20. Ungodly Opposition

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 20 : Coping with Ungodly Opposition

Acts  5:17-20    Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”

We have, of course, already in previous meditations had to deal with the subject of being in conflict with the Law as a Christian, but here we’ll focus the subject on opposition that comes from other believers. From our perspective this opposition is ungodly. We know the apostles were called and sent by Jesus, the Son of God, and we know they are energised and motivated by the Holy Spirit. Thus anyone positively opposing them is acting in an ungodly way. Indeed we know the opposition here is wrong because we are told it was motivated by jealousy.

Yet there is something here that we tend to forget, and it is that the people opposing the apostles were Sadducees and although we tend to give them a bad press, and although it may well be that among their numbers there were those who acted out of purely political motives, there were surely others who sought to be devout men of God. That we believe they were sincere but sincerely wrong is probably not in dispute; that they thought they had the welfare and best interests of the people of Israel uppermost in their minds is also probably not in dispute – but they are opposing the will of God!

We have already seen the anointed apostles declaring that they must obey God rather than man, but that can be a weapon for what can become unrighteous behaviour. We have also seen them declaring that they can do no more or less than declare what they have seen and heard, and that’s fine.  That much is clear.

But how do we respond to such people, those who are against us and at odds with what we believe? This is no mere academic subject for at the time of writing this particular series, in recent days the media has been full of reports about upheavals within the Anglican church in respect of women in leadership and allowing gay men (or women) in positions of leadership. Now this meditation is not about either of those subjects but on how we, as Christians, cope with what we see (from our own individual standpoint) as the ungodly stance of those who disagree with us.

Just within the last few days I was sent a link to a blog where the writer wrote almost belligerently about his particular stance on these matters. What saddened me, apart from his severe lack of handling the word of God properly, was this ungracious, crusading and hostile spirit that came through that clearly declared that anyone who held a view contrary to that which he was espousing was clearly wrong but even more, a bigoted idiot.

I was put in mind of the writings of Dr, Francis Schaeffer (now deceased) who wrote about how he had been involved in schisms in the earlier part of the twentieth century in the USA, when conservative believers had separated off from liberal believers. He observed how there had been great hostility between the opposing parties and, looking back on it, he now deeply regretted his own heart in the matter, saying how we must learn to disagree gracefully. Jesus came, we are told, “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14) and we would like to think that the Holy Spirit is making us the same. We must remember, therefore, to ensure we balance truth with grace.

Jesus teaching is revolutionary: “I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mt 5:22) and “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44) and “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Mt 7:1,2).   Each of these verses challenges us about how we think of others and, in this context, especially about those with whom we disagree. We may appear to win an argument, but it can be at the cost of the person we are supposed to be in Christ.

When the apostle Peter said, Show proper respect to everyone,” (1 Pet 2:17) he didn’t mean just those we agree with, he meant everyone, and that verse follows his call to submit to authorities and is then followed by that incredible instruction to slaves: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh,” (1 Pet 2:18) and goes on to explain that it is commendable to suffer for doing right, even as Christ did. We need to understand, as we’ve said before in this series, that we are not called to respect wrong behaviour, but we are called to respect people for who they are, those made in the image of God and, sometimes, those called to particular roles in society that are worthy of respect.

The apostle Paul had the same ideas in mind when he wrote, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else,” (1 Thess 5:15) and this must apply as much to speech as to actions. In respect of speech, Paul taught, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col 4:6) I like the way the Message version puts it: “The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.”

The account of what happened to the apostles is delightful: an angel came at night and let them out. That simple! And he tells them to carry on doing what they have been doing – in public. A closing thought: suppose the apostles had derided and demeaned the authorities, suppose when they were being imprisoned they had shouted threats at them, “God will get you!” Suppose they had acted arrogantly and belligerently; do you think God would have sent an angel to let them out? Do we perhaps fail to see the power of God exercised by the Holy Spirit in and through us, because we do not exhibit the Spirit of Jesus? May we ensure that we are not only full of truth, but also full of grace?

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9. Ungodly Society

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 9 : Ungodly Society  – Psa 12

Psa 12:1,2   Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbour; their flattering lips speak with deception.

There are times when, as a Christian in a society where only 5% of the population attend church (UK in 21st century), it can seem that we are a helpless minority watching a godless and unrighteous majority, and the state of society seems to continually decline and yet the world seems blind to the reasons for it. We might have thought that David, the great king, the man after God’s own heart, would have been a great force for good, leading the people before God, and yet that doesn’t seem to be the case at the point when he wrote this psalm.

Indeed we might say that from what he says, Israel is in a bad place spiritually: Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.” (v.1,2) That conveys a terrible picture of Israel at that time. David looks around and there appear there is no one left who might be described as godly and faithful and, indeed, lies and deception seem to prevail. Truth seems absent from the land. How far they have drifted from the Lord!

David watches and listens to what is going on around him and yearns for the Lord to intervene: “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue that says, “We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips–who is our master?” (v.3,4) What a summary of society. There are flatterers – those who boost up the egos of others, no doubt for gain. There are boastful tongues, those who speak out of arrogance and pride and they say, we are the voice of society and our way will triumph through our words, we say what we like for we are the top dogs in this world, we decree what goes, and our words prevail over all others. Sounds just like today’s modern world.

But David catches a sense of the Lord’s heart: “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “I will protect them from those who malign them.”  (v.5) Previously we’ve seen David acknowledge the Lord as a God of Justice who comes to remedy that which is wrong, and so now, here in this psalm, the Lord comes on behalf of the weak and needy who are oppressed by the rich and well off, those in society with power. This oppression is wrong and He will come and deal with it.

David acknowledges what he has heard as the word of the Lord: “And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.” (v.6)  To say that the words of the Lord are good and right are an understatement. They are flawless and perfect, as flawless as silver is when it has been purified seven times in the furnace. This word is exactly right.

Although he starts by mourning over the state of the land and the people in it, as so often happens by the time he has poured it out before the Lord, he comes to a place of confidence and assurance about their situation: “O LORD, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.” (v.7) Life in this sort of society can be very uncertain and unstable but with the Lord we can know safety and protection from these people and that is a confidence we need to have to stop us feeling constantly defensive.

Yes, David is real about the state of the land but his confidence is in the Lord. The reality is that, “The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.” (v.8)  When truth leaves the land, bad things, vile things, are honored and in such a society those who are ‘wicked’ – who have turned from God and who are self-centred, godless and unrighteous – strut about as if they own the world; but remember, they don’t, God does!

If you like this is a psalm about seeing what is happening in a godless society (as ours is today), recognising what is happening but putting our trust in the Lord. He will act in His time. We need to understand that even as Paul showed in Romans 1, what we are witnessing is ‘God giving them over’ to the consequences of their godless folly and so what is happening is, in fact, the judgment of God on our society. Our call? To remain faithful regardless of what everyone else does!  Our call? To be salt and light and there with answers when people cry for answers! May we be that!

23. Condemnation

Meditations in 2 Peter : 23 :  Condemnation

2 Pet  2:10-12     This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

Peter has just said, “the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” Thus when he continues, “This is especially true of those…” he is expanding his previous description of ‘the unrighteous’. Although we didn’t pick it up previously, he seems to indicate two sorts of God’s dealings with the unrighteous. The ultimate one is His judging them on the final day of judgment when they stand before him and will be condemned to hell. However there was also the reference at the end of that previous sentence: “while continuing their punishment.” This suggests that God does punish the ungodly and the unrighteous here and now.

The apostle Paul would agree with this way of thinking in his descriptions of God’s activity in Romans 1: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Rom 1:24) and “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” (Rom 1:26,27) and “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom1:28). In other words all of these increasing levels of sin are God’s punishment!!!!!

This increasing licentiousness is in fact bringing bad into the lives of these people and it is a direct outworking of God lifting off His hand of restraint. Now the more you turn from God the more this works, for this is God’s way of trying to show foolish men and women the error of their ways so that they may, perhaps, come to their senses and turn back to Him.

This is especially so, says Peter, of those who follow their corrupt sinful desires, are arrogant  and despise authority, say stupid things about angels and heaven’s activities. Now this isn’t a particularly easy passage to understand. When he talks about these people slandering celestial beings, we might say they are slandering all that goes on in heaven. Now if we put it in such general terms as that, we immediately see that this is exactly what the crusading atheists of today are doing. Without naming any well known and obvious names, sometimes the boldness and arrogance that is seen in their writings and their pronouncements on TV or in the press, are breathtaking.

Some of these men seek to convey a respectability, and one well-known American atheistic writer started his last book off with the tone of an elderly sage who was graciously tolerating these religious children who he hoped would one day grow up and abandon their silly ideas. However as the book developed the underlying harsh, arrogant, spiteful and hateful attitude in this writer became more and more obvious. These men are writing out of self-centred, godless arrogance and Peter says they are like animals in that they are operating purely on instincts and, by implication, not rationally and reasonably thinking through the issues. Although the media currently give these men credibility, one day we may look back on them and see them for what they are and will wonder how anyone ever believed what they said. It is interesting to note that one of these well known crusaders is particularly good at throwing up ‘possibilities’ and making them sound ‘probabilities’ if not facts! Yet I observe that other credible scientists now casually say, “Of course the idea of …. has now been generally discounted,” so that within a few years of them being put up even these ‘possibilities’ are seen for what they are – hot air!

Whenever we teach on cults, we always say, don’t only look at their teachings but also look at the people who started them off, see their lifestyle, see their character, and then judge. Look at the spite and venom that comes out of these people, these crusaders, and think again.

The reason these people that Peter is talking about, are doomed to destruction, is not so much the silly things they say or do, but the attitude that is fixed and unmovable and not open to correction. These are the people who will be condemned in the long ruin for these people will not come to repentance and will thus not be saved. (Please understand that we are not saying that individuals cannot be saved, but that if you absolutely refuse to ever think openly, refusing God until the end means you have no hope for eternity.) Shocking words, but the truth!

14. Life by Faith

Meditations in Romans : 14 :  Life by Faith

Rom 1:17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith

One of the strangest things about the human race, something that we largely take for granted, is that we have a moral outlook. Being human means we have ideas of right and wrong. In the modern age in the West, we may be confused and many deny there are absolutes of right or wrong, but in reality when it comes to ‘my’ own life, we do have clear ideas of right and wrong. It IS wrong for you to murder me, assault me, steal from me, and so on. Those things ARE wrong! Godless people have ideas of right and wrong as much as those people who would purport to be godly; the only difference is that godly people look to God for their definitions of right and wrong while ungodly people make up their own rules and work on what suits them for the moment, which may change from day to day.

The Bible uses this word ‘righteousness’ which we have twice in our verse above, to describe a ‘way of being’. In its simplest sense it just means rightness of behaviour as decreed by God. There is self-righteousness that we have referred to already which is rules and behaviour established around ‘self’, but the righteousness that the Bible refers to again and again, is behaviour that conforms to the way God has designed us to be or, if you like, a way of living.

In the Old Testament it was considered that you could be righteous by obeying God’s laws or simply responding to God. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9) i.e. Noah’s behaviour and his attitude towards God declared him righteous.  In the Law we find, “Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut 24;13) i.e. behaving in this way is an example of righteous behaviour.

There are clear distinctions between the wicked and the righteous: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” (Psa 1:5) and “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God (Psa 68:3). Living in the righteous way IS something that is a clear and tangible way of living: “Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous.” (Prov 2:20) and “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry” (Prov 10:3). ‘The righteous’ in all of these cases (and very many more in the Old Testament) are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright.

The only trouble about life in that period of Biblical history is that most people could not keep all the laws that came to Israel through Moses and which formed the basis for their understanding of righteousness. Paul struggled with this reality in chapter 7 of this letter. We may know the law, the rules of how to live according to the Creator’s design, but this thing called sin provides a stumbling block to getting it right. We fail and we feel guilty. We try harder and still fail to get it perfectly right. The bar seems to be constantly raised and we fail to clear it and feel bad – and so God feels at a distance.

And then someone comes and tells us about Jesus and tells us that he died for all our failures so that when we come to God He no longer counts them. Instead, when we simply come and say, I believe, He declares us righteous! But I’m not, we protest from inner reaches of honesty. No, but that is how I see you, He responds, and suddenly trying to keep the rules is no longer the important thing. We are overwhelmed by love and in our loving response to Him we inadvertently ‘keep the rules’ but they are no longer the most important thing; it is simply His love. The more we dwell on it, the more we realise it and experience it, the more we are changed, not by trying but by being loved.

Of course it is all a faith thing because we cannot see Him or hear Him audibly with our ears, but we read of Him, we sense Him, and we sense the truth He imparts to us. We sense His love and we are blessed and changed. Yes it is all by faith, it is all by simply responding to what He has said and it is simple! Everything we do as Christians, as His children, we do by faith and as we do it we catch the sense of being loved more and more.

I sometimes think that maturity is simply the ability to believe God when He tells us how much He loves us.  The echoes of Sin from the past challenges the truth of His love and wants us to resort back to self-righteous striving, but the Spirit is there to encourage us in the truth and as we are loved we change. We are righteous because He has said we are. We accept it by faith because that is what faith is – simply believing God and living it.

And that is what it is all about – living!  We live by faith. Love comes to us, we believe it. We respond to it and life flows. Suddenly it is a new life, real life. We are no longer struggling to ‘be someone’ for He has made us ‘someone’, one of His children. We find it hard to believe, yes, but it is true. It is hard to believe that His love is that good – but it is! We may trip over out feet a dozen times a month, but in the recognition and experience of His love, we are still in the category of ‘the righteous’ for no longer does it mean someone who achieves perfection but someone who has received perfection and is working towards an eternal perfection. ‘Working’ towards it?  All right, walking towards it in love!