14. A Broken Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  14. A Broken Body

Luke 22:19  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

There is something about this phrase from Jesus, “This is my body given for you.”  I always thought it was ‘this is my body, broken for you’ but it isn’t there in the text although the language of action conveys that, as Jesus then broke the loaf and gave it to his followers. The giving that Jesus refers to must surely mean his giving himself to the will of God to die on the Cross, particularly when he goes on to speak of the cup of wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk 22:20)

There are two thoughts about the body that flow from this. First it is all about self-sacrifice. Without doubt, not only was the Cross a sacrifice of the Lamb of God (see Jn 1:29,36) for the sins of the world, but the Cross was also a picture of supreme sacrifice as Jesus’ words of anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane show (Mt 26:36-44). As we have noted earlier in these studies, Jesus came to do his Father’s will, as painful and awful as it was about to be. A willingness to die for the world was at the heart of Jesus’ mission.

For many of us ‘church’ conveys peace, comfort, nice songs or chants, liturgy, and joyful Sunday mornings but actually the attitude of willing self-sacrifice for the needs of those around us should be a characteristic of this body. Sacrifice means time, energy, work and a willingness ‘to go’, to volunteer, to be available to the Lord for whatever He wants to use us for.

The second thought that flows out of these thoughts is related to the above one which would have preferred peace and comfort and, above all, lack of change. Many of us feel upset whenever change is mooted but this loaf was broken so that it could be shared around, and that spoke of change. We have already referred to the growth factor in these studies about the body of Christ, and growth means change. There is something very intimate when a small group comes together and church life is expressed, but if it is genuine ‘life’ then the group will grow and develop and change.

Whereas in a small group it is easy to minister to one another and have words of prophecy brought, say, when the numbers grow, that is difficult to administer (though not impossible). And then someone gets a vision for a church plant and volunteers are called for to start the new plant, and people leave to do it. Uncomfortable change. We miss people and miss their contributions, but these things are necessary if the church is truly to grow. Constant ‘breaking up’ is an essential for kingdom growth.

5. A Serving Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  5. A Serving Body

Eph 4:12  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

Some of these meditations are bound to overlap as we mention various things and then build more on them in later studies. We have at least twice spoken about Jesus’ body that was formed when the Son left heaven and was born on earth with a human body, come to do the will of God. Now it is easy to speak of ‘doing the will of God’ but what does that mean?

Well if we take an earlier verse from Ephesians it might shed light on this: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Now if we changed the words, “to do good works” for “to do the will of God” or even “to serve the purposes of God,” we have a variety of expressions that all point in the same direction but what they do is link the concept of ‘doing the will of God’ with the idea or action or service.

Expanding on the point we made from the beginning, the whole point of Jesus having a human body was to enable him to interact with other human beings to bring changes to their ‘fallen’ lives – which often involved healing but also, essentially, brought about changes of mind, attitude and heart so that they came into the arena of God’s kingdom. As he did this, so he was working out the will of the Godhead, planned from before the foundation of the world. It was a one-man strategy to touch and change the lives of others so that they in turn could touch and change the lives of even more. Thus today there are millions upon millions whose lives have been transformed and form ‘the Church’ and (hopefully) express the kingdom of God.

We will in the next two studies consider how this ‘service is both inward and outward but for the moment we remain focused on how it is upward. We are what we are and we do what we do because of the Godhead. It is all because of what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit agreed would be the plan to redeem fallen mankind, a mankind that they saw even before creating us, that would fall because of free will giving way to temptation, and yet free will was essential if love was to operate, under girding everything. Without it we would not truly be human beings, capable of freely receiving and giving love – or indeed rejecting it and withholding it.

And so here we are today, with free will, drawn by the love of the Godhead, to express that love back as we respond to them and do what they put before us, prompting us, guiding us, inspiring us and empowering us to do the same works Jesus’ single body did (Jn 14:12).

19. Holding to the Plan (2)

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 19.  Faith and holding to the Plan (2)

Heb 11:24,25   By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.

A couple of studies back we noted Joseph holding to ‘The Plan’,  the plan spoken out by God to Abram, Isaac and Jacob – this is my land and now it will be your land, for ever, and you will multiply and become a great people. Over four hundred years have passed – four  hundred years, how long that sounds! That was the same length of time that passed between the end of prophetic revelation in the Old Testament period to the start of the events recorded in the Gospels in the New Testament! It’s like us thinking about things happening in the early 1700’s, but with God time is not an issue, His plans and purposes remain regardless of how many years pass.

So Moses is living some 400 years on from the Patriarchs but he knows his history, he knows that he is a Hebrew, an Israelite as they will become. Somehow he’s done his history and presumably kept contact with his natural mother even though he was being brought up for the first forty years of his life as a Prince of Egypt.

Stephen in Acts 7 tells the story: At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.” (Acts 7:20-25)

Now of course we know that it all went wrong and the next day one of his own turned on him and it became public knowledge so that he had to flee from Egypt and spent the next forty years looking after sheep in the desert, until God called him to look after over a million human sheep in the desert. But it really all happened on that first day when, as Stephen put it, “he decided to visit his fellow Israelites”. Up until then he had been living a life of privilege behind palace walls, with everything laid on for him. Perhaps it wasn’t that he had kept touch with his family but had just learned about them in his private tuition in the palace and, knowing his own history, how his own palace mother had taken him out of the Nile, he decided to go an look for himself and visit the people from whom he originally came. When he arrived at where they were he saw they were slaves and he saw one of them being mistreated by a slave driver and at that point he stepped over the line and stood for being a Hebrew. All of his history, the history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came rushing back from the lessons he had received and he knows these are his people, a people with a special relationship with God, Yahweh.

Yes, at that moment he ceased to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and was a Hebrew with a history that could not be ignored. At that moment he decided to stand for them and went too far and killed the slave driver. As the Hebrews writer puts it, “By faith Moses, …. chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”  The ‘pleasures of sin’ were simply the life of luxury and leisure in the royal palace, self-concerned and godless.

Now there is a possible course of action that we don’t usually think about. He was a Prince of Egypt, no doubt a powerful man. The slave driver is likely to be just another slave as far as Pharaoh would be concerned, two a penny. So he died, so what? These things happen. He could have faced it out, but he didn’t. These were his people and he found himself going back to them the next day, at which point he has to remonstrate with two Hebrews who are quarreling and who turn on him. This is the point of decision. He could have brazened it out – “Who do you stupid slaves think you are? Don’t you realise I am a prince of Egypt, get back to you work or I’ll have you killed.” In his role that was a very real possible way through this – but he’s a Hebrew himself, and it’s got to him, and so “He regarded disgrace ….of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (v.26) His reward? To be counted as one of the people of God. At that moment he made the decision to leave; he could no longer handle this, being a prince in Egypt while his own people were slaves. He ran, and it was an act of faith. Whatever the future held it must be better than the reality I now know exists here in this land.

But there is an aspect of the record we have missed: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” (Ex 2:15) We have just examined what could have happened but for that to happen Moses would have to deny his people, deny his own birth and stand up in this situation as an Egyptian who cared nothing about the Israelites – but he couldn’t!

There is an unusual phrase I have taken out from the middle of that verse 26: “for the sake of Christ.” Now of course he would not have known about Christ, not known about the coming Messiah because that was something to only be revealed through the prophets in the centuries ahead – but we are told elsewhere in scripture that Moses was a prophet, a great prophet and so even here at this early part of his life, he senses there is something more to life, something more of God’s plans. He’s learnt about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he’s no doubt seen the God factor in their histories and as he catches that in his spirit, something says, “There is something more” and even that is just a glimmer of the revelation that is to come. We’ve seen it in Abraham who looked for a city with God, a dissatisfaction with the present and a yearning for what God has on his heart, and Moses has it as well.

So this forty year old embryo prophet, who doesn’t realise it yet, senses something at this turning point in his life, something of the eternal will of God and in a moment of desperation, he goes for it, he rejects his life in Egypt and has to flee.  He’s caught something from God and he goes for it. That is faith.

Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling us and making us Christians, we too catch this sense, the will of God. The enemy will challenge it and maybe we will be confronted by difficult circumstances where we have to either own up or shut up, we either stand for the truth or we join the rest who deny truth. We ARE the people of God. Pharaoh doesn’t like it and will threaten us. ‘Pharaoh’ is the world attitude today that denies God, challenges Him and His people and we resist him in the same way Moses eventually came to resist the next Pharaoh, with the will of God, the word of God and the power of God, but we’ll only do that when we’ve made the same decision by faith that Moses made – I am one of God’s people. I am not a prince of this world. I will do His bidding and leave the rest up to him. Amen!

16. The Knowledge of His Will

Meditations in Colossians: 16. The Knowledge of His Will

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.

Now we looked at the subject of the will of God in the very first meditation in this series because Paul opened this letter with, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” (v.1) He was able to say of himself that he was an apostle because that was God’s will and God had brought it about. So now it’s like he says to the Colossians, “I want you to have this same assurance about knowing God’s will for your lives.”

In that first meditation we considered some general aspects of the will of God and said that, at least, in Scripture there is a strong sense of God knowing and God going ahead of our lives, plotting them out for u, to make them the best that they can be. We also noted that it appears that He wants my cooperation in brining about His will in my life; it’s not just something He will force into my life. We also said that He points us in the right direction by His Holy Spirit when we surrender to Him, a direction that He knows will be the very best for us, the individual, and a direction that will be most fruitful and bring most blessing to His people.

What we did NOT do in that first study was outline specific things that are the will of God for ME. Yes, this has to become personal; this is not about generalizations, this is about how this specifically works for me as an individual Christian. We will look at what it means in the next study, when he speaks about spiritual wisdom and understanding but for the moment let’s consider three areas of my life as a Christian today. We will consider me as a person, the relationships I have, and then the activity that He might lead me into.

First of all, me as a person. God’s will is that He wants me to know who I am and what He has done for me. God’s specific will for me is that I will no longer be a wanderer who is unsure of themselves but that everything I think, say and do in the future comes out of the assurance that I am a redeemed child of God, adopted by the Father through the work of Jesus on the Cross. I am washed, cleansed, forgiven, righteous and holy, and am indwelt by His Holy Spirit. I do not have space here to justify all of these statements but they ARE true as the New Testament testifies. This is God’s will for you.  The starting question: are YOU sure of these facts, so that you are secure in who you are, as God has made you?

Second, me as I relate to others. None of us live in isolation. I recently saw a TV program  about a family that had relocated on an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean. The couple had three young sons, one of whom was now reaching adolescence and wanted something more, and so they decided to send him to boarding school back in the UK. What stood out from that situation was how that isolated life is so alien and how this young man was going to have to adapt when he came back to a country full of people. No, we live in a community, whether you consider it to be the church or the local town, village etc. and there we have to relate to other people.

And there, when we became a Christian and started reading our Bible, we came to realise there was a tremendous amount about relating to other people. At the heart of it is that you have received God’s love through the work of Jesus, and through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit and, as we have noted previously, if “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) then love is the primary characteristic of His Spirit within us, and all He wants to express through us is an expression of love. That takes us back to meditation number 8 about ‘visible love’. We have a lifetime to study what the New Testament means when it instructs us to ‘love one another’ and a lifetime to work it out in practical everyday terms. This is God’s will for you.  Question number 2: are you consciously working on that aspect of your life?  Remember, it is God’s will for you.

Third, God’s activity through me. We might call this service or ministry but as we go on we’ll see Paul’s reminder that God wants us to be fruitful. We’ve already noted in this series a verse that always stands out to me as of major significance for us: “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) The outworking of our salvation is not that we just sit back and wile away every day until we get to heaven, but that we receive His guidance and His gifting to enable us to do the “good deeds” (Mt 5:16), which are simply the things He gifts us to be able to do to bless the church, bless others and bless Him.

Just a reminder of what we said in the previous meditation and quoted above, that whatever He leads us into will be the direction that He knows will be the very best for us. We will feel most fulfilled when we are doing the things He leads us into. We will be most blessed when we are working out these things in and though our lives. This is God’s will for you. So, question number 3: have you opened your heart in full availability to Him and said, ‘Lord, please take me and use me to bless others’?

And to come back into context, remember that Paul says he wants the Lord to fill is with the knowledge of these things which, we saw in the previous meditation is all about abundance that overflows. May that be so for each of us.

10. The Word of Truth

Meditations in Colossians: 10. The Word of Truth

Col 1:4-6   we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints– the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

We are familiar with understanding the word ‘Gospel’ to mean Good News but here Paul also calls it “the word of truth” and it is worth pondering on the meaning of that. In prophetic circles we speak of someone receiving “a word”. We don’t mean that they have received a single word but that they have received a collection of words – from  a sentence to a whole collection of say ten paragraphs – that form a message from God. But note also that when Paul describes this word he calls it “the word”. It is not just a word which would make it just one among many but it is a single unique message from God and there is no other message like it. But more than that, it is the message of truth which implies that it is a unique message that somehow encapsulates all that is vital in and for life.

Truth? That which conforms to reality, which is exactly true and does not in any way deviate from that which is. So here, says Paul, we have this unique message from God that conveys or sums up the will of God, the reality of the plans and purposes of God. You want to know if there is a God? Ponder on the Gospel message, Could this just be the planning of human beings or has it got an origin that goes beyond us?  What sort of God is there if there is one?  Ponder on the Gospel and see a God of infinite compassion, a God of love and mercy who plans from before the beginning of time to redeem mankind that has abused its free will and got into slavery to this thing called Sin, this inescapable propensity of godless self-centredness.  You wonder if there is any escape from this self-centred godlessness that seems to lead to unrighteousness and self-destructive thinking and behaviour?  After you realise that our state is helpless and thus hopeless, we hear the Gospel and grasp for it like a drowning person.

This word tells the truth? Listen to Paul elsewhere: Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved……  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-4) There was the Gospel encapsulated.

It is all about Christ who the Gospels reveal is the unique Son of God who came to earth from heaven. Here he lived, growing from a baby to an adult and then at about the age of thirty started three years of the most remarkable ministry that the word has ever seen. The apostle Peter described him in his first sermon to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, first in human terms: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Later he said the same thing to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38).

That is all implied in Paul’s summary and is a prerequisite to the fundamentals of why Christ came: “Christ died for our sins.” Peter spelled it out again and again: “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. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2:23,24 to the Jews at Pentecost) and “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead….. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10,12 before the religious leaders) and “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen….. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:39,40,43 to the Gentiles)

But the outworking brought so much more. We have seen the facts (the truth) of what happened – Jesus came, revealed the Father, was crucified and rose from the dead, all, we are told, the means to bring about the forgiveness of our sins. That is what HE did but then there is OUR response and then what HE does as a response to us! Our response, to the conviction by His Holy Spirit, is to surrender to Him, believe in Jesus (an early act of faith) and receive what he then imparts – forgiveness, cleansing, adoption and the impartation of what becomes the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. Thus we are ‘born again’, made new, and He reveals a plan and purpose for our lives that we live out in our remaining years here on earth.  But it doesn’t stop there. We have received eternal life and the guarantee of a glorious future with Him in heaven after life on this earth. This is the package that we call the Gospel. This is what has happened to Jesus (it is true!) and this is what has happened to us (it is true!)  This is the word of truth.. Hallelujah!

1. By the Will of God

Meditations in Colossians: 1:  By the Will of God

Col 1:1   Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God

Well over 50% of Paul’s letters start with this sort of greeting, acknowledging who he Paul is, someone called “by the will of God.”  Because of these similarities, when you come to write about these different letters it is difficult to write originally, but perhaps it is a wider challenge to all of us not to take for granted the things we read regularly in Scripture or the things that occur more than a few times..

We call these writings ‘meditations’ but they are often more ‘studies’. So often I try to meditate rather than study but as I progress I find I need to check out verses one against another and it turns more into a study. As we start this new series in this letter from Paul to the church in Colosse I have a feeling we may gravitate between study and meditation. Sometimes I go for ‘big sweep’ meditations taking in a verse or a paragraph at a time. Here I feel we will slowly meander through this letter picking up and studying or meditating upon a word here and a word there.

How often we stumble across this phrase, ‘the will of God’. How often in Bible Study groups I have heard the ponderings: does it mean what God would like to happen or does it mean what God makes to happen?  Can we thwart the will of God? Did Paul have any choice in becoming an apostle? Do I have any choice in becoming whatever I am in the Church?

The first thing that strikes me on this occasion is that the phrase, ‘the will of God’ seems to convey a strong sense of foundation to life. Paul, for instance, wasn’t a shopkeeper or, perhaps to be more Bible-specific, a full-time tentmaker, and he wasn’t these things because somehow God wanted it like that and it would appear God engineered things at least to bring that about. We know much about Paul but there is also much that we don’t know about him which leaves us speculating about parts of his life

He was a Jew, a Roman citizen, a Pharisee, well educated. How much say did God have in all those things? Well, to Jeremiah He said, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5) In other words, even before he was conceived and certainly before he was born, Jeremiah was marked out to be a prophet.  Paul himself wrote, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight,” (Eph 1:4) and theologians argue whether that means that God simply ‘knew’ what we would eventually do and become, or that He made us do and become. Indeed, in that same letter Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) There, at least, is a strong sense of God knowing and God going ahead of our lives, plotting them out for us to make them the best that they can be.

So God knows, God sees and God knows what could be the very best for us. So will He force that on me? It appears not, it appears that He wants my cooperation, for He has given me this thing called free-will, the ability to choose.  The classic quote here has got to come from Joshua’s challenge to his people: “if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15) We can choose, it appears, whether to follow God or follows myths. Ultimately it is down to us.

But then we find at least one instance of God giving a prophet direction and when that prophet turns round and runs in the opposite direction, God sends some severe circumstances to bring him to himself. That prophet of course was Jonah. And then you examine God’s encounter with Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3 & 4) and you find the Lord laying out His plans for Moses and not taking ‘No!’ for an answer!

Paul’s case had been a pretty severe and dramatic calling, being blinded by God on the road to Damascus and it was then only when he was utterly helpless that the Lord sent little Ananias who was told, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15,16)  Did Saul who became Paul have any choice? Oh yes, but perhaps it was more a case that God chose a man whose heart was for him already (although misguided) and who just needed turning in the right direction.

I wonder if that is how it is with us? The Lord sees and knows our potential; He knows our heart, our inclination and He calls us and points us in the right direction by His Holy Spirit when we surrender to Him, a direction that He knows will be the very best for us, the individual, and a direction that will be most fruitful and bring most blessing to us and to His people. But clearly we can back-pedal for some do. Clearly some can fall along the way after having had the most amazingly powerful and effective ministries. Would God make that happen? No, that would fly in the face of His love and goodness, but it does happen for the landscape is littered with casualties.

How fragile this ‘will of God’ appears to be. We can receive it or we can refuse it, it appears. Is it God’s will that people refuse Him and refuse to  receive all His goodness for them so that He makes people be unbelievers? Peter had thoughts on that: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)  But not everyone does come to repentance so there is surely free will and free will does mean real, genuine ability to choose contrary to God’s wishes. No, God clearly has wishes and knows what is best. That is His will. And then He offers that to us and we are allowed to choose. And that is His will – He allows and sometimes grieves.

But if this talk of being in God’s will, living out my life and exercising the ministry He has given me, brings a sense of stability and security, it also brings a sense of challenge and responsibility.  Comfortable and uncomfortable, this talk of ‘God’s will’.

22. Love is

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   22. Love is

John 14:31      the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

We have commented that sometimes these ‘themes’ run all the way through John and at other times they are simply a short burst of light in one place. Well, the word ‘love’ appears 27 times, I think it is, in John and the word ‘loved’ another 21 times. Having reached chapter 14 in our studies I found I was arrested by this short but strange verse above which links love and obedience. In the verses just before this one Jesus has spoken about his ‘going away’ (14:28,29) and then says, I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me.” (Jn 14:30) That in itself is a strange verse because it says although Satan is coming to do something soon, he has no hold on Jesus. The implication has to be, in hindsight, that this refers to the coming time when Jesus will be arrested, tried and condemned and put to death on a cross. Satan may provoke all this but the implication is clear that Jesus is allowing this to happen and, we know, that is so that the will of God planned before the foundation of the world can be worked through and salvation brought through the Cross.

So, implies Jesus, by observing all that I am about to go through the world must learn of my love for my Father that will I will go through the Cross because it is exactly what my Father wants, it is exactly His will. My love for him must be seen through my obedience of Him.

Now love, in John’s Gospel, is seen in two ways: first in God’s love for us, but then it is seen in us, for Him, by our obedience. To receive His love we have to be obedient to His calling and His directions and that obedience reveals His love now in us, reflecting back to Him. Well we said above that the words ‘love’ and ‘loved’ appear nearly fifty times all together in John so we haven’t enough space to cover them all, so let’s just pick out a few to consider.

Our starting place must be to see His love for us in that classic verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) Later in his first letter John will write, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) This is the way round it is. God first loves us and that melts us so that we can come to love Him.

As the end approaches we find, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (or to the uttermost)” (Jn 13:1) One commentator’s version puts it, “although he had always loved his own people in the world, decided to show them what his love was like in a way which went to the ultimate limit.” Now we may take that to refer to going to the Cross but what he then did immediately after this verse should also be taken into account. He strips down and as a servant washes their feet and then proceeds  to eat the Passover Supper with them and explain many things of the kingdom that are found nowhere else.

This is Jesus sharing his life with them and revealing the sort of people they are going to have to become to follow him. This is the love of the Godhead opened up and revealed – the Son is given from heaven, he enters into intimate relationship with his followers, reveals his servant heart, and literally lays down his life so that we might be saved and be able to come into that same close relationship with the Father.

It is with this in mind that he instructs his disciples: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (Jn 15:9-17)

Watch his teaching:

1. Love is revealed in the way Father loves the Son and the Son loves us.

2. We are to live in the light of this love at all times.

3. Proof of that is obeying God in all things at all times – but that brings joy.

4. Jesus love in us is a sacrificial love that puts others first.

5. This love takes us from being servants to friends of Jesus, chosen by him to come into a deep relationship out of which fruit flows.

6. As we live like this the Father will give us whatever we ask as we live in His will.

7. His will? To love one another!

Love starts with the Father, is seen in the Son and is expressed towards us. As we encounter it and allow it to melt us, so we are transformed and express it. Being the sinful beings that we are though, it isn’t something we only do naturally, it is something we have to actively put on (see Paul in Col 3:14). We may not feel (emotion) loving all the time and so it is simply an act of the will to be obedient to the Father’s leading and teaching. Love and obedience are inseparable as John shows in his first letter again and again.

Love is shown as the essential character of God (God IS Love – 1 Jn 4:8,16) revealed in His sending His Son (Jn 3:16) and in Jesus laying down his life for us (Jn 13:1). As we receive his love and receive him into our lives so this love becomes a basic feature of our lives and behaviour and as such is seen in our obedience of him. Amen!

5. Long-term Plan

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  5. God’s Long-Term Plan

1 Pet 1:18-20   you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

Every now and then as I am reading the Bible a word or phrase stops me in my tracks. Reading the other day, in the verses above, it was that phrase, “chosen before the foundation of the world.” I marvel every time I come across this idea, that God’s plan of salvation was not something dreamt up along the way when mankind seemed to be going off track, but was something He worked out BEFORE He made anything. But it is not just one odd verse, it comes up again and again:

Jn 17:24  you loved me before the creation of the world – Jesus with Father in loving relationship.

Eph 1:4   For he chose us in him before the creation of the world – agreed how we would come, who would come

Rev 17:8  The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world – saw who would not come

Rev 13:8  the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world  – agreed Jesus would die

2 Tim 1:9  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time – agreed God’s grace would be given us

Tit 1:2  eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time – agreed he would give us eternal life

There it is; including our verse above, seven times in the New Testament, references to the fact that the Godhead planned this before anything about Creation happened. But the more you think about this the more amazing it becomes. God planned for Jesus to come as a sacrifice. This means that God knew that we would fall and that sin would enter the world.  And still He went ahead and created this world as we know it. He made us in His image and yet He knew from the outset that we would turn our backs on Him.

Now in a previous series of these meditations I have pondered on the will of God and one thing we do know about it is that it is perfect. In other words you cannot improve upon it. So although God did not invent sin, He knew that it would soon exist in any human being He made with free will. Sin is simply self-centred godlessness, and He knew that if He gave us free will, we would be free to turn away from Him, become self-centred and godless and therefore our thinking, speech, and behaviour would become unrighteous (deviating from Gods perfect design for us).

Now there is something else about the Lord that appears in Scripture: He appears to know everything before it happens and yet He also seems to live in the present. He knows long term history before it happens yet when sin starts to abound on the earth He is grieved. Perhaps an answer to this quandary comes from the thinking of C.S.Lewis who imagined history as a line like a road down below with God looking down on it from about, outside of time. Thus from above He can see the whole scope of material time-space history and knows everything that is coming and everything that has been. But the truth is that He is God and the Bible shows us Him interacting with His world and so He is not only above it looking down on it but He is also ‘down here’ being part of it, and in that sense He experiences it ‘as it happens’.

Thus (because He is God) He both knows it all AND experiences it in a moment by moment experience. Thus one part of ‘Him’ knew that the Cross of Calvary would have to happen at a given point of history but the other part of Him (that lives in the here and now)  experiences it as the here and now. Thus for Jesus the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, he came down from heaven (see John’s Gospel, chapter 6) and knew in his mind what would have to come when he reached the age of (about) thirty or thirty three, but the actual experience of it was a real to him as it would have been to you or me.

Was the crowning work of salvation the fact that God comes and dwells in all believers, and is able to do that because of the work of the Cross, and thus is able to share intimately with us as we experience the day by day living out of the time-space experience? Perhaps that was stage one, stage two being us going to be with Him in eternity (heaven) and be one with Him there.

Yet the marvel of all of this is that the Lord didn’t merely plan it as an academic exercise before He uttered a creative word, but planned a material history in which He would come and express Himself and live out and share in the experiences of each of us. That is what love does; it wants to become united with the object of love. It an only be that love that energises the Godhead to share in and experience our lives which are always (even after conversion) so far short of perfection. But He is here, sharing with us in our trials and tribulations and our struggles and strivings to help and bless us, for that is what love does. How incredible! Hallelujah!

26. The Judgement of God

Meditating on the Will of God: 26:  The Judgement of God

Rom 1:24, 26,28    Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another….. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones….. 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.

Although I didn’t state it at the beginning of this set of meditations, I felt that I wanted to approach this subject, rather than going down a carefully delineated logical path, more like a person wandering rather aimlessly around an art gallery, coming across paintings that are different. Yes, they are linked by the medium used, the fact that they are all framed and hand on walls and so on, but they are individual. I have sought to pick up links of thought but basically wander around this subject, which is why I  have looked at a subject, moved on, and then meandered back to it.

I say all this to explain where we are in this present study. We have lightly looked at the subject of God dealing with bad people and we noted Ezekiel’s question and answer: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23)  but I want to return to the general subject of the judgment of God and I want to approach it from a angle I have never seen before.

In an earlier meditation we noted that Scripture declares that God is perfect and all His ways are perfect and we suggested that perfection means that it is impossible to improve on it. Therefore if God is perfect, and the Bible says He is, then everything He thinks, says or does is perfect and cannot be improved upon. It is the very best when you take all things into account. And there is our difficulty because we have such limited knowledge, and therefore we struggle to understand sometimes, or if we don’t understand we simply (and I suggest callously) take at face value what we read without any thought, and so if we read about God killing someone we just look and say, “God is holy, he was wrong and so he deserved it,” but God isn’t like that. We’ll come back to this thought, but again and again He tries to avoid the ‘death outcome’.

No, take this in, this incredible thought: God is perfect and so nothing He thinks, says or does can be improved on – including acts of judgment! If we were able to see with the knowledge of God, we would conclude that whatever act of judgment was before us, it was essential in the face of all the facts!  Now I know that is so contrary to what so many of us think, but it is THE only logical outcome. What it leaves for us, is a massive challenge to see what is the thinking behind the will of God that results in death and destruction.

I would like to wander into this minefield using the verses above from Romans 1. There are most revealing. Three times it says that “God gave them over” to some perverted behaviour or perverted thinking. What does that mean? It suggests that so much of the time, in some way or other, God restrains human sinfulness. I can only assume He does this my speaking into our minds either directly or through His servants. The result is restrained sin. Thus far and no further. But then there comes a time when a people or nation so set their hearts of going away from God and from His laws, that He says, “Very well, if that is what you want, go for it,” and He lifts off His hand of restraint, if you like, and allows society to ‘do its own thing’. That doing its own thing is a form of judgment. It is self-imposed but it is nevertheless judgment. God is bringing discipline on a people by allowing them to see the folly and pain of going their own way. It is what our own society is going through today.

The object of such a course of action is, as we have just said, to bring a people to their senses and realise their folly and turn back to God. Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-24) shows this perfectly. The son wants to turn away from the father (God) and so the father allows him to do that. The son goes away and lives a dissolute life until he reaches rock bottom and realises his folly and returns in repentance to his father.  That epitomizes this strategy perfectly. But notice the almost gentle bringing of pain to the son. It happens gradually and it happens because he brings it on himself.

Because we live in a fallen world where Sin prevails and Satan provokes, in order for human beings to be brought back to their senses, God often uses this strategy. It is this strategy that is behind the apostle Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church in respect of a man committing sexual immorality: “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor 5:5) i.e. put him outside the protection of the church, leave him to the ways of the world and the enemy until he comes to his senses and repents  (which 2 Cor shows us he did).

What we have seen in these examples are times where individuals are allowed to go into deeper trouble until they come to their senses but, of course, that will not always happen, as we saw in one of the early studies about Pharaoh. What is incredible about the plagues, apart from the fact of them, is that they gradually intensified and became worse and worse thus making the recipients of them gradually aware that this is the hand of God and it was going to get heavier and heavier until they repented. Pharaoh appeared to repent and then backtracked and ended up dying – but it was his choice! Thus this form of disciplinary judgement allows the individual to face what is happening and come to repentance in a gradually worsening situation.

24. A Teachable Spirit

Meditating on the Will of God: 24:  A Teachable Spirit

Ex 4:12-15   Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.

We have said before that when you are considering these things it pays to be repetitive. We have also noted that when it comes to the will of God, it is not natural for us to know and understand it; it needs to come by revelation. Also at the heart of the experiences of Jesus’ followers was the call to be a disciple, a learner. But we have also considered the issue of having a hard heart (as in the case of Pharaoh) and so when you put all these things together we see that to be a Christian means to be a learner and to be a learner means we must deal with any signs of a hard heart within us. We’ve also noted that in the day in which we live, a self-centred attitude predominates, often heard in the words, “Don’t you tell me what to do!” Such a person is locked into a self-destructive lifestyle where the blindness of sin prevails.

          We have chosen the above passage from the Lord’s conversation with Moses, very simply because near the end of it twice the Lord says He will teach Moses. Yes, He is aware that He is sending Moses on a humanly impossible task but He will go with him, He will do miracles through Him and now, He will teach him what to say and what to do. Now if that was true for Moses, I suggest it is also certainly true for us. We blunder through life and we get it wrong. We say wrong things and upset people, we do things the wrong way and get in a mess. We do need help, we do need teaching how to do things better – and God delights in teaching us.

          James in his letter wrote, 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) I have included all those verses because they say so much about this. First of all, ‘wisdom’ is the ‘knowledge of how to…’ It is knowing how to speak or knowing how to act, that is appropriate for the situation. That is wisdom and the Lord says He will give generously (plenty of it) without finding fault (for He understands our shortcomings and that is why we are asking for help, after all).But the person asking must not doubt because if he does then he will not stick to what he has been told by God. If he doubts that it is God or doubts what God says, he will half-heartedly go about it and will end up all over the place like a boat tossed around in a storm. If he is a “on one hand this, but on the other hand that” sort of person that is being double minded and not a man of faith and so will be unstable. No, in summary, God delights in teaching us how to speak or act but we have to be open and obedient.

          Now what is interesting, and what we so often forget, is that those words in James follow other verses and really should be seen in the light of those verses: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4) The context for needing wisdom is the context of trials, of difficulties, where our faith is tested as God works the process of sanctification out in us, that develops perseverance – stick-ability – and that will develop maturity. In those situations, and they crop up again and again in life, we need wisdom, we need God to teach us how to handle the difficult situation.

Elsewhere the apostle Paul wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10:13)  A temptation is the other side of the coin from a trial. God brings a trial and He may allow Satan to bring a temptation but the truth is, says Paul, that whatever temptation comes it is common to us all and God won’t let us be pushed further than that with which we can cope. Moreover (as we seek Him – implied) He will provide a way so we can stand in the face of it. It, so often, is simply knowledge (realization of what is happening) and understanding (coming to see the issues clearly) and wisdom (knowing what to do) that will see us through this test, this trial, this temptation.

But back to our starting place, we will only be able to do this if we have learnt to have a teachable heart, or a teachable spirit. If we have learnt that God knows best and God has the answers for us, then we need to be open to receive those things from Him, we need to let Him teach us. In the previous study we noted the Lord who corrects or chides us and teaching includes us being corrected and taught the right way to go. Solomon wrote, “A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (Prov 15:5).  Discipline is simply training and it is a foolish person who does not have an open heart to be taught. The heart is indeed deceitful (Jer 17:9) and so our inner self so often denies that we are not open to be taught, but when we do that we do it by making excuses that the form of correction that we see coming is coming from a person who is also less than perfect (because God so often uses people to teach us). But these are just excuses and they deceive us and cover up our lack of being open to being taught, to be trained, to being disciplined, to being corrected, and to being shown a better way to live than the way we are on at the present.  We need to be taught, and if anything rings true here, we need to go to the Lord for His wisdom as to how to deal with our lack. May it be so.