Series Theme: Meditations on the Will of God
This Page: Studies 21 - 30
Meditating on the Will of God: 21: God who says, “No!”
Deut 32:50-52 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel ."
In a previous meditation we pointed out that the Bible declares that God is perfect, i.e. could not be improved upon, and His wisdom is perfect and therefore nothing He ever says or does can be improved upon. We have also observed that as the Creator He designed all things to work to their very best, and it was only the Fall, brought about by Sin to have effect on the whole of creation, that changed that – yet God still does what is best for us and for Creation.
What this suggests is that when, particularly in the Old Testament, we come across difficult things happening, we need to remember what we have just said about God's perfection and ask for wisdom and understanding, to be able to see what is happening, what is behind the surface actions.
In our verses above, Moses is reminding the Israelites what has happened to them thus far – and that includes what has happened to him, and what effects or consequences the past will have on the future. For him (see Num 20:6-13) there had been a time when the Lord had instructed him to provide water from a rock for the grumbling people and instead of gracefully getting on with it, he spoke harshly to the people and acted out of anger as he brought the water. For this, the Lord had said he would die before he entered the Promised Land.
So let's look more widely at this. Moses by now was 120. That is a good age! He must be approaching the time when it is time to go to heaven anyway. Heaven is going to be his destiny anyway, so he is not losing anything except perhaps a few years. He has a younger protégé, Joshua, who is able to lead the people and Moses, at his age, is not the best person to be an army General. But the big issue, and you cannot avoid it, is that Moses got it wrong before the Lord and yet he was in a most unique position that had such high demands upon it – he was to represent God. Throughout the Old Testament it is clear that Israel's role was to represent the Lord, to reveal Him to the world, to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6, 49:6). In this they failed again and again and were disciplined. The most important thing for Moses was that he accurately represented the Lord. By taking him home early the Lord is making an example of him and creating a warning – there is no room for misrepresentation in ministry. No, you will not enter the land.
This is what is at the heart of the beginning of the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt , out of the land of slavery. "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Ex 20:2-5) He had revealed Himself to Israel in a most amazing way in delivering them out of Egypt . He had shown Himself to be the One Almighty, all-powerful Lord of all. An idol could not possibly represent him and no other of the world's idols or ‘gods' could possibly compare with Him. The all-important thing is for the world to see Him and know Him as He truly is. No, you will not misrepresent me by making ‘things' to represent me!
Of course we find negative commands all over the place and the Ten Commandments were full of them – you shall NOT misuse the name of the Lord, work on the Sabbath, murder, commit adultery, steal; give false testimony or covet. These are all behaviours that run contrary to the way God has designed us and we ignore them at our peril. For the Christian the formula “you shall not” is replaced by “put to death” (e.g. Col 3:5) and similar language, but there are still things that should not be in our lives and which are contrary to God's will for us.
But the biggest challenge for us is how we represent God. One has to say on the basis of the way the media so often portray vicars, we do not represent God well at all. Perhaps if we conveyed to the world a people full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control; (Gal 5:22,23) it might be different. If we bought the revelation and power of God perhaps it would be different.
We find a similar ‘no, restriction' being imposed upon king David. He had a palace and felt settled and wanted to build a temple for the Lord but the Lord said, No: “David said to Solomon: "My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God. But this word of the LORD came to me: `You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. He is the one who will build a house for my Name.” (1 Chon 22:7-10) David's heart had been good but he was tainted with blood from the past and so it fell to Solomon to build the Temple . There are times when our past disqualifies us (even as Christians) from certain things for the future. Our destiny in heaven will not be affected but sometimes I believe, as with David, there are things from the past which still impact us in the present and thus the Lord has to say no. But if that is so, it is because He knows that this will not be the best for us – or for His name.
So remember, “No,” is part of God's vocabulary and when He says it is always for the best, both to bless us and to glorify His name in some way that may not be clear to us at the present. Remember this also, from the above examples, if the Lord does say no to something then He will also give a reason for it. More often than not he will say yes, but when He does say no, it is always for a good reason. And to close, I believe there are times when the Lord says no to us because in His love and foreknowledge He knows that we would not be able to handle the thing we are asking for and it could have disastrous effects in our lives, and He loves us too much to let it happen. That needs pondering on.
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Meditating on the Will of God: 22: God who Chides
1 Kings 19:9 And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
We live in an age where unfortunately ‘self' is encouraged to reign and we might even refer to it as the ‘spirit of the age'. What is more unfortunate is that this is so often true of Christians as well and so, in a series of studies on the will of God, we perhaps need to face this as a separate issue; people don't like being told off, but God DOES correct us.
Elijah was a most remarkable man, a prophet who had opposed both a bad king and large numbers of bad false prophets. As a result of that he had earned the displeasure of the queen who, being a powerful person, threatened to take his life. Elijah decided to run. What is amazing is that by the time he reached the mountain at Horeb, the Lord had twice sent angels to sustain him; he wouldn't have got that far with out it. So he gets to the cave on the mountain and rests and then the Lord turns up!
Now when the Lord asks questions it is not because He doesn't know the answer, because He does. He asks so that we will face the truth. So, Elijah, whatever do you think you're doing here, hidden away? Prophets need to be out in the open in the world! “Ah,” he replies, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10) How we dress up our excuses to sound good! “I have been very zealous for the Lord.” True, good man! Israel have gone astray and “I am the only (faithful) one left.” Ah, not quite true. Stress makes us lose perspective.
Now what is interesting is that we are told that “the word of the Lord came to him.” (v.9) What follows is even more interesting. After his excuses we find, “The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” (v.11) There is a difference between just hearing a word and sensing the very presence of God. The latter is more scary and so he had better be honest in God's presence! Eventually, “a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v.13c) The same question. Are you going to be honest this time, Elijah, and confess you took your eye off the game and got scared? Sadly he gives exactly the same answer. Even great men of God show their humanity and stick to making excuses. So the Lord gives him marching orders and ends with, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel --all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (v.18) That is the truth; there are in fact quite a number of those who remain faithful to the Lord in Israel, Elijah, and (implied) they need you to be my mouthpiece.
Perhaps one of the best known verses in Scripture about the Scriptures, speaks very plainly to this: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17). Notice in this context, the words ‘rebuking' and ‘correcting'. Some of us think Jesus is so ‘meek and mild' that all he ever does is pat us on the back and make encouraging noises. The truth is that he loves us too much to just leave it at that. A rebuke is a reprimand or scolding for getting it wrong. We do need to know when we've got it wrong otherwise we'll never get it right. Correcting is all about showing how to put something right after getting it wrong. Again, the truth is that we quite often need God's word to put us right.
We often think how wonderful it must have been to have been with Jesus in the three years of his ministry and we forget that he was there, not only to reveal his Father to the world, but also train up (disciple) his followers to be able to carry on doing what he was doing when he left. Part of that process involved a) Jesus setting targets for them and b) him chiding them when they fell short. And example of his target setting might be when he sent them out in pairs to do the stuff (Mt 10:1,5 & Lk 10:1-)
An example of his chiding them is found in the middle of a storm! “The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” (Mt 8:25,26) He chided them for their lack of belief of his care for them and his ability to protect them. In his general teaching he chided his listeners for worrying: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?'” (Mt 6:30,31) Again he chided them for not believing that His Father cared for them and would provide for them.
A similar situation, involving one of his servants who had stepped out in a big way but then balked at what he was doing (like Elijah) was that involving Peter walking on the water: “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:29-31)
Another chiding situation arose when the disciples were discussing bread among themselves: “Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?” (Mt 16:8-10) Then came a time when, while Jesus was up the mountain, some of his disciples failed to drive a demon out of a boy and so when Jesus came back they questioned him: “Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" He replied, "Because you have so little faith .” (Mt 17:19,20)
In Gethsemane we find a further gentle chiding when the disciples fell asleep when they were supposed to be waiting on Jesus: “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter.” (Mt 26:40) Six times in Matthew's Gospel we have seen Jesus chiding his disciples. He had expectations of them and when they failed, he chided them. He wanted them to lift their game, we might say. There are in the other Gospels other examples as well. Are you living up to Jesus' expectations of you? Is he calling you to lift your ‘faith game'?
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Meditating on the Will of God: 23: God who uses us
Ex 3:10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt ."
In the seventh study in this series we considered the verses at the beginning of Romans 12 that speak of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. We considered ‘service' and the ‘hard man' mentality. What we perhaps take for granted is that God loves to share with us, not only just good things, but also in His plans and purposes as He works to bring blessing to the world. The apostle Paul said, “For we are God's fellow workers,” (1 Cor 3:9) meaning they worked as apostles in harmony with the Lord.
Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working,” (John 5:17) and then went on to add, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (v.19) It is the picture of Father and Son working in harmony together, in the same way as back in Creation: “I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep ….. Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:27,30,31)
The truth is, of course, that God could intervene and bring about whatever He wants without the help from anyone else, but the record of the Bible is that He delights in taking human beings and working with them to bring about His purposes. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more true that in the case of Moses.
When Moses was apprehended by the burning bush that was not burning up, he heard this voice speaking to him and we find, “The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt . I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land.” (Ex 3:7,8). How wonderful! God has come down to deliver His people Israel from their slavery! Hallelujah! He continues, “ And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (v.9) Their anguish in slavery has moved Him to move on their behalf. How wonderful! Hallelujah! Isn't He wonderful!
But then the axe falls: “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt .” (v.10) Notice the ‘so'. Because of all this, I am now sending you Moses. And so starts a question and answer session where this man, whose self-esteem fell out the bottom through forty years of looking after sheep in the desert, wriggles and wriggles and tries to get out of it. At the end of the conversation we find, “Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it." Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses.” (Ex 4:13, 14)
What is the Lord getting angry about. Moses is a nobody; forty years in the wilderness have proved that. He's an old man, he's now eighty. He's blown it in life and threw away great possibilities back in Egypt when he was forty. He's got absolutely nothing going for him. But hold on, if you read back through the conversation you will see that the Lord answered every one of his queries: “I will be with you.” (3:12). “Say to the Israelites, `The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has sent me to you.” (3:15). “I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among t hem. After that, he will let you go.” (3:20) Then he performed two miracles. “Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.” (4:8,9). Then, “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (4:12) And still Moses balks at the task. In one sense that is sensible because it seems a humanly impossible task, but the Lord doesn't call us to be sensible, He calls us to act in faith, responding to what He says – and hasn't He said a lot here!
The Lord's anger, I suggest, burned against the presence of sin that still pulls at this man and tries to demean him and make him think less of himself than he is. At the very least, he is a man in the hands of God and God can do all these things, even if Moses can't. And there is the crux of the matter: will we believe that God can do these things? Moses role is really limited to speaking words, the rest is down to God. And there it is today, the same thing is true. We get called to speak words and then God will do what we cannot do. These are some of the dynamics of Him working out His will, His plans and purposes for the earth.
The end of the Moses story was the Lord giving Aaron, Moses' brother, to him to partner him (Ex 4:14-17). This reminds us that we are part only of a body (1 Cor 12:27) and we are not alone – but we DO have a part to play. Let's enter into it with joy.
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Meditating on the Will of God: 24: A Teachable Spirit
Ex 4:12-15 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say ." But Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it." Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses and he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do .
We have said before that when you are considering these things it pays to be repetitive. We have also noted that when it comes to the will of God, it is not natural for us to know and understand it; it needs to come by revelation. Also at the heart of the experiences of Jesus' followers was the call to be a disciple, a learner. But we have also considered the issue of having a hard heart (as in the case of Pharaoh) and so when you put all these things together we see that to be a Christian means to be a learner and to be a learner means we must deal with any signs of a hard heart within us. We've also noted that in the day in which we live, a self-centred attitude predominates, often heard in the words, “Don't you tell me what to do!” Such a person is locked into a self-destructive lifestyle where the blindness of sin prevails.
We have chosen the above passage from the Lord's conversation with Moses, very simply because near the end of it twice the Lord says He will teach Moses. Yes, He is aware that He is sending Moses on a humanly impossible task but He will go with him, He will do miracles through Him and now, He will teach him what to say and what to do. Now if that was true for Moses, I suggest it is also certainly true for us. We blunder through life and we get it wrong. We say wrong things and upset people, we do things the wrong way and get in a mess. We do need help, we do need teaching how to do things better – and God delights in teaching us.
James in his letter wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) I have included all those verses because they say so much about this. First of all, ‘wisdom' is the ‘knowledge of how to…' It is knowing how to speak or knowing how to act, that is appropriate for the situation. That is wisdom and the Lord says He will give generously (plenty of it) without finding fault (for He understands our shortcomings and that is why we are asking for help, after all).But the person asking must not doubt because if he does then he will not stick to what he has been told by God. If he doubts that it is God or doubts what God says, he will half-heartedly go about it and will end up all over the place like a boat tossed around in a storm. If he is a “on one hand this, but on the other hand that” sort of person that is being double minded and not a man of faith and so will be unstable. No, in summary, God delights in teaching us how to speak or act but we have to be open and obedient.
Now what is interesting, and what we so often forget, is that those words in James follow other verses and really should be seen in the light of those verses: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4) The context for needing wisdom is the context of trials, of difficulties, where our faith is tested as God works the process of sanctification out in us, that develops perseverance – stick-ability – and that will develop maturity. In those situations, and they crop up again and again in life, we need wisdom, we need God to teach us how to handle the difficult situation.
Elsewhere the apostle Paul wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10:13) A temptation is the other side of the coin from a trial. God brings a trial and He may allow Satan to bring a temptation but the truth is, says Paul, that whatever temptation comes it is common to us all and God won't let us be pushed further than that with which we can cope. Moreover (as we seek Him – implied) He will provide a way so we can stand in the face of it. It, so often, is simply knowledge (realization of what is happening) and understanding (coming to see the issues clearly) and wisdom (knowing what to do) that will see us through this test, this trial, this temptation.
But back to our starting place, we will only be able to do this if we have learnt to have a teachable heart, or a teachable spirit. If we have learnt that God knows best and God has the answers for us, then we need to be open to receive those things from Him, we need to let Him teach us. In the previous study we noted the Lord who corrects or chides us and teaching includes us being corrected and taught the right way to go.
Solomon wrote, “A fool spurns his father's discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (Prov 15:5). Discipline is simply training and it is a foolish person who does not have an open heart to be taught. The heart is indeed deceitful (Jer 17:9) and so our inner self so often denies that we are not open to be taught, but when we do that we do it by making excuses that the form of correction that we see coming is coming from a person who is also less than perfect (because God so often uses people to teach us). But these are just excuses and they deceive us and cover up our lack of being open to being taught, to be trained, to being disciplined, to being corrected, and to being shown a better way to live than the way we are on at the present. We need to be taught, and if anything rings true here, we need to go to the Lord for His wisdom as to how to deal with our lack. May it be so.
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Meditating on the Will of God: 25: Challenged by Death
Eccles 7:1-4 A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
You might think that any sane, rational, thinking person who found out that the Bible taught that God is the Creator of all things, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, described as love, good and perfect, would consider that finding out what this God desires, what His will is, would be the all-consuming goal of their lives. The fact that we do not do this is just another of those things pointing to the presence of Sin in every human life. But the truth is that we get taken up with trivia, with buying things, with seeking out pleasure, with being utterly self-focused and we ignore the spiritual, and large numbers of people ignore God. Not only might we describe that as folly but it means that most people fail to connect with The source of all good things and therefore remain in spiritual, moral and social poverty (and for many, material poverty as well).
And then, flicking through the Bible, we stumble across the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7 and with casual indifferent shallowness, many say, “How silly – the day of death better than the day of birth? It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting? What misery mongering is that!” And they stop reading, which is silly because Solomon who had tried everything had found a truth which is so obvious – “death is the destiny of every man.”
When we are young and feeling strong and healthy, death seems so far away and we can ignore it, we think. And then someone near us is killed in an accident and suddenly grief and shock enter our lives, possibly for the first time. Suddenly death is in front of us. We carry on through life in ignorant, happy bliss and then we find a lump and consult a doctor and are told we might have cancer. Suddenly our mortality confronts us. Until then we had given it little thought but suddenly the possibility of our life being brought to an end shakes us. Being confronted with death is probably one of the best things to sober us up and get us to think about spiritual and eternal matters.
Solomon had been around long enough to have seen death many times, and he understood this. No doubt a number of times he had found himself in a place of mourning – perhaps over the death of his own father, David – and he knew that such times were times of reflecting on the frailty of life, on eternal matters, on what happens after death, and he knew these were matters we should think about. As we said at the start you would think that these were the things that any sane, rational, thinking person would consider because the truth is the only one sure-fired, guaranteed thing that we know WILL happen in life is that one day we will die – and then what?
When Solomon went on to write, “the heart of fools is in the heart of pleasure ” he was writing words that perhaps reach the peak of application in the twenty first century. I have a couple of times recently come across commentators who say that statistics show that only about 1 in 5 children play outside regularly, and very few children in our society here in the West have any knowledge of Nature because they spend so much of their lives indoors. What do they do but play on computer games or watch videos? If that is accurate it describes a generation locked in to a tiny limited world but a world of pleasure seeking. But consider their adult counterparts and the same is true of so many. That pleasure seeking may include playing sports or going out for meals but so many today live in ‘the house of pleasure' and in so-doing they avoid thinking about the spiritual world or the eternal dimension to life, and so miss out on so much.
This is, please remember, all about the will of God, what He wants for us human beings, part of His creation. How sad it is that sin makes us so foolish that we hide away and ignore these things by covering over such thoughts with busyness and activity and pleasure. We can never relish death or finding ourselves in crisis situations, but they DO wake us up and they do shake us into thinking about death and then God.
The apostle Paul wrote, “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 1:20) The wonder of the world should open our eyes to think about the One who made it all but instead we focus on our own pleasure, our own good feelings, what we can get out of it all, and it is only when death confronts us do we face the big issues of life. Such is the effect of Sin.
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Meditating on the Will of God: 26: The Judgment of God
Rom 1:24, 26, 28 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another….. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones….. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
Although I didn't state it at the beginning of this set of meditations, I felt that I wanted to approach this subject, rather than going down a carefully delineated logical path, more like a person wandering rather aimlessly around an art gallery, coming across paintings that are different. Yes, they are linked by the medium used, the fact that they are all framed and hand on walls and so on, but they are individual. I have sought to pick up links of thought but basically wander around this subject, which is why I have looked at a subject, moved on, and then meandered back to it.
I say all this to explain where we are in this present study. We have lightly looked at the subject of God dealing with bad people and we noted Ezekiel's question and answer: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) but I want to return to the general subject of the judgment of God and I want to approach it from a angle I have never seen before.
In an earlier meditation we noted that Scripture declares that God is perfect and all His ways are perfect and we suggested that perfection means that it is impossible to improve on it. Therefore if God is perfect, and the Bible says He is, then everything He thinks, says or does is perfect and cannot be improved upon. It is the very best when you take all things into account. And there is our difficulty because we have such limited knowledge, and therefore we struggle to understand sometimes, or if we don't understand we simply (and I suggest callously) take at face value what we read without any thought, and so if we read about God killing someone we just look and say, “God is holy, he was wrong and so he deserved it,” but God isn't like that. We'll come back to this thought, but again and again He tries to avoid the ‘death outcome'.
No, take this in, this incredible thought: God is perfect and so nothing He thinks, says or does can be improved on – including acts of judgment! If we were able to see with the knowledge of God, we would conclude that whatever act of judgment was before us, it was essential in the face of all the facts! Now I know that is so contrary to what so many of us think, but it is THE only logical outcome. What it leaves for us, is a massive challenge to see what is the thinking behind the will of God that results in death and destruction.
I would like to wander into this minefield using the verses above from Romans 1. There are most revealing. Three times it says that “God gave them over” to some perverted behaviour or perverted thinking. What does that mean? It suggests that so much of the time, in some way or other, God restrains human sinfulness. I can only assume He does this my speaking into our minds either directly or through His servants. The result is restrained sin. Thus far and no further. But then there comes a time when a people or nation so set their hearts of going away from God and from His laws, that He says, “Very well, if that is what you want, go for it,” and He lifts off His hand of restraint, if you like, and allows society to ‘do its own thing'. That doing its own thing is a form of judgment. It is self-imposed but it is nevertheless judgment. God is bringing discipline on a people by allowing them to see the folly and pain of going their own way. It is what our own society is going through today.
The object of such a course of action is, as we have just said, to bring a people to their senses and realise their folly and turn back to God. Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-24) shows this perfectly. The son wants to turn away from the father (God) and so the father allows him to do that. The son goes away and lives a dissolute life until he reaches rock bottom and realises his folly and returns in repentance to his father. That epitomizes this strategy perfectly. But notice the almost gentle bringing of pain to the son. It happens gradually and it happens because he brings it on himself.
Because we live in a fallen world where Sin prevails and Satan provokes, in order for human beings to be brought back to their senses, God often uses this strategy. It is this strategy that is behind the apostle Paul's instructions to the Corinthian church in respect of a man committing sexual immorality: “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor 5:5) i.e. put him outside the protection of the church, leave him to the ways of the world and the enemy until he comes to his senses and repents (which 2 Cor shows us he did).
What we have seen in these examples are times where individuals are allowed to go into deeper trouble until they come to their senses but, of course, that will not always happen, as we saw in one of the early studies about Pharaoh. What is incredible about the plagues, apart from the fact of them, is that they gradually intensified and became worse and worse thus making the recipients of them gradually aware that this is the hand of God and it was going to get heavier and heavier until they repented. Pharaoh appeared to repent and then backtracked and ended up dying – but it was his choice! Thus this form of disciplinary judgment allows the individual to face what is happening and come to repentance in a gradually worsening situation.
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Meditating on the Will of God: 27: Authorities
Rom 13:1,2 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
In a day when Government, Police and other authorities have been shown to have feet of clay, with virtually every public institution having more than a few scandals, it seems that these are difficult words to take as the will of God. However if you lived in Paul's day and persecution of the church by the authorities had become almost a norm from time to time, it must have been even harder, yet Paul states a simple principle behind his instructions to explain the will of God for societies.
The truth is, says Paul that there is “no authority except that which God has established” and even more, “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” There is no doubting what he says for he says the same thing twice. Perhaps we need to see the rest of the paragraph to understand more: “ For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (v.3-5)
Now that appears quite reasonable. The role of authorities in God's order of things, is to bring order to society, act against wrong doers to both stop them doing wrong and bring them to justice. That is quite agreeable. Paul assumes within this that authorities rightly perform those tasks and in no way does he condone authorities who abuse their power and oppress the weak and vulnerable. The Old Testament was full of prophetic declarations against rulers who abused their people. No, it is automatically implied that when Paul says this about authorities he has in mind those who perform their God-given roles of bringing order and upholding the law of the land in true justice.
Where authorities go against God then the testimony of Scripture is that it is right and proper to stand against such ungodliness. The book of Daniel records both Daniel and his three friends standing against the authority of the king when he called for them to be ungodly, and God upheld those men when the authority acted against them.
We might also cite Peter and John as they stood before the Sanhedrin and the rulers of that council banned them from preaching about Jesus. Peter replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19,20)
But the truth is that these authorities exist by God's will, even when they do wrong. When Jesus stood before Pilate we find Pilate asking, “Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” (Jn 19:10,11) The apostle Peter, on the Day of Pentecost preached, “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) Both Jesus and Peter were declaring that what was happening was God's will. He wasn't making Pilate act in this way but Plate was there by God's permissive will and God knew that in his sin Pilate would act as he did.
To try and catch an even bigger picture here, consider king Nebuchadnezzar in the Old Testament. The prophetic testimony through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel was that this king was acting as an instrument of God to bring judgment on Israel and its surrounding nations. That did not mean that Nebuchadnezzar could treat people just as he wanted and get away with it, for the Lord held him accountable and eventually humbled him with madness, yet as Nebuchadnezzar's armies swept across the land, this was declared to be the judgment of God. Indeed there was more than one nation in the Old Testament who God used for discipline but each time He held them accountable when they acted out their own selfish plans and went beyond what God was calling them to do.
Perhaps when we get to heaven, if the Lord allows us to look back on history with His eyes, we will gasp in awe when the see the Lord's hand through ungodly nations bringing judgment. Someone has said that we get the government we deserve and in the Biblical sense that is probably true as the Lord uses authorities to discipline ungodly peoples. The more we look at this subject, the more we realise the rightness of Paul's instructions to submit to the authorities for they are there by God's design, and even though they may not be aware of it, they may be executing God's judgment or bringing God's discipline.
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Meditating on the Will of God: 28: God Uses Sinners
1 Tim 1:15,16 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
Many people when they look at Paul's words in these verses above say, ‘Oh he must have been exaggerating to make a point.' No, he wasn't. When the Holy Spirit convicts us, at that moment at least (and it may be short lived) we feel we are The worst of sinners. Conviction is a very sharp thing; the Holy Spirit takes and apples the truth so it penetrates deep, deep in our hearts and at that moment we feel absolute failures. Once we have looked failure in the face and received the grace and forgiveness of God, we will know this truth. It may not impact us so strongly as we learn to live with it, but we know the truth of it. The person who denies they are a sinner simply has never had a close encounter with God. Those who have had such close encounters, know the truth about themselves – that they ARE sinners, redeemed but still sinners – and they know the truth that Jesus has died for them and the Holy Spirit indwells them to set them free from sin. They no longer Have to sin. They may stumble and commit the individual sin but the life of sin has died and they are now alive to God (Rom 6:10).
Now when we reflect upon the apostle Paul and what he has said, we realise something even more incredible – God uses sinners! Even though he was an amazing Christian and an amazing apostle achieving such incredible things, being God's instrument to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles, he nevertheless had his weak points. You only have to look at the “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39) to see a man who is not good at giving people a second chance and who parted from his co-worker with whom he had gone through so much. It leaves a less-than-perfect feeling about the situation and about him. But God used him. Whether he should have ended up in prison in Caesarea is debatable, but still God used it.
We hold Moses in such high esteem but the truth was he completely blew it at the age of forty and had to forsake his Egyptian heritage for it to be replaced by forty years of looking after sheep in the wilderness. Look at him arguing with God for two chapters and again you see a man who isn't a spiritual giant. Forty years later after an incredible testimony of looking after God's new people, he loses his cool and is chastised by God and told he will not enter the Promised Land. A real human being in the hands of an incredible God, that is the story of Moses.
It gets worse. Look at Jacob. A twister, a schemer, a thief, a deceiver. Yes, all of those things and yet a man chosen by God, whose name He will change into one of the most famous in the world – Israel . Look at his son, Joseph, a spoilt brat who God chooses to make the saviour of the Middle East . Then there's David, described as a man after God's own heart, chosen by God to be king to replace Saul – who goes on to commit murder and adultery.
Cone into the New Testament and look at the men the Son of God chose to be with him and to become the future leaders of the Church. Consider the leading men. Peter, the big mouth, who eventually denied his Lord three times. James and John known as sons of thunder so violent in outlook were they. Then back to the man called Saul, to become Paul. A self-centred Pharisee who thinks he's got it together but is in fact diametrically opposed to God, who persecutes, arrests and watches a Christian being stoned. What a choice for a leading apostle!
But all of this screams out the will of God: to take sinful men and redeem them! Yes, that is what God's will is all about, God working in this Fallen World to redeem men and women, to save them from themselves and make them something special. Jeremiah's famous words say it all as he speaks out God's words: “ For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity.” (Jer 29:11-14). In the wider context they mean that God plans good for us, to deliver us from the captivity of Sin and make us adopted children of God, forgiven, cleansed and empowered. That is the wonder of the overall will of God.
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Meditating on the Will of God: 29: Searching for the Will of God
1 Tim 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.
I suppose the heart of this particular series of meditations could be summed up by the question, “What is it that God wants?” Now there is a ‘big-picture' answer to that and a ‘small-picture' answer and for this study I wish to focus on the latter answer. Drop back nearly two thousand years and imagine you are one of the leaders of the early church. Jesus has returned to heaven and the Holy Spirit has come, so yes, you do have purpose and direction as He inspires, guides and teaches, but what do you teach the new believers? What is at the heart of God's will for you to communicate to them?
Now courtesy of Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, we have a glimpse into the way that they went about this. Catechisms became a feature of the later life of the church and the earliest glimpses of such an approach to passing on the truth (or God's will) came in these letters as he refers to “trustworthy sayings” which is what we started off the previous meditation. Whether Paul's comment about being the worst of sinners was part of that particular saying we have no way of knowing but at least, in the first part, we have the very heart of God's will in sending Jesus: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. That is what the whole of the New testament is about. For three years Jesus ministered in Israel and revealed the love of his father and prepared a group of men and women to continue his work, but THE crucial element of his activity on earth was dying on the Cross for our sins, in order to save us. If we want to know what God's will is, it must start here, for both me and for those around me; that is what He desires. Sadly, because of free will and the hardness of heart caused by Sin, many people will not comply with His will in this respect but that should not detract from what His desire is.
Another one of Paul's sayings is not so clear as it could refer to what goes before it or after it: “ For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labour and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim 4:8-10) So let's take both options. First of all, “ 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.” Godliness here means a life in relation to God, a life reflecting His character, a holy life. This, says Paul, is what the Christian life is about now, living out the life that Jesus has given back to us. It was a life under the wrath of God (Eph 2:3) but now it is a life as a child of God and that offers blessings for the remainder of the present life and for eternity.
It is a life where God imparts all of His love and goodness by means of His Holy Spirit and so we are both recipients and imparters of the love and goodness. The second part of those verses declared an alternative possibility: “ we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.” This part reminds us that the focus of our new lives is in trusting God who has become our Saviour when we believed. If He did that before we knew Him, how much more will He bless us now we do know Him. Both of these – the verse before and the verse after are true and applicable. This is God's will, to trust in Him and allow Him to deepen our relationship with Him more and more as every year passes. Godliness is the end product for our present lives with eternal life stretching out that blessing way beyond the grave.
In his second letter there is another of these saying that were taught to the new believers to understand something more of God's will: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Tim 2:11-13) That might be summed up, this life of godliness, receiving the blessings of God is conditional upon us keeping on in the faith. There are four ‘if's here. We need to die to the old life, to be able to live his new life, we need to endure and keep on and we will learn to reign with him, we need to be faithful to him, for is we deny knowing him we fall out of relationship and he will deny knowing us and, finally, even of we cease to be faithful and become faithless, he will remain faithful and will remain their with his arms open wide waiting for us to return (as with the prodigal son).
But we've missed the second of those sayings in Paul's first letter: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1) Some might ask, ‘are you saying God wants s all to be overseers or elders?' No but I am saying that the teaching implies that it is good to mature and come into a place where you can serve the church. Maturity involves having a servant heart, and that is part of the godliness that the first one spoke of.
In his letter to Titus there was another of these: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5-8) Again it is difficult to know where it begins and ends but he summarises what has happened to us: reborn by the Spirit, as a result of the work of Jesus on the Cross, to enter into eternal life which starts now but has no end.
So, the will of God for us while we are here on earth? To receive His salvation made possible by Jesus on the Cross, born again by the indwelling Holy Spirit, entering into a purposeful holy life of love, goodness and service (godliness) that develops and matures us and part prepares us for the eternity ahead. Focusing on us and our life is what I have called the ‘small picture' will of God. In the next and final mediation we shall look at the wider picture.
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Meditating on the Will of God: 30: The Big Picture
1 Cor 15:24,25 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
In the previous meditations we suggested they could be summed up by the question, “What is it that God wants?” and said there is a ‘big-picture' answer to that and a ‘small-picture' answer. We looked at the small-picture answer, so now let's finish with the big-picture answer. In the small picture we focused on our individual salvation, what God wants to work out in us but now we look at the whole scope of time-space history as the Bible reveals it.
The opening of the Bible revelation is the Creation. The godhead had existed in eternity before that, but that defies our minds. There came a point where God created time-space history and all that we know came into being. Whether it was in an instant or over billions of years is irrelevant – God made it. And the record is that He looked at it and it was very good (Gen 1:31). Within that creation He made a man and a woman and gave them free will and they used it to disregard God's instructions in what we call the Fall and from that moment Sin was in the world – godless self-centredness. Its effect was to alienate man from God and from then on there was human strife and the world was changed.
Within that Fall we were introduced to Satan who we later find is a fallen angel. Although the record is not extensive it is clear that there were many more angels and a third of them were led astray by Satan and have been cast out of heaven and dwell on earth. As human beings move under the power of Sin so they are vulnerable to the suggestions and temptations of these beings and power bases are built up around the world ruled over by powers and principalities, and Satan is allowed dominion over sinful mankind.
Yet wherever a man or woman turns to God, He is there for them. In fact He built a relationship with Abram, then Isaac and then Jacob and then the whole nation of Israel . The Old Testament is a record of His dealings with them. It is a murky record with high points and many low points as the sin of mankind is attested to again and again through this nation.
Then some two thousand years ago, in accordance with a plan formulated within the godhead before time began, the Son of God left heaven and was revealed as a baby born to a woman. He grew and at the age of thirty moved out into public ministry, gathering around him a band of followers he trained up to continue his work. In those three years he revealed the love and goodness of the godhead, but then he was crucified as a criminal, but an innocent one, as God's lamb, acting as a sacrifice to carry the sins of mankind. Then he rose from the dead, taught his followers for some five or six weeks and then ascended back to heaven. About ten days later His Holy Spirit fell on his followers and the Church was born.
From that point on – in the age of the Church – he works by His Spirit to save people, as many as will heed him. Yet as history develops, despite him coming again and again in revival power, the sin of mankind on earth seems to increase. As Jesus oversees these end times, he allows plagues and destructions to come and yet, despite this, mankind refuses to repent and turn to him: “ The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood--idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Rev 9:20,21) and also Rev 16:9-11.
As the sinfulness of mankind reaches breaking point the Son of God returns in power – see Rev 19:11-16. He conquers and subdues the earth. But then, wonder of wonders, it appears there will be a thousand year period of life on the earth free from Satan's interference (Rev 20:1-3) after which he will be released for a while, almost it seems as if to make the point about the vulnerability of mankind, many of whom follow him again, only to be judged in a final winding up time (Rev 20:7-10) and then will come a final judgment where all who have ever existed stand before God to be judged (Rev 20:11-15).
When that is finished God makes all things new. A new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1,2) and a new Jerusalem where God dwells with His saints for ever more. This is the big picture. Whether the things of Revelation are symbolic or not, the message is clear: God is in charge and He gives mankind chance after chance to come to Him, to receive forgiveness, cleansing and adoption. In His timing, at appropriate times He will intervene in the affairs of the world and bring it to an end as we know it now. His ultimate goal is His rule so that peace reigns without the interference of Satan and Sin. Everything will be subject to Him (as it is now without realizing it) but even death will be gone and there will be a beyond-time existence where He enjoys His people and they enjoy Him.
That is the final state and that is what He is working towards. While He is still working we have opportunity to respond to Him but that, as always is a limited time; it is limited to within the timescale and events we have been considering, and it is limited to the time that we have individually on the earth and, of course, we never know how long that will be. The call is always to repent of godless self-centredness and turn to God to seek His forgiveness, cleansing and adoption and receive the power that goes with that to live new lives – but that has taken us back into the ‘small picture' again. That is a tiny microcosm in the ‘big picture' but for us it is critical. He IS ruling and He is working towards an end and at some time Jesus will return carrying the names, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev 19:16) for thus the Father has designated him. May we bow and worship him, for this is the will of God as He makes His Son the focus for us: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11) Hallelujah!