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.

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!

King of Angels (and everything else)

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #10

The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Psalm 103:18-22 (ESV)

I’m slightly sad to say we’ve reached the end of this amazing psalm! But not quite the end of the series. I want to discuss the final few verses in this post, and then will put up another post next time summarising what we have learned.

Enthroned in the heavens

God is on the throne, and that makes Him King. And there is no higher throne in heaven or on earth. God’s throne is above all others, and He is the King of kings.

We must not forget this truth. God is indeed our Father, and He loves us as dear children (as we’ve seen in earlier verses). But He is also King, and One to whom we will all bow the knee one day. God is deserving of our fear (reverence and respect) even as part of His loving family.

God’s Kingdom rules over all

Again we find another use of the word “all.” This time it points to the fact that God is over all, and that He is Supreme in all creation. We may at times foolishly think that we’re in charge of our lives, household, family or career. While we have the God-given right to make our own choices and to choose our own path in life, we must all always remember that one day we will stand before Him and realise who is really in charge!

God’s kingdom reaches over us all. None of us are outside of His rule or influence, even if we say we don’t believe in Him. Some describe hell as a place without God, and with folly believe that is what they are experiencing now. Wrong! While God does not impose Himself on those who reject Him, He is still the One who holds the universe together. His grace is still extending to the earth and those who follow Him, so this is not a world untouched by God.

In our modern world, we’ve perhaps lost the impact of Kingship and royalty. I write this not long after the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan in Windsor, UK, and while millions watched and thousands lined the streets to see “royalty”, they are seen as are many celebrities in our culture. Less than 500 years ago, the Kings and Queens of Europe had great power and wealth, and commanded as rulers with the authority to give and take life itself. While many of their actions were questionable at times, we must at least respect the power they held, and bear it in mind when we consider God as King over all.

Angels and more

David goes on to encourage different groups to praise the Lord. He starts by exhorting the angels to bless the Lord.

To understand angels and their ministry would take far more than one simple blog post, but we do get some insights here. Firstly, angels are messengers and servants of God. To tell them to worship, is to tell them to fulfil their created purpose.

Angels respond to God’s word

We read that “you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word” speaking of the angels. There are many reasons to speak aloud God’s Word and this is one of those reasons. The angels respond to it. They don’t respond to fear, worry or doubt, but to the very Word of God.

Along with the angels, David calls on the hosts of heaven and the ministers (servants) to bless God also. Ministers here, in my view, aren’t necessarily ordained ministers but rather all those who live to serve God. That can include you and I.

Finally David closes his wonderful song where he began it. His very first words were “Bless the Lord, O my soul” and likewise his last words here as well.

It is as though he starts by stirring himself up to praise, lists so many reasons to do so, and then again calls on his own soul to praise. More on this next time.

Do you think it was easier to stir up his soul the first time David said, “Bless the Lord,” or the last time?

I don’t know where you are at today, or what is going on in your life, but let me encourage you to praise the Lord. You will certainly feel better for doing so.

Compassion, Love, Eternity and Covenant

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #9

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Psalm 103:13-18 (ESV)

We take a larger chunk of Psalm 103 today, not only to pick up the pace a little, but because these verses fit together so nicely. It would make little sense to split them up and cover them in separate posts, so I’ll try to cover them all here.

The section starts by thinking about God’s compassion. David uses the comparison of a father to his children, to illustrate God’s compassion for those who fear Him. This, in an ideal world, is the perfect comparison. God is our Father, and indeed loves us as dear children.

I understand however that for those who never had a father figure in their lives, or those who had one who did not treat them well, this comparison may not bring the impact it ought to. That’s not an easy thing to deal with. But let me assure you, any and every thing you missed out on with your earthly father, is more than made up by your Heavenly One.

God’s compassion (His love) is without end, and we will consider this more in a moment.

But who does He direct this compassion towards?

Those who fear Him.

The word “fear” here is yare’, and it means “reverent fear”. It is not about being frightened of God, and being scared to approach Him. Instead, it is about having a reverence for God. Reverence goes further than mere respect, and is that sense of presence of the Almighty that makes us bow the knee to Him.

God knows and recognises that we are “dust”. This means that we are physical, limited beings who dwell on the Earth for a little while. All of us will face death, and our bodies will return to the ground from which they came.

This is not a thought to pass over quickly. The psalmist compares the human life to grass or flowers, which fade after only a short time. Don’t misunderstand, this is not limiting us to a short life, but rather pointing out that life on this Earth is indeed short in comparison to eternity.

The older I get (and I’m not old by any stretch!), the more I realise that life truly is short. As the years move by, they seem to speed up in a way they never did when I was a child.

We must make the most of every single day, and live life to the full.

David does not say all of this just to get us down! His point is emphasised in verse 17. Human life is indeed short – in comparison to God’s everlasting love! Again, we find the phrase “steadfast love” – the idea that God’s love does not move or change with the wind, but is fixed, set and eternal.

There’s another little phrase here that I don’t want to skip over – “his righteousness to children’s children.” God’s love does not just extend to us who believe in Him, but also to the generations that follow. It is my belief that not only do I receive the blessings of God, but that they come to my children and theirs also.

 How might your actions affect not only you, but your children’s children also?

So far, so good. We’ve read about God’s great compassion and His unending, everlasting love – but again, who does it apply to? Verse 18 brings in a strong condition.

To:

  • Those who keep His covenant, and
  • Those who do His commands.

If your heart has sunk a little after reading these conditions, then please stick with me a while longer!

Perhaps you are not entirely sure if you have kept His covenant? Perhaps you are more sure that you have NOT done all of His commands? So does this exclude you from the compassion and love David has been praising God for?

Not at all!

David wrote these words while living under the Old Covenant (I think we touched on this in an earlier blog post). This Old Covenant required God’s people to keep His law and obey His commands in order to qualify. This led to very strict legalism (see the Pharisees in Jesus’ day) and even worse, those who saw themselves as “religiously righteous” looking down on those they considered “sinners”.

What many in Israel failed to realise was that they could not keep the Law. The Law was and is perfect, setting out God’s standards for humanity. The problem was not with the Law, but with us. We are not perfect, and so cannot keep God’s perfect Law. And so… we need a Saviour!

Jesus came and lived a perfect human life, fulfilling the entire Law in every respect. Despite never being tainted by sin, He was executed like a sinner deserves, and took on the punishment that you and I deserve. Death could not hold Him however, and He was raised to new life!

That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and it is the New Covenant, the covenant that you and I now live under.

We no longer need to fulfil the covenant, instead we put our trust in the One who did!

Does that mean we can do whatever we like, and break God’s laws whenever we feel like it? Certainly not! Sin is still sin, and even though dealt with, still has consequences. If you steal or murder, then you will likely face criminal charges. You could be forgiven, but still in prison!

Equally we have an enemy (the devil) who is looking for someone whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Sin very much opens the door for the enemy to work in our lives.

Grace is not a licence to commit sin, but a safety net to catch you when you fall.

Even for the born again Christian, it would be impossible to never sin again or to obey every command of God. While we are new creatures in Christ, we are also subject to the whims of the flesh, the ways of the world and the temptation of the devil.

We qualify for all the benefits the psalmist sets out here not because we deserve it, but because Christ made it possible through His obedience. You need to put your trust and faith in Him.

For more details about the Gospel, read my Resurrection Sunday blog post here, or else listen to the accompanying sermon (mp3) here.

East Never Meets West

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #8

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:11-12 (ESV)

 

When I began this series, I wasn’t certain how long it would take to work through this spectacular psalm. We are now on part eight, and reach verses 11 and 12. There is so much to enjoy and appreciate in this one passage (the entire psalm I mean) and I do hope you are still getting a lot from it.

These verses tell us two things; how much God loves us, and how far He has removed our sins from us.

As high as the heavens are above the Earth

The word translated as “heavens” here is the Hebrew word shamayim referring primarily to the sky or abode of the stars. It is the same word used in Genesis 1:1 when God created the “heavens and the Earth”. For David writing this, he would have had little distinction between the sky and Space beyond, whereas we distinguish between the two. Irrespective of this, the point is clear.

David is comparing the greatness or size of the love of God to the unmeasurable expanse between the Earth itself and the sky or heavens above. It was perhaps the largest, most enormous thing he could think of to which to compare God’s love to.

Paul prays in Ephesians 3:

…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17b-19 (ESV, emphasis added)

That –

  • Believers would be rooted and grounded in love.
  • They would comprehend the dimensions of Christ’s love.
  • That they would know (or experience) Christ’s love which surpasses (head) knowledge.

David is praising the Lord for the enormity of His love, and Paul is praying that the church would know that same love through Christ. God’s love for His people is so crucial to our understanding of faith that we must not only study it, but experience it for ourselves.

Notice the phrase “steadfast love” again in these verses. It is not a love built on shifting sands or moving goalposts. It is stable, steady and cannot be increased or detracted from.

God’s love towards those who fear Him

Who is this love directed towards? Those who fear Him. This “fear” here is reverence. God directs His love towards those who revere Him,; those who recognise Him as Sovereign God. We may consider ourselves as on the receiving end of this tremendous love.

East Never Meets West

David goes on to express the idea that as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us. Similarly to the previous verse, he is trying to express an immeasurable distance – that’s how far God has taken away our transgressions.

One of the reasons this is so wonderful is that for King David, he did not experience personally the saving work of Jesus, dealing with sin once and for all. He could only look forward to a time when that would be true.

In another psalm, he says:

Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity…

Psalm 32:2a (ESV)

For us as New Testament believers, we can rejoice in the fact that God, through the shed blood of Christ, has removed our sins from us once and for all time. He has not just dealt with the individual “sins” we commit, but sin itself. Sin is certainly not dead in the world we live in, yet we are dead to it (Romans 6:11).

Not only has sin been dealt with, and its effect taken away – but it has been forgotten as well.

For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.

Hebrews 8:12 (ESV)

How does an omniscient God forget anything? Because He chooses to.

Spend some time today rejoicing that God’s love is without measure, and that He has taken your sin away. Whatever else is happening in your life today, these are great reasons to worship God.

All the Characteristics of a Gracious God

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #7

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

Psalm 103:8-10 (ESV)

I’m reflecting on whether “All the Benefits of Believing” is the right title for this series of posts. When we read verses like the ones above, perhaps a better title would be “All the Characteristics of a Gracious God.” Not sure if it’s catchy though…

The reality is that we believers experience these wonderful benefits of a relationship with God because He is so loving and kind. Any benefit we experience is because God is so good to us.

Merciful and gracious

This psalm tells us that God is both merciful and gracious to us. But what are mercy and grace?

There are a number of definitions of course, but to me these are two different sides of the same coin.

Mercy means we don’t get what we do deserve, whereas grace means we do get what we don’t deserve!

Put simply, God’s mercy means we don’t receive the punishment for our sin. That punishment fell on Christ. And a heavy punishment it was too!

Likewise, God’s grace means we receive all the benefits of a relationship with God, which we did not and could not earn ourselves.

We get all the good we don’t deserve, and none of the bad we do deserve. What an awesome God!

Verse ten expresses this idea of grace and mercy perfectly. God does not deal with us according to our sins. If He did, we would all be in trouble! Instead, He extends mercy and grace to us so that we might receive the benefits of believing which we have not earned.

Slow to Anger

The psalm goes on to highlight that God is slow to anger. This means that He is not irritable, grumpy or snappy as we so often are. Instead, He is patient and gentle. While the way we act at times could warrant a little righteous anger, God does not inflict that anger upon us.

David wrote this psalm under the Old Covenant, which was a time before Christ came to the Earth. God’s people lived under the Law and its curses. It meant that their relationship with God was essentially conditional on them obeying the requirements of the Law of Moses.

However, we see time and time again in the Old Testament examples of God’s people going astray and yet God withholding His anger towards them. Of course a time came when enough was enough, and the people of Israel were led off into captivity but God held off that punishment for so long. And even as they went, the prophets of old spoke of a time when they would return to the land.

Unlike them, we don’t have to fear God’s anger. We live under the New (and Better) Covenant, where the righteous anger of God was spent on His Son Jesus Christ. We don’t face that anger ourselves, as Jesus took our place. There will be a time in the future when God’s anger is poured out on the Earth, and the day of judgement will come. But we need not fear it, as we are covered by the Blood of the Lamb.

Verse nine, quoted above, talks of a time when God will no longer chide, and that His anger will not last forever. This is an extension of the point above, that He is slow to anger, but also that it lasts only a short time. It may burn hot, if you like, but burns out quickly.

Verse nine could also be a reference to the time of Christ. A time when God no longer needs to chide His people, because He will have dealt with their sin and poured out His wrath on Jesus. This is not to say we no longer commit sins, of course we do not have perfect behaviour. Instead of the Law and its threat of punishment, we are now led by God’s Spirit who shows us right from wrong.

Abounding in steadfast love

Why is God so merciful? Why does He pour out His grace on us? Why is He so slow to anger? Because of His steadfast love.

God is love (1 John 4:8). It is not just something He likes to do, it is Who He is. God cannot help but love. He can’t choose to not love, as that would be denying Himself. Love is the very definition of God, and He directs it to us – His people.

God’s love is steadfast – meaning it is unchanging. It is anchored, cemented and locked down. He will not change His mind, or blow hot and cold. God’s love remains.

Due to all of this, His love is demonstrated through mercy, grace, and slowness to anger (amongst other things!).

If you take nothing else from today’s post, understand this – God is love, and He loves you.

Praise the Lord for all of His awesome Characteristics!

Deeds or Ways?

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #6

He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

Psalm 103:7 (ESV)

They say you should never meet your heroes, because the reality never quite matches up to the fantasy. You hear stories of people meeting a celebrity or sports star, and they come away disappointed because the person they met didn’t live up to their expectation.

The problem is we may know what someone does (on screen say) but we don’t know them.

We ought to be aware of this danger in our relationship with God. In our verse from Psalm 103 today, we see that the people of Israel knew God’s deeds, but Moses knew His ways.

In recent years, there have been a number of popular TV shows and movies about historical figures – particularly royalty. There have been dramatisations of the lives of Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II and King George VI to name a few. Each of these debatably fairly accurately report the things these people did. What is often less accurate and left to poetic licence, is what these people were actually like.

We may learn all about what a person did in their life, and although that certainly allows us some insight into their character, it is a far way from actually knowing someone.

We must get to know God – not just what He does, but who He is.

Like most of us, I am sometimes guilty of treating God like a cosmic genie. Our prayer life can reflect the lack of depth in our relationship with Him when all we do is list our “wishes” for the day. It proves that we are more interested in what God can do for us, instead of getting to know Him personally.

My children are young and often ask for things – usually snacks. But what they really value, despite the asking, is spending time with their parents.

I’m sure we recognise that while God’s many blessings on our lives are wonderful, the truly important thing is our relationship with Him. If our prayer lives are just a long list of requests, then we need to reflect on our heart towards God. God wants to bless you, but more so He wants to spend time with you.

Jesus didn’t die to give us “stuff”, but to make a way for us to be in a full and satisfying relationship with God.

So how do we do that? How do we focus more on God’s ways rather than His deeds?

Firstly, I think we need to prioritise our relationship with God. God ought not to be one of many competing priorities, but should be the most important thing in our lives. We must make time for that relationship every single day. No relationship ever grows unless we spend quality time together – our relationship with God is no different.

Secondly, as I’ve said above, we need to take stock of our prayer lives. If they lack substance, so will our relationship. Talk to God about what matters to you, not just what you need from Him, but how your day was and how you are feeling.

Thirdly, I’d recommend you study different aspects of God’s character. When we read the Bible, we are not just reading accounts of what God has done. We also have access to many wonderful passages of Scripture which describe who God is.

Take an aspect of God’s character and study it out. For example, you could study His love, His forgiveness, His mercy or His patience. As we begin to understand God’s ways, we will get to know Him more intimately.

Once we know God in deeper ways, we will much more appreciate His deeds, because we will see them in the light of His character.

Are you more acquainted with God’s deeds or His ways? Do you need to change? Talk to the Lord about this, and He will make known His ways to you today.

Trusting the Unseen

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #3

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

Psalm 103:1-3 (ESV)

I’ve included the text from verses one to three here, but our focus today is just on verse three. So far in this Psalm we have thought a little about praise and worship, and also about using our minds and memories. The psalmist – David – begins to list out some of the benefits of believing, and he starts with two of the most amazing ones.

Who forgives all of your sins

From the very moment Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden, God put into action His plan of salvation. So many times in the Old Testament do we see imagery or typology of the future Christ Who would come to die for the sins of the world. Indeed in that very garden, God clothed Adam and Eve with the skins/furs of animals. Blood had to have been shed for those animals to give up theirs skins, and the principle of the shedding of blood to “cover” sins was begun.

David knew as he praised God with these words, that He is a forgiving God. Of all the characteristics of God David could have pointed to, he chose first to highlight His forgiveness. Even in Old Testament times, before Christ came to deal with sin, we see God’s patience with His people lengthened time and time again.

And how many of our sins does God forgive? All of them!

So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:28 (ESV)

God, through His Son, dealt with every single one of our sins now and forever. The idea that God has forgiven all of our sins sometimes makes my head spin. When I think back over my life, I can recall the times when I’ve let God down. Sometimes it was out of ignorance, but if I’m honest, there have also been times when I’ve done or said something which I knew I shouldn’t – but did anyway. I feel unworthy and even now I can barely comprehend that I can walk right up to God as my loving heavenly Father and know that I’ll be welcomed!

It’s almost too good to be true! I just don’t deserve it – and that’s what makes it so good! That’s grace!

I hope you are still with me up to this point, and that you too are humbled and full of praise to God for forgiving you of all of your sins. But the third verse doesn’t end there…

Who heals all of your diseases

This is where it may get more difficult. If I asked a typical church if God had forgiven their sins, I’d get at least 99% of the hands in the room go up. If I then asked if God had also healed all of their diseases, I’m not sure I’d get more than one or two hands if any.

I’ve never met a Christian who didn’t believe the first part of verse three, about being forgiven. But I’ve met many who don’t believe the second part.

Why is that? The same God who forgives our sins, also heals our diseases right? If He forgives all of our sins, then it follows (according to this verse) that He also heals all of our diseases. We cannot separate the two. If we accept the former, then we have to accept the latter also.

The difference is that we cannot see the evidence of forgiveness, and have no option but to trust that God has done it. You can’t see a sin, forgiven or otherwise, so we have to operate out of faith.

When it comes to our bodies, we look and see, and if we still see sickness, then we wrongly conclude that this verse isn’t true. Perhaps we wouldn’t admit that we think it isn’t true, and instead look for other interpretations of the Scripture.

Jesus faced a similar problem with the paralysed man in Mark 2. His faithful friends lowered him down on a mat before Jesus, but instead of healing the man, Jesus told him his “sins were forgiven”. This probably wasn’t what he wanted to hear! It certainly wasn’t what the teachers of the law were expecting. In fact, they thought it was a blasphemous thing to say – who is He to forgive sins! – they thought.

That was Jesus’ point. He essentially proved that He could forgive sins by healing the man. He proved the thing that could not be seen (the forgiveness) by doing the thing that could be seen (the healing).

When we see symptoms in our bodies, it is easy to conclude that we’re still sick. Yet this verse clearly states that God heals all of our diseases. So which is true? We have the same choice that Adam and Eve had. We can choose to believe what God says, or listen to an alternative voice. In this case, our symptoms.

To be honest with you, I have a problem with my eyesight. It is a long-standing issue, and one I have prayed about many times. I have yet to receive my healing. With a sight problem, the symptoms are always before you. And I’ve “trained” myself to believe in the symptom more than in the Word of God. So I am not writing this from the perspective of someone who has it all figured out! I have much to learn myself. And we are all on a journey.

Healing is not a straightforward issue, and there are many reasons why we might not be healed when we ask for it. But we have to start from the premise that this verse is true. God is a healer. Jesus, the perfect representation of God, spent the majority of His ministry healing people. God is the same today, yesterday and forever. If He was a healer in Jesus’s day, He is a healer now.

This post is long already, so I don’t want to spend too much more time on this subject. Perhaps it is a subject for a future series. For now though, if you accept that God forgives all of your sins (something unseen), at least consider that He also heals all of your diseases. Pray over this verse, talk to God about it, and begin to trust the unseen more than the seen.

Forget Me Not

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #2

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

Psalm 103:2 (ESV)

 

We continue our series on “All the Benefits of Believing” with the second verse of this great Psalm. And it’s a cracker…!

This verse repeats the phrase found in verse one – Bless the Lord, O my soul! I discussed before that this encourages us to stir ourselves up to praise God – even in times when that might be difficult. In such times, we must speak to ourselves – our own souls – and remind ourselves of the many reasons to worship the Lord. No matter how bad things get in this life, there are always more reasons to praise.

If you are reading this now, then you must have Internet access – a blessing if used correctly! But more than that, you probably have eyes to read it. Look around you, wherever you are, and there are likely many reasons to be thankful. Whether it is lighting, heat, electricity, a roof, food or drink or many other physical things. Beyond that, if you are interested in this subject, then you either know God or are seeking Him. So the reasons to praise God are already mounting up.

Our petition should not outweigh our praise!

This verse instructs us not to forget all of God’s benefits, and we see this little word – all – once again.

Remembering – forgetting not – the benefits of the Lord is a powerful thing to do. What our mind dwells on has a huge impact on our lives. The fruit of your life today depends greatly on the thoughts you sowed yesterday. Joyce Meyer says, “Where the mind goes, the man follows.”

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…

Proverbs 23:7a (KJV)

Our minds are incredibly powerful, and everything we perceive in life goes through the “filter” of our inner thought life. If that filter is clogged or damaged, then our perception could be off. For instance, if someone doesn’t return your call straightaway, it could be that they are angry with you and that you have offended them in some way. Or, it could simply be that they are busy right now.

How we choose to use our minds impacts our life

We can use our minds in many different ways. This verse is instructing us about how we use our memory.

When you think back, what key events or situations stand out in your memory? Are they generally positive or negative? It’s probably easier to recall in vivid details the times when you have been hurt or when some tragedy befell you. Perhaps it’s in our nature to dwell on the bad, rather than the good, but it is a choice.

Ultimately, you can choose what you think about and how you use your memory.

There are times when we need to examine a bad thing that happened to us, and work through it. I’m thinking of those who experienced some kind of trauma. I’m not suggesting you simply bury those experiences and don’t deal with them in the proper way.

However, if we spend our time recalling only the bad things that have happened to us, then our minds – and subsequently our lives – will not be in a good place.

For even though they knew God [as the Creator], they did not honor Him as God or give thanks [for His wondrous creation]. On the contrary, they became worthless in their thinking [godless, with pointless reasonings, and silly speculations], and their foolish heart was darkened.

Romans 1:21 (AMP)

Here Paul explains how some fall away from the Christian faith. Even though they knew God as Creator, they didn’t honour Him as such. Paul points out that they stopped giving thanks and that their thinking became worthless.

We must not allow our thoughts to become worthless. We must continue to give thanks always. We must not forget all the many reasons to worship God.

What is your thought life like? Perhaps you’ve never thought about it! Try to memorise this verse from Psalm 103 (above) and if you find yourself not being thankful, complaining or dwelling on negatives, then speak to yourself. Don’t allow yourself to forget the benefits of God. Think back over your relationship with Him, and the times He has come through for you.

Your memory is extremely powerful – don’t waste it!

Praise the Lord – O my soul!

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #1

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Psalm 103:1 (NIV)

This is a fantastic Psalm, and there is a great deal for us to both enjoy and consider. I’ve called this series “All the benefits of believing,” and throughout I’ll be pointing out the many wonderful benefits of following Jesus.

Before I start sharing the benefits listed by this Psalm, I want to focus on this first verse for a while. “Praise the Lord!” is a common phrase in the Psalms and the Bible as a whole, yet I wonder sometimes if we Christians fall short in this area.

Life can be tough at times, and often our prayer lives reflect this. We come to God, seeking help in time of need, and Hebrews 4:16 tells us we’ll find “grace and love” when we come to His throne. This is a fabulous promise, and one I don’t want to understate in any way.

However, when I consider my own prayer life and relationship with God, I’m acutely aware of how often I seek His help more than I seek Him.

We should never seek God’s blessings more than we seek God Himself.

Of course, we’re all guilty at times of seeking God’s “presents” rather than His “presence”, but we were created to worship Him. As we progress through this Psalm, let’s please bear this in mind. God is worthy, more than worthy, of our total devotion and praise – irrespective of the benefits a relationship with Him offers.

So, Psalm 103 begins by telling us to praise God, and uses the phrase “my  soul;” The phrase “my soul” here is nephesh in the original language and it means “soul,” “self,” or “living being.” Clearly the psalmist is stirring himself up to praise the Lord. While praise and worship should be the most natural – even automatic – thing for us, often it does take effort and exertion on our part. Why is that? It’s because we have a “flesh” or “carnal nature” which is opposed to the things of God. Our spirits are willing, but our flesh is weak.

The Psalm goes on to say “all my inmost being, praise His Holy Name.” This series is all the benefits of believing, and you might be surprised how often this little word – all – pops up in this one Psalm. Yet Psalm 103’s first use of “all” is about us. We are to praise God with all of ourselves.

We will go on to read about the many wonderful benefits of knowing God. Sadly though, many Christians don’t see or experience these benefits and can’t understand why. Of course, I don’t want to generalise here, but I do want to point out at least one possible reason why this is so often the case.

We sometimes seek the benefits of following God, without the corresponding commitment to Him.

When a couple are “dating,” they have no right to each other’s assets, money or name.  It’s only when they marry (commit fully) that they are then entitled to the other’s possessions, assets, name and any other associated benefits. In a similar way, the Church as the bride of Christ, has no right to claim the benefits of “marriage” without the corresponding commitment.

Likewise, when someone starts a new job, they cannot claim the full salary without fulfilling all aspects of the role. If I called my boss and said, “I’m not crazy about starting early, so I’ll come in when I roll out of bed.” or, “I like my monthly pay cheque, but to be honest, I’m not that keen on writing reports so I’ll just skip doing them.” It won’t be long before I’ll be looking for a new job.

As Christians, we cannot claim “all” the benefits with only a half-hearted commitment to Jesus. We must go all in if we want to realise the potential of our inheritance.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting that we must earn our place with God or only be blessed by “performing”. That would be legalism and works of the flesh. Every blessing and every benefit of following Jesus is given to us by His grace; the finished work of Christ at the cross.

Let me give an example to explain my meaning. My daughter is still very young, but one day will want to learn to drive a car. I could buy her a car right now, but would be reckless indeed to hand over the keys. Instead, I need to wait not only until she is old enough, but also until she can demonstrate that she is responsible and trustworthy to handle the vehicle. The “blessing” of the car could be sat in my garage, just waiting to be claimed. It’s bought and paid for, but until she reaches maturity, she cannot handle it safely.

How is your relationship with God right now? Before we dig further into this spectacular Psalm, I’d encourage you to examine your heart. Do you praise God with “all” your inmost being? Do you spend more time asking for things, or praising His Holy Name? Do you need to talk to your “soul” and stir it up a little? There’s no better time to start than now.

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