The call of Matthew

Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash

What’s your attitude about inviting people to explore faith in the person of Jesus?

Tax collectors and other outcasts had gathered in Matthew’s house for a feast, (Matthew 9.9). In the centre of the hubbub, Jesus and his followers reclined at the dinner table.  Noticing Jesus’s presence among such riff-raff, the Pharisees scoffed.  How could Jesus consider himself a rabbi, and party with such a disreputable bunch?  So, they pulled a few of Jesus’s converts aside and huffed, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:10).  Overhearing their question, Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”.  The religious leaders’ blindness astounded Him. How could He reveal God’s love to these folks if He didn’t hang out with them?  Jesus then admonished the Pharisees.  “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’”.

He was quoting the prophet Hosea, who, centuries earlier, had condemned the Jews for attempting to excuse their idolatry and their oppression of the poor by offering the prescribed animal sacrifices.

The Biblical truth is this: God always values “mercy” over “sacrifice.”

But what exactly does that mean?

In Matthew 9 how do you view the people that Jesus was spending time with?  The Pharisees looked around Matthew’s house and saw nameless “tax collectors” and “sinners.”  Jesus looked around and saw people He cared about, people He wanted to hang out with. And He knew their names.

If we just do good acts, or charitable acts, for the sake of doing them we’ve missed the whole concept of “love as I have loved you” (John 13:34) and the sacrifice we’re making in Jesus’ name is likely to be faceless.  You see the sacrifices we are called to make for Jesus need to come from our heart, from our Spirit.  So, for Christians it’s all personal with Jesus.  It’s all about relationships.

If we truly want to move beyond sacrifice to mercy, as Jesus calls us to do, we need to get our heart involved with all that we do in our daily lives.  This will involve developing relationships with people, people with names and stories, joys and sorrows, prayer requests and praises. Otherwise, I don’t think we’ll ever understand what Jesus meant by “mercy, not sacrifice.”

Part of the problem is that mercy sounds too much like pity to us.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mercy as “compassion or forbearance”.  Such words can convey a certain condescension: Aren’t I something, helping out this person who’s less fortunate than I am?

As a teenager I helped a neighbour cut her grass when I saw her struggling with her mower.  I felt good about myself, “What a good lad I am.”  Jesus never responded to people with that attitude, even though He, the sinless Son of God, was indeed stooping to their level.  Instead, He placed Himself in a position, as he did in Matthew’s house, of reaching across the table, of treating each person with respect and dignity.

Jesus longs for us to move beyond the idea that sacrifice is what we feel obligated to give up in order to appear religious.  He wants us to get our hearts involved, tangled up with other people’s lives, so the word sacrifice drops out of our vocabulary, so that all we know is the passion to love others as Jesus loves us.

Jesus ate with Matthew and his friends because He wanted to.  He loved them. I would imagine that there was laughter, jokes, backslapping, and joy, especially joy.  The Pharisees couldn’t conceive of that kind of camaraderie between the pious and the publicans, the upright and the up-ended, the moral and the maligned.  But Jesus didn’t label people. He loved Nicodemus as genuinely as He loved Zacchaeus, and He loved Mary of Bethany as He loved Mary Magdalene. He always looked beyond a person’s history toward a person’s future.

What’s your attitude about inviting people to explore faith? Is it in line with Jesus’ attitude?

Ask God to move you toward Jesus’ kind of love.  Then we will be as comfortable at a table of ex-cons and alcoholics as we should be with church folk.

Don’t be satisfied with just “hands-on” rituals.  Ask God to move you toward “hearts-in” mercy, Jesus’ mercy.  Jesus wants us to have a year round attitude about living out His mercy and love in all the relationships that build up and extend His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Based on a sermon delivered on 19th January 2020.

Delight, and the baptism of Christ

 Psalm 1
 
1Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Photo by Emma on Unsplash

What gives you delight?   What gives you that sense of unparalleled joy, that amazing degree of enjoyment and pleasure?

For me, getting married, the birth of my children, scoring over 100 runs in a cricket match have been some of the things that have given me delight.

The psalmist in Psalm 1 defines delight as immersing oneself in the Law of the Lord.  He sings of the person who finds joy in listening to God’s voice in Scripture, who discovers with pleasure “the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God”, and who daily asks God to give the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know him better” (Romans 11:33 & Ephesians 1:17).

When Scripture refers to the “law of the LORD” it is not just referring to God’s laws, but refers to all of Scripture.  For all scripture is God breathed, and reveals to us His good and perfect will, his absolute truths, his love for us, and his divine nature.  Never forget that God only has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, after all Christ came to save us, not condemn us (Jeremiah 29:11 & John 3:17).

So, the more we know of the whole scope of God’s Word, the more resources we will have to guide us in our daily decisions.

Meditating on, and understanding God’s Word are the first steps toward applying it to your everyday life.  Here “meditating” means spending time reading, thinking, marking, and praying about what we have read.  It also means asking how we must change and grow so we will live in line with God’s truths and His perfect plans for us.

Do you know what the result of this constant delight in God’s Word is? You become like a tree planted by a river. Walking down river banks in high summer you see tall, vital trees, well-watered because they are rooted deep in the stream.  Such trees are resplendent with foliage in rich shades of green. They can withstand biting frost, harsh winds and blazing sun.

So, the more we delight in God’s presence, the more fruitful we will be.  Conversely, the more we allow those who ridicule God and faith to affect our thoughts and attitudes, the more we will be cut off from our source of nourishment.  We must engage and welcome unbelievers if we are to witness to them, but we must not adopt their sinful behaviour and scornful sarcasm.  If you want despair, spend time with cynics and critics; if you want God’s joy, and know His delight, spend time with those who love God, his Word, and his people.

A person who delights in God’s Word will prosper and have integrity, will speak truthfully and exhibit stability and strength.  This is the person who will reflect the face of God like a river reflects the sun in dappled waves. This one is truly blessed.

The phrase “whatever they do prospers” does not mean that God’s people have immunity from failure or difficulties. Nor does it guarantee health, wealth, or happiness. What the Bible means by prosperity is this: When we apply God’s wisdom, the fruit – the results or by-products we bear, will be good and will receive God’s approval.  Just as a tree soaks up water and bears luscious fruit, we are to soak up God’s Word and produce actions and attitudes that honour him.  To achieve anything worthwhile, we must have God’s Word in our hearts, for when we do our attitudes come more and more into line with His wholesome and life-giving attitudes.

What joy to know that God is watching the paths we walk each day.  We may feel like He keeps His eye on us to criticise us for what we do wrong along the way, but this is not true.  God sees us with loving eyes, protecting us, caring for us, and keeping us from stumbling on the journey (Psalm 121:3-5). I encourage you to look for signs of his care for you today, and bask in the thought that He is guiding and helping you on your daily journey.

Let your imagination soar with the grandeur, majesty, wisdom and unsurpassed love of God.  You will see Him as a rock, a fortress, a strong tower, a nurturing mother and so much more. He rides on the wind and shows Himself in the starry heavens.  Delight yourself in singing along with the psalmist and plant your roots deep in the nourishing living water of God’s Word.

After all, this is exactly what Jesus did.  Having come up out of the waters of baptism, heaven opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17).

God was pouring over Jesus His delight in His only Son.  God was revealing and establishing His new covenant that in a few years He would usher into His world through the death and resurrection of His Son.

This combination of the water of baptism, of God’s word for Him and knowing His Father’s delight gave Jesus the strength to go and do what God was calling Him to do.  He went and ministered to the people of Israel through selfless acts of service, culminating in His death on the cross.  But that was not the end.  He rose from the dead showing us that all “who believe in Him receive forgiveness of sins through His name.” (Acts 10:44).

What delight there is in God!

I encourage you to delight in the Lord, know afresh His sense of unparalleled joy, know again that amazing degree of enjoyment and pleasure, even to the point of rapture, being poured afresh over you.  When this becomes our daily experience, we will see amazing and beautiful things happen in the everyday events of our lives which will infuse the lives of those around us with God’s life, light, hope and love.

From a sermon delivered on Sunday 12th Jan 2020

Christmas is all about life

Christmas is all about life

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

Christmas is all about life!  It’s about both new life and eternal life.

But as we know, life can be difficult. We make choices that produce unintended and difficult circumstances, and people make decisions that work against us and bring us pain. When we enter into these difficult times, the pain tends to draw our eyes downward, away from God of life and toward ourselves. Our pain, understandably, becomes large, and as a result our perspective is that God becomes small, ineffective, unable to save. We may feel that he is not there, that He has abandoned us!  While that’s certainly not true, our personal pain can overwhelm us to the point of believing that to be true.

It is at times like these that certain stories in the Bible are especially helpful, and none more so than the story of creation and of the birth of Jesus, which could be called a second creation. Although there are many controversies connected with both these stories, I believe that both teach us critical and central truths about God.  One truth is this; if we focus on His power and His loving nature as displayed through these stories, the pain of our lives can find His healing. Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise. (Jer. 17:14)

Both stories show as God the Creator… and both stories are at the beginning of the two parts of the Bible; creation at the beginning of the OT, the new second creation at the beginning of the NT.

Genesis 1:1–2 begins by affirming that God is the sole creator of everything. He stands above creation, is separate from creation, and is sovereign over all he has made. The stage is set.

In the first three days, God takes what is chaotic and makes it inhabitable, and he does this merely by his spoken word. In this we see that God creates and controls matter at the subatomic and molecular level.  Yet our temptation is to think that God cannot help us in our pain. Sounds almost silly when one puts it that way.

God makes light without the sun and stars, in contrast to the pagan myths that saw the sun as the ultimate power. To God, the sun and stars are incidental in creation.

He makes water that can exist in three states — liquid, solid, and gas — knowing that thousands of years later He will change the molecular structure of water to something else so that His Son can walk on it. Just stop and think about that: The God whom we have come to worship tonight, the God who pursues us, this all-powerful God merely speaks, and reality, time, atoms, and molecules come into existence. Since the beginning of creation, these have always been under His control so He can perform the miracles we read about in the Gospels: He turns water into wine, heals physical and mental illness, and merely speaks to give life to the dead.  What an awesome God!

And remember, He is as loving as He is powerful.

The second half of creation week is about inhabiting what is still inhabitable. He makes the stars and places them in the heavens, puts fish in the seas, releases birds into the skies, and creates animals and, finally, humans to fill the earth. The earth does not have the innate ability to produce life; it is a gift from God.

In the story of Jesus, we see again God speaking and miraculous things happening.

An angel appears to Mary, telling her that by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, you will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus.  He will be… called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign…  for ever; His Kingdom will never end (Luke 1:31ff)

God spoke Jesus into existence!

As we look at the whole story of Jesus’ birth, angels are everywhere; speaking to Joseph, the man Mary was betrothed to marry, to the shepherds on the hill side, and to the Wise Men.  On all of these occasions they declared the word of God, instructing them what to do.  You see, they were being presented with the truth of who God is, a God of life, and God who offers us the best in life. 

In showing God’s truth these angels tell us that God can be trusted, that He has plans for us, plans that are to prosper and bless us, not to harm us, after all He sent Jesus into the world to save us, not to condemn us.

So Just as the world, created by God, is His gift to us, Jesus is God’s gift to us!  Through this second creation we have an opportunity to be restored to good relationship with God.

Let’s allow Genesis 1 and Jesus’ birth to enlarge our vision of God so that we can begin to see the immensity of who He truly is. So How big is the God of Jesus Christ’s church? Have the pains of life become so large that they control our attention? Has the God of Genesis 1 and the story of Jesus become so unsatisfying that the gods of this world compete for our affection — pleasure, absence of pain, power, independence?

The truth is this; our God is the God of both Genesis and Jesus, the One who speaks all things into existence. The One who is sovereign over absolutely everything. The One who is wise beyond anything we can understand. The God who is worthy of being pursued with every ounce of passion in our body and spirit; the one to whom we cry out in our pain, to whom we hang on to in times of trouble, whom we serve, and whom we glorify in our obedience to His teachings and commands.

As the angels opened up the minds of those involved in this story may we allow God to open up our minds to the truth that is found in Him, the truth that Jesus is His Son, the one who came to make us right with God because as our Saviour He saves us.  And may we allow God to open up our minds to see Jesus as the one who is anointed to bring healing to all people and all nations of the earth.

The bottom line is this, Jesus, brings life and restoration to every inch of the universe. 

So let’s embrace the opportunity that Christmas gives us, to rejoice by raising our eyes to the God of life in the wonder of all that God has done, and is now doing, through His Son Jesus Christ, and accept the baby as our Lord and Saviour. In the name of the one true God.  Amen

Love

Love

Week 8 of a series examining Christian virtues

Photo by Alex Ronsdorf on Unsplash

This week we take a look at love, – the last virtue identified by Peter, (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Hopefully over the last 7 weeks we’ve learnt that we are to grow in grace, which entails growing in godliness and Christlikeness. We are to display the fruit of the Spirit in the bond of peace and we are to demonstrate the gracious characteristics that only come from above, in our everyday life and pattern of living.

As children of our heavenly Father, we are to function in His divine supernatural nature, which He has been gifted to us, by faith in Christ. Jesus himself lived His life in the way that God ordained that we should live, from the beginning.

Despite Christ being fully God, and equal with His Father, He became a little lower than the angels and lived His life in subjection to God’s perfect will. The eternal Son became the perfect Man, to demonstrate to us sinners, who are saved by grace through faith in Christ – just HOW we should live, as children of God. 

As we abide in Jesus, and He in us, we are day by day to strive to be conformed into the image and likeness of Christ Himself.

We’ve spent the last 7 weeks looking at Peter’s list of the beautiful characteristics that our heavenly Father desires for all His blood-bought sons and daughters to display in their daily lives. Yes, we are in the world, but we are also not of the world, and so should show these divine characteristics that are ours, in and through our new life in Christ, for we are a new creation. 

Peter explains that by faith we have escaped the corruption of this world, and that by faith we have been given all we need for life and godliness.  And because we are God’s sons and daughters, we should make every effort to supplement our faith with goodness, our goodness with knowledge, our knowledge with self-control, our self-control with perseverance and our perseverance with godliness.

One would have thought that godliness, would have been the ultimate objective in a Christian’s life… but Peter continues; and to your godliness, add brotherly kindness, and to your brotherly kindness – add LOVE.  Love is the fulfilling of God’s law in our lives. Loving others in the same way that Christ loved us, is the commandment that He gave to each one of us.

Godliness should be the objective of a believer – where a practical holiness honours the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – but godliness should manifest love. And love for our perfect God must develop into love for an imperfect humanity. 

We are to demonstrate Christ-like tenderness and brotherly kindness to our imperfect brothers and sisters in Christ… for by this all will know that we are Christ’s disciples.  Such love is to extend to our enemies too because the bottom line is this… God requires perfection from us, and this is an impossibility in our own fallen nature – but we are being made a new creature in Christ, and have been clothed in His righteousness by faith. His eternal, resurrected life dwells in us, therefore, we have been given His perfect sinless nature – through which the supernatural love of God can be manifested.

When we die to self and all that the sin-soaked nature of our old life in Adam represents, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in newness of life, through Christ Jesus our Lord. 

So now we’ve come to love.  Note how faith leads the way, and love brings up the rear because it is the greatest of all!

The Greek word agape is often translated “love” in the New Testament. How is “agape love” different from other types of love? The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and wilful delight in the object of love. Unlike our English word love, agape is not used in the New Testament to refer to romantic or sexual love (eros). Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love, (for which the Greek word philia is used). Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character, as we see beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 13.

In the New Testament, Agape love has a distinct meaning. It is used to describe the love that is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God does not merely love, because He is love itself, for everything God does flows from His love.

Agape is also used to describe:

  • Our love for God. (Luke 10:27 – He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”)
  • A servant’s faithful respect to his master (Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”)
  • A man’s attachment to things (John 3:19 – This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.)

The type of love that characterises God is not sappy and sentimental. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, not because we deserve it or because of any excellence we possess, but because it is His nature to love and He must be true to His nature.

Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5). We did not deserve such a sacrifice, “but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s agape love is unmerited, gracious, and constantly seeking the benefit of the ones He loves. The Bible says we are the undeserving recipients of His lavish agape love (1 John 3:1- See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.). God’s demonstration of agape love led to the sacrifice of His one and only Son for those He loves.

Because of all this we are to love others with agape love, whether they are fellow believers (John 13:34 – ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.) or bitter enemies (Matthew 5:44 – “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”). Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us.  Agape love, as modelled by Christ, is not based on a feeling; rather, it is a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own.

Agape love does not come naturally to us. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love (agape) can only come from its source. This is the love that “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5; cf. Galatians 5:22). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Because of God’s love toward us, we are able to love one another.

Are you growing colder as you get older in your Christian life? Or are you pressing toward the upward call, seeking to know the Lord Jesus more and more intimately? May we all press on in the power of the Spirit of God, and through the provision of the Word of God.

Brotherly kindness

Brotherly kindness

Week 7 of a series examining Christian virtues.

Photo by Sandrachile . on Unsplash

This week we examine the virtue of brotherly kindness, in our walk through the Christian virtues identified by Peter, (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Brotherly kindness is a uniquely Christian concept, but what does it look like?

In a nutshell it is an attitude of warm affectionate devotion that can be shared by brothers and sisters in a close-knit family.  Scripture paints a picture of early church life that describes brotherly kindness.  Each local congregation was just like a close-knit family, where the members treated one another lovingly and warmly as if they had very close blood ties with each other.

So brotherly kindness is about treating Christians like they are “family”.

(1 Pet 3:8 – finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble;2:17 – show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

So before we can “love everyone” we’d better get a good handle on loving the brethren, and being kind to them.  This will mean at times we are to prefer one another over those of our friends who see the pub as their place of worship! 

(Rom 12:10 – Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Gal 6:10 – therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.)

This will involve working at overcoming our selfish wants, and pleasures.  Why..?

Because …

  • We have the same father now
  • We serve the same master – Jesus
  • We are all in the same family – the family of God
  • We are only “visiting this planet”
  • We are all heirs of the same inheritance

I don’t need to tell you that showing brotherly kindness is not easy.  It is one of the hardest challenges for the Christian.

Maybe you are able to get along with people in the fellowship, maybe you are able to like them, maybe you are even able to love some,  but to love all fervently… really God?

(1 Pet 1:22 – Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.)

This is why our attitude and approach towards other Bible believers must be worked on.

(Col 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.)

This step will be attacked – yet it must be maintained, through thick and thin.

(Heb 13:1 – Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.)

Jesus compared the Christian family with marriage.  The moment a couple are married someone new has entered your family – You’ve got to love them!  You’ve got to love them in good times, in bad times, in sickness and in health.  The proof that you are a Christian is how you love and care for other Christians.

This is so much more than just being “nice” because the way scripture teaches us to treat our brother and sister is not always soft and gentle, for if they wander from the path God has for them we are to call them back.  But whatever is done, it must be always done in love.

So brotherly kindness is to be kind, tender, sacrificial.

(1 John 3:16 – This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.)

Yet at the same time it is to be straight-up, direct, correcting, because you are looking out for a member of the family.  That’s God’s kind of kindness, illustrated by the following examples from scripture:

Gal 4:16 – Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

Eph 4:15 – Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Pr 27:6 – Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.)

Ps 141:5 – Let a righteous man strike me – that is a kindness; let him rebuke me – that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Isa 54:8,10 – In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the lord your redeemer.  10 though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the lord, who has compassion on you.)

If you are without this virtue, without brotherly kindness, what then? You will be alone, because without brotherly kindness in your words, and relationships, you will end up being an inactive part of the family God has placed you in.

(Eph 2:19 – Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household)

This can often lead to frustration and anger, for this is the natural replacement of kindness.

Such people could be knowledgeable of the Bible, but exhibit harsh, cruel, spiteful, vengeful attitudes.  It’s easy to lose sight that God commands us to treat each other with great care.

If this goes unchecked then they can end up working against the work of Christ in people’s lives, and in their own life.

And Joseph, of Amazing Technicolour Dream coat fame, is a wonderful example of biblical brotherly kindness.  (Gen 37-45).  His family can be traced back to Abraham via Isaac.  Jacob, his father, had twelve sons and he was favoured by his father.  The out working of this was that his brothers let jealousy ruin their home (Gen 37:18-20, 23-28, 36).

​As Cain had done, they thought about killing him, then decided to sell him – it’s worth noting that the 20 pieces of silver was a bargain for the normal price for a slave was 30 pieces of silver!

So for the next 13 years Joseph was a slave.  Then he spent three years  in prison before God raised him up to rule as prince of Egypt, (Gen 39:20)

But it was another eight years until he met his brothers (Gen 42:3-8)..  Through all of this, God was with Joseph – God didn’t abandon him – God had a plan He was working out.

How would you handle a family situation like Joseph’s?

Joseph handled it this way – ​he loved them – he never stayed angry at them, or got bitter – ever! He didn’t let the past shape his present and future – no revenge was sought.  He learnt from his experience – yes, he was “rough” with them “for a season” but in the background there was kindness.

He carefully worked things so they would care about Benjamin like they should have cared for him. He also made sure they cared about their father’s feelings.

Yes, he let them stew, but it gave them time to think things through.  In doing this he allowed God to fix the problems, for often there are no quick fixes – he just wanted a strong family.

He lent them a hand – took care of them and blessed them.  He loved them openly and was not ashamed to show them off as his family.

So how does this apply to a church, to the family of God?

We are a big family, with problems like all families. We suffer from envy, disappointments, misunderstandings etc.  How we react is far more important than how we are treated.

We need to nurture brotherly kindness by accepting it as a gift from God, for He is always very kind and gentle towards us.  Then we are to do things not just because someone is worthy, but because they are family. If we show kindness with fervency – it will grow on us!

In all this we need to ask God to help us take this step for He is “with us”, because He does have a plan for each of us, a plan that means we will be a blessing to others!

Ephesians 4:30-32 is still a direct command in the Bible:

30 And do not grieve the holy spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Conclusion

All this begins with Jesus, who went through all that Joseph experienced, but on a massive scale – and yet loves us still for He is kind to us still.

If Jesus is your Saviour, then as a child of God, believers deserve your loving kindness, not because they are worthy, but because they are family.

Godliness

Godliness

Week 6 of a series examining Christian virtues

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

This week we examine the virtue of Godliness, in our walk through the Christian virtues identified by Peter, (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Peter begins this brief letter to Christians by reminding us that we are fully equipped to lead the life to which God has called us.  However, we must work to add to our faith Christ’s goodness and His other powerful positive supernatural qualities to our lives. This requires effort, unlike eternal salvation which is not based on our work. If we lack these positive attributes of God, we will live as unproductive and ineffective servants of God.  Thus, we will be nearly as blind as unbelievers, and likely to forget that our confessed sins are forgiven.

This means that as Christians we have by faith become participants in God’s divine supernatural nature.  Therefore, as we see in verse 5, we must “make every effort” to add a list of Christ-like qualities to our faith. And these Christ-like qualities need to be taken together, for they fully describe the life of a Christian who is participating in God’s supernatural divine nature. I believe that there is a logical order to these characteristics, because each one is a necessary requirement for the quality which follows.  

First, since we have been equipped to live like Jesus, we must work to add goodness, (or “moral excellence”)to our faith. This means that we will work to do good, by God’s power, in the world now, as Jesus would if He were in our place. This goodness becomes the foundation for the rest of these qualities.

We are also to add knowledge. This is a deeper understanding of our God, through His Word, and prayer, which informs our goodness. Merely wanting to do good is not enough; we learn to know what good is by knowing God.

Next, we must add self–control. Without the ability to control ourselves, our knowledge of good, and the desire to do it, are both worthless. Self-control is the moment-by-moment restraint of our fleshly urges. This is the ability to make the right choice, in those moments when temptation strikes us.

Then we must add perseverance. Perseverance is the ability to practice self–control over time. Our sprints of doing good are to turn into marathons. Our moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, day-by-day choices are eventually to transform us to live supernatural divine lifestyles. Perseverance, therefore, is the ability to maintain self-control, even when the pressure of temptation continues to attack us.

Next, we add godliness. This keeps our goodness from being merely human goodness, for we are to chase after a moral excellence which reflects the supernatural divine nature of God Himself, and not the temporary, earth–bound “goodness” of the flesh. 

According to my Young’s concordance, the word “godliness” occurs 14 times in the New Testament, (in the Pastoral Letters of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and 2 Peter), with most occurring in 1 Timothy.  Like Peter, Paul sees that godliness is no static, stained-glass word. It is active.  It is a kinetic obedience that springs from a reverent awe of God. It is the Isaiah-like action that has a person, so awestruck by God that they rise from their face saying, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Awe — THEN action! So Godliness is not piety as is often thought — upturned eyes and folded hands. It cannot be cloistered in church buildings because the godly among us are those people whose reverent worship of God flows into obedience throughout the week as they complete the good works that God has prepared for them to walk in.  Remember, God only has good plans and purposes for us.

How do we know if we’re walking in these Godly plans and purposes?  One way is to look at what we believe God is calling us to do and to ask our self, “Do these things come into line with God’s truth?”, “Are these the sort of things Jesus would do if He were here now?”  If the answer is “No”, then it’s best not to do them and seek God’s counsel for clarification.  Often such counsel is best done in fellowship with other Christians through worship, bible study, discernment and most importantly prayer.

One thing that will increase our desire for godliness is our diet.  And I don’t mean eating our 5 portions of fruit and veg a day!  What I mean is our spiritual diet.  Paul in 1 Timothy 4:6-7 writes that to be a good servant of Christ Jesus you will have to be trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that comes from such words.  This means we are not to have anything to do with irreverent and distracting false ideologies that twist God’s Word, and so twist His character into something He is not in order to suit the ears of the listener.

As Paul encourages Timothy and us, and as Peter encourages us, we are to be continually fed with the content of the gospel and apostolic teaching, because nourishment in the Word is essential to us being “a good servant.” The most effective Disciples of Jesus Christ are those who persevere as students of the Word and in fellowship with other believers, for their whole life. All the Apostles were repeatedly adamant about this too.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

So to conclude:

Godliness has as its central meaning a life of active obedience through the individual’s faith in God through His Son, Jesus Christ.  (1 Tim. 3:16;  Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory). 

The secret, therefore, of the godly life is letting God reveal Himself to us through Jesus Christ.  Therefore, godliness is basically following Jesus in this life (Titus 2:12; It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age).

Scripture presents godliness as a Christian goal to be earnestly sought after (1 Tim. 2:2; that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Tim. 4:7-8; Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come), even if it leads to persecution, (2 Tim. 3:12; In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted).

And we need to understand that godliness and sound doctrine are closely related, so godliness is about knowing the truth of who God is as revealed to us through His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.  The blessing of this is that as we grow in godliness we will experience and know better the supernatural divine power of God in us, both individually and corporately, for in Christ we have all we need to live the life God calls us to live.

Perseverance

Perseverance

Week 5 of a series examining Christian virtues

We are continuing to look at the virtues of God described in 2 Peter 1:5-11. Today our focus is on perseverance; not a bad theme for Remembrance Sunday, for we are to persevere in working for peace in our life, in our home, in our communities, in our nation, and in the world.

But life has it challenges, my life can be messy, my behaviour is not always predictable, I do not always choose the most obvious path.  If I don’t guard my heart, I can quickly become cynical and despairing, ingesting the hopelessness that I see around me.  Isn’t that the same for all of us? 

This is where perseverance comes in.  I need to keep on going, focussing on God and His Son Jesus, yet… when we look around we see so much pain and suffering.  And it’s not just physical pain, there is much emotional and psychological pain too.  We cry over the brokenness of others that we know, as well as crying for strangers.  Our tears may be triggered by compassion, or a deep sense of sadness and disappointment at what we are hearing and seeing in our world.

Obviously, this is not God’s will for His children, because we are all called to be light in the darkness and carriers of His hope. The darkness of this world should not be engulfing us, but rather fleeing at our approach because of the indwelling light of Christ and His power in us. This is the biblical perspective and it is the perspective we should all choose to embrace and chase after. You see, God is always at work, whether we perceive it or not.

The Good News is that when we surrender our lives to God we immediately become more aware of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light.  As we grow in awareness of this for ourselves, by pursuing the God who pursues us because of His love for us, we become even more aware of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light.  Then we begin to show more and more of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light to those we engage with on a daily basis, whether it be spouse, partner, children, wider family, neighbours, work colleagues, those we socialise with, as well as strangers we meet day by day.

God’s desire is that through our surrendered lives to Him we allow Him to bring comfort, restoration, healing, life and light to others. Have you surrendered all of your life to God?  As you do this, perseverance will be needed if you are going to make it to the end.

The reading from the prophet Micah (Micah 4:1-5) is an appropriate one for Remembrance Sunday as he speaks against a background of armed conflicts. In 722 BC the Assyrians destroyed Samaria (the Northern part of the original nation of Israel) and 20 years later attacked Jerusalem, only for the city to escape by a miracle. Micah almost certainly lived through both of these events and appears to have been deeply affected by them. He decries the fallacy of human plans compared to the wisdom of God and His ways, and he rebukes the leaders and prophets who have led the people into this situation. He perseveres in all of this, because our reading speaks of the new hope that will be, when restoration and God’s rule comes, and God Himself will judge the disputes ‘for strong nations far and wide’.  It is then, and only then through persevering, that people will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Having witnessed the horrors of war, Micah is clear that true peace can only come to the world when God’s rule reigns supreme.  In a world where many deeply desire peace, we too need to remember that it is God alone who can bring true peace, for God alone is the author of true justice and peace. Micah explains that our role in this new world order is ‘to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8).  In other words, we are to work hand in hand with God to bring about the peace which He describes.   We cannot engineer or create peace purely through diplomatic, political or military means.  Politics, diplomacy and armed forces can be an important supporting element for peace, but true peace can only come when God is at the centre of all our efforts.  Persevere, then, with working for Godly peace.

There is another scripture that can help the world today:

‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded’ (Jeremiah 31:16).

The context of this is God speaking to Israel, through the prophet Jeremiah, and it was the restoration of their nation that he was proclaiming.  I believe that this verse is helpful for us today. Many feel broken by what they see going on here and in the rest of the world, and many our crying over this brokenness. 

To me this verse paints a picture of God stooping down to us with a box of tissues and telling us to wipe away our tears. He wants us to know, that despite all we see and hear, He is indeed at work in the lives of all people, and we will see a reward for our labour. Can we hold this promise close to our heart?

The apostle Paul relayed a similar message to the Corinthians. He said, ‘So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless’ (1 Corinthians 15:58). That must have been an ‘adrenaline shot’ for the Corinthian church.

He also encouraged the early Christians to continue sowing good deeds, wherever they had opportunity, as harvest time was coming (Galatians 6:9-10). They would only reap, though, if they persevered in sowing and refused to give up.

The teachings of Jesus on perseverance are very clear: He has conquered death and it no longer need hold any power over us. For Jesus gave real hope with His promise of a kingdom which was yet to come. Jesus spoke in pictures about a time when there would be feasting and laughter. This time to come would be different, the hungry would be filled and those who had been downtrodden would be freed.  This gives us hope as we entrust to God those who have died for our broken world.

However, in his teachings Jesus also made clear that real change must start to take place now in the hearts and minds of his followers. We therefore use Remembrance Sunday to remind ourselves of our part in seeking to bring about the desperate need for change.  For Christians this Remembrance Sunday is more than an act of remembrance, it is a promise that we will do our best to serve Christ by serving others in the cause of peace, and for the relief of want and suffering.

By His Holy Spirit may He give us wisdom, courage, and hope and keep us faithful now and always.  This will be hard, but it will be well worth persevering for.  So, despite all you hear about the world today don’t giving up!  …Persevere – for giving up is not on God’s agenda!

Don’t quit, for I sense God saying; “Don’t give up, don’t quit, persevere! Keep sowing! Harvest is coming!” I repeat, “Harvest is coming, for I am at work and your efforts will be rewarded. I pass you a box of tissues right now so you can wipe away those tears of brokenness and pain.”

Self-control and the power of Christ

Self-control and the power of Christ

Week 4 of a series examining Christian virtues

We are continuing our study of the virtues of God described in 2 Peter 1:5-11. This week it’s the turn of self-control to come under the spotlight.

What’s my favourite biscuit?  Custard creams!

I can buy a packet of custard creams and they will stay in the cupboard for weeks.  I’m showing self-control!  But then that all goes to pot – I open the packet and before I know it I’m ¾ of the way through them, and so I think, “Well, there’s only a few left, I might as well finish them” and woof, they’re all gone!  Oh, where did my self-control go?

It sounds so simple and straightforward, perhaps even commonplace to think that we are all good at self-control.   Why?  Because it’s not a flashy concept.  Surely it’s easy to say “No” to another Custard Cream, French fry, or milkshake — or another half hour on Netflix or Facebook — or another glass of wine, pint of beer.  You just say no!

But it’s not that easy. Why?  Because to exercise self-control in a fallen world is one of the most difficult things you and I can ever learn to do.

Some say self-control can be taught.  But can it?  What does Scripture say?

Well, Scripture clearly shows us that alongside love and godliness, self-control serves as a major summary term for Christian conduct (2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 2:6, 12; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6). It is the climactic “fruit of the Spirit” in Paul’s list (Galatians 5:22–23) and one of the first things that must be characteristic of leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). Proverbs 25:28 likens “a man without self-control” to “a city broken into and left without walls.” 

From these and other verses I think that scripture show us that true self-control is not about bringing ourselves under our own control, but under the power of Christ.

Biblically, self-control, or lack thereof, goes to the deepest part of us: the heart. It begins with control of our emotions, and then includes our minds as well. Self-control is often paired with “sober-mindedness” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Titus 2:2; 1 Peter 4:7), In several places the language of “self-control” applies especially to the mind. Mark 5:15 and Luke 8:35 characterise the healed demoniac as “clothed and in his right mind.” Paul uses similar language to speak of being in his right mind (2 Corinthians 5:13), as well as not being out of his mind (Acts 26:25). Romans 12:3 exhorts every Christian “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,” but to exercise a form of self-control: thinking “with sober judgment.”

Self-control is both bodily and external. The apostle disciplines his body to “keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:25–27). It can mean not being “slaves to much wine” (Titus 2:3–5). And in particular, the language of self-control often has sexual overtones. Paul instructs Christians to “abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5). In a charge to women in 1 Timothy 2:9, self-control relates to modesty. And 1 Corinthians 7 presumes that lack of self-control in married adults might give Satan some foothold were they to unnecessarily deprive their spouse sexually for an extended time (1 Corinthians 7:5). Also God has given some the calling of singleness and with it, “having his desire under control” (1 Corinthians 7:37); others “burn with passion” and find it better to marry (1 Corinthians 7:9).

So, the question for the Christian, then, is this: If self-control is so significant how do I go about pursuing it as a Christian?

One way could be to train yourself to turn your back on objects of desire.  You could pretend it is not what you see, so I could see a custard cream as a piece of wood!  If I can change how I think about it, its impact on what I feel and do changes.

This may be a good place to start, but the Bible has more to teach than raw renunciation because we need more than mere diversion tactics!

True self-control is a gift from above, produced in and through us by the Holy Spirit. Until we believe that it is received from outside ourselves, rather than whipped up from within, the effort we give to control our own selves will resound to our praise, rather than God’s.

Self-control therefore, is an active gift; we are not to receive it passively. We are to open the gift and live it so that we exercise it through God’s grace, because all we have is a result of God’s grace to us.

Seeing it as a gift of grace should mean that we want Jesus to get the glory when we exercise self-control because it is only through His power that we can do it.  We are to learn to say no, but we don’t just say no. We admit the inadequacy, and emptiness, of doing it on our own. We pray for Jesus’s help, and craft specific strategies. We trust God’s promises to supply the power for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8; Philippians 4:19) and then act in faith that He will do it in and through us (Philippians 2:12–13). And then we thank him for every Spirit-supplied strain and success and step forward in self-control.

When “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14), when we embrace the truth that He is our sovereign, and God has “left nothing outside his control” (Hebrews 2:8), we can bask in the freedom that we need not muster our own strength to exercise self-control, but we can find strength in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, “the grace of God has appeared . . . training us” — not just “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,” but “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). Christian self-control is not finally about bringing our bodily passions under our own control, but under the control of Christ by the power of his Spirit.

All his life he was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). He stayed the course even when sweat came like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He could have called twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53), but he had the wherewithal to not rebut the false charges (Matthew 27:14) or defend himself (Luke 23:9). When reviled, he did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). They spat in his face and struck him; some slapped him (Matthew 26:67). They scourged him (Matthew 27:26). In every trial and temptation, “He learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8), and at the pinnacle of his self-control He was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). And he is the one who strengthens us (1 Timothy 1:12; Philippians 4:13).

So in Jesus, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a source for true self-control far beyond that of our feeble selves.

Therefore, meditating, reflecting and studying these virtues of God as listed in 2 Peter 1 shows us what we are to strive towards in the Christian Life.

At the same time, it teaches us dependence on God; it teaches us our utter need for the Spirit of God to rule over and in our lives, and so it teaches us our desperate need to look to the Spirit, depend upon the spirit, ask the Spirit of God for help and strengthening.  As we do this we will grow in wisdom, revelation and the knowledge of God; thus we will be increasingly transformed into the likeness of God.  Then we will live out, “these qualities in increasing measure” and “they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8).

Knowledge

Knowledge

Week 3 of a series examining Christian virtues

Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

We are continuing with the virtues of God described in 2 Peter 1:5-11.  Today we’re looking at knowledge; the knowledge of God.

The knowledge of God is like a garment we put on that is way too big for us. We need to continue to grow into it.

I can remember my parents saying to me you’ll grow into that jumper, especially when I was having a “hand-me-down” from my older brother!

The picture Scripture gives about the knowledge of God is like clothing a child while they are growing up.

When our daughters were babies we never bought clothes that were just the right fit.  We knew that they would grow, so we bought the baby grow that little bit bigger, saying, “Oh, she is going to grow into it.” And she did – all too quickly!  This continued when we sent them to school. Blouses, skirts, jumpers, coats were all bought on the large side.  We turned up the sleeves because it was easier to let them down than buy another garment.

Adults grow as well, but not primarily physical growth – although that does happen, and often in ways we don’t desire! The growth of the adult should primarily in the areas of experience, knowledge, and maturity.

It is the same for us as believers. But the interesting thing is that the growing process never stops, because the knowledge of God is a garment that you and I could never possibly grow all the way into.  The knowledge of God is so vast, and deep, and wide, and high that you could spend a hundred lifetimes growing in your knowledge of God, and you would still have an incredible amount of growing yet to do.

The Bible clearly shows us that growing in the knowledge of God, and so of Jesus, is a process

It begins with the foundation of faith, that we trust God about Jesus, that we’re convicted about who Jesus is; the Son of God.  The next part of the process is to add goodness, which we looked at last week.  This is about striving to allow God to renew us so that we are ready to believe and then receive His goodness, because God is a GOOD God.

Now Peter is saying we are to add knowledge to faith and goodness (2 Peter 1:5).  This makes sense for what good is it to have faith and the desire to do good (virtue) unless we know where to focus our faith and channel our goodness?

Knowledge, therefore, is an essential element in growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Knowledge can be defined as “to become thoroughly acquainted with, to know thoroughly, to know accurately, know well” (Thayer). (The word epignosis {ep-ig’-no-sis}). It can also be defined as “seeking to know, an inquiry, investigation” (Vine).  (The word gnosis {gno’-sis})

So for the Christian, knowledge pertains to understanding the will of God and that the way of salvation is found only through His Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 1:77; Philippeans 3:8).  God wants us to seek His knowledge so that we truly know that we’re thoroughly acquainted with Jesus Christ.

In Scripture we find that God demands his people to have knowledge… Deuteronomy 6:6-9 tells us that God expected it of Israel:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.

The Lord also declared to Jeremiah that the Knowledge of God would be a characteristic of the New Covenant.

‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.

33 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord.  ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.   I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the Lord.  ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’ (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Paul in his letter to the Colossians says for us to be pleasing to the Lord, we must have a knowledge of His will –

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. (Col 1:9-10).

If it is God’s demand for us to have knowledge, then it goes without saying that when we display a lack of knowledge He is displeased with us. Hosea 4 & 6 tells us that Israel was destroyed because of their lack of knowledge…

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: ‘There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.  (Hosea 4:1,6)

‘What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.  5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth – then my judgments go forth like the sun.  6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:4-6)

In 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 we read how Jesus will come in judgement against those who do not know God…

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

So without knowledge, all the sincerity and zeal in the world is in vain!

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:1-3)

Since knowledge of God and His will is so important, how do we “add” knowledge?

The development of knowledge

Well, we have to acknowledge that the source for knowledge is Jesus.

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col 2:1-3)

So the New Testament is essential as we pursue Godly knowledge, for it contains the only reliable source of information concerning Jesus’ teachings while on earth and later through His apostles.

The Old Testament is also to be a source of knowledge (2 Timothy 3:14-17), and this not only for the prophetic information about Christ and His salvation, but also sheds light on the nature of God, and what makes the Godly person complete. Therefore, in our search for knowledge, certain attitudes are necessary:

  • A heart that longs and searches for knowledge (Pr 2:3-6; cf. 1 Pe 2:2)
  • A mind that values knowledge more highly than gold (Pr 8: 10-11)
  • A love for instruction (Pr 12:1)

A person with these attitudes will:

  • Make daily Bible reading a priority in their life
  • Utilise every opportunity to study the Word of God alone, and with others
  • Not take such opportunities for granted

So, do we demonstrate to others that acquiring knowledge of God and His Word is a priority? If we are diligent in our study of God’s Word, progress will be evident to others, as we read in 1 Tim 4:

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:15-16)

Of course, the reverse is just as true, sadly.  We also need to be cautious with the knowledge we have, for like all things, knowledge can be dangerous.

The danger of knowledge

Knowledge has the potential to produce arrogance, because it can “puff up” rather than “build up” (edify).  It has been said that “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” (Alexander Pope)

Now about food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.  (1 Co 8: 1-2)

For this reason, we must temper knowledge with love and meekness, for love edifies, and does not puff itself up, (See 1 Cor 8:1; 13:4).

So, to check if our perceived knowledge or wisdom is being used wisely we need to see if it is manifesting itself in a spirit of meekness.  If it’s hard, abrupt, bullying or intimidating then we need to go back to God and seek His forgiveness and let Him temper our knowledge and His perfect wisdom.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13,17)

The truth is this:

there is no virtue in knowledge if it leads to arrogance.

If used incorrectly, KNOWLEDGE CAN DESTROY a fellow Christian when it is misused.

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but one.’ 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling-block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  (see 1 Co 8:4-11)

How do we know when we’re operating out of arrogance?

  • When we despise the lack of knowledge in others,
  • when we run roughshod over the weak conscience of others.

Such abuse of knowledge produces sin in our lives (see 1 Cor 8:12-13) which can lead us to sin against Christ! Therefore, humility, compassion, grace, mercy and love must properly restrain our use of knowledge (see Romans 14:14-21), for like a sharp knife, knowledge can be dangerous when used improperly.

Conclusion

With the proper application of knowledge:

  • We can build up our faith, as faith comes from God’s Word
  • We provide direction in which to channel our striving for excellence

So a question worth asking on a regular basis is “am I growing in knowledge?” If the answer is “no”, we are setting ourselves up for destruction for Scripture warns;

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”  Hosea 4:6

If we are growing, then we are on the right track for Scripture promises;

“…you will never stumble or fall.”  (2 Peter 1:10)

However, we must take care that our knowledge of God does not lead us away from God by making us arrogant and unloving towards others. There is no virtue in knowledge if it leads to arrogance.

To our faith and goodness, therefore, let us be sure to add knowledge, that we might truly grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Goodness

Goodness

Week 2 of a series examining Christian Virtues

Tasting the goodness of God

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Our God is a good God!

If you know Him and love Him, you’ll likely respond with a hearty, Amen to that!  Yesterday, today, forever; God is good. On our best days, on our worst days; God is good. He desires to bless us, heal us, deliver us and prosper us every day. Psalm 34:8 says taste and see that the Lord is good.

When Barbara and I were away in France recently, our hotel had its own patisserie.  We could see lots of wonderful pastries, and oh they looked good.  I knew they existed because I could see them. People were coming in and enjoying them.  But I didn’t know how good they were until I’d tasted one myself. We know the truth about something through first-hand experience.

You see, Jesus teaches that we have to press into God’s goodness, and the best way to start this is to accept that you still have something to learn about God and His goodness.  Paul says in Romans 12:2 Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Therefore, don’t let religious traditions rob you of the goodness of God. Don’t let a sense of unworthiness rob you of the goodness of God.

Dig into your Bible and discover for yourself the passages that speak of God’s mercy (Psalm 86:5), of His loving-kindness (Jeremiah 9:24), and His compassion (Psalm 145:8), for He is good to all. We will see the goodness of God in our lives by the renewing of our minds.

We read in James, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

God is not holding back any good thing from anyone. God has things in store for you that you’ve never even dared to imagine. That should be exciting to think about, (1 Corinthians 2:9-10), but you need to believe this.

When we begin to understand God’s goodness, we find it easier to trust Him. That trust then enables us to open our hearts to new level of His power in our lives, as our belief grows.  You see it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you His Kingdom, (Luke 12:32).  He does not want to withhold anything from those who push deeper into Him (Psalm 84:11).

If you doubt that God is good and that He is going to manifest His goodness in your life, you will lose heart and quit, move into unbelief and close the door on what He wants to give you.  But if you were to take a deeper step in believing in the goodness of God where will you be this time next year?  Where will we as a church be this time next year?   Things will be better in your life, and in the life of Christ’s Church here.  We will be better equipped to overcome the forces of evil, for the devil works by stealing, killing and destroying what is good in our lives.  “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11). Once you renew your mind and believe you will see the goodness of God, all that is left for you to do is receive the goodness of God.

Do you feel that there are things missing in your life today?  Are there things that you long for, pray for, dream about?

If the missing things align with God’s Word, He wants you to have it.  Now that doesn’t mean He will hand it to you on a plate, very often you have a part to play. The biggest part will be obedience and receiving by faith. Sometimes there is a preparation period between the “Amen” and “There it is.” But don’t doubt for a moment that He wants to give it to you.

Why do some people have trouble receiving from God?  Because they haven’t fully understood the goodness of God. Yet, it’s a foundation of our faith in Him.

I know many of you have tasted the goodness of the Lord in many areas of your life. Praise God for that! But wouldn’t you like to go further in your walk with Him? Wouldn’t you like to be bolder and more daring in your faith?

Think of the times when you sensed the Lord calling you to do something new, to make a change in your life. Like Peter, you heard the voice of the Master calling you to cross the water of life to new levels in Him. You heard Him say, “Come!” You wanted to step out of your little comfort zone and walk on the water…but you didn’t. Fear stopped you. You saw the wind and the waves in the circumstances around you. You grew timid and shrank back. You didn’t reach out and receive.

But don’t feel condemned. Instead, let the truth strengthen your faith. Let it inspire you to search the Word, and so let it show you more about the goodness of God.

Renewing your mind, believing and receiving are all part of the journey to taste the goodness of God in every single part of your life. Put a piece of God’s goodness on your plate, pick up a fork and dig in! Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Based on Psalm 145:1-13; Matthew 7:7-12