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!

51. God’s Love

Meditations in 1 John : 51 : The Proof of God’s Love

1 John  4:9,10   This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

There are people who suffer from tunnel-vision. They focus on one little thing that has come to their attention and say, “God can’t possibly be a God of love if He lets that happen,” and totally ignore the vast wealth of evidence that points to His love. John distils God’s love down to one thing when he says, “This is how God showed his love among us.” He focuses us on THE one primary thing which above all else says, “This is an act of One who must love us with all His being.”  It is, of course, the fact that “He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

Now some of us may be so familiar with the Gospel that we’ve allowed the wonder of it to be lost to us. Others may be unclear about it and so have never seen the wonder. So, let’s see some of the basics of what John has just put before us.

We must start with a fallen human race, a world that was designed and made perfect but which turned away from God to self-centred and godless living and which, therefore, soon meant unrighteous living, living contrary to the design of the Maker.  Each and every human being is blighted, contaminated or infected by this self-centred, godless disposition and live out lives that are godless and unrighteous – and wrong! Justice (which we accept in any other context) demands that wrong doers be punished but the scale or enormity of the wrong of the human race is so great that we tend to either accept it as normal and forget issues of justice, or we just turn away from thinking about it because it is too big and too terrible to think about. Almost by definition, this self-centred and godless way of living means that God seems a million miles away (when you turn your back on someone you can make yourself believe they are not there – that’s what little children do!) Put another way, there seems a massive division between us and God. If we do think about God, it is with a sense of fear because deep down we know we are in the wrong and He seems so great, so awesome, so powerful, and so wonderful that our natural response is to scurry away or flee from Him.

So there we were alienated from God, guilty and stuck with it, helpless to make ourselves any different. Even when we tried to ‘be good’ it was still self-centred and it was still godless because He still seemed a million miles away. We were doomed to this for the rest of our existence. We needed help, we needed rescuing, and the only one who could rescue us was God Himself. But there is the problem, He is Spirit and He is in heaven.

It is at this point that we come to the beginning of the Gospels and Jesus being born inBethlehem. This was the Son of God who had existed from before the beginning of time in heaven with the Father: see John 6 about coming down from heaven and John 17:5 for Jesus’ reference to the glory he had before the foundation of the world. This is where we struggle in our minds, coping with the thought that Jesus the Son existed in heaven before he lived on the earth for thirty three years, two thousand years ago, but it is so. This is the plan originated in the godhead before even creating the world, knowing that if they gave us free will, we would turn away and Sin would become endemic in the world. Thus John reminds us that the Father sent the Son for us so that, through his death on the Cross, our sins could be dealt with, our guilt removed and our punishment taken so that, if we will be receive it, we can now receive forgiveness and a new Spirit-empowered life, a life that continues on this earth with the Father’s blessing and then on into eternity in His presence.

If you want to start debating love, and particularly the possibility of our loving God, give up! The truth that “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”   Whatever we may feel towards God will come either out of ignorance or from the knowledge that He has sent Jesus for us. Ignorance allows silly people to say silly things about God, but once the truth has come to us we realise that it’s all from His side – He loves us and has sent Jesus so that he could take all our punishment and sin and guilt and shame so that, now, we can be turned into children of God. How incredible! Hallelujah!

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!

7. The Plan Revealed

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 7. The Plan Revealed

Gen 12:1-3  The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation  and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

We indicated in the previous meditation that God had a plan from before the foundation of the world, a plan that would be worked out through all generations, coming to its climax in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ, but then continuing on through all generations until the time when He will wind up the world as we know it today. EVERYTHING that happens yesterday, today and tomorrow falls within that plan.

What actually is that plan? It is simply to draw men and women back into a relationship with God so that their lives may then be brought back, in a large measure at least, to be lived according to His original design for human beings. Why is this necessary? Because at the Fall we lost the relationship with God, turning our back on Him and going our own way. That is what the Bible calls Sin, that propensity within every one of us to be godless and self-centred. While we are like that, so much of what we do will be unrighteous, i.e. it is the opposite to God’s design for us, and is harmful, hurtful and destructive. Here in this paragraph is the overview of the Bible, the overview of history, the overview of this plan of God as shown in the Bible,

So how does Abram fit in this plan? In three specific ways: first, because he is going to be the first man who enters into a long-term relationship with the Lord. Then, out of that, he is going to provide an example of faith, an example of what it means to relate to the Lord. Then out of that, he will be the father of a nation into whom the Son of God will be born. That nation will have history and culture and that will provide the background for the Son of God coming to this world and living in it for thirty three years.

So here in these first verses of Genesis 12 we have something of this plan declared. Let’s examine it bit by bit. It is what had already been spoken by the Lord to Abram, presumably when he was back in his home country. It first requires Abram to do something. First there was to be a leaving: Leave your country, your people and your father’s household.” The future for Abram would mean leaving the people he had known all his life, leaving the life of idolatry. What would replace that, only time would tell, but it wasn’t just a leaving, it was living with a purpose; there was somewhere to go: “and go to the land I will show you.”  God had a place for him that would prove to be a place of blessing, a place where his relationship with the Lord would be worked out.  These two things are just the same for us. When the Lord calls us, He calls us to leave the godless and self-centred lifestyle we have known all our years and embark on a journey with Him into the experience of thekingdom ofGod where that new relationship will be worked out.

Then come the promises of God, the things He says He will do if Abram is obedient:I will make you into a great nation.” That, as we’ve noted before, will act as a spur to Abram but that is not its main point. It is simply a declaration of what God will do with him. Now note that there is no time scale attached to this, so Abram will never see this ‘great nation’ but he will be the start of it. In God’s economy, we may often be just the start of something that others will enter into.

Then comes a second promise: “and I will bless you.”  We may think that being made into a great nation is blessing enough but God has more than just making him into a nation: “I will make your name great.”  He is going to be famous. Is that just because he is to be the father of a nation or is there something more? “and you will be a blessing.”  No, it is more than just being a figurehead, somehow he is going to be a bringer or good for other people; his life is destined to affect others.

As we read on now we find that other people will be seriously affected by the way they treat Abram. “I will bless those who bless you.”  i.e. those who purpose good for Abram will have good done to them by God. “and whoever curses you I will curse.”  If people mean harm to Abraham they will find that God opposes them and will bring harm on them. Well those are promises that mean security for Abram himself and that is good, but there is yet something more: “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Notice the word, ‘through’. As a result of Abram people from all over the word will be blessed? How will that be? It will be as we said earlier: he is to be an example of faith and a provider of the nation into which the Messiah will be born. Hallelujah!

45. Sins Sorted

Meditations in 1 Peter : 45: Sins Sorted

1 Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are a limited number of verses in the New Testament that stand out as encapsulating the Gospel. Obviously John 3:16 is probably the best known one: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Next to that, our verse above should perhaps be a close contender. There are three parts to this verse and each part heralds an amazing truth which, put together, comprises what we call the Gospel.

It’s starting point is outstanding but tragically we perhaps take so much of what it says for granted because maybe these truths are too familiar to us. It speaks about Christ, the Messiah, the Sent One and Anointed One, the one sent with a task from God, the Son of God who left heaven and came and lived in a human body called Jesus. This Christ came and died. But everybody dies! Yes, but this person died on purpose for a purpose. His death, it is claimed, had an eternal significance; it wasn’t an accident but a carefully planned and orchestrated strategy of God. This death had to do with dealing with sins!

How we take sins for granted!  Sin has so permeated the world that we take it for granted, just like the air we breathe, and so we take sins for granted. It is sins that create the interest in TV ‘soaps’ or mystery dramas. Without sins we wouldn’t have these things. Without sins families would be happy and content and faithful, businesses would be honest and integrity the name of the game, and life would be free from threat and fear and untruth.

And what we don’t see so often is that sin always has its consequences. That, at least, is seen graphically in the TV soaps. We also fail to remember that every sin will be answerable to God and punishment awarded. If we punish criminals in courts, why should we think that the mass of sins that we accumulate throughout our lives – all the things we thought wrong, said wrong or did wrong, things we shouldn’t have done and things we should have done but didn’t – all these thing incur a penalty or punishment, but we try to forget that.

But then this verse tells us that Christ died for sins which is another way of saying, he was and is the eternal Son of God who could die in the place of each one of us, and take the punishment for any and every sin we will commit in our lives while on this planet. His death was the absolute punishment that would cover every sin. It happened once in time-space history some two thousand years ago. It doesn’t need to happen again and we can’t add anything to what he achieved.  THAT, heaven declares, is the truth, and all we are called to do is believe it.

But then there is the second phrase, “the righteous for the unrighteous.” Just in case you hadn’t taken in the wonder of what Christ did as I just explained, we are reminded that he was righteous and we are unrighteous. Note the two things. Jesus was the only man in history who did not sin: “just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15). He was exactly as the Old Testament offerings required – a sacrifice without blemish. He was righteous in a negative way in that he never sinned but he was also righteous in a positive way in that he did exactly what was required of God’s will. He was an obedient Son fulfilling the Father’s will, fulfilling the plan formulated before the foundation of the world.

But we are unrighteous. Sometimes, on a good day when the sun is shining and everything seems to be going well, we think we just might be righteous, but we kid ourselves. Lurking there, just waiting for the opportunity to express itself is this thing called Sin, that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. Wrong thoughts predominate, wrong words so easily come to our lips, and wrong actions so quickly follow. Every time we criticise, gossip or judge, we have fallen into the murky depths. We are unrighteous, but then The Righteous One comes and declares us righteous in God’s sight when we surrendered to him, sought his forgiveness and his sovereign leading. Suddenly, but only then, he declares us righteous – at least in God’s sight. (We have yet to work it out in our practical lives).

Which brings us to the last phrase: “to bring you to God.” Again, because it is so familiar we take it for granted, this sense that we are alone in the universe and if there is a God He is a million miles away.  Indeed deep down we are glad of that because deep down we know we are guilty and we fear the thought that we will be answerable to God. We were separated from God by our sins and our guilt and something had to happen – something beyond us, because we were incapable of changing – and it was Christ coming to die in our place as an expression of the Father’s love. There came a time when the Holy Spirit convicted us of the truth about our lives and like a drowning man or woman we grasped for the wonder of what was being presented to us – there IS a way for you to be forgiven, there is a way for you to be reconciled to God. Jesus has done it on the Cross and now all it requires is for you to believe it. THAT is the Gospel! Isn’t it wonderful!

Just should you be reading these things for the first time and it is the first time you’ve heard these things, it can’t remain just passive knowledge. It is true and it requires a response from you, a response that acknowledges your Sin and your sins and your need of God’s help, a response that declares belief in all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross, a submission to him and a request for forgiveness, acceptance and help from God Himself on the basis of these truths. May it be so!

18. Rewards

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 18 :  Rewards

Eccles 2:26 To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind

It is interesting; even the man or woman who is far from God knows some truth. We can’t but help know truth because it is the way God has made us. Here is Solomon, jaded by a largely godless life and yet as he works through the truth of life, he can’t help himself but arrive at truth. He knows it because he’s come from it. In our society there are many elderly people who know the truth because they heard it when they were children and went to Sunday School. Yes, when the older generation were young it was the usual thing to go to Sunday School and there they heard and learnt things they’ve never been able to quite forget.

Others have had ‘chance’ encounters with religion and briefly they heard the truth, and it is still there in the back of their minds. Oh yes, God has a strange way of confronting us with the truth. Solomon felt moved in his old age to write these things down. He had written the Proverbs and the Song of Solomon; he was a prolific writer and even in old age he can’t stop himself and so he finds himself writing this rather jaded diatribe about life, but even in the midst of it the truth rises up and has to be written.

Put in its most simple form, it is that God blesses the righteous and curses the unrighteous. Or, if you like, in purely materialistic terms the person who lives God’s way has a good life and the person who doesn’t has a wearisome life. Why is that?  Partly it is the way God has made us and partly it is to do with the relationship we have with him.

Two lives. Let’s take the sinner or the unrighteous man first. This is the person who is self-centred and thus godless and who seeks to live their way and only their way, living for personal peace and comfort. This person ultimately has no restraint, they have nothing on which to fix their standards or their ethics, and so they find themselves cutting corners in life, doing others down, ever pressing themselves upwards, and all the while the edges of what is permissible gradually move more and more until there are no boundaries. This person is ever striving to achieve, striving for more, and all the while deep down there is an unhappiness, a discontentment, a feeling of being jaded with life.

The best they feel they can get is just to work and work to get more, but deep down they know they it is all a waste of time because they cannot take it with them, so what’s the point? Perhaps if I work harder, perhaps if I achieve more, perhaps if I can climb one more rung up the social or business ladder, I will feel good, and so they strive and strive, but the feeling good never actually comes. They try to cover it up and pretend it is not there, but the feeling of lack of fulfilment and lack of purpose is still there, because after all is said and done, without God that is all there is. Quite often along the way, the Lord brings circumstances into their lives that are designed to drive them to Him, but like Pharaoh with Moses, they harden their hearts and refuse to respond and come to Him. But on the last day they will never be able to say they didn’t know.

But then there is the ‘righteous’ man, the man or woman who pleases God. How do people please God?  They are honest about who they are; they acknowledge their sinfulness, their godless tendencies and their unrighteous tendencies and they recognise their need. Then when they hear about Jesus Christ, they come to God with penitent, open, seeking hearts, hearts that are willing to surrender and give themselves to Him for Him to do whatever needs doing. They are people who are then forgiven and cleansed and adopted as God’s children; they are people who receive His Holy Spirit. They are people who start learning about God’s way of living from His word; they are people who start learning to live in response to His Holy Spirit’s guidance.

As they start living with God’s standards, they find that a life of honesty and integrity, of love, care, thoughtfulness, consideration for others, acceptance of others, and plain goodness, is good! They find God speaks to them and guides them. They find that His guidance means they do things well or good things happen and they are blessed. They find that living as a child of God is good and wholesome and enjoyable. They catch a sense of purpose and as they go with the will of God for them, they realise it is good and a blessing. They find a sense of fulfilment in flowing with that will of God and they marvel at the wonder of God’s love for them.

Did you notice in this paragraph above there was no spiritual language? Yes, they probably read their Bible to find out more of God’s way for them, they probably pray as they talk out their lives with their heavenly Father, they probably worship as they let their hearts rise up in adoration for God, and they probably share God’s love with others, because it is the natural thing to do. But those are all additional expressions of their lives with God. The important thing is that they live, and living with God is good and they are blessed. Knowing God is a life transforming thing. It’s not just for Sundays or for Quiet Times; it’s for the whole of life. Their relationships, their learning, their working, are all transformed by the love and blessing of God. Oh yes, the statement, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness almost seems an understatement, but perhaps that was because it was coming from the pen of a jaded man, but it is still the truth, even if it doesn’t say the half of it!

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!