Series Theme: "Aspiring" Meditations
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Aspiring Meditations: 1. Introducing Aspiring
2 Pet 1:5-8 make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A number of years ago we attended the ninetieth birthday of an uncle of my wife. I had met him only a few times but he came over as a gracious old man. I had picked up along the way that he had been a farmer, and had been a Christian all his life. When his wife reached seventy she suffered major memory loss, didn't even know him, became bed bound and incontinent, but he refused to have her put into a home and so cared for her day and night for ten years until she passed away.
When we came to his birthday celebration we knew he attended a small church on the south coast, looked after the elderly of the church (!!!), led Bible studies, attended a weekly house group, and once a term went to a local junior school and took their ‘Assembly' for them. At this celebration, which was a gathering of the wider family and a few close friends for the whole day in someone's large house, we sat around chatting with people and caught up on the passing years. In the middle of the afternoon Tea was being served and a big birthday cake was brought in with lots of candles which, of course, he was required to blow out. This was typically followed by someone calling out, “Speech, speech”, the traditional call for the ‘celebrity to say a a few words.
In the next ten minutes, and it was only ten minutes, he gave his testimony of how he came to the Lord as a child, how the Lord had kept him through all the years of his life, and shared the basic Gospel, concluding with a very funny joke that made you laugh but at the same time confronted you with a challenge as to what your life was founded upon, and then he sat down to applause. About half the people there, I believe, were not believers. Knowing what I knew about him and witnessing this episode, I found myself praying, “Lord, I have at last found someone I would want to emulate. I don't know how many years you have got for me, but please use me in some way every day, like you have done with this gracious old man.”
As I pondered over this in the following months I realised there I was aspiring to a higher level of grace than that which I had known until then. Then as I pondered on that, I realised that Scripture is full of things that the Lord wants us to aspire to, and so that is what this new series is about. It takes the general concept, that is clear in the New Testament, that the Lord expects growth in us and growth means that next year, say, I can be experiencing His grace in some form, more than I do today.
In his second letter, the apostle Peter gives us this list of things in the verses above that he wants us to aspire to, things he wants us to develop in our lives. Now this is the thing about the Christian life: the Lord has provided for us and so it is down to us to appropriate all that He has given us in Christ, but that is an ongoing process. Now whether those things in Peter's list are things that are ‘one after another' that come out of or flow from the previous one, or whether they are just facets of being Christ-like, I leave you to ponder: faith, goodness; knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.
There are various of these ‘lists' in the New Testament, for example, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) In Colossians the apostle Paul says “put to death” various things of your old life (Col 3:5-9) because we have “put on the new self ” (v.10) and then adds, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love.” ( Col 3:12-14)
So, the exercise of this series is to ponder on all of these sorts of things that the Lord wants me to aspire to, and if they already exist in some measure in me, to aspire to more of them. To do that we will have to think what they each mean, why the Lord wants them for us, and how we may aspire to experiencing them in greater and greater measure.
So, I invite you to join me on this journey, of those who will aspire to greater things, the things the Lord lays out for us in His word, things with which He wants to bless us. Are you ready? Let's go.
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Aspiring Meditations: 2. Aspiring to more grace
Psa 45:2 You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.
2 Pet 1:2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
In the opening, introductory ‘study', near the end I laid out our goal about the things to which we might aspire: we will have to think what they each mean, why the Lord wants them for us, and how we may aspire to experiencing them in greater and greater measure.
So, in the example to do with my wife's uncle, I said, ‘I realised there I was aspiring to a higher level of grace than that which I had known until then' and so it seems natural that we start off these things looking at ‘grace'. It is a word that comes up often in Scripture, especially in the letters of the apostle Paul who always asks for grace for his recipients, as does the apostle Peter in the verse above from his second letter. It has to be high up on the list of significant words in the New Testament.
Now when we say that someone is ‘gracious' we mean they are sociable, courteous, polite. It is a word used to describe a very positive aspect of their character. Similarly if we looked up synonyms for ‘grace' we come across such words as refinement, loveliness, poise, charm, again positive words about character. That is how we tend to use the word and its associates in everyday life. Now as good as these words are, the Bible's use of grace is much more powerful.
Our first verse above, “your lips have been anointed with grace”, suggest again a very positive characteristic – because, “You are the most excellent of men,” but it is clear that this Messiah figure is like that “since God has blessed you forever.” This positive characteristic is because of God's blessing. So to recap the first two things about grace: 1. It is expressed as a positive characteristic, and 2. It comes from God. But what is it?
It is important to understand, because God calls Himself a “gracious God” (Ex 34:6) and it comes in the midst of similar words: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness , maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness.” (v .6,7) They are all different words but have the feel of being in the same family, so to speak. Now here we start becoming aware of the problem. If you take a good Bible dictionary, you find that trying to tie down the word ‘grace' is like trying to take hold of mercury or quicksilver (don't it's poisonous!) where, if you put your finger on a blob of it, it splits up into lots of smaller globules which scatter in all directions. Grace is like that.
The Hebrew word in O.T. usage, ‘hesed', has been translated, ‘mercy, kindness, loving-kindness'. When used of a man or woman it tends to mean steadfast love towards God or another person, or even used as ‘faithfulness'. The New Testament Greek equivalent is ‘charis' which often has links to forgiveness or mercy. Jesus never uses the word yet his actions and teaching are saturated with it. The apostle Paul says we, “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24) Note the close linkage of three crucial things: justified – by grace – through redemption. Our justification is only by an act of grace on God's part, the redemption that Jesus earned for us on the Cross. So, redemption was an act of grace and so is justification. Christ's redeeming act leads to our justification and both are God's expressions of mercy, and loving kindness, free, undeserved gifts. So, we might say, grace is first a personal characteristic, or even a benignly positive attitude.
But it seems to be even more than that. Yes, in my usage of it in respect of the uncle of my wife, I might say I recognized and wanted to emulate or aspire to this same personal characteristic or benignly positive attitude, but in the New Testament it seems to have more about it. For instance, it seems foundational to who we are in the body of Christ: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6) Grace there, seems more an ability, the ability to exercise a gift, or behave supernaturally. But then all my previous attempts to tie down this globule of mercury have all also been characteristics or attitudes, that are identified by a behaviour . Mercy, for instance is an expression or act of God in a particular way.
But then we have to ask, how do we get this grace into us, if I may put it like that? How do I get these abilities we have just referred to? The answer has to be by the indwelling presence of God's Holy Spirit. It is Him in me that is the resource that enables me to live out my Christian life, by life in relation to the Lord, expressed in everyday behaviour. Later on in these studies we will look at things that are said to be ‘fruit of the Spirit' (Gal 5:22,23). Now fruit naturally grows. The only two commands linked to those verses speak of being “led by the Spirit,” (v.18) and “let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (v.25) so we may conclude that when we allow the Spirit to lead us and we seek to keep in step with what HE is doing, then the things in verses 22 and 23 will naturally start developing and appearing in us.
We would probably be remiss if we didn't mention the apostle Paul's famous incident when he pleaded with God to help with a particular weakness but the Lord replied, “But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). So grace is equated with power – God's power, the power released by the Holy Spirit within us. So when we need wisdom or maybe strength, or perhaps patience, all of these are expression of grace that the Spirit provides.
So to summarise: grace is a characteristic AND a resource that is seen when expressed through Christ-like acts. In a variety of ways my wife's uncle expressed Christ. It will be developed more and more in me as I seek to be obedient to God's word and His Holy Spirit's prompting. Yes, as the apostle Paul says in both Ephesians and Colossians, I have a part to play by putting to death the characteristics of the ‘old nature' and in ‘putting on' the Christ-characteristics that his Spirit wishes to express in and through us. I still aspire to be the gracious elderly man that I saw in my wife's uncle. I recognize that the way that grace is shown in me, will be different from the way it is shown in you when it comes to gifts and service (Rom 12:6) but in terms of character we all have this overall sense of what it means to be Christ-like – full of loving kindness, full of mercy, full of good feelings and desires for other people and thankful to God our Father and, yes, summarized as full of grace! Let's aspire to be like this, more and more.
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Aspiring Meditations: 3. Aspiring to more faith
Rom 10:17 “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
Heb 11:6 without faith it is impossible to please God,
Mt 14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"
Hebrews 11:6 suggests the significance of faith – it is a vital requirement to have any sort of relationship with God – and so after grace, I believe it is possibly the most important idea or concept in the New Testament as far as our relationship with the Lord goes, outside the work of Christ himself on the Cross. It is how our lives with God are worked out.
We would be remiss is we missed out the words of the writer to the Hebrews defining the nature of faith: “ faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) Now as good as that verse is, it doesn't give the whole picture for it simply describes what I would call ‘passive faith'. Passive faith is all about knowing the basics of The Faith, all about God, Jesus, ourselves and what God has done for us through Jesus. That is all invisible, unseen, but as the Holy Spirit has come and convicted us to bring about our conversion, we become sure of these facts, sure about the existence of God, sure about the salvation His Son has earned for us.
But of course it doesn't end there; that is but the beginning. If we really believe these things then they will have an impact on our lives and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our lives will change. We will become people who are concerned about moral and spiritual standards and so, to cite the apostle Paul, we will, for example, “put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” (Eph 4:25) in other words our whole outlook on life changes and produces a completely new way of living, and our examination of these things to which the Lord wants us to aspire, are part of that. This positive change to our outlook, our attitudes and our words and our behaviour, in response to that basic body of truth we have come to believe in, are what I would call Active-Character faith, and in that sense every Christian is a person of faith.
How does this faith – both passive and active – come about? “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) In our previous lives we were ignorant of these things and then somehow we were told the Gospel – we heard it. Someone shared it with us, and the Holy Spirit convicted us with it and when we responded the rest followed. From then on we ‘hear' the word when we read the Bible, when we use Bible Notes, when we listen to sermons, when we receive a word of prophecy, when we receive that quiet inner nudge by the Spirit, and indeed sometimes as we pray we may sense Him speaking to us by what we find the Spirit leading us to pray. All of these are ways we ‘hear' the word from the Lord and as the Holy Spirit gives us the sense that that is what we are experiencing, He may also convict us, challenge us to action.
Much of the time there will be a character-response, it will be something that affects how I think, feel and need to live. So a change comes about in me and in my lifestyle as I respond to Him – that is Active-Character faith. But there is also another branch of Active Faith that I would call for convenience, Active-Service faith. It is simply responding to His prompting and almost always comes from an inner conviction, an inner nudging of the Holy Spirit and it seeks to prompt me to act in a particular way. So I may sense a nudging that says, “Go over there and encourage that person,” or as I listen to someone sharing their anxieties, or their worries about their health, say, the prompting may come, “Ask them if you may pray for them now, pray over them.” Or it may be more generally, “Share my love with them, tell them how much I love them,” or is maybe, “This is the time for your to share your testimony.” Each of these promptings are a prompting into action, or to serve the Lord in a specific way, to bring about something He wants to happen through you, His will in this specific situation. Faith occurs when you, having made yourself available to Him, respond positively and you find something rising in you that says, ‘Yes!' and so you act and do what the Spirit said. That was Active-Service faith.
Now I am good at doing that with Christians and my wife is good at it with non-Christians, which suggests something I have noted in life: faith expressions are different for each of us. Some of us will have great faith for giving, some will have great faith for hospitality, some will have it for showing acts of charity or mercy, some of us will have it for sharing the Gospel with others, and so on. Now when we see these things in one another we speak of them having the gift of this or that, and the apostle Paul wrote, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6)
Now in the previous study, remember we spoke of grace as being God's resources for us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. This particular resource is called faith and it is always a gift. God gave it to us through His Spirit, so some find it easy to evangelize, some easy to teach, some easy to be caring and compassionate and so as we step out in that gifting, we are expressing faith, what I am calling Active-Service faith.
Now we should also note that there is a gift of the Spirit called faith (see 1 Cor 12:9a). This simply means that a particular person – and I suggest this will not be happening every day – suddenly has total confidence that they can do a particular thing before them that the rest of us consider impossible. “But, no, we can do this thing!” Peter received it when Jesus urged him to step out of the boat (Mt 14:29). At that moment, he knew he could do it – and did! For the more everyday faith when it comes to our particular gifting(s) we know we can do this thing and it will be good, because God is inspiring it, and so as we step out and do it, that is faith in action.
So can we develop faith? Can we increase it? The answer has surely got to be yes, otherwise Jesus would not have chided his disciples sometimes for their ‘little faith'. Well if faith comes from hearing, may I suggest we first need to learn to be more alert to what is going on inside our heads – because that is where we are going to ‘hear'. And having discerned that we are hearing God, determine to respond positively to Him every time we catch something. The more we do it, the more it will happen. It is, I believe, that simple! Go for it! Let's aspire to be people of faith – not merely having passive faith (although that is an essential start), but moving in Active-Character faith where we let His word shape our lifestyles, and then on into Active-Service faith where we do the works of God, just as Jesus said (Jn 14:12). Amen? Amen!
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Aspiring Meditations: 4. Aspiring to Goodness
Ex 33:19 And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you
2 Pet 1:5 make every effort to add to your faith goodness
Gal 5:23 “the fruit of the Spirit is … goodness
So a reminder: this series is about things we are to aspire to found in the Scriptures. We will now follow the list that the apostle Peter gives us and after faith which we considered yesterday, it goes on to speak of ‘goodness', and so we have to ask, what is it, how do we aspire to it and how may we increase it in our lives?
There is a call in the Old Testament that comes up more than once: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (e.g. 1 Chron 16:34) and then we have the intriguing statement of the Lord to Moses, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you.” (Ex 33;19) Not just some goodness but “all my” and why goodness?
We need to anchor that word ‘good' . A dictionary defines ‘good' as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome ” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.' ‘Good' signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with. Now the Psalms declare again and again that God is good (see Psa 25:7, 34:8, 86:5, 119; 135:3). Very often in these verses, love and goodness are linked, in other words goodness is an expression of love; it's how it works.
So goodness is an expression of God's character and it is what He wants for our lives, but still, what is it? There is another intriguing voice in Nehemiah speaking of Israel 's life since they entered the Promised Land: “They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.” (Neh 9:25) This ‘goodness' brought forth good for Israel which was experienced in so many ways in the Land, good things they found there, good things that happened to them. Goodness is about bringing forth good in this world.
If I am to say that goodness is something I aspire to, it means that my life will bring forth things that are good. Now when we say that, we naturally ask so what is ‘good'? Well we saw the definition above and so good in this context will be things that generally people will see and agree are helpful, pleasant, worthwhile, even excellent, very positive things. A modern book on such definitions says goodness “stresses moral excellence and an underlying compassion.” That was interesting! So goodness, love and compassion are linked together. An antonym (opposite) of goodness is “wrong doing”. Even more interesting!
If I am to aspire to goodness, I am to aspire to good-doing, moral excellence, expressed through love and compassion. If I do this I will be a person with whom you can feel comfortable, secure, even more, someone who will be a blessing to you. Yes, that is the truth behind this word.
So, how does it come? Where does it come from? Well we saw above that God is good, it is a characteristic of Him. In the previous study we also noted that some of these things – and goodness is included – are fruit of the Spirit, and there we noted that walking in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, will naturally bring forth this characteristic. In other words if I let the Spirit fill my life more and more, then goodness will be a fruit that will appear more and more.
The other day, I heard someone speak about another person and they said, using an expression that may be unknown to some, “she hasn't a bad bone in her body.” It means there isn't an ounce of anything bad in her. Perhaps, in trying to anchor this word, apply this characteristic, it is helpful to observe the opposites, the things we are not to tolerate in our lives. Already we noted the antonym ‘wrong doing.” If goodness is to be a feature of my life, then there must not be an ounce of wrong-doing in me. There is to be no room for anything questionable.
Now I have to admit that at this point I feel uncomfortable because I see behaviour in some of God's children that worries me – those who smoke, those who drink too much, those who sometimes swear or blaspheme, those who tell crude stories or laugh at crude jokes. I have to say there are comedians around who I will no longer listen to, whose humour is without doubt ‘blue'. This has no part in one who aspires to goodness.
Now there is a danger I recognize here and that is to become a culture hermit. This requires discernment for Jesus met with those whose characters were decidedly off-beat, but that didn't mean that he had to be the same. His goodness remained static and his love and compassion for the tax-collectors and sinners of his day meant he was able to win them. Zacchaeus (Lk 19) was a classic example. Matthew (or Levi) had been a tax collector but became an apostle. Jesus held on to his goodness but in a way that was not arrogant or condescending and so won over those who were not good.
But back to modern culture. We have to learn to be discerning. For me films that are filled with constant ‘f' words I find seriously annoying because the word then stays in my mind and the producer of the film could get away without it. Films or books constantly portraying the sex act similarly are on my ‘Not to Watch' and ‘Not to Read' list. Films or videos, TV series or books that are ‘dark' or portray the occult are likewise not for me. Don't let's go into the world of computer gaming, it is the biggest nightmare going and many parents are criminally (literally) and spiritually negligent in the things they let their under age (and over-age!!) children play. I saw a headline the other day that said that the younger a child is exposed to pornography, the more likely they will grow up to be abusive of their partners or their subsequent children. Pornography in any form is a no-go area for the Christian. The word about false prophets has a much wider meaning: “By their fruits you will know them.”
I used the word ‘dark' just now to describe some TV, some movies and some books, and so we should add, fully in line with the New Testament, that we are called to be children of light and darkness has no place in the life of one aspiring to goodness (check out 1 Jn 2:9-11, 1 Pet 2:9, Col 1:13, Eph 5:11). A simple check: are there anything you saw, watch or read, about which you would be embarrassed out if it was known in your church circle? Time for action if the answer is yes.
So, to summarise, goodness is a characteristic of God, a characteristic that will be formed in me as fruit as I walk in the Spirit. It is the expression of wholesomeness, the expression of right-doing and as I aspire to it I will reject all doubtful or dubious things, things that are ‘dark', for we are children of light. Let's be known for our goodness, let's be attractive and let's draw people to Jesus by his grace in us in this form. Let's not be ashamed at being different but let our goodness be seen in the grace that is obvious in our lives. Can we be Jesus to our generation?
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Aspiring Meditations: 5. Aspiring to Knowledge
Isa 11:2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…. the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD
2 Pet 1:5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge
2 Pet 3:18 grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There is a remarkable passage in Ephesians 2:1-5 that describes what we were like before we came to Christ and in it are such words as, dead in your transgressions and sins, disobedient, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, objects of wrath, and dead in transgressions (again!), but surprisingly it does not say we were ignorant which I would have expected.
But there is another remarkable passage in Romans 1 that addresses this: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:18-20) Now that says that all people inherently have a knowledge of God in some measure at least but suppress it! Solomon said of God, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) In other words there is something within every single human being that shouts out, “There is more to life than shear materialistic satisfying desires!”
So if the godless world has ‘knowledge' why does the Bible seem to elevate ‘knowledge' to something I should aspire to? And what sort of knowledge? The Gnostics of the first and second centuries AD had this ‘special knowledge', knowledge that was imparted to or acquired by the elite in this cult. That is the reason the apostle Paul so often speaks about the ‘mystery' of the God that has now been revealed (see Rom 11:25, 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,4,6,9, 6:19, Col 1:26,27, 2:2, 4:3). That is the point he makes, that now this mystery has been revealed and it is open to anyone to appreciate and apprehend it. It is Christ who is at the heart of the plans of the Godhead to redeem the world, plans formulated even before the Creation.
The Messiah, according to Isa 11:2 would be anointed with a “Spirit of knowledge”. Why? Because God knows all things and Jesus is part of the Trinity, certainly limited in human form for 33 years, but nevertheless by the Spirit within him, he had all knowledge available to him to be drawn on as necessary. Is it a coincidence that in John's Gospel, the Gospel of insight and knowledge and understanding of the Son of God that John had realised over years of pondering on, reflecting on and remembering, that in this Gospel the word ‘know' is used more than 80 times!
As John, in his latter years, remembered back to those incredible three years of walking with the Son of God, had realised he had all this knowledge in his head, knowledge of the things that had happened in those three years, but which had not been picked up in the Synoptic Gospels that concentrated on the basics of what happened. John knew there was far more than those basics, which is why his Gospel is so profound, bringing to light the knowledge of an insider who had had time to mull over and focus the things that had happened, and the things that were said by Jesus which, at the time had been so profound, e.g. all of the ‘I am' sayings John brings to us.
And so for me in this quest to take hold of the various things that the Bible challenges me to aspire to, I face this call to increase knowledge. It is a very simple call but also a very profound call. When we first came to Christ, it is probable that our knowledge of the Bible was miniscule. I laugh when I look back, because as a young person at college – not a Christian but coming from a reasonable if not certainly respectable background – I argued with a friend of mine who was a communist. I can see Mick now in his maroon corduroy jacket and long hippy hair, arguing for the communist manifesto, and me arguing for the Christian perspective. It is no surprised that he wiped the floor with me!
Perhaps that was the reason why, after I came to the Lord, by the end of my first year as a Christian, the Lord had me leading seven Bible Studies a week. It meant a serious learning curve, and it has carried on ever since. But do I have sufficient knowledge of the Bible and of God today? No, we can never stop being learners. Even as I write these studies I find things coming into perspective as never before. I see new things in the Bible, maybe not every day, but frequently. I heard a conference speaker the other day saying how she was finding in the secular world today she was being challenged over her faith as never before, and she realised she needed to visit again the area of apologetics (knowing why you believe what you believe and having answers to the big questions), and that has always been an area I too have felt I need to get under my belt.
But all that is knowledge that is intellectual but if, in respect of my wife, I could simply tell you lots of things about her, that would not constitute a relationship with her. She used to be a teacher and so her pupils and fellow-teachers could possibly say quite a lot about her with their superficial relationships with her, but when it comes to me, her husband, that is a completely different ball game.
So it must be with God. If we have a ‘relationship' with Him, then it means it is far more than “knowing about ” Him, it is knowing Him in experience, knowing of Him. So how does that come? It comes in prayer, in worship, in waiting on Him, yes as we study His word, and especially when we are obedient to Him and we allow His Holy Spirit to inspire us, energize us, motivate and direct us, and we ‘do the stuff' He gives us to do. That is ‘knowing Him' at a much more profound level.
So the challenge comes to me, first of all, will I continue to learn about Him? That will come as I spend time and effort in His word, time and effort reading what others have written about the whole experience of being a Christian, digging deeper even into theology or even apologetics. Why do this? Well for me, it is in answer to something the apostle Peter said: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) But then the second part of the challenge, will I continue to develop my knowledge of Him, and that means waiting on Him, praying, seeking Him and being obedient to Him? I hope the answer will be yes. And you?
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Aspiring Meditations: 6. Aspiring to Self-Control
Prov 25:28 Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.
2 Pet 1:5,6 For this very reason, make every effort to add…. to knowledge, self-control
Gal 5:22,23 the fruit of the Spirit is…. self-control
Goodness is something that is easy to put on the list of things to which we should aspire, but ‘self-control' sounds a bit like hard work. In fact until you start looking up references to ‘self-control' you might not think it features very highly in apostolic teaching. Think again. So why should we aspire to ‘self-control'? First, because the apostolic teaching clearly says so. Paul to the Thessalonians, to Timothy and Titus and also Peter, are big on self control.
First a warning: “ There will be terrible times in the last days. People will ….. without self-control ” (2 Tim 3:1-3) At the time I write this, the Western world is almost reeling under a deluge of propaganda about ‘sexual diversity'. Now I have no problem in accepting that here and there in the vast population of the world there are people who struggle with which gender they are but, I would suggest until recent years they have been few and far between. The talk today is of choosing what gender you want to be, and this talk of freedom to choose is alarming wise people from journalists to doctors to social workers, but it is a tidal wave that is rushing through western society, often with strange results – and this flows over into the whole area of sexuality where the words of Paul in Romans 1 are so clearly seen at work.
The concept of Gay marriage is a hot potato in many western countries, and I heard only recently of three (!!!) men who have been afforded legal status in a South American country to be seen as ‘married' to each other. The boundaries are falling and anything goes in the godless world around us. Self-control is falling everywhere and so in the sexual realm anything and everything is being declared as acceptable. Not in God's kingdom! We must learn to be discerning and wise when the rest of the world, having abandoned God, have thus abandoned any concept of right and wrong, and anyone who challenges a particular lifestyle is branded a bigot. Discern between a tendency (e.g. homosexual orientation) and practice (e.g. sodomy). Observe also this is no worse in God's eyes that rejection of marriage for cohabitation and that after ‘sex-on-the-first-date' activity that is so common today and clearly portrayed on the media. This, more than most things, suggests to me that we are clearly in the ‘last days' but whether that is equated with the End Time may be something different. But it certainly motivates me to pray that God will send revival to save us if He is not coming back yet.
So a second reason why I should be aspiring to self-control is to ensure I confirm to God's word, God's standards and God's will. Giving way to temptation is always a relinquishing of self control, and Paul warns us of it in the time we live. Hence he exhorts us, “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled,” (1 Thess 5:6) and then goes on to add, “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Thess 5:8)
Self-control is one of the standards for a spiritual leader: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled.” (1 Tim 3:2 -also Titus 1:8). Having said that when he instructed Titus what to teach his flock we find, “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance,” (Titus 2:2) and then, “train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure” (Titus 2:4,5) and then, “Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.” (Titus 2;6) That seems to cover everyone except older women, although if he lived today I suspect he would include them.
Paul contrasts two lifestyles: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say (1) "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and (2) to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” (Titus 2:11,12) Again he warns us to be ready for when Jesus returns: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:13) and “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Pet 4:7) I suspect the implication there is that if self-control falls, sin follows, then guilt follows, and subsequently you stop praying. He also sees it as something Satan will seek to undermine: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”( 1 Pet 5:8)
So I think the importance of self-control appears quite clear, but what is it and how can I aspire to it and develop it? What is it? Control of self, self-discipline, being able to rationally decide what I will or will not do, and not give way to temptations that the enemy may place before me, and not giving ways to desires that go beyond God's boundaries, or giving way to fads and fancies of the modern world. Remember we referred to Paul's description of what we used to be like before we came to Christ, which included, “at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:3) Jude wrote to the church about, “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” (Jude v.4) The abandoning of self-control goes with godlessness, and rejects grace.
So how do I develop it? Well, from the recent verses, develop an ever more godly life. As we've seen previously, as with all fruit of the Spirit (and this is one of the list) it develops naturally when we allow the Spirit to lead our lives. That is not to say that I do not need to exercise my will – I must. It is not a case of Him or me; it is both of us working this out in my life. May it be so.
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Aspiring Meditations: 7. Aspiring to Perseverance
2 Thess 3:5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.
2 Pet 1:6 For this very reason, make every effort to add to self-control, perseverance
Rom 5:3,4 we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope
Let's from the outset, give ourselves a simple definition of ‘perseverance'. It is hanging in there when the going is tough. Looking up synonyms for perseverance we find: Perseverance – persistence, doggedness, determination and as it develops it produces Endurance – stamina, staying power, fortitude. Now one has to say it is not one of those things we all relish. It's like someone says, “You need to aspire to going down to the Gym and getting fit, but I'm afraid you won't get fit (that's ‘endurance') until you really push on and keep on attending to putting some serious effort in.” Right! The thought of being fit and healthy sounds good, but the way of getting there isn't thrilling!
In spiritual terms it is the same: “you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:3) James was a real killjoy and he won't let it go: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (Jas 1:4) i.e. if you want to grow up and be mature spiritually, you've just got to recognize that sometimes life appears tough but you've just go to hang on in there. A bit later, he does try to bring a little bit of encouragement: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (Jas 1:12)
If some well-meaning evangelist said in your hearing, “When you come to Christ, he will look after you and guide you and life will be brilliant,” he was actually speaking the truth, it was just that he omitted that bit that should be added, but there are times when, to toughen you up spiritually, he will either lead you into, to let you walk into a tough time. The end result will be good, so just hang in there!
That fuller message comes over in Scripture in various ways. For example, as Jesus explains to the disciples the Parable of the Sower he says, “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Lk 8:15) I had never noticed that word ‘persevering' before, but he says if you are to be fruitful in your life, you will need to learn to persevere. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb 12:1)
Now one of my favourite verses is, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). The writer to the Hebrews calls our life a race “marked out for us” while Paul says this life, “God prepared in advance for us”. Both imply the life we walk is one mapped out by the Lord. It is a combination of His directing and our exercising our free will that leads us into a multitude of situations, yet the writer to the Hebrews is kind enough to warn us that this walk that God has mapped out for us, will sometimes need perseverance.
So, yes, if I am to be true to this calling to aspire to all these things the Bible lays out before me, then that is going to have to include trials and difficulties that are going to require perseverance and at the end of it, will have worked ‘endurance' into me. But don't ask me to rejoice over that because who rejoices over the pain the dentist might cause when he's mending your teeth. Oh no! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2) I don't believe it! Well yes I do actually, but here's the thing: we spoke in an earlier study about ‘grace' being God's resources. I need grace even to face the thought of going through testing which, humanly speaking at least, I would much prefer not to go through.
So what help can I get, what encouragement can I find in the Bible? Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews said about Moses: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (Heb 11:27) Moses ‘trial' was having to face Pharaoh with all his pride, anger and power, a seriously scary situation, so how did Moses cope? What was it that helped him handle it and go on handling it for the period of the plagues and then for the next forty years? He met God. He encountered God at the burning bush, even though he did not see Him there. Nevertheless he heard Him and then found himself performing a couple of miracles at God's direction. Later he met with God on Mount Sinai and the record tells us that he and his leaders actually saw God. Amazing. Meeting with God in the tent of meeting became a regular experience for Moses. So how I am going to learn to persevere? By meeting with the Lord. If you try to cope with it on your own, you are doomed. Part of the lesson behind every trial and testing, is just that – turn to God, sense His presence, get His help. Learn to wait on Him, be still before Him, cry out to Him. The many examples of David in the Psalms doing this should help.
But then in Paul's speaking about love, in that famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, we find of love, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13:7) Now Paul also wrote, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.” (2 Thess 3:5) That is interesting phraseology. “direct your hearts into…” The JBP version puts it, “ May he guide your hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ. Christ pressed through, as the writer to the Hebrews put it, “ Jesus… who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane clearly showed he didn't want to face the Cross, and yet he knew it was the plan of the Godhead, and so he persevered in it. What helped him? Two things. First, his love for his Father: “love… always perseveres.” Second, the thought of what would be on the other side: glory, rejoicing, millions and millions of people saved and entering heaven.
For us, the indwelling presence of one who was referred to as ‘the Comforter' also helps. Also the fact that Jesus is seated at his Father's right hand ruling over this world and that his eye is always on us. Check out and read out loud Psalm 121 and let its truth settle in your heart. Never let the enemy seek to put fear into your heart about what ‘might' happen in the future – it might not! Any whatever happens, the Lord will be there with you in it: “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Dan 3:25) THAT is the truth. Hallelujah!
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Aspiring Meditations: 8. Aspiring to Godliness
1 Tim 4:8 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.
2 Pet 1:5,6 make every effort to add …… to perseverance, godliness;
Titus 1:1 the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness
Some of these characteristics I find naturally come to mind and seem easy to work on. Patience, which we'll come to later in the series, is one, but godliness has never naturally felt easy to me, and yet I think it probably is easy, for the word must surely mean God-like-ness. If we are ‘godly', we are ‘like God'.
Now that might be a real challenge to some to say that we can be like God but that is exactly the teaching of the New Testament, at least that we can be like the Son of God. How can it be? Because we are indwelt by his own Spirit: “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)
So what does the Bible have to say about godliness and why should I aspire more to it? Well, not much. The word only comes up 12 times in the New Testament and 7 of them are in the letters to Timothy. Let's start with our first verse from above: “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.” (1 Tim 4:8) In a day when so many are concerned with appearance and fitness, worrying about diets, spending time in the Gym and so on, this is an appropriate word for those of us who are Christians. OK, says Paul, all this concern for appearance and physical wellbeing is all well and good, but actually godliness has a greater value for all aspects of life.
Now I think the paraphrase versions fall down here, those that speak of ‘spiritual fitness' contrasting with bodily fitness, because that puts on emphasis on me, but the emphasis is on the character of Jesus in me; it is more about him and his ability to live out his life in and through me, that is what godliness is about.
Now look again at the phraseology of that 1 Tim 4 verse, “holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” If we watch a child practicing athletics, say, someone might say, “there's great promise in that young person,” meaning what we see now suggests even better in the days to come. Thus we might suggest a better paraphrase of that verse could be, “having a godly nature, becoming more and more like Jesus, will affect everything you do today, but not only that, it will be the guarantee for the days to come here on earth and our experience in eternity afterwards.”
Now if that is a reasonable conclusion, and I believe it is, then that is dynamic! Becoming like God, becoming like Jesus, will not only bless us and bless others as the world is blessed because of us, the Father will also be blessed as He sees His Son reproduced in us. This is what the plan formulated from before Creation was all about, bringing us back to Him into a unity that is Him in us. That is what is so incredible about it all. Consider Jesus ‘high-priestly prayer' in John 17: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” (Jn 17:20-23) There is that same unity being referred to.
Now when we look at the word ‘godly' we see two things. First, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him,” (Acts 8:2) speaks of the characteristic of these men. But then, “ Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation,” (2 Cor 8:10) speaks of the origin or cause that brings about something. Both are descriptions, one of character, the other of heavenly activity. Yet, the more you think about that, both are things that have their origins in heaven, for godly character starts there as well.
So how do I become more ‘godly'? Well, I think it is important to say from the outset that every Christian is automatically godly from the moment they are born again and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Godliness is a Christian attribute from the start. But then there is appearance or working out or developing of this God-like-ness. So what does that look like? Well think about everything the Lord says about Himself. If we are to become more like Him then it will be expressing more of what He says about Himself. For example, to Moses He said, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7) There are six thing to start with. If we are ‘godly, we will be compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, faithful and forgiving. How does your life and mine check out against that list? Are there things there we need to work on?
But how does ‘godliness' grow in us? There is the ‘discipline' school of thought that says we need to make a lot of effort by building in spiritual disciplines and for some this is a way that appears to bring fruit, but the real clue comes in a verse we considered earlier: “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)
Paul was using the parallel of Moses meeting with God and when Moses came out of God's presence his face was shining with some of God's glory. Instead of sunburn, we might say, Moses face shone with the glory of God he had encountered in the Tent of Meeting. So with us, Paul now says. As we spend time in God's presence, we too will reflect His glory and that will be seen in the sort of person we are becoming – Christ-like. In the same way we have said at least twice that when we walk in the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit will be seen in us, so as we spend time in God's presence His glory, His character, His nature, will be ‘reflected' in us, shown in us – we will be seen to be godly.
Why should I want to be more godly, why should I spend time in His presence? Simply because that is what He wants. He wants to share more and more of Himself with us and He wants us to become more like Him because that will be a blessing for us, it is good. To know His presence, His peace, His joy and so much more, all of this is part of the inheritance we receive, or can receive, when we first come to Him, and it is something to be appropriated more and more throughout life until we see Him face to face.
To finish, the apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” 1 Jn 3:2,3) Enough said.
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Aspiring Meditations: 9. Aspiring to Brotherly Kindness
Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
2 Pet 1:7 make every effort to add to … godliness, brotherly kindness
1 Thess 4:9 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.
Now even as I said previously that I find there are some of these characteristics that come more clearly into perspective, I think there are some that seem less significant, but that is a mistake. For instance there are at least three words used in the original Greek for love: Agape, Philadelphia and Eros. Eros doesn't appear in the New Testament text, it refers to physical love expressions. Agape is the main word that we'll consider more fully in the next study. It is the one in the middle, Philadelphia , that we have before us now and it doesn't appear that many times in the New Testament, a word that seems to speak of a love of lesser importance. I say that because much is made of agape and when Jesus instructed his disciples to “love one another” (Jn 13:34) we might wonder why ever employ a lesser word or even have his servants instruct, “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” (Heb 13:1)
Well, a dictionary definition of Philadelphia is ‘Warmhearted affection toward all in the family of faith.” We might say, ‘think well, speak well and act well towards the family of God.' Trying to tie down ‘love' or even this ‘brotherly affection is not easy. I came across a heavy-handed discipling program recently that used questions to prod on believers to growth and one question asked, “Do you love everyone in your community?” I'm afraid I responded, “That is a meaningless question,” but then I did add, “unless you can express it in specifics.” We are told to love our neighbour by the Lord and we know He loves everyone because he is love.
But what does that mean? It means He thinks and feels well towards all people, some might say, but actually love is expressed in a whole variety of ways. A father may express it with a child as he watches them from a distance, by the smile that appears on his face that expresses something of what he is thinking and feeling as he watches. It is love. But then he may sit with the child and read with them or listen to them. Some times he will say ‘No' to the child as he brings correction or direction, and at other times he may bring discipline to impose a sense of seriousness over some misdemeanor. All of these are different expressions of love. There can be great differences in the expression of love. There can be the giving of a present at a birthday, which is simple and straight forward, or there can be the mother who pushes her child off the road infront of an oncoming speeding lorry, and who is killed.
The sacrificial love (agape) of Jesus that took him to the Cross is certainly different from ‘warmhearted affection' but sometimes that ‘warm hearted affection toward all in the family of faith', can seem for the moment equally hard. The trouble is people are not perfect, none of us are, but so often we expect the people of God to be. When the minister/pastor/vicar produces a rubbish, boring sermon, it is difficult not to be negative. When some of the old ladies seem more concerned about the flower rota than seeing people saved, it is difficult to feel charitable. When long haired, tattooed young people turn up in your nice respectable church, it is difficult not to be defensive, even when you find they out are outrageous evangelists. When someone doesn't care about scripture / comes out with wrong understandings of scripture / brings heresy, it is difficult to be graceful in the face of their less-than-perfect expressions of church life.
The world would be so much easier without people, it seems sometimes. But then other people probably think that about us as well. I know I haven't always found words of grace to drop into a difficult situation and so I have needed the love, grace and forgiveness of others at times, those things that put content to that description, “warm hearted affection”. Tell me, how do you react when someone really lets loose and blows it, and speaks out in anger, frustration and hostility. I saw that once and those around drew back like Pharisees withdrawing from Jesus, into a critical, gossiping huddle. Instead it needed someone to put an arm of love around them and say, “Come and sit down. What is going on here old friend?” How easily that “warm hearted affection” flees out the door! How easy it is to become a Pharisee and look down our spiritual noses at others who are not handling life as well as we are!!!
Oh yes, we'll need God's grace to actually have that “warm hearted affection” when people are being people. It doesn't matter that they are believers, that seems to make it worse. If we can get God's grace, why can't they? I think one of the most poignant stories I've heard was of the man who stepped into an almost empty carriage on the Underground, accompanied by his two noisy and boisterous children. As the train rattled along through the tunnels, another nearby occupant struggled not to spit out, “Why don't you control your noisy children. Get them under control!” but didn't. When the train came to the stop where the man and his children was alighting, he turned to the other occupant whose face clearly showed what he thought and said, “I'm sorry I'm a bit distracted and let my little ones upset the peace. We've just come from the hospital where their mother is, and I've just been told my wife has probably only got about three days to live. I'm sorry,” and then they stepped off the train. The occupant suddenly felt different.
I'm told there is an old native-American saying (we used to call them Indians): “Never criticize another until you have walked in their moccasins.” We don't know what is going on in one another's lives in church. Yes, the grace of God is there for us all, but it's not always easy to appropriate it. Sometime we need the loving acceptance of our brothers and sisters and their gentle encouragement to make it through. That's why I think there is this fairly rare reference to brotherly-kindness, this Philadelphia love, this “warmhearted affection toward all in the family of faith.” Yes, I need more if it. Yes, it is something I need to aspire to even more, for the sake of my local church, and for Jesus' sake. May he find it in me.
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Aspiring Meditations: 10. Aspiring to Love
1 Jn 4:8 God is love
2 Pet 1:7 make every effort to add to … brotherly kindness, love.
Gal 5:22 the fruit of the Spirit is love.
Mt 22: 37-39 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.
Walking up this path of aspiring to love, is a well-worn path. I have trod it many times over the years. I have sought to define love and have come up with the dictionary definition of, “warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for someone,” but when it comes to God that needs to be strengthened to, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others.” And then I have pondered on that incredible truth that the apostle John declared, “God IS love” and have thought that through to see that everything God ever thinks, says or does is an expression of love – everything! It cannot be less.
As we are currently working through that list that Peter gives us, I see that love is something to be aspired to, not just brotherly love for believers but a bigger love that loves everyone around me, which lines up with those two great commandments brought by Jesus out of the Old Testament that conclude, “love your neighbour as yourself,” so everyone ‘out there' comes into this spotlight. But as we leave Peter's list we find ourselves at the head of the list of the fruit of the Spirit, and so I am reminded that it is the outworking of the Holy Spirit in me. So there it is, neatly packaged and, I said before, a well-worn path – at least intellectually.
But that is the trouble with aspiring to these things we find in the New Testament, it is fairly easy to dissect them, analyse them, see where they come in the Scriptures, start to catch what they mean but the big thing is, will I actually DO these things in my daily, everyday life? How easy it is to put these things in a little box called intellect and leave it there, isolated from the reality of life.
The enemy of love is a Pandora's box called ‘excuses'. When I run across people, how easy it is be a ‘priest' and pass by on the other side (Lk 10:31) making the excuse that I am too busy, too tired, too old, too everything else, to stop and minister to the needs of this man who has been beaten up by life. If not a priest, a Levite (Lk 10:32) who may find another bunch of excuses not to get involved. I don't understand youth, this person is from another culture, I don't know if even if I spend time on them it will do them any good in the long term, and anyway, how stupid they were to allow themselves to get mugged by life. Why couldn't they be sensible like me and stay away from dangerous places? Why can't they find the grace to go back to their family member, friend or whoever and ask for forgiveness? Why should I have to get involved with this sort of person? Let's let the social worker deal with them.
Excuses, excuses and even more excuses, they come pouring out of the box to protect me. This love thing is dangerous. You can get mixed up with some really unsavoury characters. But is gets worse, if it is not them out there, it can be the ones in the church. Why is it so many Christians seem to have problems? Single mothers, divorced people, people who can't handle their finances, straight forward weirdoes, self-opinionated, arrogant, uncaring, unloving people, they are all there. Pardon? What do you mean, “I must feel right at home?”
Right! You have what for me? Another verse. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) What sort of verse it that? A Jesus-type of verse. Right. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Yes, I understand. What? Wash their feet? “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (Jn 13:15) Right. Another verse? I'm beginning to get the picture. “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.” (1 Jn 3:16) OK. “let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:18) Yes. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 Jn 4:12) Wow! “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” (Lk 3:11) Oh, come on! You're quoting from John the Baptist now! So? So….. OK. I surrender. That's good, son.
I'm not sure there is much more to say. First, perhaps I need to add a caveat in here before I finish. The truth is that there are too many problems out there for me to minister to, and so we should not be guilty about not meeting every need. It is just physically impossible. This has all been about reaching out with His love to those He places before me. I can have an attitude of love for everyone in my street, but I cannot express that love until I have personal contact, and that is something else to think about. Finally, when I die, what will they say about me? He was an innovative pastor, a challenging leader, a prolific writer, or will they say, “He loved God and he loved people”? I hope it will be the latter. I must work on that.
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Aspiring Meditations: 11. Aspiring to Joy
Neh 8:10 the joy of the LORD is your strength.
Gal 5:22 the fruit of the Spirit is …. joy
Jn 17:13 I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
Yesterday, as we finished Peter's list from his second letter, we also inadvertently started on the list known as the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22,23: “ the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Goodness and self-control in this new list we've already covered as they were in Peter's list. But there are still six others we have yet to cover here. The first is joy.
Now the problem with joy, rather like love, is that we can get all academic about it and study it and study it, but not know or experience the reality of it. However we will have to anchor it first in our understanding, so let's take a simply dictionary definition first. Joy = a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. Now I have heard preachers try to rationalize the absence of this in our lives by saying that it is not a frothy outward bubbly thing, but a deep down sense of goodness. Well I guess they use a different super-spiritual dictionary, but perhaps they want to distinguish it from simple straight forward ‘happiness' Let's explain.
Joy comes with an awareness of something really good. One well-known preacher has come up with the following definition: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” Now what he is talking about is something that is really good. The only word I would take exception to is the word ‘quiet'. He does add in his blog, “You'll find nothing in that definition about happy feelings.”
And there, I want to suggest is its lack. You see my start of that paragraph is inadequate as well. It is not merely an ‘awareness of something really good” it, by English definition, HAS to mean something that is emotionally powerful and positive. Now why to we try to demote its meaning? I think there are three reasons: 1. We fear because we sense (rightly) that we cannot express it every moment of our lives. 2. We fail to rehearse the truths that release joy, and 3. We so often aren't doing the works of Jesus that will always release joy.
Consider an associated word, ‘joyful' which means to be expressive of joy. At one point there is this sentence: “your times of rejoicing --your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals.” (Num 10:10) That reminds us of something the Jews were known for – their feasts before the Lord. Feasts and Festivals were NOT somber times. When King David eventually brought the Ark to Jerusalem in the right way, we read he, “brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.” (2 Sam 6:12) This was not a time of somber reflection but a time of outrageous celebration, full of joy!! In fact so outrageous was the joy and worship (and so often the two go together) that David was expressing, he got into trouble with his wife for it (see 2 Sam 6:16,20).
If you want another similar time it was when, after the Exile, Israel returned and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and when it was finished – celebration! “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced . The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” (New 12:43) Nothing of ‘quiet confidence' about that!
Joy comes with an awareness of something really good with an expression that is emotionally powerful and positive. When joy is evident (and it isn't always present) it is expressed: “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Lk 1:44) Elizabeth knew that baby John inside her recognized Jesus in Mary and John leapt with joy. Amazing! After the resurrection and the women meet Jesus we read, “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy , and ran to tell his disciples.” (Mt 28:8) When Philip the evangelist moved in power ministry joy resulted: “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:6-8)
The Gospel writers were clearly, most of the time, not focusing on the response of people but of the work of Jesus for after that account of Philip's ministry above, surely this was what was going on with Jesus so much of the time: “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” (Mt 8:16) Did these people, delivered and healed, stand there afterwards looking mournful? No way! I would suggest there was mega-rejoicing at such times. Joy was the fruit of Jesus ministry so much of the time.
Joy was also the part of the disciples' experience as they joined in that ministry: “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Lk 10:17) Note it was joy expressed. Following that, “At that time Jesus , full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (Lk 10:21) The Godhead rejoiced (full of joy) at the wonder of these ‘innocents' going out and doing the stuff!
Let me reassert what I said earlier about the lack of joy there so often is in church: there are three reasons: 1. We fear because we sense (rightly) that we cannot express it every moment of our lives. 2. We fail to rehearse the truths that release joy, and 3. We so often aren't doing the works of Jesus that will always release joy.
Picking up on point 1: we are told to weep with those who weep. We could expand this greatly but there are other times in life when joy is not the appropriate emotion. Point 2: the more we think about the wonder of our salvation and what the Lord has done, the more we will rejoice (as well as give thanks) Point 3: whether it is us doing it – and I find great joy always in ministering whether it is preaching or prophesying – or whether seeing the fruit of ministry (mine or of others), seeing people born again, being filled with the Spirit, being healed or delivered, that always brings joy and that is not a ‘quiet confidence'. The blessing of God will always release Joy.
Now, as to the aspiring part, do we try to be joyful? No, it is a natural working out of appreciating the wonder of the Lord and His works, and of being part of those works. That is where I need to be more open, so that He can use me more, and when He does, joy (expressive) WILL be the fruit that comes forth. As I walk in the Spirit, keep step with the Spirit, and are led to do His works, Joy WILL flow. Not seeking more joy, but seeking to be more available. Perhaps we should ask, if a church that lacks the joy of the Lord, is a church that is doing the works of Jesus as commanded by him?
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Aspiring Meditations: 12. Aspiring to know Peace
Num 6:25,26 the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace
Gal 5:22 the fruit of the Spirit is …. peace
Jn 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
2 Thess 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
Because virtually all of the apostle Paul's letters start somewhere in the first few verses with the desire for ‘grace and peace' for his readers, peace, like grace, is probably fairly high on our awareness of Bible words and yet, I would suggest, it is something that is so often absent from the lives of modern Christians. It is after all, a very uncertain world that we live in during these years in the middle of the second decade of the twenty first century and, it seems, it gets more uncertain as every month passes.
So what is peace? Peace, I find in a Bible Dictionary is an undisturbed state of mind; the absence of mental conflict; serenity, or it is freedom from conflict, argument or disagreement. So when the apostle Paul spoke about it as he did at the beginning of his letters he was recognising that we needed God's grace as His resources to help us through each day, and we needed this ‘undisturbed state of mind', especially in the light of the difficult things that confront us.
For the Christians of his century it was the fear of persecution that stood out. For us today, for most of us in the West at least, persecution is not the main issue, but the issue of global security. Threats of global violence are just below the surface and that is worrying and worry and anxiety are the main enemies of peace.
The Aaronic blessing, of Numbers 6 above, recognized that peace was a blessing that came with the presence of the Lord. Gal 5:22 declares it comes from the Holy Spirit. Jesus declared peace over his disciples, especially in the light of the impending chaos that was about to break out with his arrest and death. Yet within hours peace fled from most of them as they forgot his words. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians prayed for peace for his readers but note the words that immediately followed that: The Lord be with all of you It was yet another reminder that peace comes with the presence of the Lord.
So when all is upheaval around us, how do we get peace? Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) As we pray it is like the presence of God draws near and with it His peace.
Nothing may have changed in terms of the world around us, in fact it probably won't, but that is not the point. The point is that the presence of the Lord is there. This is the God who is sovereign Lord of the Universe. Where He is, there IS peace because He is supreme, He is all powerful, all knowing, all wise. Nothing is outside His control and because the world cannot be a threat to Him, He is at total peace. Imagine His peace as a gentle musical hum. The nearer to get to Him the more aware of it you are. Close to Him you are surrounded by it. That is what it is like with His peace.
David wrote, “The LORD is the stronghold of my life-- of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psa 27:1) David knew about strongholds. The ‘stronghold' he knew was a high place he knew in the mountains, hidden away from Saul's armies, and there he was secure. Because of his relationship with the Lord, he saw the Lord as just such a stronghold. Listen to the ‘song of ascents' known as Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD watches over you-- the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life; 8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” When our children, when they were young, suffered nightmares, we taught them this psalm. As one of our granddaughters today, hearing all about the terrorist attacks round the world and all the other fearful things children share with each other in the playground, we advised our son to teach her the same. Look at the promises there are in those verses. Learn them yourself, declare the truth of them in prayer. Commit your many anxieties to Him in prayer and let His peace overshadow you.
Is peace something I must aspire to knowing and having? Oh yes, definitely! The world is too unstable, society is in too much of an upheaval. Without the presence of the Lord, without His peace, we will be nervous wrecks like the people around us. The numbers of people visiting therapists and the numbers of people taking medication for their anxieties is phenomenal today. If you are one such person, a course on ‘Mindfulness‘ is not what you need, it is simply time in the Lord's presence. I despair almost at the numbers of people who are resorting to the former because their faith is so weak that they will not do the latter. We're living in perilous times so ‘mindfulness' will not do it. “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isa 55:6) “may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;” (Psa 40:16) “those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (Psa 34:10) Amen!
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Aspiring Meditations: 13. Aspiring to know Patience
Gal 5:22 the fruit of the Spirit is …. patience
Rom 9:22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction?
2 Pet 3:9 He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2 Tim 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.
The importance of patience is indicated by the variety of the verses above. Very simply, it is a fruit of the Spirit, an outworking of His indwelling life within us. It is a characteristic of God that has been revealed in the way He has dealt with Israel and also how He is with each one of us as He waits for our slow responses to Him. Thus the call is also there to all of us in the way we cope with each other's slowness to change.
In addition to these starter-verses the apostle Paul tells us that, “ Love is patient , love is kind.” (1 Cor 13:4) and even as he encouraged Timothy to teach patience, so he did with the Thessalonians: “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (2 Thess 5:14) Likewise to the Ephesians: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:2,3) and to the church at Rome : “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Rom 12:12).
But it is also a call in respect of the Second Coming: “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.” (Jas 5:7,8)
So before we go any further let's state what may be the obvious, just what is patience? Patience is the ability to wait (in the face of delays) in a state of peace (free from annoyance or anxiety). In my definition I have highlighted in the brackets the NEED and the potential EFFECT. We need patience when there is delay. We need patience to counter the potentials of annoyance and anxiety.
In our group of starter verses above, God is patient as He waits for our slow responses to Him. He was patient with Israel and He is patient with us. He waits for our slow responses to Him, and He is at peace and rest as He so waits on us. Likewise He encourages us to be patient while we wait for unsanctified believers to get sanctified! Be at peace while God works in them and simply accept that we are all at different stages of growth. To the Thessalonians and Ephesians in our follow-on verses he backs this up, recognising this as a primary need in the church. To the Romans, he touched on another need – to be patient when we are under pressure from the world, waiting for God to deliver us from opposition, and if we put our trust in His coming back, then just learn to be patient about that because we never know how soon – or late – that will be.
Now I have a feeling that patience is linked with temperament and so there are some of us who are more naturally patient and are able to simply wait at peace for whatever it is. In the early days of our marriage my wife exhibited an almost over-perfect case of patience. We had agree to meet outside a particular Underground station entrance in central London , not being aware that there were about six entrances! I waited outside one and gave up and went home after twenty minutes. She waited outside another and waited two hours before giving up and coming home. Perhaps that was a case of “Love is Patient!” I have got better over the years, but have never been allowed to forget that incident!
But perhaps our perception of our need for patience is also linked to our perceived need of the thing we are waiting for. Only yesterday I had a phone call from a national utility (Gas & Electricity) and after the person at the end of the line had quizzed me about a future course of action, said I qualified for something else and would transfer me to another department. I could hear the call sign going on and on for the other department and as my wife was listening to my despair over the whole call, I found myself muttering, “Oh, for goodness sake! It doesn't matter anyway. I'm hanging up,” to which I got a stinging rebuke, “Come on, be patient!” A few seconds later the other department came on line for a further few wasted minutes.
The patience thing crops up all over the place. When you are caught behind that slow driver (who really shouldn't be allowed on the road!!!!), or when that call centre takes ages to answer your cries for help when your online banking isn't doing what it should, or when Windows insists on taking hours on yet another upgrade (oh not again! Why couldn't they have got a foolproof system from the start that doesn't need constant tweaks!!!) or…… well the list just goes on and on.
The common feature is a delay that we so often consider unwarranted, whether it is God, the church leaders, the rest of the congregation, the government, the train drivers or whoever. The ‘natural' response is frustration and frustration is exhibited by anger and that does no one any good. No, I need more patience. I don't know if the concept of ‘grumpy old men' is a worldwide one but I have noticed that the older you get, the more the words, “I just don't believe it!” come to my lips signifying, almost invariably, my displeasure over some delay in life. The speed, or rather lack of it, of people serving behind a counter is another of those things. It's people, they are so slow! Oh Lord, I seriously need to aspire to greater patience.
Now I have been overplaying it a bit for in many ways I am very patient, but here is the funny thing: you can be patient as a saint over some things – that drive others mad – and yet find other mundane things seriously aggravating (those are the ones your partner points out to you as needing a serious dose of sanctification). But we are all different and your frustration is probably not mine, nor mine yours. We each of us have our points of stress, but whatever it is, the answer is the Lord's grace in the form of patience. It is, I suspect, one of those things where we can make a declaration of intent: “I will not let this traffic jam upset me! I will take it as an opportunity to catch up on some listening on the radio!”
Patience comes with understanding the other person. Patience comes with the grace of God. Patience comes with humility. Patience comes with the understanding of an opportunity to see change. Oh dear, I suspect that the Lord is going to allow situations today to help me grow this particular fruit. I had better get close to Him. (with clenched teeth) Thank you Lord.
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Aspiring Meditations: 14. Aspiring to know Kindness
Acts 14:17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy."
Gal 5:22 the fruit of the Spirit is …. kindness
Rom 2:4 do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?
With this next ‘aspiration' we move into a less definite or specific area. Kindness is one of those things most of us accept and say we understand in the English language and yet when it comes to defining it, it is not so easy. So let's start with a dictionary definition: Kindness = the quality of being friendly, generous, helpful and considerate.
In the first of our verses above Barnabas or Saul, speaking about God, said that the fact that we have rain helping grow crops which provide us with our food, is a sign of God's kindness, i.e. He is good because He does this. Kindness is clearly something good that can be observed in a person's attitude or behaviour. There is a gentleness about this word, a sense of soft approach in doing good to another. It has behind it a feeling of well-being towards another which may involve concern and consideration.
When writing to the church at Rome , Paul said it was God's kindness that worked to lead us to repentance. In that sense God was being gently helpful in leading us towards Himself and to repentance and on to salvation. To Titus, Paul linked it to love and mercy: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:4,5) When it is used in connection with how the Lord dealt with Joseph in the Old Testament, it has the same feel: “while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden .” (Gen 39:20,20) Because God was with and for Joseph, his loving mercy was being expressed to him in the way the Lord spoke into the heart of the prison warder to think well of Joseph and see the good in him. Jeremiah put this characteristic of the Lord right up front: “let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," (Jer 9:24) The Lord, he says, delights in being kind, in exercising kindness. It is apt that this study follows on yesterday's for we see, “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Cor 13:4). Kindness is indeed an expression of love.
All of this so far has been about trying to tie down kindness as seen in the Lord, but what about us? It is interesting that the apostle Paul considered kindness as something that commended to apostles to the church: “as servants of G od we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness. ” (2 Cor 6:4-6) Kindness, he implied, is a characteristic of a servant of God. This he spells out to Timothy: “the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Tim 2:24)
But even more than that, it is to be seen in all of the people of God: “as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness , humility, gentleness and patience.” ( Col 3:12) To the Ephesians he simply said,. “Be kind and compassionate to one another,” (Eph 4:32) and to the Thessalonians he said, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thess 5:15). Of course we have already touched on ‘brotherly kindness' in Peter's list in his second letter, but from what we have seen above, it is a requisite for every believer according to the apostle Paul.
We need not ask therefore, why should I aspire to this, for it is obvious from the above. But how do I do this, how can I increase it in my life, how can I aspire to more of it expressed through me? It has to start by the way I view all other people. Many years ago I formulated a church mission statement that started, “To create a growing community of God's people that is loving, accepting and caring, and which is able to minister God's love, reconciliation and healing with a servant heart….” If I hold to that statement I will, I believe almost inevitably express kindness to both those inside the church and outside it.
Kindness will be the gentle expression of good-will towards all others, desiring the best for them, but expressed in small and simple ways, showing interest, concern and compassion, being willing to give time and a listening ear and then simply be there with whatever is needed. Again I ponder the question, by what will I be remembered? It almost sounds too soft, but it is certainly a scriptural requirement, so will they be able to say, “He was such a kind man,” or “whenever you were with him you could be sure of receiving kindness,”? If we are kind, people will know it; it is something that communicates, even if we find it difficult to attach precise meanings to it. In the story of Abraham's servant encountering Rebekah, the servant prayed, “By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” (Gen 24:14) Perhaps we might put that, “By this I will know that you are working for good for my master,” because that is what is being ‘kind'. When you and I are kind to another, we are doing something for their good, something to bless them. May it be so.
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Aspiring Meditations: 15. Aspiring to know Faithfulness
Gal 5:22 the fruit of the Spirit is …. faithfulness
Num 12:7 my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house.
Deut 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
When I started looking up verses about faithfulness, the next in our list of things to aspire to, I found something I had never noticed before: most of the verses about faithfulness are about God and I could find hardly anything that calls us to be faithful. The meaning of ‘faithful' is in its simplest form, ‘remaining true'. That is how it is in respect of God Himself and for us it means “remaining full of faith – faith-full” or remaining true to God. There is an echo of this in Jesus' words, “ when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” ( Lk 18:8) i.e. will he find us remaining faithful to God.
When we look at faithfulness as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), there is a certain ‘chicken and egg' thing about it, which comes first? We've said several times that the fruit comes as we hold true to the Spirit, open to Him, being led by Him. In a sense we might say the fruit grows when we remain faithful to Him, and yet faithfulness is actually one of the fruit He brings in us. So faithfulness to Him releases faithfulness in us in much wider ways. The first reference to faithfulness in the Bible is in respect of Moses (Num 12:7 – see above) which the writer to the Hebrews picks up on (see Heb 3:2). In other words, Moses was true to his calling and remained faithful to the Lord and to Israel .
But let's see some references to the Lord's faithfulness and that will help faithfulness grow in us. First of all, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” (1 Cor 10:13) i.e. when temptations come from the enemy, the Lord will not leave us on our own but will remain true to the relationship we have with Him and will be there for us.
In a similar vein, “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful .” (1 Cor 1:8, 9) i.e. the reason we can be assured that we will stand blameless on the final day of accounting has a twofold dimension to it. First, God will remain true to the principles of the salvation He has provided for you through Christ and so because of the Cross you will appear before Him blameless, because Christ has taken all the blame. Second, we will stand blameless on that day because He will have kept us true to Him by the presence of His Holy Spirit working within us on a daily basis, and the presence or Jesus seated at His right hand ruling over our affairs. In all of this He will have remained faithful and true in respect of us.
Exactly the same thing is conveyed to the Thessalonians: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thess 5:23,24) The focus here though is not so much the final accounting but the actual return of Jesus, but the same thoughts are conveyed – we will be kept by God's faithfulness. He will remain true to us and be there for us.
But not only is it in respect of being ready for Jesus' return and for the final accounting, it is also in respect of our daily lives and the warfare we encounter here: “pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thess 3:2,3) Paul acknowledges this spiritual warfare, especially noting that it can involve people who are hostile to us, but he has this same confidence he has spoken of elsewhere, that God is for us and will remain faithful and so can be relied upon to strengthen us and protect us.
Now this has brought us to a key issue – we can RELY on God BECAUSE He IS faithful, He will always remain true to us, He will always be there for us. There is a hint of this in “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.” (Heb 6:17) God's unchanging purpose is because He Himself never changes. Because the plan of the Godhead made before the foundation of the world is perfect, it never changes. God never changes and His purposes never change and His feelings and His plans and His purposes towards us, never change. We can rely on this, He is faithful, He is unchanging. Rejoice in this, be secure in this.
Now I said there appear few calls to remain faithful to God but really everything in the teaching in the New Testament is summed up in this. It is inherent in our calling. We did not surrender to Him just for ten minutes to receive His salvation, we gave our entire lives to Him. That is how it works. We remain faithful to Him because we have to, for without Him we are nothing, without Him we have no present and no future. I don't have to try to be faithful, I just HAVE to be. The moment I cease to be, is the moment I fall into disobedience and rebellion.
But if He is faithful to us and we are faithful to Him, then by necessity we must remain faithful to one another in the body. Peter denying Jesus for a horrible few moments in the grounds of the High Priest's palace, and Judas betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver are the quintessential examples of absence of faithfulness and those two incident should act as spurs to us to be alert and ensure we never go down the same path. He is faithful; we will be faithful – to Him and to our brothers and sisters in Christ (including those we know little of in persecution zones?) May it be so.