Go back to normal view
28th August 2018
Walking in the Armour of Light:
This is an important concept brought out by Paul in Romans 13:12, AMP, ‘The night [this present evil age] is almost gone & the day [of Christ’s return] is almost here. So let us fling away the works of darkness & put on the [full] armour of light.’ ‘Put on the [full] armour of light’ is an unusual phrase. It is linked to Romans 13:8, ‘Owe no one anything except to love one another,’ which is the phrase upon which the rest of the chapter is built around. Added into this mix is verse 14, ‘clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ’ NLT, or ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Deliberately choosing to love others, putting on the armour of light & clothing ourselves with Christ’s presence all come together. In essence, Paul is arguing that we have a choice each day. Either we allow the world to saturate our souls with its darkness or we consciously act differently strengthening & developing Christ’s protection from the darkness.
In verse 13, Paul focuses particularly on three things to fling away from our lives. John Piper understood this to mean: 1. Wild parties & any level of substance misuse including alcohol, drugs, caffeine etc; 2. An excessive focus on sex, particularly promiscuity or immoral sex; 3. ‘Desires for attention, pre-eminence & control that produce quarrelling & jealousy.’ We fling these away when we engage our mind in a godly way considering whose we are & how He encourages us to mature in Christ. When thoughts come in any of the three areas just listed, we need to recognise that we are being tempted to think in a worldly, carnal way. Instead of allowing these thoughts to begin to turn us toward sinful actions – remember ungodly thoughts that come into our minds are not sin, they only become sin when we start to dwell on them, fantasise about them or agree with them & turn them into fleshy motivated actions, words or attitudes – turn to Christ.
We need to say no to such thoughts, but also to fill our minds with Christ. As we digest God’s word & prayerfully engage with Jesus – it builds faith. As we consider the promises of God in His word - it produces hope. Love is increased & matures as we draw closer to Christ. The danger is that many of us are not deliberately clothing ourselves with Christ & His armour of light. I guess you could say that many Christians are walking around with gaps or holes in their armour of light. Instead of complete godly protection, there are areas of ungodly darkness; our spiritual protection is compromised & the enemy finds a way into our lives. Satan cannot stand in Christ’s light, but he can certainly gain entrance into our lives through our failure to dress ourselves fully in the armour of light.
Maybe some of our darkness is derived from weakness in anyone, or all three, of the points listed above: 1. Through deriving pleasure from the world’s entertainment; 2. Finding arousal to satisfy the needs of our senses in ungodly & Christ-dishonouring ways & places; 3. Pushing the needs of self with its vanity, pride & ego over the Law of Love.
Father, I confess my sins of thought, word & deed. Forgive me also for not being wholeheartedly devoted to Christ & His Kingdom which at times has allowed evil to prevail or darkness to gain a place in my life. I repent also of my own thoughtlessness & carelessness which has meant that I have not always deliberately chosen to love others, nor put on the armour of light each day, nor clothe myself with Christ’s presence. Cleanse me & forgive me. I plead the merits of the blood of Jesus which leads to redemption & wholeness. May the dark areas in my life begin to be expelled & Christ’s light invade every part of my life until I stand complete in His armour of light. Amen
23rd August 2018
In the early chapters of the Bible is the story of Abraham & Sarah, Sarah roughly 10 years younger than her husband, Genesis 12 – 25. They were true adventurers setting out in response to God’s leading from their own birthplace, families & community. This journey took them further away from home & further into a journey of discovery of who God is, what He is like & what He requires of those who are in a true, faith-filled, living relationship with Him. They moved from a largely pagan understanding, including idolatry, to a monotheistic view knowing who God is & how He calls His children to worship Him alone. The name Sarah means ‘princess or mother of nations,’ originally her name was Sarai meaning, ‘she who contends or is quarrelsome’ - it was God who renamed her Sarah.
The first time we are introduced to Sarai is in Genesis 11, when we are told that she is Abraham’s wife, & that she is barren, unable to have any children. This would have been shameful for the wife of an important nobleman, as Abraham was. God had already met with her husband & given him many great promises, & would continue to do so over the coming years, about how God would bless all the families of the earth through Abraham’s descendents. These promises became known as the Abrahamic covenant which is one of the important foundation stones upon which Bible history is built. Sarai obviously knew about these promises & eventually at the age of approx. 75 decided to act herself. Her plan was to allow her maid slave, Hagar, to sleep with her husband & bear them a son. According to the contemporary Code of Hammurabi, the resultant son would be regarded as the freeborn son of Abraham & Sarai, not Hagar; Sarai was seeking to make happen, by the ethical & legal standards of her day, what God had promised to her husband. In essence, she sought to enact a divine decree by human means.
In Genesis 17, there is recorded another of God’s meetings with Abraham. Each time they met a new element of the Abrahamic covenant was revealed & new understanding given to what already was promised. For the first time Abraham is told that Sarah, it also the time she is renamed from the contentious, striving Sarai to the princess & mother of nations Sarah, will bear him the son God promised. Abraham was incredulous, fell on his face before God & laughed, ‘can a 100 year old man & 90 year old woman have a child together?’ Also at this time God named the son of promise to be born through Sarah, & through whom the covenant would be enacted, as Isaac, meaning ‘laughter.’ Whenever his name was mentioned people would think of joy.
Finally, we come near the time of fulfilment when Isaac would be conceived. The Lord, most likely a theophany appearance by the Son of God, plus two angels appeared at Abraham & Sarah’s home. They were on their way to inspect the wicked, evil towns of Sodom & Gomorrah with a view to bringing destruction, divine judgement & retribution upon them as an example to the ages of what will happen when God will judge everyone – the wicked will face His wrath & retribution for their sin-filled lives. As these three visitors are entertained by her husband outside in the enclosure, Sarah listens from the door of the family tent. The Lord asks where Sarah is & Abraham tells them, ‘here in the tent.’ The Lord states that in a year Sarah will bear a son. Sarah laughs saying, ‘will I have the pleasure of bearing a son in my old age?’ The Lord calls her out asking is ‘anything too hard for the Lord?’ & why she had laughed. Sarah lied denying it – it says she was afraid. The Lord replied to her lie, ‘no, you did laugh!’
From Sarah’s laugh it seems her hopes of bearing a child had long gone; yet, only a year earlier God had said to her husband she would bear a son. Now He says it in her hearing asking specifically for Sarah by name. God knew her heartache & faith. It is recorded in the NT that Sarah was a woman of faith, & the mother of women of faith. He also wanted her to begin to own the new name He had given her – to no longer strive to make it happen in her own understanding but to allow God to be true to His word & bring to pass what He had promised. It still required the human agency of her & her husband having sex together, but the outcome was miraculous.
God is saying to us that His promises are still true & we can rely on them. When He speaks, & we know it is Him who is speaking, we can trust in His miraculous power to bring to pass, through us, what He has determined to do. There is a place for human agency, but only when we are fully consecrated & set apart for His purposes. Is there a divine promise that makes you laugh? May the product of our faith & actions, enriched & empowered by divine promises, & the Spirit, lead to joy & laughter in others as Christ’s Kingdom purposes are established in & through us & our church - because nothing is too hard for the Lord. Amen
7th August 2018
Society & Christian Ethics
William Barclay in a series of lectures in 1970, the Baird Lectures – his topic was, ‘Jesus Today: the Christian Ethic in the Twentieth Century,’ they were also shown on the BBC over six episodes, set out what he saw as the great problem facing the UK Church. He developed this afterwards into a book called, ‘Ethics in a Permissive Society,’ Collins, London, 1971. As a young minister 30 years before people had told him, ‘don’t worry about Theology – the only thing you need to preach about is the Sermon on the Mount & Christian Ethics.’ They thought that theology was unnecessary – that he didn’t need to preach & teach on what God says about Himself, the Trinity, about His nature, His ways & His salvation plan for humanity. In order to understand what he meant by ethics he wrote, ‘Ethics are the science of human behaviour...that bit of religion that tells us how we ought to behave.’ In 1970 Barclay stated that society now wanted to abandon Christian Ethics, that which tells them how to behave in a Christ-honouring way.
Barclay had been a Glasgow University lecturer on the New Testament since 1947. Barclay was troubled about how society was changing from a Judeo-Christian basis to a more liberal, antichrist one. If he was around today he may also write about how, with these two great pillars removed from society: i. A basis of understanding & acceptance of Christian Theology & ii. Behaviour based on Christian Ethics, it allowed Secularism, Humanism, Rationalism & Pluraism to fill the vacuum & become the dominant philosophies which are the basis for pagan-like ethics in the UK society. This type of pagan based society is now seeking to push Christianity from the Public Square into the private sphere of church & home - & even seeking to determine what can be preached & proclaimed there in some cases. It was very perceptive of Barclay to write on some of these issues nearly 50 years ago.
Using Barclay’s outline, let me explore a little about what the Bible has to say about ethics – the behaviour God expects from His people. In the OT, ethics were comprehensive covering every aspect of life. The reason for this was that the Jewish nation was set part as a holy nation; therefore, what everyone did inside the nation was important. From priests to prophets, from kings to the ordinary people, men, women & children – each one’s actions had an impact on the holiness of the nation. When priests, prophets & leaders did wrong they had a more serious impact as they led & influenced everyone else. Yet, even the humblest member of each tribe could affect the whole. A good example of this is in the story of Achan in Joshua 7. One man’s sin & disobedience led to national defeat. OT ethics covered every part of life including family, business, & politics, & sought to especially protect the widow, orphan & foreigner.
The Jew understood that he was responsible for not just what he did, but also for the wrong he failed to prevent by not wholeheartedly obeying God, & for the bad consequences that arose from his carelessness or thoughtlessness. It was an all encompassing ethic which held each person accountable for their actions, disobedience & failures. God revealed through His word how His people could please Him, & His will for the nation & its people – their history demonstrated the blessings the nation experienced when it obeyed God & the folly & peril of disobeying – they were in a covenant relationship with God & this determined whose they were & whose blueprint for proper behaviour they were to follow – the nation was married to God & needed to remain faithful to Him, idolatry was unfaithfulness & brought His curses upon them – they were chosen to be a holy people & reveal to the world the joy & blessing of being Yahweh’s people.
In the NT, Jesus brought a new focus for ethics summed up in two words: love & concern. To love God, love oneself & love one’s neighbour were the highest good, the greatest behaviour possible. To have compassion & concern for others linked one with God & was at the heart of the Gospel message of salvation, repentance, faith in Christ & the New Birth – God’s concern & compassion for the world He so loves that He gave Jesus to be its Saviour. Paul added the idea of the Christian Community which is different from the world in that its primary goal is to be Kingdom of God minded, to be entered only by belief in Christ, & which seeks every day to honour & serve God in the power of the Spirit.
The Church was also to be separate from the world’s focus on carnality & self – it was to be holy, godly & Christian community minded - in fact, it was also to be outward focussed praying for societies’ leaders & those in authority. The hope of this type of God-pleasing behaviour came through a living relationship with Christ - encouraged & strengthened within the fellowship of a local church. For Paul, Peter & John, you cannot be a fully committed Christian without belonging to a local church. It is in the setting of church that Christian ethics/behaviour is established & developed which in turn has the power to transform the wider society. May God help us to re-establish the pillars of Christian Theology & Ethics in our nation, with the Christian faith practised in Society & influencing the Public Square in a Christ-honouring way. In Jesus’ name. Amen
2nd August 2018
Principles & Values:
Some people ask the question: What is the difference between values & principles? If you Google this question you will get some interesting results. I guess for me the difference is that a Principle is an unchanging law which is foundational for the good of society or my good – whereas a Value is something that I hold to be important for my benefit or the benefit of our organisation or agency. An example of five foundational principles are found in the Creation Ordinances which God set at the beginning; although the Fall greatly weakened people’s ability to fulfil these principles apart from God’s Grace – they still hold true today: Marriage – between husband & wife; Procreation – being fruitful & multiplying; Godly Labour – working to serve God’s purposes through production; Dominion - subduing, ruling & establishing God’s order on earth; Sabbath – to rest from labour & to focus on God on the seventh day. The Ten Commandments are another set of universal principles for the good of society & each individual within it.
I believe each of us should have a set of principles which are foundational to our lives. These principles then give us direction when making decisions because they are Christ-honouring, a pathway to righteous thinking & actions, & help prevent us stepping into sin. An example of this type of living in action includes applying the principles of honesty & truthfulness. We determine to act with integrity, even when no-one else is watching us. We are honest with ourselves, honest with others, admit when we are wrong & repent when we sin, & are honest before God on how we feel, think we are behaving, & what it is that is causing us to act as we do. This type of honesty leads to the discovery of some of the deep things in us that motivate us in the first place, & allows us the chance to partner with God’s Word & Spirit to sanctify or set us apart in a godly manner.
Jesus said that He was the Truth. There was never a moment of self-deception in His life, never a moment when He was not true to God’s principles or laws, never a point when He sought to lie to escape ridicule, or because of vanity. It is true that sometimes we may feel we are being truthful when in fact we are not. An example being that we may say & believe we are being truthful in saying that we love God with all our hearts & seek to recognise Christ’s lordship in everything. Our actions then either prove or disprove our statement such as when it comes to giving our time, talents & treasure to Him. We may make conditions & give only when it suits us rather than being led by the Spirit, our conscience, our principles & our values. The more mature we become as a Christian, the more clearly we recognise our propensity to be sometimes dishonest & untruthful with ourselves, with God & with others, the need to repent, but also the hope of positive change & growth in Christ.
Values are slightly different in that they state how we are going to achieve a goal, or grow further as a Christian etc. The Principle: being fruitful for God – the Values: always seeking to be open, teachable & to commit to learn, & praying for the grace & wisdom to be fruitful. The Principle: loving my wife & honouring God through my marriage – the Values to help me achieve these: never speaking ill of my wife & praying for my marriage. The Principle: working in a Christ-honouring way – the Values: having clarity of purpose, being intentional in all I do, asking for God’s grace to work in such a way, & paying attention to the small or large details. The Principle: Honouring God’s Sabbath & entering into His Rest – the Values: Treating corporate worship in church as a necessity at least one day a week, laying aside anxiety & worry & choosing to calmly trust the Lord Jesus, committing to confess my faith through how I speak about Christ, practice feeding my soul, & constantly seek the Spirit’s fullness.
May God help each of us to understand the difference between Principles & Values, to hold true to His Universal Laws & Biblical Principles while having the wisdom to create a value system which allows us to apply our faith to every part of our lives in a fruitful & dynamic way. In Jesus’ name. Amen