By Tony Hersee
As I was reading through a passage in the first letter of the apostle Paul to the Corinthian church, I was struck forcibly by the phrase "and have no love". It occurs three times of in the first three verses of chapter 13, and began to make me consider whether I knew, or even experienced, this quality/fruit in my own life.
These thoughts have been heightened by the present coronavirus crisis, coupled with an attitude of stubborn self-seeking defiance and reliance throughout my whole life, uncaring and irresponsible towards those who should have had my love, support and encouragement.
Paul doesn't pull any punches - he continues - "though I speak with the tongues of men and of
angels but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal". This was a level, position and stage I had not reached in my understanding and application of the Christian faith, and I could see that it urgently needed reviewing.
Other illustrations came to mind as I was considering these things. The recent floods and the engraved water-level marks on various buildings show the fluctuations between the actual and predicted level reached. Hallmarks are given by a silversmith to a metal to represent the standard and measurement of the material he has used in a given item. These were pictures showing me a standard of perfection and a shortfall – simultaneously – in both my imagination and realisation of what my own charity/love was like, and what I achieved in not having them. Being brutally honest, as Daniel was, when addressing King Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar, "I had been weighed in the balances and found wanting/lacking".
As I reflected on these things throughout the remainder of the chapter, I began to be made aware of the sinfulness of my whole life and personality as desperately needing to be changed - and this is what by GOD's grace and power, Jesus Christ has achieved on my behalf, by His death and resurrection.
From a Guest Blogger
Pray then in this way … Your will be done … Matthew 6:9,10
God’s sovereignty has sometimes felt to me like an impenetrable wall. If what God wants to happen will happen, come what may, then why pray? If the outcome of every situation is already determined then all my prayers and tears and pleading are meaningless and for nothing. If every bad thing that happens and every good thing that doesn’t happen is God’s will then what’s to be done? What is there to say?
In a sermon series on the Lord’s prayer, John MacArthur warns against the danger of passive resignation as a response to the sovereignty of God. This kind of fatalism is not something we see in the Bible. The disciples in the storm cried out to God; Jonah, taking the consequences of his own sin, called out to God in his distress; Hannah poured out her sorrow before the Lord; Jesus pleaded with His Father to take the cup of suffering away.
God’s sovereignty, rather than killing my motivation to pray, ought to be the greatest incentive to approach Him in prayer. If God was not sovereign my prayers would be futile because He would be unable to act. How could He change hearts, lives and circumstances or bring about events unless He ruled all things? How could He bring life from death, or give peace in the storm, or hope in despair? How could He possibly work all things together for my good and His glory?
But I’m invited (and commanded) to come to the One whose power is limitless, who controls all things and even directs the thoughts and intentions of His enemies, the sovereign Lord of lords who has ordained prayer as one of the means by which His will is accomplished.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.
James 5:16b The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
James 4:2b You do not have because you do not ask.
From a Guest Blogger
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
One of the greatest insults you can give to a person is to say, “I don’t believe you”. To doubt the veracity of what a person says is to say that you don’t trust them. If you question them in public, you cast doubt on the reliability of their word, you are attacking their character and you may be damaging their reputation. You are saying to them and to others that they are not trustworthy, not reliable, not honourable – that you don’t trust them, and neither should they.
The Pharisees relentlessly questioned Jesus and doubted His word – these weren’t honest questions, searching for truth. They were trying to trap Him, to point out seeming inconsistencies in what He said. But then the Pharisees hated Jesus, so why wouldn’t they? They did not profess to love Him, or follow Him, or worship Him. In fact, they hated the things He said and wanted to discredit Him.
So, what about you? Would you say that you love Him? Trust Him? Really trust Him? Do you want others to know Him and love Him and trust Him for the salvation of their souls? Do you care that the majority in our world despise Him and scoff at His Word?
Do you, too, have many questions? Will you join the many who undermine the truth of God’s Word with your questions, or will you humbly submit your questions to the truth of His Word, asking Him to open your eyes by the gracious work of His Holy Spirit and allowing Him to transform you by the renewing of your mind?
FROM A GUEST BLOGGER
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
It’s possible to read the Bible as a work of literature - an account of history, a collection of poetry, an ancient book of rules, an interesting perspective on God, life and the universe – but it will have no real impact upon you at all. You can approach it with scepticism, cynicism and criticism, doubting its authority and casting doubt upon it with insinuations and clever questions (in much the same way as the Pharisees approached Jesus) but you will not experience its power. You can focus on the individual authors, deciding whether or not you like or believe what they wrote, but you are ignoring, dismissing and insulting the real Author.
Unless the Holy Spirit graciously opens your eyes to see, your mind to understand, and your heart to love the Bible as the true, inerrant, wonderful, precious, living, powerful Word of God – complete and perfect, with no mistakes.
Then you will know what it is to,
not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
FROM A GUEST BLOGGER
For who in the heavens can be compared to the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him.
God has never invited men and women to approach Him on their own terms. He is not like one of us, only bigger and better; He is altogether beyond our comprehension in His holiness, majesty, wisdom and power. His love, His grace and His mercy are unfathomable, and ought to cause us to fall to our knees in adoration. We can come to Him only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. There is no other way for sinners to approach a holy God.
Because of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection we are now able to come to God freely, but we still come to God, the holy one who sits on the throne, King of kings and Lord of lords. We have entrance into the Holy of Holies, but it is no less holy; nor is God less holy because we have been reconciled to Him. His greatness is magnified by the saving work of Christ, not diminished.
Our worship of God requires reverence, awe, and godly fear. And when we worship Him in this way, He is exalted, we are blessed, and our faith is strengthened, because our focus is taken off ourselves, and we are reminded of how great our God truly is.
FROM A GUEST BLOGGER
When Christians talk about prayer it’s not unusual to hear the word intercession. When used in the bible, it predominantly refers to Jesus and the Holy Spirit interceding before God on our behalf.
Intercession implies a certain authority to request someone else to act, and wisdom to know what needs to be done. I don’t know all things and my understanding is very limited. I don’t know what I should pray for as I ought (Romans 8:26) either for myself or for others. What a comfort to know that the Son and the Spirit intercede for me. They know all things. They know me perfectly and completely, better than I know myself. They know every detail of my circumstances, past, present and future and, being God, they always pray in perfect accordance with God’s will.
As a child of God I have been given the inestimable privilege of coming boldly to the throne of grace, into the very presence of God, my Father, with the promise that I will receive mercy and find grace (Hebrews 4:16). But my position is not as one who approaches God in my own merit and with my own wisdom to intercede in order to bring about what I deem best, or to somehow ‘achieve great things for God’ through prayer. I can come only in the merit of my Saviour, clothed in His righteousness, through His blood. I come imploring, earnestly pleading, utterly dependent on mercy, humbly submitting to His will.
The fact that I pray does not make me a powerful intercessor or a mighty prayer warrior. I pray in obedience to God’s command, and because I am poor and weak, unable to meet my own needs or the needs of others, unable to defeat sin or produce the fruit of the Spirit in my life, and powerless to bring salvation to those I love. I pray because I am in need of mercy and help from almighty God. God’s gracious answers do not magnify the power of my prayers, but demonstrate the power and kindness of my Father.
FROM A GUEST BLOGGER
“… Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We believe that God is sovereign; He is on the throne, governing all things. Nothing that happens is outside of His control. His good purposes will be worked out and nothing can prevent it. (Isaiah 46:10; Job 42:2; Ephesians 1:11).
But does God always get what He wants? If He does, why did Jesus tell us to pray ‘Your will be done’?
In this fallen world many, many things happen that are completely at odds with God’s revealed will as expressed in His Word. His commands are broken every day. A brief glance at the newspaper shouts loudly that most of what happens in the world is far from God’s will. Even His own children are capable of all kinds of sin, and I cannot escape the fact that in my own life the battle with my sinful nature continues to rage and I do not consistently or adequately conform to God’s will.
When sin wreaks its devastating damage in my life or in the world, it can be comforting to know that God’s ultimate plans and purposes, His sovereign will, cannot be thwarted. But a fatalistic view of God’s sovereignty that shrugs its shoulders and immediately says of evil, ‘Well, it must be God’s will’, can double the pain and leave me with more questions than answers.
When bad things happen I must trust in the truth that nothing takes God by surprise and even the worst is ordained by Him for His glory; I must hold tight to the promise that He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28); I must learn to walk by faith and not by sight when nothing that I can see makes sense, keeping my eyes resolutely fixed upon the unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18) and setting my heart upon what is eternal, not what is passing away; I must remember that His ultimate purpose is to conform me to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29); and I must keep on praying for His will to be done: that His name will be feared, His commands obeyed, sinners saved, His people sanctified, His name glorified.
FROM A GUEST BLOGGER
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
“I tried it once [obeying a clear command of Scripture] but I didn’t like the outcome so I decided I would never do that again.”
“If you don’t want to [obey the biblical command to be hospitable] you shouldn’t feel bad about it.”
“Yes, we should tell the truth, but in this context, in this particular set of circumstances, of course you wouldn’t!”
“If you don’t do what’s best for yourself, no one else will.”
“I know the Bible says to do that, but can you imagine the consequences if you actually did it?”
These quotes are all paraphrases of words spoken in my hearing by reformed, bible-believing Christians, all of whom would say they love the Truth. And just in case you think I’m pointing the finger, at least one of them was said by me.
Life has a way of being nuanced and complicated, with grey areas that can make the application of God’s commands less clear cut than we would like. Sometimes we struggle with how to obey God’s Word in a particular circumstance, balancing the requirement to obey and uphold truth with the requirement to love, be patient and show compassion. But sadly, it seems that very often there is no struggle. Our attitudes and words, the advice we give to others and our own thoughts and actions often betray the reality that we are shaped far more by our culture and our own sinful nature than we are by God’s Word. And many times we don’t even seem to notice the huge gap between what we say we believe and how we actually live.
John 8:31 says, “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” I was reminded in a sermon some months ago that we must not confuse nodding of the head in agreement with bowing of the heart in submission. Abiding in God’s Word means obeying it and being governed by it in everything. It means yielding the heart and the will. It means yielding my heart and my will. God’s assessment is that if I am nothing more than an enthusiastic hearer of the Word, I‘m deluding myself.
FROM A GUEST BLOGGER
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye. Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
It’s so much easier to apply the truth of God’s Word to someone else. As I read the Bible or listen to sermons I can clearly see where that person is going wrong, or what this person needs to put right. Or where this church has strayed and that one has the wrong emphasis.
While there is a great need in the Church today for discernment and a commitment to upholding truth and recognising and turning away from error, my love for the truth must always lead to a transformation of my own heart. If I only apply God’s truth to the church I may become complacent because I attend one that has a high view of God’s Word and tries to obey it in its structure, government and worship. My ability to spot doctrinal error may protect me from being led astray, but it will not in itself make me more like Christ.
If I only use God’s word to analyse the specks in other people’s eyes my own blind spots will become blinder. If I’m unaware of the deceitfulness of my own heart and never allow God’s Word to deal with my own sin, then even an apparent love for truth may lead to a belligerent, argumentative or pedantic spirit that is proud and self-righteous and glories in always being right.
My love for truth ought to be inseparable from my love for the Truth; the Lord Jesus. My reading and hearing of God’s Word must be a matter of the heart as much as of the head, and my application of it must always be to my own heart first.
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
The way we grow in our knowledge of God and our joy in the truth is by letting the Word of God dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16) – through regularly hearing God’s Word faithfully preached and by reading His Word for ourselves. However, it’s possible to spend hours listening to sermons, reading books and even reading the Bible, and still come to dubious conclusions.
• Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to open your eyes to the truth (Psalm 119:18), and to expose error in your beliefs and sin in your life.
• Test everything by what the Bible says, not by your favourite preacher or author. This applies to the Bible itself. It can be easy to get the wrong end of the stick if you take one verse out of context and come to a conclusion about what it means. Read the whole passage and better still, read the whole Bible regularly. Test to see whether what you’re thinking or what’s being preached is consistent with what the whole Bible teaches.
• With that in mind, make a commitment to read and get to know the whole of God’s Word, both Old Testament and New. Find a fellowship that preaches through whole books of the Bible, rather than favourite isolated texts.
• Make it a priority to read God’s Word and hear it preached regularly. God’s Word is the food we need daily to sustain us, to refine and build our faith, to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God and in our love for Him, to expose our sin and call us to turn from it, to equip us to live godly lives to the glory of God, and to inspire us to reach out to others with the gospel. You can’t live on what you learned years or decades ago, however good it was. You may remember with delight the wonderful five-course meal you ate back in 1981, but to live you need food today.
In Acts 17 the believers in Berea, and even called “more noble than those in Thessalonica”. Why? “[T]hey received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”