon thought about. Unfortunately, from his godless perspective, all of this learning about wisdom or insanity just seemed meaningless. So, all right, I know about it all. So what? Accumulating knowledge, accumulating wisdom, accumulating understanding are all pointless exercises unless you do something with them.

Before we conclude, think about this. Are you a seeker after wisdom? You would do well to. Are you a seeker after understanding? You would do well to.  But if you find them, what do you do with them? The only sensible, meaningful answer has got to be, whatever God tells me to do and shows me to do. You have such knowledge, wisdom and understanding?  Pass it on. Put yourself in a place to teach others. Impact the world with what God has given you. Make use of the days by bringing blessing to others. Don’t sit on what you have. Bless others with it!

6. Study-Learning

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 6 :  Study & Learning

Eccles 1:13,14   I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Subsequent governments in the UK have followed a policy of trying to get more and more young people to university in the belief that a highly educated work force will be better than the work force in the rest of the world. Colleges have been encouraged to increase the number of students to prolong education for as many as possible. Going back to college has been something an increasing number of adults have done to better themselves. Courses are a regular part of life in big companies. Lifetime learning is an established doctrine for many. Living in an ever more complex world means a requirement to be more and more informed with more and more rules to conform to. Education over the past twenty years or so has been a growth market.

Solomon had almost unlimited resources and so devoted himself to study – to learn, find out, investigate. The Queen of England is thought, with all her years of experience as Queen over a Commonwealth of nations, to be one of the best informed people in the country. Having met so many people from so many nations over so long a period of time, and having been prepared so many times to visit so many countries, she is the equivalent of a modern Solomon, in terms of knowledge at least. For Solomon, I suspect, at the beginning there was a real excitement. He was obviously a bright guy and made and took opportunities to learn. He decided to investigate all that is done under heaven. In other words nothing would be outside the remit of his course of learning. That had been his objective and as he reached old age he was able to say I have seen all the things that are done under the sun. Again, in other words, he had done it! He had looked, he had seen, he had asked, he had watched, he had enquired. This man had the equivalent of three degrees at least!

Now after all of that you might have expected Solomon to feel thankful for the experience, thankful for all he had learned, but what do we find instead?  We find this: What a heavy burden God has laid on men! Now that perhaps has at least two sides to it. The first thing may be it is like he is saying, if you want to learn then you’ve got a hard slog ahead of you. The second thing, associated with that, is that if you want to learn you’ve got a hard slog ahead of you because there is so much to learn!

When I first went to college and did three years study, I thought how much there was to know. Five years later I wondered how I had qualified as a professional person with so little knowledge! Years later when I became a college lecturer, I could encapsulate a year’s course in note form on one wallboard. I could reel off detailed information about my chosen specialist subjects at the drop of a hat. The more I knew the more I realised I didn’t know! Today I have probably increased the knowledge of those days possibly tenfold, yet I still consider I know so little. The wise person is under no illusions: collecting knowledge and understanding is like trying to collect cup by cup the water from the nearest sea; there is always so much more.

Today in science and technology, people become amazing specialists in their areas of study or research and come to find out and know and understand things in their specialist areas that few other people know. The big danger is that collecting knowledge, especially specialist knowledge, can puff us up and pride makes us think we are someone special, a superior being. So what does learning do for us? Does it make us better people? It is certainly good to learn but learning information as to how the world works, of itself, doesn’t make you a better person. In his earlier years Solomon wrote, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov 1:7).  In other words, he was saying, unless you start with a right respect for God, you’re wasting your time. Knowledge starts with God. Everything comes from Him and therefore you need to see everything in the light of Him.  He made this world, He made every other world. Every universe is part of His handiwork, so when you look outwards from yourself, realise first of all that you are looking at God’s handiwork. In fact there is nothing that you will see that is not His!

Yes, it’s useful to gain, knowledge, wisdom and insight, but if your learning is godless, it is also meaningless. We need to learn to see our acquisition of knowledge etc. in the light of God. Science is simply finding out how God has made things. Technology is simply putting that knowledge to work for us as He has designed it to work for us. When you next go into a classroom, watch an educational programme on TV, or pick up a book, talk to Him about His world; thank Him for it, ask for understanding to help you cope better, but above all else, ask that whatever learning you have will enhance your knowledge of Him.

33. Humility

Meditations in James: 33 : Humility with Wisdom

Jas 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

We have in this day, in the West, many TV games shows that test knowledge. We may watch and wonder sometimes at the shear breadth or depth of knowledge that a particular contestant shows.  We move on to programmes about specialist subjects and we watch and listen to men or women who are ‘experts’ in their field, regaling us with the wonders that they know about. We think how great these people must be. We wonder at their learning, their scholarship, and their experience of life. And then the media tells us something about their personal life, and we hear they have just parted from their third partner, and a little nagging doubt rises in our mind. Then there are politicians or some of the world’s shakers and movers. We watch on TV as their latest achievements are being lauded and we think about what incredible people they must be. We slightly wonder about some of the people who are their friends, because they are those who live in the shadows, and we wonder. We don’t ‘know’ but we wonder. But God knows.

God is and never has been impressed by outward signs. We’ve seen that before with Samuel (1 Sam 16:7). The disciples were impressed by big buildings (Matt 24:1) but Jesus had bigger issues on his mind. No, we can be swayed by rhetoric or apparent knowledge, but God has different criteria for assessment of people. You can be very knowledgeable but godless. You can bring great changes in the world, but be unrighteous. Have you spotted the link yet with what James has been saying about the tongue? The tongue has the power to deceive us. We just mentioned ‘great people’ on TV who astound us with their words. There are politicians and world movers and shakers who speak and the world holds its breath. Oh yes, words are the currency of these people, but the trouble is, that so often they are godless and unrighteous people, and in God’s eyes they mean nothing. Their words do not impress Him.

So James seems to spin us on our axis and we point away from thoughts of the tongue and move to a wider sphere of thinking. Ah yes, thinking comes in here: Who is wise and understanding among you? Wisdom and understanding; these are things of the mind. They are the fruits of what has gone on inside us. Wisdom is the knowledge of ‘how to’. Moses was able to say to his people: See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut 4:5,6) God had spoken to Israel and given them His Law, which were simply rules on how to live wisely in accordance with the way He had designed people to live. If you follow them, said Moses, the nations round about will see your wisdom and comment upon it. It will be clearly visible. Wisdom is something that is practically worked out in life.

Understanding is knowing why things are. Understanding goes beyond simply knowing ‘how to’; it knows why is it right to do it. It knows the reasoning behind it. Of course as God’s people we know that it is right to follow God’s ways because He is all-wise and He is the Designer-Creator of this world and so He knows best.  The psalmist wrote, “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” (Psa 119:104). As He studied all that God had given Israel he came to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of life. The more we consider God’s word as we seek His face, the more He gives us understanding of His ways.

James then challenges us. He basically says, if you understand life, then you will live God’s ways and if you live God’s ways, those ways will involve goodness, and people will see good deeds coming out of that knowledge and understanding. Just like Israel, as we saw just now, those round about us will see and wonder. But don’t we wonder about the life of the great and the glorious? Yes, until we start hearing about their personal lives which reveal the sort of people they are. This is where James differentiates between these people and the people of God. The people of God, he is saying, live out their lives in humility. Yes, here is an unusual characteristic in today’s age! Humility is about having a realistic assessment of yourself. When you really know yourself there is no room for pride (the opposite of humility). When we really know ourselves we know that without God we are lost. Without God we know our lives are pretence, a sham. We know that although we may look good on the outside, inside we’re something quite different. This realistic self awareness is humility. This humility comes from wisdom. Solomon said,The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10). An awesome respect for Almighty God brings wisdom and that wisdom brings humility as we realize our smallness and His greatness. As we live out our lives in the light of this, it will be seen, goodness!  May it be so!