The Next Generation

I had the immense privilege to become a godparent again a few weeks ago. It really is a privilege to be a godparent at a child’s baptism, and it’s my honour to pray for and support Abigail (who is far too young to read this!).

As well as being godparent, I was also asked to share a reading with the church. I didn’t choose it myself, but what a fantastic reading it was (the text I mean, not my delivery!).

I want to share it with you here, and point out a few key points.

It was from Psalm 78.

A psalm of Asaph.

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
    stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
    refusing to give their hearts to God.

Psalm 78:1-8 (NLT)

The psalmist, in this case Asaph and not David, begins by encouraging us to listen to what he has to say. Perhaps there’s no great revelation in this, but how often do we not listen to important things said to us?

I will speak to you in a parable

In verse two, he uses the phrase “I will speak to you in a parable” which is an echo of Christ in the future. Jesus taught using parables, and there came a time when he would only speak to the crowds in these illustrative stories.

 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,

For they look, but they don’t really see.
    They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

Matthew 13:10-13 (NLT)

So we see that parables are a way to share truths, but only to those whom understanding is given.

Truths from our past

Asaph goes on to explain the importance of sharing stories from our past. He says that these stories, which were passed down orally from generation to generation, will not be forgotten.

When our daughters were born, we got them a 100-year diary. It’s a diary intended to cover a lifetime (although i’m believing they live well past 100!). As well as recording key events in life, there are sections for family members to record things – such as grandparents. This gives them (the grandparents) to share important things or just to share what life was like for them.

Imagine what will be contained in those pages after a lifetime. I imagine that diary being passed down to my children’s children so that they too will know what life was like for the generations that went before them.

It is so important that we do not lose lessons that were learned in the past. We see from history time and time again that lessons are not learned, and the same mistakes are repeated over and over.

Life does not have to be that way. We can learn from those who went before us, and more importantly have the guidance of God in our lives. We don’t have to learn by trial and error, we can seek the Holy Spirit who will show us things to come (John 16:13).

Whether parents or grandparents or neither, we have a responsibility to teach the next generation about the wonders of God

You may not have children yourself, but I don’t believe that absolves us of responsibility. We all have a responsibility to teach the next generation about the things of God. Whether that is in our own homes, with friends or family, or in our church.

In the UK, it used to be the norm that everyone went to church on a Sunday. The next generation heard the truths of God. But not so anymore. It is now the exception if you go to church on a Sunday (or any other day) and so many children now know nothing of God or his wonderous works.

Today’s Sunday schools ought to be filled with tomorrow’s church

I can’t pass over verse six without picking up that almost throwaway point about – the children not yet born. Here, Asaph is speaking of the future generations, those children who would come in the future and hopefully be taught about God and His ways.

The Bible makes many references to children not yet born, or those being knit together in their mother’s womb. Clearly  the Bible values those not yet born into the world.

This part of the psalm closes with Asaph encouraging the hearers to teach their children so that they would not be like their ancestors. As I said above, he is telling them not to make the same mistakes their forefathers made.

Because their ancestors did not learn the lessons of the past, they became stubborn, rebellious and unfaithful, and ultimately refused to give their hearts to God.

Sadly, this is true for us in the modern world. So many have not been taught the Word of God or His ways, and now many are rebellious against God altogether. Very few now give their heart willingly to Jesus.

But it’s not too late.

The result of not sharing these truths with our children is that they don’t know God. It hasn’t taken many generations for this to happen, but the good news is it only takes one generation to put things right.

As the church of Christ, each one of us can begin to share the truth of God with the children in our lives. I’m not suggesting you go up and preach to every child you see, as your authority does not extend that far. However, you can be a witness to Jesus in every situation.

For those children in your care, you can tell them how great God is. You can tell them the stories written down in the Bible and show them how they can live to please God.

If you are a Christian parent or grandparent trying to share your faith with the children in your life, or if you are a leader in a Sunday school or junior church – can I say a huge thank you! God is watching what you are doing and He is so pleased you are spending time and effort to share with the next generation. May He bless you in your work!

I hope what I have said has made you think, and encouraged you if you are working with young people. I leave you with Asaph opening words:

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,

Psalm 78:1 (NLT)

Pearl of Wisdom #9

We judge others by their behaviour, but ourselves by our intent.

It is interesting how we often treat ourselves one way, and others another. There are many areas where this is true, but consider behaviour versus intent.

As we encounter someone in life, we judge them by what they say and do. That’s not wrong necessarily, and by judge, I don’t mean look on them critically but rather just understanding them.

We cannot always determine their intent, but can see what their behaviour is like.

Sadly, we don’t assess ourselves in the same way. We consider our intentions and not our behaviour. When something goes wrong, we say things like “I never meant that to happen,” or “I didn’t mean to cause offense.” But we rarely extend the same grace to others.

If someone has hurt or offended you today, consider their intentions. Did they mean to do it, or were there reasons why it might have happened? It doesn’t diminish your hurt of course, but give them the benefit of the doubt.

Mostly intentions are good, even if behaviour doesn’t line up with it. You give yourself a break, so do the same for others.

Who’s behind door number one?

Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.

Revelation 3:20 (ISV)

In my experience, the pulpits are fairly quiet on the book of Revelation. For many, it is hard to understand and lacks practical application for us to use in the here and now. I would dispute this, but I understand why many don’t venture into this amazing book.

Revelation is full of imagery and typology, and it passes most of us by. however, there is a good reason for this… we don’t know our Old Testament well enough!

Many of the pictures or images you see in Revelation can be found in the pages of the Old Testament. Most of us are not as familiar with the Ol Testament as we might be, and therefore don’t recognise much of what Revelation is pointing to.

Revelation makes a special promise to those who would study its pages:

How blessed is the one who reads aloud and those who hear the words of this prophecy and obey what is written in it, for the time is near!

Revelation 1:3 (ISV)

So if you want to get into this book, i’d suggest you begin with the first three chapters.

The first chapter gives an overview of the book, and in fact gives a clear synopsis in verse 19 of chapter 1:

Therefore, write down what you have seen, what is, and what is going to happen after this.

Revelation 1:19 (ISV)

On the point about Revelation having a practical application, you need look no further than chapter 2 and 3. many people think the New Testament only has 21 epistles (letters from the apostles) but in fact, there are 28. Revelation chapters 2 and 3 shares an additional 7 epistles written by none other than Jesus Himself.

Our verse for today picks up in one of these epistles. You may well be familiar with Revelation 3:20, which imagines Jesus standing outside and knocking on a door – just waiting for someone to let Him in so they might eat together.

It is a famous verse that is often used to describe Jesus’ attitude towards those who have yet to commit to faith in Him. Evangelists tell people that Jesus is standing outside the door of their lives, knocking to come in.

This is a nice image and not incorrect, but that’s not the context of this verse at all.

Who’s behind door number one?

The answer is the church.

It should be astonishing, challenging and humbling to us to realise that Jesus is stood outside of a church, knocking to come in. Surely of all places to find Jesus, inside a church would be one of them? Not so apparently.

In our modern world, we have somehow come to a place where you are no longer guaranteed to find Christ in the local church. Some buildings are labelled as “churches” and yet have little or nothing to do with what the Bible defines a church to be.

Some churches are social clubs; places where people gather to meet and climb the social ladder, caring little for the Word of God or His worship. Other churches bend and adapt to every whim of society, ignoring God’s standards and just going whichever way the prevailing wind takes them.

I don’t mean to be negative. And apologies if I have come across that way. I love the church, and truly believe it to be a sleeping giant. If the church were to awake, unite and stand together, we could change this world for the better. In the Bible’s many references to the end times however, there are prophecies of apostacy and the church not being what Christ intended it to be.

Let’s read Jesus’ epistle in full, and see what we can learn from it.

To the messenger of the church in Laodicea, write: The Amen, the witness who is faithful and true, the originator of God’s creation, says this:

15 ‘I know your actions, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. 16 Since you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, “I am rich. I have become wealthy. I don’t need anything.” Yet you don’t realize that you are miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore, I advise you to buy from me gold purified in fire so you may be rich, white clothes to wear so your shameful nakedness won’t show, and ointment to put on your eyes so you may see. 19 I correct and discipline those whom I love, so be serious and repent! 20 Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me. 21 I will give a place to sit with me on my throne to the one who overcomes, just as I have overcome and have sat down with my Father on his throne.

22 ‘Let everyone listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Revelation 3:14-22 (ISV)

We’ll begin at the end – verse 22 – just to realise that what Jesus is saying specifically to the Laodicean church can also apply to us.

In verse 22, He says “Let everyone listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” Firstly, everyone means everyone. And note the plural of “churches” at the end. This letter isn’t just for Laodicea but for all the churches listed in chapters 2 and 3, but also for all the churches – including the one you and I belong to.

Jesus is fairly scathing of the Laodicean church. And the church itself would have been totally shocked by this. They thought they were doing well, but often our perspective is somewhat different to God’s.

You may well have heard before this idea of being cold or hot, and in this case lukewarm. The challenge here is not to be like the Pharisees who Jesus had the strongest words for during His ministry. Their issue was hypocrisy. They prided themselves on being the religious leaders of the day, putting on a constant show of their “religion”. While they talked the talk, they did not walk the walk.

I believe Jesus is challenging the Laodiceans in a similar way. They claim to represent Christ in His church, and yet clearly their actions have resulted in Jesus being excluded.

Jesus would rather us represent Him truly, than to claim to be followers and act like unbelievers

An alternative view of this lukewarmness could be a mixture of grace and Law. Perhaps they were preaching grace, but restricting and forcing the church to be bound by the Law. It’s another view which you can consider.

Whatever the cause of their lukewarmness however, it had resulted in a church without Christ. That is a place we do not want to be.

I ask you to consider your own church for a moment. How does it compare to the Church at Laodicea? Is Jesus standing outside and knocking to come in?

If this challenges you, then please don’t misunderstand my point today. I am not telling you to leave your church or criticise it. No church is perfect, and if you are looking for one, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

The idea that Jesus is knocking to come in is encouraging in one sense. It means He has not given up on you. It means He still wants to join you and share with you. Leaving your church or criticising the leadership will not help. The best thing to do is open the door and invite Him in.

Reflect also on your own relationship with Christ. While these verses are clearly talking about churches, i think there’s also an application to our own personal journey with Jesus.

Do you need to invite Him in? My meaning is not in a salvation sense, but rather in fellowship. Are you a believer who has lost their way? Have the troubles of life led you to put Jesus outside? Invite Him in today, He’s right outside the door.

Receive Forgiveness

All the prophets testify to this: everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 10:43 (ISV, emphasis added)

I don’t remember a time before I believed in God, but that doesn’t mean I was always a Christian. When I first started to hear about God, the truth is I was afraid. I was afraid that I wasn’t forgiven, and was really motivated by not wanting to pay for my sins in eternity – although I would have had little idea what that meant!

I remember going to bed at night asking God to forgive me for as much as I could remember. I’d go back through my day trying to recall every little thing I’d done wrong – likely forgetting most of it.

I was terrified that Jesus might return in the night, and that I hadn’t asked Him to forgive me for some thing or other. I’d ask over and over again, accutely aware of how bad I was. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a bad kid at all, I just felt that way when faced with the reality that there is a God who judges us.

The cycle would go on and on. I’d go about my day, make various mistakes along the way, then lay in bed at night asking God over and over to forgive me. I’d get up the next morning and do it all over again.

It was exhausting!

One day I listened to someone teaching who shared a very similar experience that they had gone through. At one time while they were repeatedly asking God to forgive them, God interrupted them to say – “I forgave you the first time you asked.”

This hit home to me.

My problem was not about asking for forgiveness, but rather about not receiving it from God

Truth be told, I had no real understanding of the cross or what Jesus had done for me. I didn’t know that God had washed me clean, and that I was a new creature in Christ. Through my ignorance of this, I just kept repeating the same request for forgiveness over and over, hoping God would be gracious enough to grant me my request.

In many ways, I was acting as though I was living under the Old Covenant as described in the Bible. I had no temple or animal sacrifice to make, but I kept coming back to the altar day after day, offering up my apologies and ever falling short of God’s glory. I was “hoping” for God’s mercy, and had no concept that it was already mine in Jesus.

Asking was not the issue; receiving was.

I don’t believe I am alone in this.

Perhaps it is not as obvious as what I am about to express, but our thought process goes something like this:

  1. We are conscious of a sin we have committed (how we have fallen short of God’s standards in some way)
  2. We ask for forgiveness
  3. If you ask us, then we’ll say that God has forgiven us
  4. We think it cannot be so easy, and so either plead our case or beat ourselves up.
  5. That “beating ourselves up” can last a few hours or days, depending on how serious the sin was (in our minds at least).
  6. Once we have “suffered” enough, or more accurately punished ourselves enough, we move on.

Does that seem in any way familiar to you?

If it does, then the Gospel really is good news for you!

The first two steps are healthy; when the Holy Spirit shows us we have sinned, it is right for us to ask God to forgive us.

Everything after that is wrong however.

If you sincerely ask God to forgive you, and put your trust in Jesus Christ, you can count on His mercy and receive your forgiveness. You don’t need to beg or plead, you can’t earn it, and all you need do is trust God.

We err when we stray into the third step and beyond.

It really is that easy! God is not making it hard for us to be forgiven. He does not put barriers in our path or frustrate us, rather He wants to forgive us far more than we want to be forgiven!

Beating ourselves up for something we have done wrong is an attempt by us to add to the cross of Christ. I’m certain we would not say that aloud, but it’s true. If we truly believed that Christ’s death at the cross was sufficient, then we would not need to add to it by punishing ourselves.

So what should we do?

He has no need to offer sacrifices every day like high priests do, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he sacrificed himself.

Hebrews 7:27 (ISV)

This verse speaks of Jesus. Firstly, He does not need to offer a sacrifice for Himself as He never once sinned against His Heavenly Father. Secondly, because He was the perfect Sacrifice, He does not need to offer Himself over and over again. Rather, Jesus did it once and for all.

When He cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” It really was.

I don’t believe that forgiveness is something you must keep refilling on. I think it is something God gives you once and it covers you for all eternity. Christ’s sacrifice was a one time event and will never be repeated. It never needs to be.

I rarely ask for forgiveness anymore, and certainly not because I get everything right! Instead, I thank God for the forgiveness He has already given me, and rejoice in that truth.

Don’t get me wrong, i’m not saying sin is not important and that we should not deal with it. Indeed we should. When the Holy Spirit reveals to us that we have fallen short in some way, we should thank Him. We confess the mistake we made, ask for His help to not do it again and thank Him for covering us in the blood of the Son.

There’s a good chance you will sin this week… same goes for me. Instead of beating yourself up and asking God over and over to forgive you, ask just once. Put your faith and trust in Christ and move on.

If you don’t, I can guarantee that you will spend more time thinking about it than God is.

For I will be merciful regarding their wrong deeds, and I will never again remember their sins.

Hebrews 8:12 (ISV)

Truly live in freedom this week. Jesus has dealt with your sins once and for all. You are clean and free! Rejoice in that truth! Don’t spend your time asking God to forgive you, instead receive the free gift He offers.

 

To find out more about the Gospel – good news about Jesus – check out my Resurrection Sunday blog post.

Pearl of Wisdom #8

Wisdom means making decisions today that you will be happy with tomorrow.

There are a number of definitions of wisdom I suppose, but I happen to like this one!

How often do we make choices one day, that we regret the next? Ultimately life is a series of choices and we must make ones that will benefit us, not harm us. It’s not always clear which is the right choice, so we must consider God’s will and about which choice is best not just for the here and now, but for the future also.

Take a simple example such as healthy eating. Perhaps you are someone who wants to lose weight, and even if not, you can still understand the point here. Do you eat the doughnut, or do you take the apple? In the moment, the doughnut may seem the most tempting, but consider not just how you feel now, but how you will feel later when standing on the scales or trying on new clothes.

Similarly, when making a purchase, it may be tempting right now, but will the monthly payments for the next four years really be what you want to do with your money?

Wisdom means choosing not what you want right now, but what will be best in the future. Make decisions today that you will be happy with tomorrow.

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

Ephesians 4:26 (KJV)

In my last blog post, I began to explore the above verse and what it means. As I said last time, I’ve usually heard this taught as a call not to go to bed on an argument. Good advice this may be, but not necessarily what Paul is getting at.

We considered how the first part – Be angry and sin not – isn’t just an instruction not to let your anger get the better of you, but could also be read as a command to be angry.

You may have read this verse a hundred times in the past, and perhaps each time you read it, your brain said “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry…” But what does it actually say?

It says – don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Or to put it another way, don’t let your anger ever go out and grow dull.

I know this may seem like an odd idea, as surely the Bible teaches us to be loving and not to get angry. Can it really be a command to get and stay angry?

As we explored a little last time, anger is sometimes a right response. In the event of injustice or sin, we ought to be angry. Like God, we ought to hate sin and its effects on humanity. And while our sin may result in other people getting hurt, ultimately we are the ones who hurt the most as a result of sinfulness.

To truly love the good, we must also hate the bad. We must stand against sin in all of its forms. To do that, we need a holy anger, and one that does not go out.

Am I taking this verse out of context though? Is it correct to interpret it this way? I believe it is, but understand those who may disagree.

Context is always important when reading the Bible, and we ought never to take a single verse out of its proper context and form a doctrine out of it. Falsehood lies down that path.

Scripture should be interpreted in the light of other Scripture.

For some doctrines, we need to examine the entire Bible in order to see a complete picture. Of course we don’t have time or space to do this here, but lets look at this verse with it surrounding verses to get at least a small idea of context.

Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.

Ephesians 4:25-27 (KJV)

Verse 25 is a clear instruction to put away lying, and to speak truth to each other. This can actually be quite difficult at times. “Do you like my outfit?” or “What do you think of my new hairstyle?” More importantly, when it comes to questions of advice or big decisions, “Should I take this job?” or “Do you think I should marry them?” an honest answer is not always easy to give, and often not the answer the asker really wants to hear.

So often we seek validation from others to agree with what we have already in mind to do. To give an alternative view can be tough.

Similarly, Paul could well be talking about correcting each other in a loving way. Often we leave it to the pastor or minister to address such matters, but indeed there is a role for each of us as part of a church family.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not giving you permission to walk up to just anyone in church and give them a lecture about how they ought to live – we must earn that right through a trusting relationship or as a loving member of church leadership.

But we must tackle sin. We must not just get by with it. So in speaking truth to one another, there may be times when we need a little righteous anger to stir us up to confront an issue. Again, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should get angry at people; rather we should be angry at sin.

Verse 27 is short and not so sweet. Don’t give the devil a foothold. Could it be that by not following the “command” to be angry, we somehow give the enemy a route into our lives?

It is a narrow path, with ditches on both sides. Err in either direction, and you’ll end up off the road!

What i mean is this. Anger which is uncontrolled or directed at people or things, can certainly give the devil a chance to wreck our lives. How many lives have been destroyed in one single moment of uncontrolled anger? How many men and women find themselves in prison for one slip of judgement allowing their temper to get the better of them?

I’m not giving anyone an excuse to be angry in an ungodly way here.

Equally though, when we reuse to be angry at sin or to have a righteous anger, we give the devil a foothold. If we co-operate with him, the enemy can destroy our lives. If you follow every temptation to do whatever you want, to commit adultery or murder or to steal or rob, your life will come to ruin.

We need to get angry at the devil

Therefore, submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will run away from you.

James 4:7 (ISV)

James says that we must resist the devil. Often we ask God to do the resisting, but in reality it must be us who do so. We do that through prayer, our words and our actions. But notice, submission to God must come first. There is no sense in trying to resist the enemy if you are not submitting your life to Jesus.

Likewise, Jesus said:

From the days of John the Baptist until the present, the kingdom from heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people have been attacking it,

Matthew 11:12 (ISV)

The kingdom from heaven is forcefully advancing…

Christians ought not to be passive, weak or downtrodden. We are children of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us. We should be advancing God’s kingdom with passion and determination. Not in our own strength, and certainly not without persecution but always pressing on.

So, Paul tells us to be angry and to never let the sun go down on our wrath. Are you advancing or just barely holding on? Do you need some righteous anger to take a stand against the enemy and resist his influence in your life?

Ask God to stir you up. Pray that He will help you to have a controlled anger that is pointed at the right things. Renew your mind in God’s Word and learn who you are in Christ. Don’t just put up with the enemy, resist him!

Don’t let the sun go down.

Pearl of Wisdom #7

Love is not just an emotion; it’s a choice.

Hollywood has fooled so many young people (and not so young) into believing that true love is like a bolt from the blue. You gaze at someone from across the room and heart rate quickening, realise this is the “one” you’ve been waiting for…

I’m not unromantic, and very much believe that a loving relationship must have emotional elements. God did not make us to be robots who feel nothing, quite the contrary, we are people with strong emotions and passions.

When it comes to love however, and I mean any kind of love, not just the romantic kind, we cannot just wait until we “feel” it. While love is an emotion, it is primarily a choice.

So many relationships fade after a time, the couples saying they just don’t “feel love” for the other anymore. Emotions can fade away, and when they do, we had better ensure we have something more to rest on.

Perhaps you don’t feel like loving anyone today. Maybe you had a bad night, or worse a bad run in life recently. For whatever reason, you can always find an excuse not to act in a loving way.

Make the choice today to go beyond your feelings and choose love. Choose to be kind. Choose to encourage. Choose to be there for someone, irrespective of what your emotions are doing.

When we make the choice to love, our emotions will follow suit.

Be Angry

Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun set while you are still angry,

Ephesians 4:26 (ISV)

I like the ISV Bible, but here’s that same verse from the KJV.

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

Ephesians 4:26 (KJV)

The KJV has a certain grandeur to it which other translations can lack at times. For every day reading however, I prefer a more contemporary version than the KJV with its “thee” and “thou” wording.

In this case, I find that the KJV is one of the closest to the Greek language. Many modern translations render this verse slightly differently, and even stray into interpetting it for us the reader.

Whenever I have heard this verse taught in the past, it goes something like this:

If you get into an argument with someone, try to settle the matter before you go to bed…

This is not bad advice at all, but I’m becoming less convinced that this is really what Paul was saying here.

Some translations actually bring forth the idea that we should deal with our “heated debates” before bedtime, and again, while that may be good advice, i’m not so sure that’s what the Scripture is really all about.

Take the Amplified Bible for instance, which is one I find very helpful at times. It says this:

Be angry [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], yet do not sin; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down.

Ephesians 4:26 (Amp)

The first part of the verse is very similar to the KJV – advising us not to sin while angry. It specifies the kind of things we ought to be angry about, such as injustice. The latter part of the verse advises us not to let the sun go down while we are still angry.

In some respects, this is a contradiction. The first part appears to be encouraging us to “be angry” and then tells us not to “be angry” when the sun goes down. So what’s happening here?

I think this verse is going beyond advising us not to be angry during night hours.

Let’s work through this verse logically, and study the text itself rather than our usual interpretation.

Anger is not a sin

The first thing to note is that anger is not a sin. This verse clearly indicates that we can be in a state of anger, but without falling into sin.

Jesus Himself – who was without sin – got angry. He got very angry. In fact, He was so angry that He turned over tables and even had a “weapon”.

 In the Temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as moneychangers sitting at their tables.  After making a whip out of cords, he drove all of them out of the Temple, including the sheep and the cattle. He scattered the coins of the moneychangers and knocked over their tables.

Then he told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

John 2:14-17 (ISV)

So we see clearly that Jesus was angry, and yet did not sin even once. This tells us that anger alone is not a sin.

The problem comes when our anger is directed at the wrong things, or gets out of control.

As the Amplified Bible expanded this verse, it showed that the target of our anger ought to be things such as injustice or sin. That’s why we were given anger in the first place – to take action when we recognise that someone or something is unjust.

When a child is killed by a drunk driver, or an elderly person is robbed at gunpoint, it is perfectly acceptable to be angry about such things.

The issue is when we direct that anger against the slow checkout attendant or the person who didn’t see us and cut us off in traffic. Frustrating as those things may be, they are not real reasons to get angry.

The way to test is to examine our selfishness. Chances are that if we are angry because of a selfish reason (such as having to wait) then that is not a righteous anger. Righteous anger is directed at ungodliness, sin or the devil. Other unrighteous anger is usually a result of our own selfishness.

Anger is a secondary emotion. No one ever gets angry without reason, there is always something that comes first. It may be offense, humiliation or fear that triggers it.

Perhaps you have children and get angry at them at times. Ask yourself why. It may be because of fear – they did something daft and were in danger of hurting themselves. It may be that they interrupted something you were doing, and “self” didn’t like it. If my anger is kindled against my children, it is often because “I” just want to sit down, or “i’ve” had a tough day. It is rarely anything to do with them.

Be Angry

While the verse is often interpreted as “don’t sin when you get cross,” it goes even further than that. Rather than just don’t sin, it’s a command to be angry.

Actually this is a quote from Psalm 4:4 –

Be angry, yet do not sin. Think about this[b] when upon your beds, and be silent.
Interlude

Psalm 4:4 (ISV, emphasis added)

Psalm 4 is a passionate plea to prayer. David starts off crying out to God, then to man, then to God about man and finally to man about God.

Paul grabs hold of this passion and says, “Be angry, and sin not.” One of the problems in the church today is that it is afraid to stand up and call sin by its name. We compromise our position, accepting the world’s way and either ignoring or dismissing the Bible, and people outside don’t always know what the church stands for.

It’s not enough just to love the good things, we must also hate the bad.

I once heard someone say that love and hate are two separate ends of the same stick. To truly love something, you must also hate the things that come against them. I don’t know if i wholeheartedly agree with this or not, but i certainly do understand that loving good is not the same as hating evil.

When we try to love good without hating evil, we end up accepting everything and standing for nothing. We end up with watered down doctrines and a church that looks like the world instead of the Word.

So Paul’s command to be angry is not by accident. This post has already gone longer than I planned, and I haven’t yet addressed the issue of going to bed while you are still angry! Let’s pick that up next time.

For now though, perhaps you are someone with a temper and you know that you need to bring it in line. Perhaps though, you are on the opposite end, and actually need to stir yourself up and start getting angry at sin and injustice. Perhaps – slightly confusingly – you are both, and need to redirect that temper towards the right things.

Do you need to be more or less angry this week? (At appropriate things of course) Do you need to have a serious think about the things that make you angry, and the things that don’t?

All the Benefits of Believing

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #11

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Psalm 103:1 (ESV)

 

Read the entirety of this Psalm here.

 

This is the concluding part of our “All the Benefits of Believing” series, and I really hope you have enjoyed it and learned something.

Last week we reached the end of the psalm, and in this post I just want to summarise some of the things we’ve covered along the way.

Beginning and End

David launched into his song of praise by instructing himself to “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” Praise is not always automatic, and sometimes we need to encourage ourselves to bless God. We are human and subject to many trials, and this can sometimes mean we just don’t feel like it. We must go beyond our feelings however, not only because God deserves our worship, but because it is better for us.

Likewise, David concludes his psalm with the very same phrase – “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” These phrases act as bookends, always bringing us back to our created purpose of worshipping God. We would do well to pray in like manner, beginning and ending with words of praise and thanksgiving.

But what comes in between? David’s list of reasons to worship the Lord – the benefits of believing.

These include:

  • Forgiveness
  • Healing
  • Rescue
  • Redemption
  • Satisfaction
  • Crowning with love
  • Justice
  • Mercy
  • Grace
  • Compassion
  • Steadfast love

And the list goes on and on!

There is no shortage of things to thank and praise God for here, and I encourage you to spend some time going over the list and the psalm, and truly worshipping God. Even if you just pick one item a day and spend that day giving thanks, I’m sure you will be uplifted.

What might your list look like?

While David’s list here is extensive, your own personal list may be somewhat different. That is ok, and again, I encourage you to write one of your own. What are you especially thankful for? Perhaps a particular relationship? Perhaps your church?

What characteristics of God do you see displayed in the life of Jesus? Are there particular ones which you are especially grateful for? Read through the Gospels and find a few, then let them be opportunities to bless the Lord this week.

All the Benefits of Believing

The word “all” appears nine times in this one psalm (ESV). To me, it’s an important biblical word and not one to skim over lightly. Often we read the word, but exclude ourselves from the promise. All usually means all, which includes you. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting you force every Scripture into a promise or command for yourself, but equally don’t automatically disqualify yourself.

We do that when we feel unworthy of one of the promises of God. As I stated in this series more than once, you are qualified not because of your behaviour, but because of Christ.

It is interesting to me that David, who wrote this psalm, was not born again and could only look ahead to the promise of Christ. Yet his words of praise are so amazing. We, who live and abide in Jesus, should not only be able to enjoy David’s words, but lift up our own words of thanks.

David could only look forward to Jesus; we can know Him personally.

I’m conscious of those of you who may be reading this and thinking, “That’s all well and good for you Andy, but look what’s happening to me!” I hear you. These are wonderful things, but for some of us, they seem like a distant hope and not for the here and now.

For things such as forgiveness or being crowned with love, it is hard to prove these in our lives. What does forgiveness look like? The crown of love isn’t a physical one, so how do we know it is there? The simple answer (but not easy one) is faith. We believe these things because they are true, irrespective of how we feel about them.

Other benefits such as being satisfied with good things may require some adjustment on our part. You may be looking at a pile of bills covered in red and thinking, “so much for being satisfied with good things…” As I said in an earlier post, we have to choose between two opposing views. Do we believe God’s Word, or our circumstances?

It is the same choice that Adam and Eve faced; do they believe what God said, or do they believe the serpent?

When we encounter a promise in the Bible that is seemingly unfulfilled in our lives, there could be a number of reasons for this. Firstly, check the promise is for you. The context will help here. Is it a promise made to the church, or to a specific person, or to the nation of Israel? Is it applicable to you?

Secondly, if it is for you, then we need to ensure we have understood it correctly. In our example above, being satisfied with good things is not necessarily a promise that you will have everything you want whenever you want it. Similarly, it may have nothing to do with your circumstances, but rather your attitude. Are you dissatisfied because you are in lack, or because you covet things that others have?

Thirdly, is the promise for now, or for the future? Some things spoken of in the Bible are not for the here and now, but for heaven perhaps or another time.

Finally, if we have properly established the promise is for us, that it is for the here and now, and that we have not misinterpreted it, the only thing left to consider is ourselves. God always keeps His promises. He will always uphold His end of the bargain. If we are not receiving, then the problem is always with us and not with the promise, and certainly not with God.

The real benefit of believing

I want to conclude the series by repeating something I’ve said more than once – but it bears saying again.

All of the benefits we have examined over the last few months are truly wonderful. There are many things to thank and praise God for, but they pale in comparison to the real benefit of believing.

The real benefit of believing is Jesus Christ Himself.

I don’t think I can say it any better than Paul did when he said:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Philippians 3:8 (ESV)

All the benefits of believing are benefits of believing in Christ. If you are without Him, then you are without any and all of these blessings.

I encourage you not just to thank God for all of these wonderful things, but to thank God for the One Who made it all possible – Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus embodies these benefits. His made the way for our forgiveness, He is the One who redeems us, and through Him ours sins are removed.

Praise the Lord, O my soul, for all the benefits of believing in Him. Bless the Lord, O my soul, for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord! Amen!