1. The Church, his body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  1. The Church, his body

Eph 1:22,23   the church, which is his body

Some today may take this concept for granted, but for others it is either new or foreign. I can remember the first person I heard teaching on ‘the body’, an itinerant preacher called Campbell McAlpine, and it was back in the closing decades of the twentieth century. Since then, through the charismatic movement in those same decades, its teaching filled out some more, and yet it is, I believe, as relevant today, if not more so in a day when frequently it appears ‘church’ or ‘religion’, that fills so many TV channels, is presented so often by suited men in expensive settings, conveying a religion that is ‘success’ and ‘try harder’ orientated, a poor reflection of the wonder of what is conveyed in the New Testament.

Perhaps we try too hard and on the world’s terms, and then wonder why in the West at least so many denominations continue to diminish with their obituaries being prophesied by the pollsters. The church is not big buildings or big organisations, it is not TV stations or radio studios, it is not individual ‘big people’ with big incomes and ‘big ministries’, it is all the believers who, corporately, and to use the concept we are going to follow and meditate upon from the New Testament, are referred to as ‘the body of Christ’. In fact, as we go on in the days ahead, we will see that every single, humble believer is a member or part of this ‘body’.

Now right from the outset, let’s state what will become obvious as we look in detail at what the New Testament has to say, that the picture of ‘a body’ is used to convey thoughts about the life, action and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are two other concepts that are used to refer to the church in the New Testament. The first is ‘a temple’: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16 etc.) and that is all about revealing the glory of God. The other picture is of a bride (Rev 19:7,8, 21:2) which is all about being united with Christ at the end.

But the concept of the ‘body’ is all about doing: “when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me… Then I said, `Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God.” (Heb 10:5-7) The ‘doing’ is the will of God. We see it in the Gospels as, through one single human body, Jesus served the will of God as he brought in the kingdom of God on earth, and then the teaching of US being his ongoing body being worked out is seen in the rest of the New Testament. Put aside all thoughts of buildings, organizations etc. YOU, the believer, are part of this body.

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39. The New Order

Meditations in Hebrews 8:    39.  The New Order

Heb 9:15   For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

The Link: Ah, we have another of those link phrases, “For this reason.” Verse 13 had spoken of the blood shed under the old covenant and verse 14 had brought us through to the parallel work of Christ whose blood was shed on the Cross at Calvary so that our consciences could be freed from guilt-laden striving to appease God by self-centred works of religion, and freed to be able to relate to and serve God without fear and trepidation.

The Cross Opens the Door to our Inheritance: So, because Christ has done this on the Cross he can now be, “the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (v.15a) i.e. he can now mediate or administer this new covenant so that we who God calls (and we respond to Him) may be able to receive an inheritance that has been promised by God from long ago, an inheritance that has an eternal dimension to it.

Just in case we hadn’t followed the link between what Christ has done on the Cross and what he now does helping us enter into our inheritance, he backs up the reason with, “now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (v.15b)  He can now work on getting us to receive our inheritance because his death has meant that we have been freed from both the guilt of our sins and the sinful habits that produce the individual sins, which were still products of that old covenant.

Jesus, the Ransom:  Before we pass on, note the word, ‘ransom’. Jesus taught, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)  A ransom is a price paid to set a prisoner free. We were prisoners to guilt and to Sin and so, by giving his life to take the sentence of death that justice demands for lives of sin, that life dealt with all the problems of justice and so acted as a ransom that released us prisoners from our constant sense of guilt and our ongoing sinning.

The Working of a Will: Now, having spoken about our inheritance, he piles on the teaching by talking about wills: “In the case of a will,  it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” (v.16,17) Interestingly the Greek word for ‘will’ is the same word as ‘covenant’, but we use ‘will’ here because we are familiar with the procedure that follows a death and the will being administered. The will of a person only becomes operative once the person dies. A death has to be involved. “This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.” (v.18) This is his rabbinic teaching kicking in again. To receive the inheritance of freedom from condemnation under the old covenant, a sacrifice had to be offered, a life given, a death involved.

Blood & Covenant: He explains how Moses, after having proclaimed all the laws of the Sinai covenant, ratified the covenant with the blood of calves (v.19) and then declared, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” (v.20) Of course there is a similarity here to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) If Moses had known what was coming, he might have inserted the word ‘first’ in front of the word ‘covenant’. He emphasises the role of blood in the establishing of a covenant: “In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (v.21,22) Although we normally see this as applying to the Levitical Law, it is interesting to note that when God and Abram entered into a covenant, animal death and shedding of blood was involved – see Gen 15:8-19. To create a sense of solemnity, the creatures were cut in two and two lines made between which the participants to the covenant walked – walking between death to acknowledge a new life agreement.

Blood = Life: Perhaps we should emphasise this matter of ‘the blood’. I believe talk about ‘the blood’ when sharing with non-Christians is highly inappropriate, but it is the language of the Old Testament that is used symbolically to refer to ‘life’; when the blood was shed, the life was given. Ultimately the message of the Bible is that a life of sin deserves to be forfeited and, as we are ALL sinners, all of our lives deserve to be forfeited.

Lives of Sin: I deliberately refer to a ‘life of sin’ because before we came to Christ that was the sort of life we lived, one that is characterized by self-centred godlessness; we elevated ‘self’ to the level of deity and took God’s place as the arbiter of right and wrong and we determined the sort of life we considered acceptable. Because it was ours, we made excuses, but nevertheless it was a life that was self-centred and godless, and a life where, if you watched it second by second throughout however many years it lived, you would see example after example of thoughts, words and deeds that were not only self-centred and godless but they also harmed other people and the world, and of course they rejected God. The ways we do these things are innumerable and the impact we have on people and sometimes the  world itself, is immeasurable.

The Penalty = Forfeiture of Life: Oh, someone cries, but do any of these things, even all together warrant, as you put it, someone’s life being forfeit? You miss the point in the big picture and we saw this at the very beginning of this book, that ‘life’ comes from God. He alone is the source of life and without His word and His power and His presence, ‘life’ as we know it ceases.  Now my definition of Sin has been self-centred godlessness and both parts speak to rejecting the presence of God, rejecting the provider of life. So imagine the picture of the dock in a courtroom that we have used before. The charge is that you have rejected THE Life-giver and therefore you should be allowed to follow that through and take the effects of that – and die. That is the sole case that justice presents. You chose that, so live with it – and die! You rejected the Life-giver so trying living without Him in eternity – you won’t.

The New Possibility: But, says God, the Son has already died for you, believe that and I will channel you into a new existence where all your self-centred and godless choices are transferred to my Son’s account and your account is cleared of any such folly. There is no reason why you should not live in harmony with me and receive my ‘life’ and experience eternity – and thus we receive His Holy Spirit and ‘live’ and keep on living in what is called ‘eternal life’. That, I believe, is how it really works.

1.6 God’s Will and Purpose

Meditating on the Judgments of God: 1.6  God’s Will & Purpose

Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We’ve just noted in the previous meditation that God rules on a throne in heaven and a ruler rules with a purpose always. He establishes laws and seeks to maintain order in his kingdom. Now I’m told that painters using water colours lay a background ‘wash’ on the paper, let it dry and then start the painting proper with all its details on top of the wash. As we approach the whole subject of God’s judgments there is a background factor which is easy to forget but which should be held in mind at all times, and that is that God has a will, a purpose, i.e. God has desires, wishes, plans, purposes for His world, things He wants to happen. These are the things that form the basis of His rule from His throne in heaven.

Now we have already considered some of the characteristics or attributes of God – love, goodness, wisdom, perfection etc – and His will is simply an expression of all these, and having just considered the fact that God rules on a throne from heaven, we noted that He works to bring righteousness and justice, although previously we didn’t have time to think much on them.

So God works to bring righteousness on the earth. What actually is that?  If it is His will to bring about righteousness on the earth we ought to understand what that means. Let’s give a very simple definition:

  • righteousness is behaviour that conforms to the way God has designed us to live.

 When He created the world we read it was “very good” (Gen 1:31) – including us.  He made us to live in harmony with Him and in harmony with each other and with His world.  Now any behaviour that is contrary to that is unrighteousness.

Now of course we live after the Fall and so God’s will and God’s activities are given over to seeking to restore us to the place we were in before the Fall. Of course He starts by having to work with sinners, those who have fallen, and even after He has saved us we will still be battling against that old life.  God’s way of redeeming us, or buying us back from that old sinful, unrighteous life, was to send Jesus to die for us to pay the penalty for every sin we’ve ever thought, said or done, and then when we repented and received that work for us personally, He put His Holy Spirit within us and we were born again – washed, cleansed, forgiven, adopted and empowered to live the new life.

Once that has happened His intent is to help and encourage us to live out that life, a life living in harmony with Him, with other people and with His world, i.e. to live righteously because we have been restored to the position of righteousness. Thus when you read in the Bible references to ‘the righteous’, that is us Christians.

Now it may be that you are thinking, ‘Hold on, what does all this to do with God’s judgment?’ Well perhaps there are two answers to that. First, when we are thinking of God’s activities, and especially when we are focusing on this subject, we can become judgment-focused and that is all we see – an angry God who deals with the sin of the world by bringing judgments – but that is only part of the picture. The ‘wash’ in the background on which all else is painted, is God’s will which is to bless and restore whoever will come.

God’s word through Jeremiah, although first meant for another context, is applicable here: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:11-13)  That does sum up God’s will for each one of us – to prosper us and give us hope and a future. That hope and future is about living righteous lives, lives lived in accord with God’s perfect design for us.

But there is a second answer to that question about blessings being spoken of in the same sentence as judgment, so to speak. In that previous study on the throne of God there were two words that go together that we noted above: righteousness and justice.

  • Righteousness is for those who will respond to God and repent and turn to Him to receive all of His goodness.
  • Justice is for those who refuse to heed Him and turn back,

and that’s where judgment so often comes in. It is a necessary part of bringing justice.

We need to reiterate what we said in that previous study to ensure we take it in. In His role as Judge we may suggest that:

  • 1) He assesses all that happens and determines whether it was righteous or unrighteous (i.e. conforming to His original design, or not!),
  • 2) He decrees what should happen in respect of those events, and specifically in respect of the people involved, and
  • 3) He then acts in accordance with that decree, and this we see as the act of judgment that appears in the records of Scripture.

When He assesses, decrees and acts in judgment, it is to

  • bring justice in respect of the offender and
  • also for the rest of the world.

In other words, justice brings right order and outcome to the offender and everyone else. As we will see as we progress through these studies, acts of judgment come with a variety of reasons or anticipated outcomes:

  • to stop wrong behaviour in an individual,
  • to punish an individual,
  • to correct the individual, and
  • to act as a warning and teaching to all onlookers.

When justice has been done, we can say, ‘The right thing has been done!’, it was just and fair and right. That is justice and it helps bring righteousness to God’s world.

But remember, the focus is not on the hard aspects of the judgment, but on God’s blessing of His world. We may not have seen this before, but judgment also is blessing. The removal of a terror or threat of evil by the judgment, blesses the world by leaving it free from the effects of that terror or evil. It stops and removes that terror or evil and leaves the world open to be blessed by all of God’s goodness. Evil prevents God’s goodness flowing and so sometimes it has to be removed so that His goodness can be received. That we will see in future studies.

5. The Gift of Repentance?

Meditating on the Will of God: 5:  The GIFT of Repentance?

Rom 2:4  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

We made reference in the previous study to what is often referred to as “the gift of repentance” but the truth is that that phrase never occurs in scripture. What the Bible does do is show us a God who does things that are meant to lead us to repentance. Repentance is an act of the will whereby the sinner turns around and turns away from their sin, confessing it and acknowledging their need of God’s help.

Note the elements of what we have just said. Repentance involves change, a change of heart and attitude and then, subsequently, of lifestyle. Second it is an act of the will, it is something we choose to do. Third it is an acknowledgement of wrong and, fourth, a desire to turn from that wrong. Fifth, it recognizes our own human inability to change and therefore our need of God’s help to bring about that desired change. We cannot do it on our own. We can desire to, we can want to, we can determine to, but unless God acts on us by His Holy Spirit, we cannot bring about that change in reality. Thus we find within those elements a combination of the work of God and the desire of man.

Our verse above shows us one of the things that should bring us to our senses and to repentance. God expresses “kindness, tolerance and patience” and the foolish sinner  construes these as God’s weakness, whereas as we saw in the previous study from Peter’s first letter and third chapter, God holding back His judgment is simply Him giving us further opportunity to repent. We should realise that the time ahead of us may be limited and come to our senses and repent. That’s why He is giving us this time.

What other things work in us to bring us to repentance. Consider the apostle Paul’s words: “yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor 7:9,10) One of the elements of repentance we noted above is expressed here as sorrow.  Now what was it that caused sorrow in these Corinthians? It was Paul’s words in his previous letter.  The word of God comes to us and convicts us, the truth is placed before us and we are moved by it as the Holy Spirit applies it forcibly within us. 

Suddenly the word before us seems to take on a new life and power and it impacts us. The effect it has is sorrow within us. We realise our failure and our need to bring about change and our need of God’s help. This sorrow is godly sorrow, sorrow brought about by God, and Paul says it is good because of the end result it brings about, our repentance. There is also a counterfeit sorrow. Yes, it is a genuine sorrow but its source and effect are not godly. It is what Paul calls ‘worldly sorrow’, a sorrow that is self-centred, a sorrow that I have been found out and revealed for what I am, and it is a sorrow that grieves that I am being exposed. This sorrow, which we said is self-centred, does not bring repentance but simply an inner grievance and that quenches the Spirit and cuts off spiritual life.

When Paul was instructing Timothy in his role as a leader he said, “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:25,26). Here there were people who opposed the Gospel. Paul reminds us that such people are blinded by Satan to do his bidding. As Timothy brings God’s word to these people it is “in the hope” (it is not guaranteed) that this word will have impact in them and will bring them repentance. Now the word in the original  there rendered ‘repentance’ has a meaning more like ‘conversion’ but of course conversion involves repentance.

To speak of God “granting” them repentance simply recognizes the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction. The process involves God speaking to the individual – although they are not aware that that is what is happening at the time – and as they take note He leads them on to a place where they find that the truth is so strong that it stirs a strong emotion within them for the need of change, that we call repentance.  The truth is that there will be many who ‘hear’ His words calling to them but they will not respond and so do not come to the point of conviction. Why some respond and some don’t is a mystery.  The responders get led by the Spirit to a point of conviction and with that comes repentance. God’s help IS needed for the process that leads to conversion but that does not mean He holds back help to stop others, simply they have not asked for it, for at some point they drew back and turned away and refused to heed His calling voice.

The reality is that we may (we do) have a responsibility to respond to the voice of God but when we do, even then it is the work of God that makes us new people, and that was not because we deserved it but simply because loves to give it freely: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus ….” (Eph 2:8-10)  We can come to crisis but unless God would move, we are stuck there at the crisis point, still not able to move. As the apostle Peter preached he declared, quoting the prophet Joel, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  (Acts 2:21) – He convicts, we repent and cry out – He does the rest. Yes, we have a responsibility to respond to God’s voice, but once we do, it is all the work of God to bring that initial change in us. Thereafter it is a partnership that requires our acquiescence to His leading, and that we’ll look at in the days ahead. 

3. Living in a Fallen World

Meditations in Ruth : 3. Living in a Fallen World

Ruth 1:3-5  Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

We have an expression don’t we, that “everything went pear shaped”. Well that certainly applies in this story. This family settle in Moab. There seem to be no suggestion of it being a temporary stay, ‘Just until the famine passes’. No, they settle and the sons marry Moabite women and ten years later they are still there. (Perhaps ten years is not a long period when you are waiting for the economy to pick up and a famine to be overcome.).

Part of this is down to Naomi. Whether she went there at her husbands behest or she was the one who instigated it, we don’t know but we are simply told that after they settle in Moab her husband dies and it is then that her sons marry Moabite women and that they then live on there some ten years. The moment her husband died she could have said to the boys, “We must go home. If you are going to be married you ought to have good women from Israel.”

No, there may not have been a specific prohibition against marrying Moabite women but the Law was certainly very negative against Moab: No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.” (Deut 23:3,4)  They were clearly prohibited from coming into the godly assembly (which is maybe something we should remind ourselves of later in this story), and so if you married one you would always be an outsider. However that does not seem a consideration when they are in exile because of a famine. They have lost their roots and they do just what seems expedient.

Beware doing what seems expedient in the circumstances! It was what Sarai urged Abram to do when she appeared not to be able to conceive, to go and take her maidservant and have a child through her. The whole Israel-Arab conflict has resulted from that foolish action. Expediency ignores the will of God and fails to seek the Lord. ‘What seems right’ should always be measured in the light of the word of God and the will of God and should be subject to the Holy Spirit’s direction.

Saul was another one who did what he considered was expedient.  He offered sacrifices when Samuel appeared to be late in turning up but he wasn’t of the priestly family and had no right to do such a thing (see 1 Sam 13:8-14). Years later after Samuel had died, again Saul did what seemed expedient, he sought out a medium when there seemed no one else to bring God’s guidance, despite the Law prohibiting (Lev 20:27, Deut 18:9-13) this sort of thing (see 1 Sam 28:4-)

Ignoring the will and word of God and doing ‘what seems expedient’ always causes problems. Within ten years these two couples (who remain childless) are reduced to two widows. Naomi is now in this foreign land with no husband, no sons, and just two daughters in law who are foreign women, coming from families that will have their own ‘gods’. It is not good!

Now our temptation at this point is to try to see who is to blame and whether it was God who brought these misfortunes (we have already done the first thing). We see the same thing in Jesus’ disciples: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9:1,2). In the book of Job we find a similar thing in respect of Job’s comforters who declared, ‘when things go wrong it is a sign of God’s judgment on sin. Things have gone wrong for you, so it must be that you are a sinner.’

Well, things go wrong because people sin – yes, sometimes, but sometimes it is because others sin or it’s just living in a fallen world. There is no doubt that since sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and they fell from the perfection and purity that they exhibited as God’s perfect beings, that ongoing sin in mankind seems to have a variety of effects so that the world simply, ‘goes wrong’, and there are upheavals in ‘nature’, sickness strikes randomly, accidents happen and things go wrong in relationships and there are wars, family upsets, etc. etc. Of course there is also Satan working in the background to bring destruction and promote sin.

Does God bring judgment? Yes, He does. Does God bring discipline? Yes, He does. Was what happened here specifically the act of God? We are not told. What we can surmise is that at the very least the protective hand of God was no longer over this family. In the same way that we find in Romans 1 Paul declaring that in three instances “God gave them over to…”  (Rom 1:24,26,28) and we see that God lifts off His restraining hand from society so that sin runs rampant and acts as a form of discipline. So, according to the Law of curses and blessings (Deut 28), behaviour does provoke the activity of God that may involve His specifically declaring good – blessings for obedience – and also there appears His activity that brings bad – curses for disobedience – and that may come as specific acts of God or at the very least God removing His hand of protection or blessing.

The uncomfortable truth is that God has given us free will and where we exercise that negatively we have to live with the consequences that flow out of it:A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)  But is that the end? No, God will still be working to bring us back and bring good out of it, as we will see in the coming verses and chapters of this book.