1. Loved

Meditations in Malachi : 1. Loved

Mal 1:1,2   An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, `How have you loved us?’

Studying Malachi comes as a challenge. I don’t think I would have written these meditations two years ago, but over the past two years I have come to realise something very clearly: God is a God of love (1 Jn 4:8,16)  The apostle John declared what the rest of the Bible testifies to, that God is love. In Ex 34:6,7 the Lord reveals Himself: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” The truths there are reiterated again and again and again throughout the Old Testament and then the New. Many of us just don’t notice them but they are there. Now if “God is love” as John testifies it means that everything about God is love. Everything He thinks is love, everything He says is love and everything He does is an expression of love.

Now this has certain consequences. The first is that we need to read the Bible through this filter, and that would be a major change for many of us. It means that we need to learn to view everything but everything that we read throughout the Bible from this perspective – that God is love. and that what we read about Him and His activities is an expression of love. Now what follows from this is that love can be expressed through a number of ways. Imagine a human father. He works long hours to provide for his family. That is sacrificial love. He comes home and romps around on the floor with his young children. That is intimate love. He sits quietly and listens to the complaints of his teenager and makes helpful comments. This is caring and wise love. He lays down house rules that will be kept. This is orderly love with authority. On rare occasion he will punish one or other of his children because he wants to stop a potentially harmful pattern of behaviour developing in them. This is the love of discipline. Sometimes he stands back and simply watches from a distance as his children struggle and this is the love that gives space to learn. Sometimes he hands over the keys of his car to his teenager. This is the love of respect and acknowledgement of maturity. These are ALL different expressions of love, and we need to realise that even hard actions of God seen in the Bible ARE expressions of love.

Now I think it tends to be more of an American expression rather than a British one, but I am thinking of a father taking the son out to the woodshed where, traditionally, a beating would take place. Does the father love the son any the less because he is administering painful punishment?  No, if anything it proves exactly the opposite. Because the father cares for the son, cares what will happen to him unless this wrong behaviour is corrected, he takes this painful action.  Malachi has the feeling about it of a ‘trip to the woodshed’! The Lord is speaking to Israel because of what he starts out by saying: “I have loved you.”

Now the tense here is an ongoing one so it doesn’t mean, “I loved you once in the distant past.”  It actually means, “I have loved you always, right up to now.”  The problem isn’t with God’s love; it is with Israel’s  perception of Him, which we’ll go on to see in the next meditation. Why is the Lord speaking words that, the more they go on, the more they make us feel defensive? The answer to that is because He wants to restore the relationship that they once had, and that needs action on Israel’s part. The Lord has done everything He can and now it is Israel’s turn to do something – but hold that before you; it is because He wants to restore the relationship between Himself andIsrael.

Does the Lord want to punish them? Of course not! Does any father want to punish their child? Of course not, because on the negative side they don’t want to risk the child moving even further from them, and on the positive side they would much rather the relationship was restored to what it was before there was any disharmony caused by the child’s misbehaviour. What we have in Malachi is a simple list of things that Israel have done or are not doing that means the relationship has been broken, things which need remedial action.  It is as simple as that!

Why, therefore, do so many of us feel so negative and defensive when we come to Malachi?  Because guilt produces shame, fear and defensiveness. We don’t like being confronted with our imperfections but such ‘imperfections’ break down the relationship we have with the Lord. Indeed they may also be an indication of attitudes that have grown within us which go on to show that we have already moved away from the Lord. Remember, therefore, as we work our way through the verses to come, that this comes from a God of love who wants to reinstate a loving relationship between us. There is nothing onerous about being loved. It is not as if God is trying to reinstate an oppressive regime. No, He simply wants Israel to come back close to Him so that He can easily impart His blessing to them.

18. Claiming Wisdom

Meditations in Romans : 18:  Claiming Wisdom

Rom 1:22,23.   Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

We started off the previous meditation by noting that so often we think our thinking is right and good, i.e. we think we are wise.  Yet we went on to note that Paul said that our thinking (without God) is futile or hopeless, and those descriptions surely cannot stand alongside wisdom! Yet part of the deception is that we think we are wise; we think we know about life and the world and so we feel confident but, sadly, it is a false confidence.  As I listen to or read the modern crusading atheists, there comes over a confidence. When I wrote an appraisal of one of these men, I found myself writing, “He gives himself the position of almost divine authority. You wonder can he possibly be wrong!” This is a man who seriously ‘claims to be wise’, and certainly wiser than those of us who hold a biblical faith!

But Paul says that these people who failed to see God in His Creation, having become futile in their thinking, have also become fools. Now my dictionary describes a fool as a person with little or no judgment, common sense, wisdom, etc.” That is what a fool is. In the Old Testament we find, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psa 14:1, 53:1). A fool, says the psalmist, is one who makes out there is no God. I also note that there is a footnote in my Bible that tells us that, “The Hebrew words rendered ‘fool’ in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.” So, a fool is one who is lacking judgment, is godless and is morally deficient. What a condemnation of one who thinks they are wise!

But this is exactly what deception is all about. The Bible speaks again and again of Eve being ‘deceived’ by Satan in the Garden of Eden (e.g. Gen 3:13, 2 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 2:14).  When we are deceived it simply means that we have been led into a position where we believe something false. That is what Paul is saying in these verses. People who abandon God are being deceived so that they end up with futile, hopeless thinking and yet they still think they are wise! That is classic deception!

But is it obvious, Paul goes on, you only have to see what they do. They reject the wonder and the glory of God who is eternal and they replace that with man-made idols. How stupid can you get!  Yes, if you travel around the world you will still see, in a number of countries, idols that have been made in the form of human beings or animals.  The prophets of the Old Testament were particularly good at deriding the folly of worshipping idols – wood or metal made at the hands of men – idols that are utterly powerless!

Perhaps today we may think we are more sophisticated here in the West and would never dream of making such models and bowing down before them, but the truth is an idol is anything we worship other that God, any substitute we make for God, and there are many such things in modern life. Rather than me put forward my list of such things, you think about modern life and see what things modern man considers more important than God.

If we take anything and make and use it as a substitute for God, we are being a fool. These substitutes do not bring genuine, lasting meaning to our lives. They become a temporary focus but in old age we realise they were empty and hollow and meaningless and we are left destitute when it comes to purpose and direction into eternity. These substitutes could not speak to us, guide us and help us and work good in us, for they were all the outworkings of the endeavours of man. Fame and fortune may appear alluring but at the end of life when we come face to face with God, we will realise that they were simply a means to enhance our self-centredness and godlessness and they do not last and cannot be taken with us as we pass through the doorway of death.

How bizarre and crazy is the outworking of sin sometimes! Here is almighty, wonderful, beautiful, glorious God, who offers friendship and salvation to us, offers us meaning and purpose and a wonderful life that stretches into eternity – and some of us turn down these offers and settle for temporary and transient things that do nothing more than bolster the deception that we are someone of substance who thinks well of themselves – who thinks they are wise while, in fact, their thinking is futile and foolish.

Jesus spoke of God’s work of dealing with the ungodly: He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts.” (Jn 12:40, quoting Isa 6;10) But how does God do this? He allows Satan to do it: And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:3,4) Yes, it is Satan who blinds people’s eyes. He simply plays on their already godless and self-centred inclinations, that are the expression of sin, and speaks into their minds what is acceptable to them – “It’s all right, there is no God; you do what you want to do. You know best,” and they follow along until a crisis in life ploughs their lives and the Holy Spirit speaks seeds of conviction to them, to turn them to God. But until then, they are deceived and foolish in their thinking and their godless behaviour just testifies to that foolishness. May that not be true of us!  I find possibly one of the saddest expressions of this deception is seen at funerals when deceived mourners extol the virtues of their deceived loved one by playing them out to Frank Sinatra’s, “I did it my way.” THAT is deception and folly!

37. Right Asking

Meditations in James: 37 : Right Asking

Jas 4:2,3    You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Something goes wrong. What do you do? Do you struggle to cope with it, or do you go down under it, or do you turn to the Lord to ask for His help. A measure of spiritual maturity, I believe, is how fast we turn to the Lord for help. The spiritually wise and mature will place their day into the Lord’s hands at the beginning of every day, I believe. There are some people who say, “Oh, I’m an evening person so I have my quiet time in the evening.” It’s not a case of whether you are a morning or an evening person. It is a case of whether you think you can get through the day without the Lord, and coming to Him in prayer, as brief as that may be, is a sign of your acknowledgement  that you need His help, you need His blessing in the hours ahead of you. Wise people don’t wait for a crisis before they talk to the Lord.

Now our verses today need to be seen in context: You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Do you see the connection between the beginning and end of this quote from verse 2? You want something but don’t get it…… You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Do you remember yesterday, as we examined the process that James was speaking about? It starts with insecurity and insecure people struggle to achieve, struggle to get, struggle to make themselves feel they are somebody. They want things but don’t get them, so they get frustrated and more stressed. Their overall problem is that they are being godless. The have not sought the Lord and they have not come into a position of Sonship where they can come and ask their heavenly Father for all their needs.

We all of us lack. That’s what Sin does for us. We have great big needs which are only satisfied in God. He alone can bring the sense of fulfilment to us that we so long for. He alone can enable us to achieve in such a manner that we are feeling satisfied with who we are. You could say that the main lesson in living in this Fallen World is learning to turn to God. Many don’t and so struggle on and get deeper and deeper into the mire of unfulfillment and frustration.  It’s a hard world without God.  But He’s there and He longs for us to come to Him like little children; He longs to bless us, if only we will come. So here is James’ starting point in these verses: You do not have, because you do not ask God. But note that it is only the starting point.

When we start coming to God and asking Him for help, we are embarking on a major learning exercise, because as we ask we often find that either we’re not happy asking for some things, or we simply don’t seem to get answers for some of the things we do ask for.  James uses a very basic idea to explain why this so often is: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. Yes, when we come to God, we learn that motivation is a key issue in God’s mind. Suddenly we realise that God is concerned with WHY we are asking.  Much of the time we ask simply for our own comfort or well-being.  In other words we ask selfishly. Now Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount: So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:31-33). What he is saying is, don’t worry about the mundane things of provision of daily life, for God will look after them for you and will provide them. Instead be more concerned with what His will is. Yes, it is right to ask for daily provisions: Give us today our daily bread.” (Mt 6:11) but pray that as a sign of your reliance upon the Lord. Don’t let worry overwhelm you for that is a sign of lack of trust.

No, the key thing about asking God is this: your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:10). The key question is, what does God want for my life? When you have found that answer, then ask for it. Read the prophets in the Old Testament and you will see they declared God’s will – and then prayed for it! But of course, that will is not something objective, it is what affects us. So yes, we will find ourselves praying for our needs, but it will now be so that we can fulfil God’s will. So it may be quite legitimate to pray for the provision of a car, say, if a car is needful for you to work out God’s declared will for your life. But if it’s just a case of, “I’d like this…. or that,” then that’s simply selfish asking and, as James says, you won’t get it.

Spiritual maturity learns what to ask for. It learns what God’s will is for my life and then prays it out, and if that will includes material things, then ask for material things, but that is very different from self-centred, godless desires. Think on these things, and then get praying!

34. Earthly Wisdom

Meditations in James: 34 : Earthly Wisdom

Jas 3:14-16     But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Deception is a strange thing.  Here, for instance, is a ‘wise’ man.  He is a business man.  He spends all hours at work.  He makes phone calls and he talks with his employees and he plans and schemes and makes profit.  He is an ambitious man and he pushes out the boundaries of his company and takes over some smaller companies.  He builds a new head office and people marvel at his business acumen.  He builds bigger and bigger.  He has a veritable empire. Along the way he sees his competitors and is envious of their activities. He plots and plans and schemes and takes them over, takes what he wants from their businesses (strips their assets) and then casts them aside.  He holds big parties, he meets with the media, and he boasts of his great accomplishments.  He laughs at the thought of God.  He has three houses, a large yacht, a Lear jet, and homes abroad.  He has everything, and then he dies.  In death he finds himself standing before God and realises he is standing in tattered rags and that he has nothing. When asked what right has he to be there, he realises before the openness of God, that he has no answer, he has nothing.  This story is exactly what Jesus described in his parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:15-21).  He starts it with the words,a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (v.15) and finishes it with, This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God (v.21).

We might have thought the man in the story was a wise man, storing up material prosperity, but James thinks otherwise.   Note each of the characteristics of this man as described: if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. These are the characteristics of the world.  These are what the world accepts and even applauds.  These are thing things the world expects from the great and the glorious.  Listen next time when a great entrepreneur, or a pop star, or great politician is on TV.   Listen to their words and observe the characteristics of them.  They think they are wise because, after all, they have arrived haven’t they?  But arrived where?  At a place of spiritual poverty!

Observe James’ description of this sort of ‘wisdom’ that the world applauds: Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. This is not wisdom or the way that comes from God.  This is actually not wisdom at all.  True wisdom only comes from God.  This ‘wisdom’ (which is no wisdom!) is earthly; it has its origins in the selfish, self-centred, godless minds of people who care nothing for God and are only concerned for themselves.  They are unspiritual; there is a complete absence of anything spiritual in their lives.  Their spirit is dead; there is no movement in respect of God.  They are deaf to His words to them and their heart has no concern for Him. They are in fact energized and motivated by the devil.  Now that is strong language you may think, but that is what James says – and so does John: We know that …. the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19).  If you do not surrender your life to God, then you are left in the hands of the Lord’s chastising angel, Satan, and he plays on the sinful desires in each unregenerate person, driving them onwards to bigger and better things with their ‘worldly wisdom’, and towards destruction.  The richer they get, the poorer they get, but of course they don’t realize it until they stand before God with nothing.

Note also what James says accompanies this sort of ‘wisdom’: For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. Envy and selfish ambition are the driving forces of this so-called wisdom and wherever it is, when you look into what is going on, you find ‘disorder’.  Disorder is confusion and upset like you have when there is anarchy.  Here is this man working out his schemes and causing upset in other people’s lives and businesses. He is a law unto himself and he ploughs through other people’s lives and activities like a bulldozer, leaving havoc and mayhem in his wake. He causes upheaval on the earth.  Moreover James speaks of every evil practice.  The way this man thinks and works is evil.  Evil just means it is utterly wrong.

Now you may have been reading all these descriptions and my story above, and have thought, “Well I’m glad I’m not like that!”  Well perhaps you aren’t as big a person as the man of my illustration but, in all honesty, is your way of thinking somewhat similar to his?  What genuinely motivates your life?  Is it a genuine desire to please God, and to do things God’s way, or do you struggle and strive, thinking, planning, reasoning and working all hours to achieve material prosperity?  Are you sometimes a little careless about moral integrity when you cut corners or don’t entirely speak the truth in business? You see you may not do it to the extent of the man above, but if you do it even a little bit, there are adjustments to be made according to James.  Check it out.  Be honest.  What is your life like?  Can you honestly stand before God and say you never operate with the ‘worldly wisdom’ we have been considering today?  Ensure that you can!

33. Humility

Meditations in James: 33 : Humility with Wisdom

Jas 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

We have in this day, in the West, many TV games shows that test knowledge. We may watch and wonder sometimes at the shear breadth or depth of knowledge that a particular contestant shows.  We move on to programmes about specialist subjects and we watch and listen to men or women who are ‘experts’ in their field, regaling us with the wonders that they know about. We think how great these people must be. We wonder at their learning, their scholarship, and their experience of life. And then the media tells us something about their personal life, and we hear they have just parted from their third partner, and a little nagging doubt rises in our mind. Then there are politicians or some of the world’s shakers and movers. We watch on TV as their latest achievements are being lauded and we think about what incredible people they must be. We slightly wonder about some of the people who are their friends, because they are those who live in the shadows, and we wonder. We don’t ‘know’ but we wonder. But God knows.

God is and never has been impressed by outward signs. We’ve seen that before with Samuel (1 Sam 16:7). The disciples were impressed by big buildings (Matt 24:1) but Jesus had bigger issues on his mind. No, we can be swayed by rhetoric or apparent knowledge, but God has different criteria for assessment of people. You can be very knowledgeable but godless. You can bring great changes in the world, but be unrighteous. Have you spotted the link yet with what James has been saying about the tongue? The tongue has the power to deceive us. We just mentioned ‘great people’ on TV who astound us with their words. There are politicians and world movers and shakers who speak and the world holds its breath. Oh yes, words are the currency of these people, but the trouble is, that so often they are godless and unrighteous people, and in God’s eyes they mean nothing. Their words do not impress Him.

So James seems to spin us on our axis and we point away from thoughts of the tongue and move to a wider sphere of thinking. Ah yes, thinking comes in here: Who is wise and understanding among you? Wisdom and understanding; these are things of the mind. They are the fruits of what has gone on inside us. Wisdom is the knowledge of ‘how to’. Moses was able to say to his people: See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut 4:5,6) God had spoken to Israel and given them His Law, which were simply rules on how to live wisely in accordance with the way He had designed people to live. If you follow them, said Moses, the nations round about will see your wisdom and comment upon it. It will be clearly visible. Wisdom is something that is practically worked out in life.

Understanding is knowing why things are. Understanding goes beyond simply knowing ‘how to’; it knows why is it right to do it. It knows the reasoning behind it. Of course as God’s people we know that it is right to follow God’s ways because He is all-wise and He is the Designer-Creator of this world and so He knows best.  The psalmist wrote, “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” (Psa 119:104). As He studied all that God had given Israel he came to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of life. The more we consider God’s word as we seek His face, the more He gives us understanding of His ways.

James then challenges us. He basically says, if you understand life, then you will live God’s ways and if you live God’s ways, those ways will involve goodness, and people will see good deeds coming out of that knowledge and understanding. Just like Israel, as we saw just now, those round about us will see and wonder. But don’t we wonder about the life of the great and the glorious? Yes, until we start hearing about their personal lives which reveal the sort of people they are. This is where James differentiates between these people and the people of God. The people of God, he is saying, live out their lives in humility. Yes, here is an unusual characteristic in today’s age! Humility is about having a realistic assessment of yourself. When you really know yourself there is no room for pride (the opposite of humility). When we really know ourselves we know that without God we are lost. Without God we know our lives are pretence, a sham. We know that although we may look good on the outside, inside we’re something quite different. This realistic self awareness is humility. This humility comes from wisdom. Solomon said,The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10). An awesome respect for Almighty God brings wisdom and that wisdom brings humility as we realize our smallness and His greatness. As we live out our lives in the light of this, it will be seen, goodness!  May it be so!

5. Wisdom

Meditations in James: 5 :  Asking for Wisdom

Jas 1:5 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.

Wisdom isn’t something that is much talked about today.  ‘Wise’ men are either relegated to the Christmas story or to fairy tales. Yet wisdom is something that is spoken about a number of times in the Bible, in fact over two hundred times! For instance the psalmist said, Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psa 90:12) and The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psa 111:10).  But wisdom isn’t some mystical thing; it is very simply “the knowledge of how to…” so when the psalmist spoke about the fear or awesome respect for the Lord, he meant that this was the start for how to live a right life.

Bearing in mind that James was speaking to the scattered church, the church that lived out in the world away from the strength and security of Jerusalem, knowing how to cope with life would have been a very real concern for them – and us. Of course there has to first of all be an awareness that we are called to be different before we have a need or concern for how to be different.  The Christian who is like a chameleon, blending in with the word and doing nothing in service of their King will have no need of wisdom. It is only when you realize your calling to be different and your calling to serve, that you become aware of a need to know how to live, how to serve. For myself, I don’t think there is anything I ask for as much as wisdom: “Lord how I am supposed to do this? How am I to go about doing that?”  Not only is it the thing I ask for most, it is the thing for which I find I get the most answers to prayer.

Why is that? It is because, as James says, God gives generously to all without finding fault. Notice some of the words in that verse. Generously: a generous person isn’t stingy or half-hearted in the way they give. To the contrary, they give freely and without restrictions, they give lavishly. The apostle Paul spoke of the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us (Eph 1:7,8). When God gives, He gives in abundance. If we have had a poor upbringing we may still have a feeling of poverty where we are always thinking in limited terms, but this doesn’t apply to God. He delights in giving in abundance. The apostle John said the same thing: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us (I Jn 3:1). God pours out liberally in His giving to us, and that is true of the wisdom He gives to us.

Probably the best example of this is Daniel in the Old Testament:I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom (Dan 2:23) God had given him the knowledge of how to respond to the king’s dream. Listen how Daniel came to be referred to: There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods.” (Dan 5:11). How did Daniel come to have such a reputation? Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery(Dan 2:17,18). He knew God had the answer and he asked God for it!  You find the same sort of thing with Nehemiah:Then I prayed to the God of heaven(Neh 2:4). How simple those words are, but how little they occur in so many of our lives. When we know that our Lord is generous in His giving, then we will ask of Him.

But there’s another significant word: all. Simple, but significant, because there are some of us who feel we are so insignificant that God wouldn’t turn up for us. If we say that we deny His word and we deny His love. No, He wants to give generously to ALL and that includes every one of us. The only criteria is that we ask and believe.

The final words to note are the final phrase: without finding fault. Because some of us grew up with parents who were constantly critical of us, we think God is the same. No He’s not! When Paul said, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1), he meant it. God isn’t constantly looking to criticize us, put us down and make us feel bad. To the contrary, He is for us (Rom 8:31) which means everything He does seeks to bless and build us and help us succeed in our lives.

If we need wisdom, it means that we are in circumstances that are beyond us, but God realizes that and doesn’t chide us, because they are not beyond Him and He delights in showing us how to walk through the particular difficulty. Whatever it is – knowing how to cope with a difficult relationship, knowing how to cope with the children, knowing how to do school or college work, knowing how to cope with your job – God has the answer and all we need do is ASK Him for it. Check out the day. What are the things that concern you in it? Ask Him about them. Ask Him for wisdom to know how to deal with them – and then watch for the thoughts you start finding you are having!  Be a receiver of God’s wisdom. Enjoy living!

42. Be Careful

Ephesians Meditations No.42

Eph  5:15-17 Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Sometimes when focusing on single verses we can lose sight of the overall picture. This is why we go back again and again and either recap where we have been, or check out the flow of thought that Paul has clearly followed, so we can see how everything fits together. Paul has spoken a lot about the church and how it is Christ’s body, and Christ is its head. He first reminded us of the life we came from (2:1-3) and of the work of God in us (2:4-10), how we had been separated from God (2:11-12) but have now been brought near and made one (2:13-18) and made God’s dwelling (2:19-22). After an aside (3:2-13) he had prayed that we would understand God’s love of us and the wonder of who we are as His church (3:14-21). It was because of all this, that in chapter 4 he moved on to deal generally with the Christian life (4:1,2), and how about there should be unity and life in the body (4:3-16). He started to move from the general to the specific as he called us to shy away from the life lived by unbelievers (4:17-19) but instead to live new lives (4:20-24). It is only then that he started listing specifics of things to be avoided (4:25-31) and things to do (4:32-5:2), and then again things to be avoided (5:3-7). He followed with a comparison of light and darkness (4:8-14) with an exhortation to have nothing to do with the things of darkness (v.11).

Thus he has gone from who God has made us to be, to the lives we should live as a result of that, making clear distinctions between Christian and non-Christian lives. The “then” in the middle of the first sentence implies, “because of all I’ve been saying so far…” So we could take it to read, “[Because of all I’ve been saying about the distinctions between your old unbelieving life and the new life], be very careful how you live.” i.e. check it out that you don’t let any elements of your old life remain or, as he goes on to say, “not as unwise but as wise.” i.e. don’t be foolish and careless but understand what is required of the new life and live accordingly. Wisdom is about ‘knowing how to’ do something and so a wise Christian is one who understands the world, the nature of sin and the battle against the enemy, what has happened to them, and the resources that are now available to them, and so how to live.

He continues, “making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” What is he now saying? Live a godly life and take any and every opportunity to shine (remember, you ARE light in the darkness). In the light of the above paragraph (sorry about the pun!), it is recognizing that we live in days when the majority are godless and unrighteousness and we are called to shine as lights, godly and righteous, and in such ways we take the opportunities to shine.

He continues, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” This is a call to awareness. How many Christians totter through life not being aware of these things – of the nature of sin, of the nature of the enemy and the tactics he uses to try and bring us down (temptation, deception, lies and outright hostility)?  How many are aware that they have a calling from God to live as lights in the darkness, to be salt in a putrefying world?  How many are clear in their minds of the things that the Lord has done for us, and the truth that we are saved by the finished work of Christ on the Cross and nothing more? How many are sure of the resources that are open to them as God’s children? How many have a sense of purpose and destiny to live out their lives in accordance with God’s declared printed word (the Bible) and His imparted word (prophecy) and the daily leading of His Holy Spirit?  This is what the will of God is all about! It is living holy, righteous, pure and good lives, inspired and led by the Holy Spirit to do the things that are on God’s heart for us.

Still not sure? Well then go back a few verses: “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” (5:8-10) This is what Paul is referring to: expressing goodness, righteous and truth and set on a daily mission to find out what God’s intent is for us. Remember part of what Jesus taught us to pray: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:10) i.e. let your rule be expressed in and through me and your will for me worked out in me and through me.

There is a difficulty when we are trying to work out what is good and right in our lives and, more particularly, what is not. It is that those of over-sensitive conscience allow the enemy to make them feel guilty about things that are quite legitimate. If that is you and you are not sure of your life, find a mature Spirit-filled Christian that you can trust and confide in the and let them reassure you if necessary. Be blessed!

God who Judges

God in the Psalms No.12 

Psa 7:6-8 Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples gather around you. Rule over them from on high; let the LORD judge the peoples. Judge me, O LORD

These verses introduce us quite clearly to a new description of the Lord: the Lord who is a Judge. What does a Judge do? He (or she) assesses a case in the light of the Law and pronounces a verdict based on that Law. For the Lord this is a circular thing for the Lord designed the world in accordance with His character (perfection) and decreed the Law to ensure people lived in accordance with that design.  Now He judges according to that Law, according to that design, according to His character.  Justice is weighing actions in the light of that Law and bringing appropriate action to bear on the miscreant to make right the situation.

Now with the Lord, nothing can be hidden.  The writer to the Hebrews was able to write: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).  So, when the Lord assesses the situation He does so with full and complete knowledge. But there is more. Paul described the Lord as, the only wise God (Rom 16:27).  The Lord is the only one who not only knows all things but knows that is right to do in every situation.  (Wisdom is knowing what to do). Therefore the Lord looks, the Lord knows, and the Lord knows how to respond.  The one thing we will never be able to do when we get to heaven, if the Lord should allow us full vision of all that has happened, is criticize anything the Lord has said or done.  His ways are perfect (Deut 32:4).  Thus in heaven they cry, Just and true are your ways” (Rev 15:3).

So it is, that when we come before the Lord we may never fear injustice. But do we want justice?  Do we want to be judged by the One who sees all things, every wrong thought, every wrong word, every wrong deed? If every such thing throughout our lives were brought out for accounting, it would truly be a terrible thing.  There would be no doubt; we are guilty!   Piled up before, us all these things condemn us.  It’s all right for David in this one situation to say, Judge me according to my righteousness. Oh, yes on specific occasions we can say, well, yes, I was righteous then, I did respond well then. But what about all the other times when we were not so careful, the times when we do not quite come up to the mark, or even fell well short of it?

Yes, this is why we need an advocate, one who will step in and speak up for us. But what could he plead?  Extenuating circumstances?   No, there were none.  We were guilty, it was our fault!   No, there is only one ground on which he can plead – that he himself has already stood in for us and taken our punishment and the penalty for every sin has been paid.  That’s what John had in mind when he wrote: if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 Jn 2:1,2)

Here is the advocate speaking for our defence and here is the one who has paid for our sins – and they are one and the same person, Jesus Christ. Thus when God stands as Judge before the whole of Creation, He CAN bring justice, He can decree rightly in respect of our sins. There is no ‘letting us off’, there is no turning a blind eye. The judgment is given, justice is done, the sins are paid for.  It has been done!  The Judge does give a right judgment – and we are released!   How wonderful!