Monday, 22 September 2008

Relationship Building Blocks

Relationships can be tricky! When they are going well we derive a deep sense of wellbeing from them. On the other hand when they go wrong we can feel tormented, lonely and desperate. Part of the problem lies in understanding the nature of relationships and the basic building blocks that make them work. The Bible shows us that relationships are central to who we are as people. The first chapter of Genesis has an oft repeated phrase – “And God saw that it was good”, Gen 1.10, 12, 18, 21, 25, culminating in the final verdict in Gen 1.31, “...and it was very good”. But in Gen 2.18 we have the phrase, “it is not good...” The contrast is striking!

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Remember that sin did not enter creation until chapter 3. While Genesis 1 gives us the overview of creation, we are as it were on the outside looking in; Genesis 2 gives us some of the specifics. We are no longer on the outside, we are on the earth. There is a garden and rivers. It is all happening around us! It is in this context that having created Adam God says, “It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him”. Here we understand the actual process of creating male and female. Being alone is not good. This is the Creator’s verdict. Even in a perfect world, with a perfect creator and unblemished fellowship, something was missing – another person to relate to.

One day Jesus was asked, “...which is the greatest commandment in the law”, Matt 22.36. His answer is telling. The simplicity of it is staggering. All the law and prophets hang on two statements, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind....., love your neighbour as yourself”. Both statements are about relationships; our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Both statements are interdependent, I cannot say I love God and hate another human being – made in His image, 1John 4.19-20. The quality of my relationship with God is reflected in the quality of my relationships with others. They are not mutually exclusive!

This being the case, we need to learn about how to develop good relationships. My intension is not to give a mechanistic view of how relationships work, like taking your car in for a 12,000 mile service. Rather it is to offer a model that you can use to reflect and evaluate which of your relationships may need some attention. We all know when a relationship isn’t working, even when all appears great. At an intuitive level we often sense something is wrong. But what we lack is a model for understanding the nature of relationships and the tools to put them right.

Just as a stable chair has four legs so relationships are made up of four building blocks. Remove one of these blocks and like a chair that loses a leg, it becomes unstable. The more legs that are removed the more instability is created. Sitting in a chair is no longer restful but a balancing act. The same is true of relationships. These four building blocks are needed in all relationships but the degree to which they are needed will vary depending on the nature of the relationship. They are:

Love – the most enduring. Love is like a rubber ball. It keeps bouncing back. People can do the most outrageous things against us and yet we can still feel deep love for them.

Trust – the most fragile. Trust is like the china vase we put on display. It needs to be handled carefully. If you drop it, it breaks into many pieces. Putting it back together is no easy task. Once trust is broken it needs to be rebuilt. The mistake that I often see is when people who have suffered broken trust try to make up for this by loving more. It won’t work. The real issue needs to be addressed.

Understanding – the longest to develop. Understanding another person is like trying to do a 10,000 piece jig saw puzzle. The problem is that we thought it only had a 1,000 pieces! We underestimate how long it can take and how challenging it can be. It requires time and effort. You can’t force the pieces into place. There is a fit and you must find it.

Honour – the most neglected. Honour is like the best silver ornament that we own but neglect to polish. We know its value and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but regularly polishing it can become tedious. Over time it becomes tarnished. Our culture today has lost its bearings when it comes to honour. Mockery and ridicule is the new currency that gains attention today.

I will return to the other building blocks at another time but today I will focus on this most neglected of these truths – honour. Honour is all about the value we place on something. Sometimes we use the word respect to convey the same thing. Rom 12.10 TNIV says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves”. Our devotion to each other is expressed best in the way we honour one another. So how do we communicate value to another person and are there different types of honour?

Let’s explore four different levels of honour that the Bible speaks of. The first is intrinsic value. Gen 1.27 says we are made in the image of God. The fall has certainly tainted that image but nevertheless it remains sufficiently so that God considers it worth redeeming. This is the basic value we are to show to all human beings – including those as yet unborn. When something is said to possess an intrinsic property it means that it cannot be removed. A gold ring that is thrown into a furnace will destroy the ring – it will melt, but not the gold.

As people we all carry this basic intrinsic value and it should be honoured. Even a drunk lying in the gutter has this basic value. This sense of value is communicated by the way we speak and act towards people. This is why later in the same chapter of Romans Pauls says, “Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior”, Rom 12.16 TNIV. This is what made Jesus so attractive to the outcasts. He was able to communicate a sense of respect for them, while the Pharisees where looking down their noses at most of the other Jews, never the mind the Samaritans and Romans.

Attitude will always leak through. If we do not truly value a person then we will come across as condescending. They won’t want to hear what we have to say. Nobody likes to be patronised! Equally, genuine interest in a person can’t be faked, (well maybe at a party, but not in any relationship that requires ongoing meaningful contact). Jesus has made it clear the value that He places on us. Paul could confidently declare, He loved me and gave Himself for me....” Gal 2.20. Paul had become a ‘chosen vessel’. The person who at one time despised those who followed ‘The Way’ was now proclaiming the faith he once hated and reaching out to gentiles. A Jewish Pharisee embracing non-Jews and championing their equal status in the church. He now saw them as God did. He saw their true value and it changed his attitude towards them.

The second type of Honour is rooted in what we become – our character. The Bible encourages us to follow and honour people who demonstrate Godly character, “Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone...” 3John 12 TNIV, “Welcome him (Epaphroditus) in the Lord with great joy and honour people like him...Phil 2.25-30 TNIV. These mean are held before the church as worthy of honour. Every time we say ‘thank you’ to someone who does something on our behalf, we are in fact expressing honour. It is a simple acknowledgment that what they did was valued. Perhaps this is why the scriptures remind us to always be thankful, Phil 4.6, though in the case of our Creator it is the consistency of His character that we honour and appreciate.

When we make difficult decisions that are in line with the truth we are building character. When we are honest and admit failure we are clearing the ground for character to be built. The fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5.22-23 is nothing less than a description of those who have allowed their character to be shaped by repentance and obedience. The whole process brings us closer to demonstrating the character of Christ – and this is worthy of honour.

Think of the baptism of Jesus where the Father honours Jesus, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”, Matt 3.17. His pleasure in Jesus was expressed in words. We too need to express our joy and pleasure in those who exemplify Christ-like character. These are the ones that can become leaders because they model what we want to see reproduced.

The third type of value is the honour we give to those who achieve or accomplish things. Someone wins a gold medal at the Olympics, another passes an exam. Something is accomplished and it is good to acknowledge this. In our culture we tend to celebrate these moments. This is a good thing in my opinion. David won so many battles that the women folk in Israel wrote a song about his exploits and sang it on his returning victories, 1Sam 18.7. It honoured both him and Saul, but Saul became jealous that more success was ascribed to David. He could not share honour. Thus his security was seen to be rooted in the opinions and accolades of others. Honour is not meant to give us value, it highlights the value we already have. Just as polish does not increase the value of the silver but it does help it shine forth!

This raises an interesting issue. Most achievements are rooted in our gifting – something we have in turn received from above. Those who truly achieve great things will often pay homage to God who enabled them to do what they did. They have great ability with a healthy dose of humility. Saul lacked this. Men like Saul see honour as a cake that shouldn’t be shared out or there won’t be enough to go round. The truth is the more we honour people who are deserving of honour the more the cake grows! King Saul could have seen things differently. He could have thought something like this: “David is even excelling me in his exploits. My choice of him is being vindicated. People will see I am a wise King who knows how to make good choices”. Sadly his insecurity would not allow him to share accolades.

The final level of Honour is that which comes with the position we hold. The NT writers tell us to “Honour the King”, 1Pet 2.17; Rom 13.7; Remember the context? These kings were the wicked Caesars who persecuted and killed Christians. Yet they carried a position that was worthy of honour, Rom 13.1-5. God allowed them to hold their office. So whilst we may be critical of their character (most of them lacked any), we must be respectful of the function and office they represent. This is difficult for some people to accept but the examples of scripture are too numerous to ignore.

Consider Eli. He was a Judge and Priest in Israel. His sons however did not know the Lord. They slept with the women and took the best part of the offering that should have been sacrificed to the Lord. This is what Eli became fat on. Their behaviour did not change when they were rebuked by their father. He failed to take the next step – to remove them from office, 1Sam 3.13. Instead he tolerated their disgraceful behaviour to the degree that most of the common people knew what was going on. God sent a prophet to rebuke Eli. The issue was firmly nailed, “Why do you honour your sons more than Me....those who honour Me, I will honour, but those who despise Me, shall be lightly esteemed”, 1Sam 2.29-30.

Yet this was the man and this was the house that Samuel was entrusted to. The greatest prophet yet to appear to Israel was placed in the care of Eli. Perhaps this is why the first prophetic word that Samuel had to speak was against the house of Eli. If Samuel could be bold enough to handle this prophetic word he would not be intimidated by anything he would encounter in Israel. But even in this rebuke Samuel shows nothing but honour towards Eli and remains under his tutelage.

When Paul was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23.1-5 we see this principal being outworked again. Ananias orders Paul to be struck on the cheek. Paul reacts calling him a whitewashed wall and challenging his actions. The assembly are shocked telling Paul he is speaking to the High Priest. Paul then recants and quotes the OT, “You shall not revile a ruler of your people”, Ex 22.28. Clearly he knows he must honour the office, though we see how he feels about his unjust treatment.

Paul tells us to show double honour to those who rule the church well, 1Tim 5.17. The first honour is for their position. The second honour, making it double honour, is for the fact they rule well. They have the character and competence to fulfil their role in a way that blesses the church. Given that honour is a measure of the value we place on something it is possible to also see the intended ambiguity Paul raises by using this word. Our English word, honorarium or payment for service, comes from this same word. Thus, how we give or pay someone also becomes a reflection of the honour we place on them.

My prayer for you this week is that you will take time to honour those God has put in your life, your boss, your spouse, your leaders, your colleagues; all those relationships that somehow impact the way you live. By doing so, you will begin to see people rise to new levels of achievement and commitment, simply because they feel valued.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Take Heed How You Build – Choosing The Right Materials

1Cor 3.10-15. The final test of all that we have done in life is with fire. Fire burns all that is combustible and leaves only that which cannot be destroyed by fire. Paul reminds us that a ‘Day’ is coming when the test of fire will be applied to our work. There are two possible outcomes. One is to receive a reward for the way we have built, the other is to suffer loss – yet still be saved. Clearly there is an expectation from the Lord for how we will respond to the grace of God in our lives. From the book of Corinthians we see the possibility of living the Christian life from two very different sources.

One source is the ‘flesh’. Living life from a human viewpoint where our decisions are dictated by our natural senses, good reasoning and emotional reactions like fear, insecurity jealousy, hatred and personal preferences; all that we can process with our mind and heart but without submitting to the Spirit. The various translations of the NT call this type of Christian, ‘worldly’, ‘carnal’, ‘fleshly’ or ‘merely human’, 1Cor 3.1-3. This person walks out their Christian life by ‘sight’ rather than 'faith', 2Cor 5.7.

In contrast to this way of living Paul encourages the Corinthians to be spiritual. This is possible because we have received “the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us”, 1Cor 2.12 TNIV. Through the Spirit we gain a different perspective on life. All of the information available to the fleshly Christian is available to the spiritual Christian with one difference. The spiritual Christian takes all this information and filters everything through the Spirit.

The Spirit of God gives us revelation; insight that is not learned through natural perception, 1Cor 2.9-10. The Spirit opens our hearts to truth so that we have new frames of reference for making decisions. He creates within us, over time, a Christian world view. This is a new way of looking at the whole of life and it radically affects the choices we make and the way we build relationships. It is always possible to slip into the ‘old way’ of viewing things because we are immersed in a culture where so many people live this way. But as the people of God we are meant to be different.

The amazing thing is that it’s possible to operate in dynamic spiritual gifts and still live and relate in a way that is ‘merely human’. This was the problem at Corinth. The test of our spirituality is not how accurate are the prophecies we give but do we demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit that produces unity, harmony and loving unselfish relationships. Division, competition quarrels and jealousy are a sure sign that at best we are still immature and at worst living for ourselves, fleshly, carnal and like mere human beings.

In order to help the Church at Corinth Paul uses a powerful metaphor to explain how to build in a way that passes the fire test. Whilst salvation is not at stake, provided the foundation is right, our rewards are. Remember, ‘God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him’, Heb 11.6. There is the possibility of living in way where we lose out. “Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully”, 2John 8.

Precious metals like Gold and silver are able to endure fire – no matter how hot it gets. In fact this was the way the smiths of old used to purify these metals. As they were heated in a furnace and melted, all the impurities within would come to the surface and could be skimmed off, Zech 13.9; Ps 66.10; Isa 48.10. The fire caused a separation. Equally precious stones are ‘fire proof’. In fact many of the precious gems are created through the process of intense heat.

Paul contrasts these materials to wood, hay and stubble. Interestingly they are all great building materials. The only problem with them is they cannot endure fire. And here is where we can be easily deceived. We would not choose materials that did not impress us. Paul says we must go beyond that. We must remember the test. Trees in scripture are often used as a metaphor for humanity. We are told that the man who walks in God’s counsel is ‘like a tree planted by the streams’, Ps 1.3; the blind man healed by Jesus saw men ‘as trees walking’, Mk 8.24 and Zechariah saw two Olive trees representing two people, Zech 4.11. Wood comes from trees that have been cut down. They have no life any longer. It thus becomes a picture of what is ‘merely human’.

Hay on the other hand speaks of that which is transitory about our humanity. Jesus speaks of the grass (hay in the Greek) which is, ‘here today and gone tomorrow’, Matt 6.30. Isaiah declares, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower.....the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord endures forever”, Is 40.6-8. Hay represents the transient nature of human glory and achievement. It doesn’t last.

Gold however was consistently and extensively used in the construction of the tabernacle. Here are a few examples: the Ark was covered in Gold, Ex 25.11; the lampstand was made of solid gold, Ex 25.31 and the curtains were held together with ‘clasps of gold’, Ex 26.6. Apart from its value, the gold was a picture of the glory of God. Glory carries several meanings. Sometimes we mean beauty, like when we say a bride looked glorious. This was what Jesus meant when He spoke of Solomon in all his glory not comparing to the beauty of creation, Matt 6.29. In Ex 28.2 the garments of Aaron were, “for glory and for beauty”. Sometimes it means praise and honour as in Ps 50.23 and John 8.54. At other times it refers to the brilliance or shining through of God’s nature like the time Jesus was transfigured on the Mountain, Matt 17.2. Finally it referred to the weight of God’s presence – His Shekinah glory.

The challenge for us is make sure that we are building in a way that brings glory to God, 1Cor 10.31. In Corinth the Christians were so used to asserting their rights and freedom they had forgotten their responsibilities. This even affected practical issues like what to eat. Much of the meat sold in first century Corinth had been offered up to an idol. How were the Christians to deal with this? Paul takes three chapters to explain his argument, (1Cor 8-10). But the issue at the end of the day was whose interest are you promoting? Self interest or the good of others? Who gets the attention and praise from the way we live?

Straw or stubble was the building material of Egypt, Ex 5.12. It speaks of that which is worldly. It has no weight to it, unlike gold and silver that are ‘heavy metals’. Thus Israel was warned that because of their disobedience God would scatter them ‘like stubble’, Jeremiah 13.24.

Silver however was used to buy and sell. Coins were commonly made of silver. Thus silver became a type of redemption – which means to buy back. Joseph was sold for 20 silver coins, Gen 37.28; and Jesus was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, Matt 26.15. In Ex 30.15 we read of the atonement money that every Israelite over 20 had to pay when a census was taken. This silver coin was a half shekel and rich and poor alike had to pay it. All men had equal value to God!

This means that we must make sure that our actions have redemptive value. Equally we must not show prefernce. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, James and John wanted to call down fire from Heaven. Elijah had, after all, set a Biblical precedent! But Jesus was quick to remind them that their way of thinking was not redemptive. The son of Man had come to save men’s lives, not destroy them, Luke 9.56. How sad when we use scripture to justify ungodly actions and attitudes. I wonder if they would have had the same attitude towards an Israelite town?

Paul had to challenge the Corinthians to act redemptively, even when applying church discipline. They had gone to one extreme; doing nothing! Their response was not appropriate for those who were now alive to the Spirit. Without repentance – a change of thinking, there can be no real fellowship. The offending brother had to be removed. This was like cleaning the house of leaven (yeast) outlined in Ex 12.15. Leaven was a type of sin and that which eventually corrupts. There are two ways to get rid of it. Either the person gets rid of the sin or the church gets rid of the person! If there is repentance God promises to cleanse us, 1John 1.9. If it comes down to removing the person we must be ready to receive them back if they repent. The exclusion is designed to humble them, not punish them. This was the successful outcome in Corinth as we read the second letter, 2Cor 2.6-8

This is a redemptive way of dealing with problems. To ignore sin or punish offenders are not redemptive acts. Jesus was always looking how to win people. He even refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery, John 8. But He was not afraid to challenge her to, ‘sin no more’, John 8.11. This is building with silver. We buy people back through a redemptive attitude and lifestyle.

Precious stones are found recorded in a number of places in the Bible. They are part of the New Jerusalem, Rev 21.18-20. None is more telling than when they are found on the breastplate that was strapped to the chest of the High Priest. Here were four rows of precious stones, each representing the 12 tribes of Israel, Ex 28.15-30. He had to wear it every time he entered the Holy place. They spoke of God’s covenant love for His people, for they were over his heart. The High Priest would intercede on behalf of the people. So the precious stones were a type of the value we place in people and the intercession we make on their behalf.

It is a simple fact worth remembering. The only things we take with us into eternity are the people that we have helped come to faith or mature in Christ. God’s inheritance is in people, because this is the only thing in creation made in His image. When we act redemptively for the good of others and the glory of God, we are building with gold, silver and precious stones.

Try to allow the Spirit of God to show where your building materials may need to change. A test is coming. Better to see what we build burn now through the trials of faith while there is still time to respond and change, than to wait for that day when we meet the Lord. You are building a life that will be examined. Choose your building materials carefully. Take heed how you build that life and ministry and you can face the future with confidence. God wants you to pass the test!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Take heed how you Build – Establishing the right Foundation

1Cor 3.5-15 teaches us that what we do in life, our choices over time, are like the construction of a building. Something emerges for all to see. Yet crucially Paul says that this building will face a test. The test will reveal both the foundation and source of the building materials used. There are times in life when we face testing. Most of us know what it means to take driving lessons and then face that fateful day when our knowledge and skill is tested. The outcome is fairly predictable if we don’t prepare – failure. To know a test is coming and not prepare is foolish at best and may even betray an arrogant self confidence.

Paul says, “...the Day will declare it!”, 1Cor 3.13. That day is the judgement we will face when we stand before Jesus and give an account for our life. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done whether good or bad”, 2Cor 5.9-10.

The coming ‘Day’ will disclose the true nature of how we lived. In the light of this event Paul says he lives with an ‘aim’ – a goal no less. That goal is to be “well pleasing to Him”. Let’s explore in more detail the process involved in achieving this goal of pleasing the Lord.

The first step is to ensure that our lives are built on the right foundation. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ”, 1Cor 3.11. Scripture calls Jesus the Cornerstone, 1Pet 2.6-7. This was the first stone that was laid when a building was erected. It set the direction and level for every other stone. If this was not placed correctly, every other stone would be affected. God Himself has ensured that this stone has been set in place. It was His work. Our work is in choosing how we align with this Cornerstone.

This alignment comes by a faith relationship to Jesus. Some think that the only issue is the need for faith. But faith is always in someone or something. In other words, it is the object of faith that is crucial. We all exercise faith every day! The real issue is, “what are we placing our faith in?” Some place their faith is political ideologies, capitalism and free trade verses communism. But both these systems can end up oppressing people. Some place their faith in political leaders, but history shows us how weak these can be. Few politicians have a reputation that exceeds that of a second hand car sales man. Stereotyping this may, be but it reflects a current reality. It is who we place our faith in that is vital. Trusting in Jesus Christ is like laying a foundation to a building. It is the beginning, without which nothing counts.

Paul also shows us that the foundation includes apostles and prophets, Eph 2.19-22. They too fit alongside the Cornerstone of Jesus. We see this prophesied by Jesus Himself when speaking to Peter, Matt 16.18, “And I say to you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”. The Greek helps us understand the force of Jesus words. Peter or Petros in the Greek is the original ‘rocky’ or piece of rock, a detached stone. This is not the foundation. On this Rock – Petra, a massive rock, I will build my church. Jesus is of course referring to Himself! But Peter has seen this by revelation and he too will be connected to the foundation. This is why he of all the NT writers could speak of all believers as being ‘living stones’, 1Pet 2.5. We are all pieces of rock being connected to the greater rock – Jesus. Like any building we need to be placed and built together. The foundational ministries of apostles and prophets help us to do this.

The ministry of these apostles and prophets can be seen both in history and contemporary culture. The historical apostles and prophets hold a unique place in a number of ways.

1. They were the main writers of the Bible and we now have the accepted cannon, the 66 books of the Bible. All teaching and prophetic utterance today should be evaluated and measured against the revelation contained in scripture.

2. They carried a level of authority that is not equalled by the modern equivalent of these ministries. We can see the uniqueness of the 12 apostles for instance by the fact that their names are written into the foundation of the New Jerusalem, Rev 21.14. They are called the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

In contemporary culture they are the pioneers who help to bring new churches to birth and lead major movements. They are the ascension gifts of Jesus, Eph 4.11, appointed after the resurrection. The key issue is not so much the authority they carry but the ‘grace’ that is on their lives. Paul emphasised this in 1Cor 3.10, “According to the grace of God given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation...”

Many definitions have been offered for the grace of God but one that I like is, ‘Grace is God’s empowering presence’. In other words, when we are operating according to our gifting and calling there is a grace, an empowering presence, that flows and enables us to both enjoy and succeed in what we do, 1Thess 4.24, “He who calls you is faithful who also will do it.” This is why Paul places so much emphasis on God’s activity in this chapter, 1Cor 3.6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” He repeats this phrase in verse 7. The issue is not the ministers who plant and water, but God who creates and brings forth life.

In the context of this book Paul is correcting an attitude that had developed in Corinth. The believers there were placing leaders and ministries like Paul on competitive pedestals. Even Jesus was up there, 1Cor 1.12! The problem with successful ministry is that, without humility, we can begin to think that the success is down to us. We can begin to believe our own press. Paul is clear. God gives the increase and our ministries are a testament to His grace working in us. Consider his words later in the same book, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace f God which was with me”, 1Cor 15.10.

Let me put his ideas together and paraphrase Paul to highlight the paradox. I worked harder than any other apostle. None of them did as much as me. But it wasn’t really me. I was empowered by the grace of God to do these things. I allowed His empowering presence to flow through me. Ultimately I was just fulfilling my calling and so all the glory must go to God. Look at how much He accomplished – through me. Look at how much I accomplished – through Him.

Notice Paul’s emphasis. It was me, but it wasn’t me! I like the tension in this. On the one hand we need to know that we have a part to play. I planted, Apollos watered. They had to do something. Without them nothing would happen! Unless we respond and take up the call on our life nothing happens. Those called to preach, need to preach. Those called to lead, need to lead, Rom 10.14-15; 12.6-8. On the other hand our labour, in and of itself, can’t produce anything. It is God who gives the increase. He is the source of life – in all things, creation, ministry, relationships. All things are from Him, through Him, and to Him, Rom 11.36.

Paul captures this concept of partnership by a beautiful Greek phrase, sun-ergos, translated workers together, or co-labourers. (See also Philemon 1.1, 24; Phil 2:25, 4:3). It implies that we are partners with others and God. It isn’t about competition but co-operation. This all becomes possible when we place Jesus as the Cornerstone in our life and allow ourselves to be ‘fitted’ into His temple.

I pray that we will continue to have a revelation of the supremacy of Jesus and that He will be the foundation on which everything we do is built upon; whether it is friendship, marriage, ministry or business. This is the first step of guaranteeing something that will last into eternity. Next time we will look at how to choose the right building materials to ensure a structure that won't collapse and burn up!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Judgement - God's Way

The scriptures make it clear that all men will one day face judgement, Matt 10.15,12.36; 2Cor 5.10. God will ultimately have the last word. In the mean time, any judgement we make is a functional judgement, not a final judgement. By understanding the criteria that God uses when judging people we can come closer to the practice of being able to, ‘judge righteous judgement’, John 7.24. God’s judgement is always, ‘according to truth’, Rom 2.2 and we need to aim to judge in the same way.

No doubt someone will want to point out Matt 7.1, ‘Judge not lest you be judged’ and warn me that judging is not meant to be part of Christian’s way of life. But the context of Jesus’ words make it clear that He was addressing the Pharisaic practice of pointing out small faults in others while missing the glaring vices in our own lives – hence the metaphor of the beam – a plank of wood and the speck. In fact Jesus goes on to say that we are free to help remove specks if we have first dealt with our own faults. He further exhorts us not to cast our pearls before swine – which implies making some kind of judgement as to who the swine are!

The most common Greek word used for judge is krino. Most of the time the context helps us understand the intension of the writer’s use of this word. Sometimes however they used other prepositions to strengthen the point they wanted to make. Katakrino meant to condemn, Rom 2.1, 14.23, whereas diakrino meant to discriminate or discern, 1Cor 6.5. These distinctions in the ways we can judge are helpful. Whilst we are not here to condemn people, we are meant to be discerning and this is a form of judging – the best form. I’ll return to this issue later. For now let’s look at four key things that God takes into account when He judges a person. They form the basis of His judgement, now and in the future.

1. God’s judgement is always according to the light or understanding that we have. Luke 12.47-48 "The servant who knows what his master wants and ignores it, or insolently does whatever he pleases, will be thoroughly thrashed. But if he does a poor job through ignorance, he'll get off with a slap on the hand.” (Message Version). Whilst ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking the law, it is taken into account when judgement is given. We don’t hold children accountable in the same way we do adults. Often they behave in ways that demonstrate their ignorance. We use this as an opportunity to teach rather than to punish.

On a family shopping day with our three year old daughter we discovered that she had taken a key ring from a shop we had been browsing in. She had no concept that we needed to pay for it. To her it was an attractive trinket that she innocently took. (We duly returned to the shop and gave it back!). Jesus spoke of the Queen of the South (the Queen of Sheba) as rising up on the day of judgement and condemning a later generation. They had had the very presence of the Son of God and had not repented, when, with far less light, she had acknowledged the God of Israel, having seen the greatness of Solomon’s Kingdom.

In Gen 20 Abraham lied to King Abimelech, saying that Sarah was his sister (a half truth as they shared the same father). The King took Sarah intending for her to become his wife. But God appeared to him and the dialogue is instructive. Gen 20.5-6 “Did he not say to me she is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘he is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.” And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me: therefore I did not let you touch her.”

God actually kept back Abimelech from sinning because he knew that he acted innocently. Thus God holds us accountable for what we know, not what we don’t know.

2. God’s judgement is also according to the office or responsibility we hold. James 3.1 says, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement”. The point is that those in positions of responsibility are often in greater positions of influence. For good or for ill leaders impact the lives of others. When they stray it has a bigger impact. Moses experienced this when he was instructed to speak to the rock but instead he struck it twice rebuking the people in the process. He did not obey God’s command and in fact misrepresented the Lord to the people. God wanted to be gracious but Moses was angry – and it cost him entrance into the Promised Land, Num 20.11-13.

This is reflected in the Old Testament Levitical laws. The sin offering outlined in Leviticus chapter 4 prescribes the offering needed when different people sin. For the whole congregation a bull is required, Lev 4.13-14, similarly for a Priest, Lev 4.3-4. Thus the Priest had to offer the same animal as the entire congregation – because in his role he influences all of them. But when a ruler sins, he must offer a male goat – an animal of less value than a bull, Lev 4.22-23. His influence is not as great as that if the priest. Finally if one of the ‘common people’ sin they must offer a female goat – an animal of even less value the others, Lev 4.27-28. This is also the reason why Paul exhorts us to pray for those in authority, 1Tim 2.1-4. They need grace and empowerment to make the right decisions in life that affect others.

3. God also judges in the light of the gifting, capacity and ability that we have. Matt 25.14-29 is the parable of the talents. Each one had a different capacity but all were expected to ‘trade’ and make money for their master. The issue will be to what degree did we fulfil our calling and ministries or to what degree did we fall short. If God has given me the capacity to lead 100 people to Christ and I only lead 50, then I have not fulfilled my potential. However, if another person leads only 10 people to Christ and that was all they were appointed to do then even though it appears they have achieved less than me in fact they have achieved more. This is why Paul encourages us to ‘judge nothing before the time’, 1Cor 4.5.

4. Finally God takes into account the motivation of the heart. The right motivation gives value to our actions. Paul says it is possible to give our bodies to be burned and yet it profits us nothing if we have not love, 1Cor 13.3 Altruistic acts have no real value if they are motivated by selfish reasons. Four options remain open to us.

We can do the right thing for the wrong reason, the wrong thing for the right reason; the wrong thing for the wrong reason and the right thing for the right reason. Let’s look at some Biblical examples. The Pharisees are a classic example of a group of religious leaders who did the right thing but with the intension of gaining the praise of men. One boasted, “Thank you that I am not like this man, I fast twice a week and pay tithes on all I possess...”, No criticism is made of his practice, only the pride of his heart. If we do not allow God to deal with our hearts then pride can set in. We can appear clean on the outside yet be ‘full of dead men’s bones’. The other man is only conscious of his failings. He knows his actions have offended a holy God and he calls out for mercy – from the heart. This man goes away justified.

There are also those who did the wrong thing for the right reason. Tamar in the book of Genesis is an example of this. She dressed up as a prostitute and slept with her father in law, Judah. He has no money to pay her at the time and so she kept his staff as a pledge that he would return to pay her. This he duly did only to find she was no longer in the village he was passing through. He was oblivious to her identity and when her pregnancy showed Judah wanted to stone her. He must have appeared very red-faced when she produced his staff as the identity of the father of her child. Clearly this act involved deception, intrigue and fornication – all wrong. But her basic motivation was to honour the Levirate marriage principal that Judah had chosen to ignore. He used his authority to delay the marriage of his youngest son to Tamar and so fulfil this biblical mandate. His final comment on the situation was, ‘she has been more righteous than me’. And she appears in the genealogy of Jesus!

Rahab is another example of this. She lied to protect the spies. Her motivation was right even though the action was not. The basic trouble with all this motivation stuff is that, unlike actions, you can’t see them. They lie hidden in the heart. This is why we need to be very careful not to impute an evil motive to people’s actions. In doing so we may become judges of men’s hearts. This is reserved for God alone. David’s older brother Eliab accused him of coming to view the fight as an act of pride, neglecting his duty to care for the sheep. In truth David was being obedient to his father’s wish. He was truly jealous for the glory of God and was prepared to do what no other Israelite would – fight! 1Sam 17.28.

There are a number of occasions in scripture where the condition of the heart was discerned. We have the example of Jesus in Mark 2.5-12. He “perceived in His spirit” what the Scribes were thinking and was able to challenge the thought of their heart. Peter was able to discern the duplicity of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5.1-11 and challenged Simon the sorcerer to repent, discerning that his heart was, “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity”, Acts 8.23. This should make us cautious. It is easy to be impressed with people who focus on outward appearance when the scriptures call us to work on the hidden man of the heart. This is where God looks, 1Sam16.7. Cleary God is interested in what motivates a person. For all David’s failings his basic motivation was to please God and bring Him glory.

There are of course many examples of those who do the wrong thing for the wrong reason. Early on in Genesis we find Cain who is jealous of Able and kills him. Behaviour is always easier to change and character is easier to build once we get our motivation right.

The ideal of course is to do the right thing for the right reason. This is a lifelong process. But if we start on the inside and work outward we are better positioned to achieve this goal. Value will be added to all we do and we will receive a full reward when we finally stand before the great King.