Sunday, 27 July 2014

The love of God

John 3:16, in its description of the love of God, has been called the Bible in miniature. There is sufficient teaching within it that will enable any person who takes its teaching to heart to find his way to heaven, supposing he would never heard or read another verse.

It is not clear from the chapter who spoke the words of John 3:16. Many assume that the words were part of Jesus’ message to Nicodemus because they had been speaking to one another in the previous verses. Personally I think it is more likely that the verse is a comment by John composed as he reflected on that discussion as he recorded it six decades later when he wrote his Gospel under the inspiration of the Spirit.  

Who does John say is the object of the love of God? The answer is the world. Normally when we think of the term ‘world’ we focus on how large the world is and we try and explain the greatness of God’s love by highlighting the millions of people who belong to it. Yet I don’t think that is the emphasis that John is stressing by the term ‘world’. 

Put it this way. Imagine that the world was composed of perfect, ideal people, each of whom had never even had a wrong thought. If we said that God loved such a world we would not be focussing on the number that God loved; instead we would be thinking about the type of people he loved. Since they are perfect, they would deserve to be loved.  

Now we know that the world is not made up of such people. In fact, out of all the millions who have belonged or do belong to the human race, each one of them has defects (sins). These sins are expressions of disobedience to God’s commandments. This is the world that God loves, and the emphasis is not so much on the number but on their character. It is not the size of the world that is staggering, but the sinfulness of the world when we think of God’s love for it. 

How did God show his love? He did so by giving his Son in order that sinful people would not perish. This is a reference to what took place at Calvary when Jesus became the substitute of sinners and suffered God’s wrath in their place.

Today, all over the world the story of God’s great love will be proclaimed in a variety of settings. Many who will listen to it will have responded already to his offer of salvation. Others will do so for the first time. It is through the declaration of this message that God’s kingdom grows.

What will be the most important speech delivered today as far as the world is concerned? Perhaps politicians will make some announcements about relevant things. Maybe sportsmen and women will have something to say. Yet the most important statements will be said wherever the gospel is declared. So as we gather in our services, we should remind ourselves that we are listening to an announcement designed for our eternal good as well as for our earthly comfort.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Thinking about a move

Tests about our spiritual progress can come from a wide number of sources. In chapter 40 of his book Jeremiah describes a test that came his way after the city of Jerusalem had been captured by the Babylonians. What made the test more difficult was the fact that it was a nice offer, made by a prominent person who wished Jeremiah well, and who had the heart and the power to bring it about.

Nebuzaradan was the captain of the guard, a high officer in the Babylonian army. He recognised that the Lord had spoken through Jeremiah, and perhaps he wanted to have such a person with him in his home in Babylon. Maybe Nebuzaradan was a superstitious man who liked to have religious men around him or maybe he had come to believe to some degree in the God of Israel because of the fulfilment of his word through Jeremiah. Perhaps he was offering to become the equivalent of the kind master of a slave who would provide for all the latter’s needs. In any case, the prospect of a comfortable room in a nice house would have seemed much better to Jeremiah than the cistern or even the courtyard in which the king of Judah had placed him recently. Was this God giving him a reward for his faithful service, he might have wondered?

Jeremiah also was aware that the Lord had promised to bless the captives when they went to Babylon (see Jeremiah 24). Although that may sound strange to us at first, yet it would be there that God would begin the spiritual recovery of his people. Why not go and live among those whom he knew would experience the Lord’s blessing? Surely this was God directing him to go there and be part of it. Divine providence seemed to be opening a door and beckoning him to go through it. And if he went, would he not enjoy seeing God at work, fulfilling the words that he had allowed Jeremiah to preach?

Nebuzaradan recognised that Jeremiah might not want to go to Babylon. Yet he indicated that he would not be offended if Jeremiah refused his offer. Instead he advised him, if that was his choice, to go and live with Gedaliah, the individual whom the Babylonians had put in charge of the area. No doubt, Nebuzaradan assumed that Jeremiah would be safe there. And it was to there that Jeremiah went.

Why did he do so? No doubt he would have deduced that since he had promised to do so the Lord would provide for his people in Babylon. But what about the insignificant ones who had been left behind in Judah? Who was to guide and teach them if he did not do it? He may have seen in Nebuzaradan’s mention of Gedaliah an opportunity of serving those whom others did not think were important.

Jeremiah here seems to have answered a question very few even think about. Instead of wondering where he would be most comfortable, he asked where was he most needed and where could he do the most good. How many hearts of the little remnant left behind in Judah would have been made glad when they saw that Jeremiah had put their needs before his own and decided to remain with them. Perhaps they are still talking about it today in heaven.  

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Fighting for God

There are three important lessons for us to learn from the story of Saul’s first battle as the new king king of Israel (1 Samuel 11). 

In verses 1-4, there is an illustration of the challenge that faces God’s people. The threat of the Ammonites is a vivid illustration of spiritual warfare that we face from the powers of darkness. Satan knows that he cannot remove salvation from God’s people. But that does not mean he sees no point in attacking them. He will aim to weaken them. What he wants Christians to do is compromise with the temptations he puts in their way. He will attempt to destroy their spiritual vision. This is what happened to believers that Peter describes in 2 Peter 1:9. In that chapter Peter has described the way of Christian progress, and then says that if a believer does not make such progress, he ‘is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins’. The devil had prevented the person developing spiritually and that person became ineffective spiritually. 

Then in verses 5-11 we read about an example of the difference made when a person is under the control of the Spirit. The experience of Saul illustrates the difference the presence of the Holy Spirit makes in a person’s life. Although every Christian has the Holy Spirit indwelling him, this does not mean that his power is available automatically. If a Christian by his sins has grieved the Spirit, he will not experience progress until he repents of that sin. We need God’s power for a wide variety of reasons and purposes. The power of God is not something distinct from the presence of the Holy Spirit; rather it is the Holy Spirit working effectively.

There is also an important lesson here for those who are leaders of God’s people. Before they lead Christians into a new enterprise these leaders must possess power from the Spirit. When they are in a proper spiritual state, the Lord will put the fear of God into those who follow them. The proof that leaders are receiving the Spirit’s guidance will be evidenced by the same details that were seen in Saul: jealousy for God’s cause, harmony in the people, strategy regarding what to do and victory when it is done.

The third lesson from this passage emulates Samuel’s response to the victory by Israel. He saw it as an opportunity for re-dedication. This is the appropriate response to progress in the Christian life  whether it is fresh understandings of Bible passages, answers to prayer, victory over temptation, or the sense of the presence of the Lord. Yet they are not opportunities to sit back and imagine we have arrived, rather they are occasions for repentance and fresh dedication.