01 November 2013

If I don't chase after wisdom, I will not fear God

Paul Tripp has this striking image that we all have an "inner lawyer": whenever we disagree with someone about something, or whenever someone makes us feel like we might be in the wrong, our inner lawyer gets to work. He defends our cause, wins the argument against our opponent (often many times over and increasingly convincingly, to the point where no rational person could fail to see that we are in the right) and convinces us of our righteousness and how we are guiltless in the situation. The inner lawyer does a great job of making us feel better about ourselves.

The inner lawyer is the enemy of true wisdom and righteousness.

I don't know about you, buy my inner lawyer is just far too good. He wins my case almost every time. But deeply to the detriment of my godliness and love for others. And even to the point of damaging my relationships with those closest to me.

How can I conquer this inner enemy who claims to be my friend? Surely the first step must be to truly recognise that I am not wise. Then my inner lawyer will have a much harder time convincing me that I must be in the right in each situation.

Proverbs has never been one of my favourite books in the Bible. I think that's probably because I don't understand many of them. So what a great place to start in growing in wisdom. Those proverbs that I do understand will make me wiser. Those that I don't understand should make me more humble.

if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2.3-5)

May I no longer be complacent in seeking God's wisdom, may I call out to him to give me insight, that I might know Him.

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26 August 2013

God's holiness

We often talk of God's holiness, but I was struck yesterday that I haven't spent enough time studying and meditating on what it means for God to be holy. So here are a few brief thoughts...

The first occurrence of the root word for holy (qadash) is at the end of the account of creation:
God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation (Gen 2.3)
It seems that God is setting apart a day as special, separate, different from the other days of creation. And so, many of the subsequent Old Testament occurrences of the word holy are referring to a holy Sabbath day.

Then, just before giving the 10 commandments to His people, God says to them:
you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19.6)
So Israel will be set apart from all the other nations of the Earth as God's special people, shining the light of God to all other nations. In the New Testament, This is picked up by the Apostle Peter who applies it to God's New Testament people, the Church:
you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (1Pet 2.9)

But surely if we are to know what true holiness is, to know in what way we are to be separate and set apart, we need to look to God himself. So God says to his people:
You shall be holy, for I am holy. (1Pet 1.16, quoting Lev 11.44)
We get some hints of what it means for God to be holy when he is giving Moses instructions for building the tabernacle, the place where God himself will come to dwell with his people:
You shall make a veil... And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. (Ex 26.31-34)
The Most Holy Place would be the place of God's particular presence on earth with his people. In that place were the Ark of the Covenant (containing the 10 commandments, God's treaty with his people) and the mercy seat, above it. Clearly, an aspect of God's holiness is that he relates to his people and has mercy upon them.

Perhaps the clearest picture of God's holiness in the Old Testament is in the vision of Isaiah. God is called "the Holy One of Israel" 31 times in the Bible. Twenty-five of these occurrences are in Isaiah. When God first calls Isaiah to be a prophet, the first words he hears are these:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" (Isa 6.3)
Isaiah's immediate response is to be filled with fear:
"Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isa 6.5)
Yet again, God shows mercy and draws near to his servant, as Isaiah records:
[The Seraph] touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isa 6.7)
So we've seen that God is separate, set apart, transcendent above his Creation. And yet, amazingly, he draws near to his people. He has a clear, saving, purpose for them. He chooses them, sets them apart, and has mercy upon them.
In one of my favourite passages in the Bible, Isaiah 45-46, God declares again and again that:
"I am God, and there is no other"
He contrasts the saving love with which he carries his people against the way in which idols of other "gods" have to be carried around on donkeys and weigh them down. God has a plan to save his people. Nothing can stop him from accomplishing it, and his glory will be seen.

Ultimately God accomplishes his plan in Jesus who most clearly reveals the holiness and character of God in all his fullness and who most clearly shows us what it means for us to live holy lives. But that needs to be the subject of another post!

04 January 2013

1 John: True Worship of God

Lottie and I have been reading and re-reading 1 John over the past month or so, and been trying to get our head around the unifying theme of the letter.
I think I've only ever heard one sermon series on this letter and remember being told it was a "book of tests" of the genuineness of our faith. It certainly does contain a number of tests we can apply to ourselves to assess the reality of our claims to belief, but I feel there must be more to it than that.
It seems to me that the verse which most clearly sums up the letter is 1John 3.16, which is one of my favourite in the Bible:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
So in John's letter, there is a lot about love, a lot about how Jesus Christ reveals God and a lot about how belief shows itself in action. But then the letter finishes rather abruptly and seemingly strangely:
Little children,  keep yourselves from idols.
Usually, the New Testament letter authors start and finish their letters by spelling out the common theme that runs through the letter. But at first sight, this single sentence seems to jar against the rest of the letter. Which made me spend some time thinking about how it fits in.
And on second thought, the final verse made a lot of sense in the context of the opening paragraph of the letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands... we proclaim also to you
To the Jews, anything that could be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands was an idol. On top of that, the greeks in Ephesus (where John was probably living when he wrote the letter) were surrounded by idols and idol worship. So John wants to make it clear that this thing that he has seen and touched is not an idol - it's a person: Jesus Christ. And he wants to show his readers the difference between idol worship and true worship of the Living God.
So the conclusion I reached is this: 1 John is a letter about true worship: it's about who we worship and how we worship him.
So what does John tell us about who we worship?
  • He is a God who has revealed himself (1Jn 1.2)
  • He has revealed himself by sending his Son, Jesus Christ into the world (1Jn 1.1)
  • Through Jesus we can know God and have a relationship with him (1Jn 1.3, 1Jn 2.13)
  • God is light: he is the source of all goodness in the world (1Jn 1.5)
  • Through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, he wipes out sin (1Jn 1.7, 1Jn 2.2)
What does it mean to worship him, according to John?
  • To find fulness of joy (1Jn 1.4)
  • To confess that we are sinners and we desperately need his forgiveness in Jesus (1Jn 1.8-10)
  • To keep his commandments (1Jn 2.3-4), namely:
    • To imitate Jesus in the way we live (1Jn 2.6)
    • To worship him alone, loving him with all that we are
    • To love others (especially his church) with the love that he has shown us (1Jn 2.9-11)