54. God be Praised

Meditations in 1 Peter : 54: God be Praised

1 Pet 4:11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Speaking and doing. There are echoes of verse 7 here: be clear minded and self-controlled.” where we said it was about thinking and then doing. Here it is about speaking and doing. But note that this is a continuation of verse 10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” These are the expressions of the ‘gifts’ we have.

Seen in that context the speaking that is referred to here is to be seen as a gift from God and an expression of the Lord and so if we are someone who has the privilege of being in a position in the church where we speak publicly, we should recognise the honour and the responsibility that is ours and we should recognise that if we are motivated, energized, inspired and directed by the Lord in this ministry, what we are bringing is to be seen as the very word of God. That is a very high calling! I wonder how many of us who are either preachers or teachers, see it in this way? There is an implied challenge here to be careful as to what we say, and to seek the Lord before we open our mouths. for we will be answerable to Him.

Now there is something else involved in this. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks,” (Lk 6:45) i.e. what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is in our hearts. If our hearts are given over to God, that will be observed when we speak. If we are still self-centred and not God-centred, that also will be revealed. We will, in other words, only speak the words of God if we are filled with God and given over to God. How we are with God will be observed in the words we speak. The preacher and teacher cannot help but reveal their spiritual state when they speak – and that is a real challenge!

But it isn’t only our words; it is also what we do, our serving. Is doing and serving the same thing? No, ‘doing’ can be self-centred or simply an expression of self. Serving is doing for the benefit of others. Serving is done as a purposeful act of the will to bless other people, something we choose to do. Now not everyone has come to the place of desiring to be a servant, even though Jesus calls us to it: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26) There is an implication there that followers of Jesus will want to grow, develop, get on, and to achieve great things but, says Jesus, they only can do that by becoming a servant, by having a servant attitude. Serving is an expression of maturity so, according to Peter, if you have reached the level of maturity where you desire to be a servant, “do it with the strength that God provides.” In other words, if you are going to be God’s servant, you can only do it with His strength. Working (or serving) is hard and tiring and so to be able to continue doing it, you will need God’s ongoing strength, which will mean waiting on Him for it (see Isa 40:28-31)

Now there is an outworking to all this and it has been hinted at by Peter more than a few times: so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” We do what we do so that God will be revealed and glorified. Peter started praising God in Chapter 1 for having “given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1:3) In chapter 2 he spoke of us having been called so that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (2:9) He then continued, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (2:12). In chapter 3 he put it slightly differently: “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (3:15) but the end is the same – praise to Him. And that brings us here to chapter 4 with, “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (v.11).

The ultimate goal? To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When that happens, truth is being observed. Any glory is due to Him and only Him, for any power is His and so whatever we say or do is to be an expression of the life of the Spirit of Jesus within us, and that will always glorify the Father. Speaking of his own glory, Jesus said, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me,” (Jn 8:54) i.e. any glory we have comes from the Father and belongs to the Father. Near the end of the Last Supper Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.” (Jn 13:31) i.e. Jesus will be glorified through his death and resurrection and that will glorify the Father. This was made even more clear in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (Jn 17:1)

In all of this we see that the outworking of Jesus’ life was to glorify or reveal the wonder of the Father. It is the wonder of the Father’s character that is being revealed, the wonder of His thinking and His planning and His love for mankind. Everything flows from and returns to God the Father. Jesus executed His will in a human body, and the Holy Spirit continues to do it in and through Christians today. That is where you and I come in! May He be glorified in us!

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43. What you say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31. Tamed Tongue

Meditations in James: 31 : Inability to Tame the Tongue

Jas 3:7,8   All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

There is often perceived in men or women a pride that says, “We are the peak of evolution and we can do anything. We can harness energy, use technology, bring health and longer life. We can manipulate atoms and genes and even create life. We are the lords of the universe.”  They may not say it in so many words, but those are the sentiments that the pride of man brings out.  In daily life, especially when we are young, we wake up in the morning feeling good, the sun is shining and everything is going well, and we feel invincible. And then we speak unwisely and harshly, and the world turns grey as the ugly truth is revealed: I can’t even control my tongue!

So far we have observed James’ descriptions of the tongue as he shows us that although it is small it can determine our path. He’s also pointed out that although it is small it has the power to wreak havoc and destruction. The warnings are clear: if only we would learn to harness our tongue we could use it to bless and build, encourage and energise, congratulate and create. But there is the problem and it is that which James focuses upon now; we can’t control it!  He will go on to suggest what needs to happen but for now he focuses on this terrible truth.

People use their minds to train themselves to be able to do great things. They discipline and stretch their physical abilities to be healthy and strong, but when it comes to focusing on harnessing something as small as the tongue, we find it is a different thing.  Singers can control their vocal cords. Ventriloquists can produce words without apparently moving the mouth, but when it comes to the words themselves and the emotions that are behind them, we seem so often completely unable to be in control. Words come out we wish we’d never said, feelings were expressed that cause hurt and upset, and once out cannot be put back in the box.  James makes us think about the natural world.  We can capture and train wild animals that seem so large and aggressive, but when it comes to something as small as the tongue, we are helpless it seems.  The tongue seems to have a life of its own at times and it seems impossible to tame it.

There are so many self-help books on the shelves of bookshops today, even books on how to say things nicely, but however many books we read, on a bad day we realise we are still not in control of this small part of our body which, as James says, seems so full of restless evil.  We can start the day out, full of good intentions.  We can make New Year resolutions, but it doesn’t take very long for a situation to arise where we find our mouth speaking out strongly and hurtfully.  If we had a hidden TV camera team filming us all day and every day for a month, how many of the words that were recorded would we be happy to be seen on the small screen?  In seeing it being replayed, how many times would we regret the words and wish either that we had said nothing or had said it differently?  Perhaps it takes a wider judging audience to face the truth about ourselves. That is what James is trying to do, to get us to think about our speech and face the truth about ourselves, because until we do that we will not see the need and if we don’t see the need we will not turn to the Lord for His help.

That’s what Scripture does so often: show us our need, show us our potential in God, so that we go to Him for His life changing power.  That is James’  aim, and that is why we continue to consider these things.  But focussing on two verses gives us a limited view. Yes, it helps us see our need but it doesn’t explain WHY and it doesn’t give us answers. For the ‘why’ of our tongues actions we have to go back again to what Jesus said about our mouths: For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Mt 12:34).  Yes, this is the truth.  The mouth reflects what is in the heart, what is there deep inside us. The heart is our state of mind and will. It is the innermost reach of our personality, the cause of what we think and feel. It is in many ways a mystery. Why do we have these inner inclinations, which sometimes conflict with what outwardly we’d like to be? Yes, when we think about it, we’d like to be cool, calm and collected, able to answer every unkind word from others with graciousness, able to respond to every hostile question with wisdom.  Yet, we find, so often it isn’t like that.  Why is that?  It is because our heart has not been changed.

At the centre of the New Testament teaching is the recognition that to be Christians we have to die to ourselves, we have to die to self.  The call is to put God first, then others next and ourselves last.  It sounds a good theory and when it works we find we are most blessed, but so often self pushes to the front.  The difficult truth is that the heart is only changed by difficulties. ‘Character’ is another expression of what the Bible refers to as the heart, the way we truly are.  Paul said, we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;” (Rom 5:3,4).  Our character is formed as we learn to endure in difficulties.  You’ll know how much the Lord has formed your character, how much He has moulded your heart, by the words that come out of your mouth when the circumstances are difficult and people are not being nice. At that point, your mouth will reveal what God has been able to do in you. Now there is a strange thing. It is only as He is able to do things in you, and that is determined by your willingness to let Him do it, and that is a matter of will. Don’t focus on the tongue. See it as a revealer of what you’re like inside, but having done that, ask the Lord to transform you on the inside. That’s what this is really all about.

30. Tongue Burnt

Meditations in James: 30 : Burnt by the Tongue

Jas 3:5,6 Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

There are two sorts of TV programme that don’t excite me. One is the morning TV where there is a studio full of people talking about a contentious part of life.  The other is so-called soap operas.  Imagine both of them without any sound.  First of all imagine the contentious couples debate if they, and the other participants, were dumb.  Nobody would watch it, would they, because it is the angry words spoken that stir people’s interests.  Imagine soap operas as real life dramas and imagine again the people being dumb.  Most of the ‘difficult situations’, that go to make up the interest of these ongoing television fillers, are what they are because of what the various people say.

Oh yes, the tongue is the instrument that has this devastating potential for causing upset and upheaval. Having just written about how the tongue guides our life, James now goes on to warn us of the tremendous power of the tongue.  Solomon was aware of this when he wrote Proverbs: With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor (Prov 11:9) andThrough the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.” (Prov 11:11) and A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.” (Prov 18:6) and A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Prov 26:28).  Note the things in that short list that the tongue is capable of doing: destroying a neighbour (presumably by slander), destroying a city (presumably by lies, deceit, and generally leading into unrighteous business deals), personal strife (probably by rudeness and verbal attack which invites retribution), and general hurt and ruin by harshness and flattery which deceives.

If you are a watcher of these “sort out the problems” morning TV programmes or of soap operas, next time think about what all the people are saying.  Observe where there are words that are attacking, words that are demeaning, words that are violent, and think how different the situation would be if the exact opposite sort of words were spoken instead.  James says, Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark and so watch and see how a few words can ignite a situation and cause hostility and upset and division and hurt and anger and….. the list goes on!  In families there are words that should never be spoken: “I hate you!” or “I wish I’d never been born!” or “You’re ugly” or “You’re stupid!”  Each one of these is a small spark that has devastating effects.  Once said they cannot be withdrawn and they set a fire of passion blazing which is not easily put out.

But James pushes it further.  He says, The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. That sounds awful!  Why is he using the analogy of a fire?  Because a fire is something out of control and capable of spreading destruction.  But why does he say that this fire is a world of evil among the parts of the body? Well we sometimes speak about how we ‘compartmentalise’ our lives, and he’s saying imagine our bodies like different compartments.  If you imagine the tongue as one ‘department’ in the running of your life, it seems that in so many people it is a department that is evil.  It may be the expression of the heart, but it is the visible, or rather audible expression of evil.  The mouth is the propaganda machine of the human body, that is able to reach out and influence or harm others by the words that come out.  It is seen in many people as evil, speaking out hurtful, harmful words.

But he goes on, It corrupts the whole person. If you corrupt something you spoil or mar it, you taint it or pollute it.   Speaking out words is very influential, and tragically most of us don’t realise this, so that when we put something into words it’s like it strengthens something in us.  While it only remains a thought, it is fairly powerless, but once we speak it out, it seems like it has the effect of spreading that negative right through us, so it is something that becomes more established in us.  If our lives were like a glass of clear water, when we speak negative, unkind, hostile, impure, unrighteous words, it is like black ink is being dripped into that clear water and it is polluted and no longer clear.  The words have the ability to change the life.  The heart was wrong, but the words established that wrong in a deeper, firmer way.

But James then piles on further pictures: It …sets the whole course of his life on fire. If the tongue is a fire, then the words are like flaming pieces that soar up into the air and where they land they spread the fire. As we’ve just suggested, when the words are spoken they affect the rest of the life. We used the analogy of clear water; James uses the analogy of fire.

Then he finishes with a strange expression: and is itself set on fire by hell. Can I use an analogy that I use often, that of anger? A person may use anger to get their own way, but that is unrighteous. Now if a person uses unrighteous anger regularly, then they open themselves up to Satan’s influence and he can press in on that person so that their anger flares up and is completely uncontrollable. Now the same thing is true of the tongue. Some people use the tongue to put down others, as a means of having influence over them, but this is unrighteous.  So what happens is that when they do this they make themselves vulnerable to Satan (and hell is just shorthand for ‘the powers of darkness and all that they bring’) and so Satan takes the fire (emotional words) that they have used, and blows on it so they become completely out of control.  What this person finds is that no longer can they control what they say; they are motivated or driven by these emotions which are beyond their control, and the fire burns and burns and burns until the person is destroyed. Did you realise the terrible power that is there in the use of the tongue and the forces of destruction that can be released by it?  Well think about these things.

15. Tongue & Heart

Meditations in James: 15 :  Tongue & Heart

Jas 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

I have this picture of a heavenly watcher keeping score of all the different sorts of sins being committed on earth. I’ve got this horrible feeling that it’s not the sins of physical or sexual violence, or of taking other people’s property, that score the most, it’s sins of the tongue. Why? Because it is so easy to do!  Go into any room where there are a lot of people and just listen.  People talk. People talk a lot. In the 12th meditation of this series I quoted a verse from Proverbs which has convicted me in the past: When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19).  Some of us are quieter than others. Perhaps they are the wise ones.

Being in a church context, I’m often in a room with lots of other people and I enjoy just sitting and watching what is going on. I hope that in the church the talk is good. Mostly in my presence it is, but what about behind the closed doors where just two or three are discussing the many facets of a church’s life. If Jesus was sitting quietly in the background, listening in on what was being said, I wonder if some of the things actually would be said?  Paul challenges us about malice, slander and telling lies (Col 3:8,9). Malice is speaking unkindly about another person. Slander is speaking falsely about another person, and lies are simply not speaking the truth. Listen to the gossip in the street and it’s always about other people, and so often it is either unkind or inaccurate. For people in the world, we should expect it for they have no standard to keep to, but for people who claim to be religious, now that is something else!

But it may not be behind people’s backs; it may things said directly to someone. They may be unkind and harsh. They may be critical and demeaning. How about the husband who makes derogatory comments about his wife, or the wife who is nagging or even scathing about her husband? According to James’ general comment here, these things should not be. Or there is the parent who snaps at the child or the teenager who answers back to their parent’s rebuke. These things should not be.  Or maybe it is at work. Here is the boss who acts like a bully to his or her employees. Listen to their forceful demeaning words. If they are ‘religious’ it should not be so. Or here is the employee making excuses why their work is substandard, and the truth is not being completely told. Then there is school or college, fertile grounds for harsh use of the tongue, especially when discipline is not all it could be. Everywhere you turn, there are people and people have a habit of using their tongue and not for good and edifying purposes.

With his use of the words religious’ and ‘religion’, James seems to make an all-sweeping inclusion of anyone who purports to have spiritual beliefs, beliefs about God. Forget it, says James, if you can’t even control your tongue, your ‘religion’ is worthless. Now that is strong language! It actually says to a lot of people that their beliefs and even actions on a Sunday are worthless.  Why is he so strong on the subject of the tongue? Well it will come up again in his writings but let’s consider the motivation behind what comes out of the mouth.

Isaiah said something very simple: For the fool speaks folly (Isa 32:6). What he was saying was that because a person was a fool, he will speak foolish things. The two go together. The opposite is true also. Later he spoke of: He who walks righteously and speaks what is right (Isa 33:15). If the intent of your walk through life is righteousness, then you will speak righteously. On one occasion Jesus challenged the Pharisees of his day: You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Mt 12:34,35). Did you see what he said? The mouth speaks what is overflowing from the heart. If you have a heart that is not fully God-centred then out of the mouth will come self-centred words.  Sometimes people speak hostile attacking words because deep down they feel threatened.  Their outward angry words reveal an inner defensiveness. Young people today, from broken families, so often speak hard and harsh words as they reflect the inner pain and insecurity that they feel.

Oh yes, the reason James is so strong about what comes out of the mouth is because it reflects what is going on inside. You may ‘say’ you are religious, but if that faith is not bearing fruit inside you and bringing inner change to you, as evidenced by the words you speak, then that religion isn’t worth much, is it!  The truth is that if we really want to we can rein in our words, but that is very difficult if the heart hasn’t been dealt with. Becoming a real Christian is a heart experience. Our heart is broken and we give it to God to transform. In that attitude, He works and we are brought into a new place of security and love, and that is reflected by the words that then come out of our mouths. However, all along the path, the enemy is trying to stir up something else within us, so that out of our mouths come hurtful, harmful, unkind or untrue words. Yes, there may be the occasional slip, but if the heart is being transformed, then they will only be an occasional slip. For the most part, our words should be as Paul said, Let your conversation be always full of grace (Col 4:6). But remember, it’s a heart thing first and foremost, so check out your words and then consider whether you need to go to the Lord for further heart surgery. 

33. Who Speaks

Meditations in Job : 33.  Who speaks for God

Job 13:7 Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him?

What is remarkable when we start thinking about the things we find in this book, is the shear variety of topics that arise. This book is uniquely made up of the words of a variety of people – and of God. It is all about words, all about discussion and debate. It is all about opinion, viewpoints and beliefs. Yet isn’t this exactly what life is so made of, the interaction between human beings. However, when it comes to Christians, we find a unique characteristic arising – a willingness, if not responsibility to speak on God’s behalf. What a responsibility we find ourselves with, therefore, as we speak into the world as His representatives. Let’s see how this arises here.

Job has just been speaking about the sovereignty of God. He knows that all that is happening is of God; it is no accident. So he continues, My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.” (13:1). It’s all right, he seems to be saying, I understand what is going on, and then he adds what he said at the beginning of chapter 12, “What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.” (v.2). In other words, you’re not the only ones who know these things. I am aware of God’s greatness and how He moves (implied by previous verses). But he has a desire: “But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.” (v.3), i.e. but I want to talk to God about all this, I want to chew over all that is going on. That’s where he has got to and we’ll see in the next study, the confidence he has in God to be able to want to do this.

But then he turns on them, the three friends. He expected something better from them. He is disappointed by their responses to him: “You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!” (v.4). It’s like he says, “Sorry guys, but you haven’t been speaking the truth about me. You’ve been making me out to be a big sinner – and I’m not! I needed help and comfort and all you did is judge and blame me. What a bunch of awful soul doctors you are!” Now that’s pretty challenging. I wonder if people think that of us. Do people in ‘pain’ feel anguish and look for comfort but just find judgmental words?  Do they feel put down, demeaned and inferior?  Jesus is a staggeringly good example of someone who got alongside people who needed God’s love and help, and didn’t judge them. That’s why the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came to him. If he had been a judgmental Pharisee they wouldn’t have gone near him. Do people know us as judgmental or loving, caring and accepting? Do people go away from us feeling loved and blessed, or bruised and beaten?

What does this leave Job feeling about what has happened so far? “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.” (v.5). He’s saying that because what they said had been wrong and had put him down and left him feeling even more miserable, they would have been better off remaining silent. Yet, he still wants them to understand, he still wants to try to contribute something worthwhile to this fiasco: “Hear now my argument; listen to the plea of my lips.” (v.6) I want to have a say in all this, he says, I want to add some more into what I’ve already said, and when I think about how you’ve spoken I don’t think I could do any worse (implied by what follows). “Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him? Will you show him partiality?  Will you argue the case for God?” (v.7,8). Look, he is saying, you have put yourselves forward as those who speak for God but what you have said has not been right. The Message version puts it well here: “are you going to keep on lying ‘to do God a service’? to make up stories ‘to get him off the hook’?” Look, he implies, I know I haven’t done wrong but you are saying God is punishing me and you also say God only punishes people who do wrong. You are not representing Him well!

Then he has another thought and wonders how they would feel if they came under God’s spotlight: “Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive men?” (v.9). How well would you do if He questioned you? Would you try to deceive Him and make out that you were trying to speak on His behalf? I think you would be in trouble: “He would surely rebuke you if you secretly showed partiality.” (v.10). If you let your bias against me show, I think you’d find He wouldn’t keep quiet about that! I think you’d be in trouble in His incredible presence: “Would not his splendor terrify you? Would not the dread of him fall on you?” (v.11). I think, he goes on, in God’s presence all your words would be seen to leave nothing but dust at the end of them and all your strong words would appear as weak as clay: “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.” (v.12)

As we’ve said, this is a serious challenge to think about the quality of what we say as God’s representatives, and the way we say things. A good prophet in the new covenant knows that even words of correction come with a gentleness that looks to bring change through grace. None of us is on such strong ground that we can blast others with their failures. The new covenant is all about love and restoration, not condemnation. Check it out. How do people feel about how you ‘handle’ them?  Do they get drawn to God’s love? Do they feel blessed? Are your words, words of graciousness? Let’s seek to be Jesus to them in this way.

18. Communicating God

God in the Psalms No.18

Psa 12:6 the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times

In this Psalm in our verse today, we find something that seems so obvious and yet is something that few of us really believe. God is a God of communication. The Bible is all about God communicating. Verbal communication, communication with content, is a feature of humanity because we are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26,27) and the Trinity communicates between themselves, or God communicates with Himself if you prefer that. (Even in our minds we talk to ourselves).  Even to bring the world into being the Lord spoke a word and it was (Gen 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26), and then he spoke to man and gave instructions (Gen 1:28-30, 2:16,17). Even in bringing Eve into being, God spoke about it first (Gen 2:18). Thereafter we find records of God communicating with men of His choosing – after the Fall to Adam and Eve (3:9-19), subsequently to Cain (Gen 4:6-15), then in respect of the Flood and Noah (Gen 6:7 on), then to Abram (Gen 12:1 on), etc. When John refers to Jesus, he initially calls him “The Word” (Jn 1), a means of communications. The writer to the Hebrews starts his letter-book by, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Heb 1:1,2). Here is a wonderful truth – God speaks to His people.

Today God speaks to us through His word, the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16,17) and directly by His Holy Spirit (e.g. Jn 14:26, 16:13). Why is it therefore that some of us are surprised at this thought and fear the thought of God speaking to us? Is it perhaps that we’re not sure about His nature?  Have you ever read C.S.Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”? If you have, you may remember the talk about Aslan the Lion, who Lewis uses to portray Jesus. One of the children, Lucy, asks, “Is he safe?” to which the reply is given, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  Some of us have the same fears as Lucy. We fear the Lord in the same way she feared Aslan – but, of course, that was before she knew him. She had yet to meet him and know that he was ‘good’. Everything about the Lord is good. You can be safe with Him. You can trust Him. Indeed when it comes to all that he says, you can trust it, because it is good and right – it is flawless!

When we talk about a diamond that is ‘flawless’ we mean it is completely without defect of any kind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Now do we realize that the same is true of all that the Lord says?  He makes no mistakes. He is totally truthful and therefore never lies. He never distorts the truth.  In fact, says David, God’s words are like the most purified metals. Imagine the purifying process, taking out all the impurities from silver. Imagine the process being repeated and repeated until eventually there is absolutely nothing more of impurity to be removed, and it is now totally pure silver. That is what God’s words are liked. There is nothing, but nothing, that is impure about them. They are perfect and they can be utterly trusted. So, if the Lord says He will protect the weak, He will!  God never says anything that He will not do.  If He’s said it, He will do it! You can utterly rely on what he’s said. Now this is vitally important to understand as we read God’s word. We can believe it, we can trust it, and we can rely upon it. Remember, what God says, He will do. If it’s conditional, remember, we may have a part to play.