31. Be Pure

Meditations in 1 John : 31 : Be Pure

1 John  3:3  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Sometimes I find myself looking at the lives of Christians, especially young Christians, wondering what I could say when I see the things they do and allow in their lives. Now it is very difficult sometimes to know whether things being done are simply cultural expressions of life today with no great significance to them, or if they are sin. Theologians often struggle when it comes to exactly defining what things constitute sin; they can define it as lawlessness and so on, but when it comes down to particular actions at specific times, it is not always so easy to say “That is wrong.” I know there are parts of the church that are negative about virtually any sort of pleasure and so in some quarters going to the cinema or watching DVDs is even prohibited, but that sort of isolation simply cuts off from the rest of society and means it is especially difficult to communicate with the world and impact it for good, and has very little to do with God’s definitions of righteousness or unrighteousness.

Perhaps this verse, although not specific about specific things, is helpful. But let’s not rush it; let’s deal with it in an orderly way. John speaks here of “Everyone who has this hope.” What hope is he referring to? The hope spoken of in the previous verse: “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” In other words, the hope we have is that one day we will be like Jesus. Now I’m not sure, if I’m being honest, if lots of Christians in their present state relish that thought.

Consider: Jesus is completely given over to his Father’s will, at whatever cost – including that of giving up his life for humanity.  Consider: Jesus put himself out to reach the poor, the sick, the destitute, the unbeliever, and even the blatant sinner. Consider: Jesus never got drunk, never over-ate, never had casual sex and never demeaned or spoke badly of anyone, except those in high places who were being hypocritical – and these he spoke fearlessly against. Jesus never lied, not even white lies, never sought favour, never pushed himself forward, was never violent, never competed with others and never sought to get to the top of the pile. Submit that ‘x-ray machine’ to many modern Christian lives and how will they show up?

Perhaps we don’t respond well to this sort of speaking because we don’t actually think much about Jesus coming back and us becoming like him.  John implies that if we did think about this then we would purify ourselves. Perhaps part of our thinking might be, well he’s not likely to be coming back for a long time and I’ve got to live in this world while I wait, so what does it matter. I can always be cleaned up at the last minute. I would suggest that such thinking is second class thinking. What if Jesus wants to “turn up” not in the skies tomorrow, but simply in revival power by his Spirit? I am told that often in such times of revival, the first part of it is the Saints on their knees in floods of tears, as the things they tolerated are exposed by the purity of the light of the Holy Spirit shining with a power that is only seen from time to time in what we call ‘revivial’.

When John says this person “purifies himself” there is an echo there of the Old Testament, carried on into the New: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.” (Jn 11:55)  There was an outer washing and also, as much as they could, a heart cleansing.  Peter spoke of being cleansed when we came to Christ: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22) Coming to the truth and now obeying it meant that their lives were being cleansed from the contamination of sin that we suffered previously, before we knew Christ. John has already touched on this in what may be considered takes place when we come to Christ in repentance and when we confess individual later failures: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)

This cleansing or purifying makes us pure like Christ, part of the general process of making us like him: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28)  So part of the thing of being remade in Jesus’ likeness means that the Holy Spirit is seeking to work the same purity that is in Christ, in us. When something is ‘pure’ it is being free of impurities. When we came to Christ, he declared us free in this way, but in terms of practical, daily sanctification it is an ongoing process.  Part of that process is becoming aware of things in our lives that are not Christ-like, and then part of that process is making an act of will that we will change and no longer tolerate the things that come to light, and the final part of the process is with the help and empowering of the Holy Spirit, replacing those things with Christ-like things.

On the negative side, the apostle Paul said, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5) Those are un-Christ-like things. On the positive side he then went on to say, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Col 3:12,13)  That is the purifying process. Let it work!

22. God of Mercy

Meditations in 2 Peter : 22 :  God of Mercy

2 Pet  2:5-9  if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment

So we took the hard side of these verses in the previous meditation. He had cited two specific historical catastrophes that we find in the early part of the Bible – the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Previously we consider the validity of God’s judgements but now we find something else.

We find two other examples, examples of God saving men from those catastrophes. First there was Noah who was saved from the Flood and then there was lot who was saved from Sodom. Prior to the Flood we read, “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:6) This was the Lord anguishing over His world which was on a runaway course with Sin. But then we read, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9)  That explains why the Lord saved him, but when we come to Lot I find Peter’s description of him very gracious.

When you read the accounts of Abram and Lot, we find Lot choosing what, at first sight, seems the best part of the land, when they divided it up, and we read, “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.” (Gen 13:12,13) Clearly Sodom had a reputation and yet Lot still went and lived near there. Not long later we find he is living actually in Sodom (Gen 14:12). By the time God’s angels go to Sodom we find, Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.” (Gen 19:2). Now the gateway was the place that the elders of the city sat to preside over the affairs of the city – that was the extent to which Lot had now gone. I always feel, therefore that Lot doesn’t show up very well thus far. He certainly does take care of the two angels and protects them from the crowd, even been willing to sacrifice the purity of his two daughters to do it.

But it is to Peter that we turn for a fuller picture: a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).”   Peter portrays a man who has got himself to a place that he regrets, where the society is godless and unrighteous and this tormented him. Well that is good news. That paints a better picture of Lot.

So the Lord saved these two men (and their families) from the destruction that He was bringing because they were righteous. But Peter hasn’t finished. In fact he is about to bring us to the climax of his argument for all that we have considered so far is the basis for a logical conclusion to follow. See his “If… then…” argument. if this is so, then.”   If God rescued those two men from the judgments He was brining in their days, then we may conclude something else. What is that?  It is twofold.  First, the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials.”   Even when the rest of the world is going bad, the Lord will save His righteous children from the midst of the judgment that He is bringing. That is the first part. The second part is, to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.”  The unrighteous may appear to be getting away with their unrighteousness but God is just waiting for the appropriate time to bring it to an end by bringing His judgment. The wicked will not get away with it!

These are the two crucial points that Peter has been working towards in this chapter. There has been a clear train of thought that started from, “I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” (1:14,15) He then emphasized that the gospel wasn’t made up and he knew that because they had been eye-witnesses to all that had gone on. More than that, it all conformed to the prophetic Scriptures which had come through prophets inspired by God.

Then, as a continuation from all that, it’s as if he says, “But be careful because not all prophets are good prophets and there will be those who will teach wrong things and seek to lead you astray – and you will see much of that in the world – but hold onto this truth: while the world is going astray, as long as you remain faithful, God will keep you and save you and bring you through whatever days of judgment He brings, and don’t worry about the unrighteous, God will eventually deal with them. Their time WILL come. Understanding all this – be at peace!” That is the gist of what he has said so far.

15. Wrath of God

We return to our series in Romans

Meditations in Romans : 15 :  The Wrath of God

Rom 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness

Mostly we associate ‘wrath’ or anger with unrestrained outbursts of extremely hostile emotions witnessed by words and even deeds. Because we are so often unclear on the characteristics of God we think of God’s wrath or anger in these terms but an examination of Scripture indicates that this is not so. The wrath of God is a cool, calm, purposeful bringing of judgment that is deserved. It is a bringing of justice. Yes God is upset by our foolish godlessness and unrighteousness and yes He does rise up to take action against such attitudes and behaviour, but God’s anger is never out of control.

Anger, a dictionary of pastoral ethics suggests, is… ‘a response to wrong doing… may be negative or positive, unloving or loving…. redemptive or destructive… a neutral emotion.’  Wrath it seems in Scripture refers to anger in action. It is right to feel emotional about wrong doing and anger is an emotion that says ‘this should not have been’ or ‘this should not have happened’. Anger shows an absence of complacency about such wrongdoing, and God is never complacent. Wrath is anger that has determined that action should be taken against this wrong-doing. It is anger moving into retribution or judgment or correction. God doesn’t get angry over our stumbling attempts as His children to get it right when we make mistakes.

From what Paul says in our verse today God’s ‘anger-in-action’ is directed at godlessness and wickedness. Wickedness is wrong that is done with evil intent. The intent of the person is to positively do evil, wrong, harm etc. It is righteous to be angry at wilful, positive-intent evil! God has made us with a wonderful world and with immense individual potential – specifically to be and do good, in the image of our Creator. To purposefully go in the opposite direction to cause hurt, harm or damage in a purposefully destructive manner whether it simply involves words or, more likely, specific acts or hurt or harm, is a cause for negative emotions of indignation and displeasure and these are the expression we call anger. God is right to show this indignation and displeasure when He observes this wilful godlessness and unrighteousness that we call evil.

Now we mustn’t confuse the outworking of God’s anger with the emotion of His anger. Anger is the emotion and the emotion, in some situations, is closely linked with His calculated decision to take remedial action. We do need to note in passing that when God brings discipline or judgement, it is a form of remedial action. It is either to stop permanently a course of action by removing the person who God sees will not change whatever He says or does, or it is corrective in the way it stops a person following the course they are following so that they follow a new path that is not hurtful, harming or destructive. Now we are going to see in the verses ahead that God takes action (wrath = anger-in-action) and the form of what we would call judgment is clearly corrective, i.e. designed to bring change of behaviour.

Thus we should see that although God’s wrath is obvious, it isn’t necessarily destructive, it isn’t designed to kill or destroy people. We will see that soon in the verses ahead. So, we shouldn’t misunderstand God’s ‘wrath’ and see it as a vindictive or spiteful act, which is what it so often is in human beings. God’s wrath is thus seen to be His anger or indignant displeasure that is of such a magnitude, because of the nature of the sin, that it results in action by God against those committing the sin.

Perhaps a final thing we should emphasise is that so often men’s wickedness is both an expression of and an outworking of men suppressing the truth. First of all they suppress the truth by denying it, denying God and denying the way He has designed the world to work best, and they then proclaim and live a lie. Second, in the way that they do evil and wickedness, they prevent truth, the truth of God’s design being lived out as He wants it to be. They stop goodness prevailing, and they stop love prevailing.

This is the truth of how God has designed us to live and they stop that happening. It is a wilful, self-centred, pride thing and it is something human beings do purposefully. We don’t accidentally fall into it. It may happen gradually as we take one small step after another into a life of utter godless self-centredness, but each step involves an act of will. It is not just one step but many steps, many times when we make these acts of will in rebellion against God and rebellion against the truth. It is a downward spiral away from the truth and into a life of deception that is destructive in every way. If we live like this then let us not make any foolish talk about God’s harshness. It is right to be angry against such lifestyles and it is right of God to take action against such things to protect His world.

43. What you say

Meditations in James: 43 : Beware what you say about others

Jas 4:11,12    Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?

A passage like today’s two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent?  Well he isn’t, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4).  He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.

So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people.  In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!

James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.

This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don’t say wrong things about other Christians. Now I’ve just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles.  Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip’ in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.

He says,Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It’s like we make a judgment, “I don’t need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You’re not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!

After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.

57. My Cause

Meditations in Job : 57.  I can justify my cause

Job 31:5,6 If I have walked in falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit– let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless

In his closing words in this final chapter of his speeches, Job goes through his life and justifies his actions to show that he is righteous. This is his central concern, that he has not strayed into unrighteousness. He starts with what he had determined: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” (v.1) He had determined a life of purity and righteousness. He explains his thinking: For what is man’s lot from God above, his heritage from the Almighty on high?” (v.2) After all, he says, our lives will be what God determines as He looks on who we are and what He sees in us. He deals with us according to what He sees:Is it not ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong?” (v.3) I know that is what He does, so I determined to avoid that sort of life.  Indeed, “Does he not see my ways and count my every step?” (v.4)  God looks on me and knows this is true.  That’s why, going on to our verses above, he asks the Lord to weigh his life and determine and declare that he is blameless.  He is so certain of this that he is willing to lay a curse on himself if it is not true: “if my steps have turned from the path, if my heart has been led by my eyes, or if my hands have been defiled, then may others eat what I have sown, and may my crops be uprooted.” (v.7,8) i.e. may others take what I have if I have been untrue!

In the verses that follow, he applies the same thinking, going through a series of wrongs that he is sure he has not done, and declares judgments if such things can be found against him. “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbour’s door.” (v.9) and “If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me.” (v.13) and “If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary,” (v.16) and “if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless.” (v.17) and “if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment,” (v.19) and if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court,” (v.20) and “If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, `You are my security,’ if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained,” (v.24,25) and “If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him.” (v.29) and “if the men of my household have never said, `Who has not had his fill of Job’s meat?” (v.31) and “if I have concealed my sin as men do, by hiding my guilt in my heart,” (v.33) and “if my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears, if I have devoured its yield without payment.” (v.38,39)

Thus he lists off all the things that he can think of that in his mind constitute unrighteousness, things he is certain he has not done! This is a very moral list and many of us might be challenged to wonder whether we could say such things.  All of these things he puts under a curse, so sure is he of his own right doing.

In it he makes a cry for God to come and give him an answer: “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defence–let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him.” (v.35-37) i.e. if only God would come and lay out His claims against Job, then Job would be able to give an account for everything he had done and thus be able to show that he had not strayed from the path of righteousness.

Now if we ever go down this same path, we are on dangerous ground.  Job is going to be chided for speaking without knowledge. He has focused on his righteousness but this hasn’t been about that.  He has misunderstood because he doesn’t have the counsel of heaven.  If there is a wrong in Job, this is it, but he doesn’t realise that yet.

Perhaps our biggest difficulty in the Christian life is that spiritual realities are invisible and we are used to operating in a material visible world.  That’s why the apostle Paul declared, “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7). So much of the time our walk has to be purely on the basis of what we believe we have heard from God so far, and that is not always easy.  If we start focusing on our behaviour we fall into a variety of traps. There is the trap of only partial truth, so we think we are all right but in reality we are blind to bad thinking and bad behaviour and it needs to Lord to reveal it to us. There is the trap of pride whereby we start thinking how good we are – especially in comparison to others – and we don’t realise that that pride is a sin. There is also the trap of self-effort whereby, just like the apostle Paul before he was saved, we work at what is, in fact, self-righteousness and that is a form of ungodliness as we forget about God in our endeavours.

Job has been speaking rightly about his life, but wrongly about what has recently been happening to him. His words may be right – but not in this context! He would have done better to have said nothing. Solomon understood this when he wrote, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). The more we speak, the more likely we are to get it wrong. Listen up!