Who do we depend on for the source of our spiritual life? The Lord says this to the crowd and His disciples ‘But you are not to be called “Rabbi”, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father”, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. (Matt. 23:8-11). The issue here I suggest is not the use of titles for people. It is rather what is implied and understood by the use of those titles.
The Lord establishes the fundamentals of spiritual relationship when He says that we have “one teacher and you are all brothers.” The source of our spiritual life is the one teacher and we all share in the same spiritual life in the family of God as brothers. Using the terms “Rabbi”, “father” and “instructors” indicates the operation of a religious system where certain people have supplanted the “one teacher”. The Rabbis etc. have become the source of spiritual life. So we look to what they say, to their insights and we conceive what they say as the final statement on any matter.
This system is mutually indulged in by the teacher and the taught. The teacher loves the adulation and the fact that others are dependent upon him. The taught love the fact that they have someone tangible who gives them their spiritual strength and support. A destructive symbiotic relationship has henceforth developed. Everybody is happy, but everybody is being spiritually destroyed as a result.
What has gone wrong is that men have taken the place of God. This can happen very subtly. We can start to have our favorite preachers online and we can start to be dependent on them. We can always go to a certain teacher when we have a query and we always take their view as the final Word. Further, someone who has blessed us richly can become the key provider of spiritual nutrition as we feel that we owe them so much.
In saying all this we should not go to the opposite extreme and reject those who God has provided to help us in our spiritual development. Teachers and preachers, spiritual mentors and fellow members of the church can all be helpers in bringing us to know the Master, grow in Him and be spiritually sustained in Him. These intermediaries are only that, though, they are not the ultimate source of blessing.
And those who are in a situation of bringing nurture to others must always watch against this tendency for others to become dependent upon them. I have written about “named ministries” here and do feel that they can contribute to the problem. As an elder in a church I need always to be remembering that I am pointing people to Christ and leading them to depend upon Him.
Apparently last week Archbishop Justin Welby had difficulty giving a definitive view on this question. Here is one report on his encounter with Alistair Campbell. Here are three observations.
1) The experience of Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader earlier in the year surely gives a salutary warning here. In equivocating and adopting a “ducking and weaving” approach to this question regarding gay sex, you always are set for a “lose, lose” outcome. Those of a morally liberal bent do not respect you because of your lack of conviction. Those with conservative biblical convictions despair because they can’t understand how you can equivocate on an issue where the bible is unequivocal.
2) The Bible is very straight on this matter. Sex outside marriage is wrong whether that be sex with another person whilst married, sex before marriage, sex with a person of the same-sex or sex with animals. Any sex outside the marriage is wrong, damaging to human beings and, above all, an offence to God. Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Heb. 13:4) seems pretty clear.
3) In taking the line Justin Welby does, he does much service to Islam. There are many in the West who are despondent about the state of our society, with its moral chaos, infidelity and general moral madness. This is particularly the case with women. When they hear the Anglican church regurgitating such stuff like Mr Welby does here they feel that Christianity provides no solid moral framework. As a result they look elsewhere. They see Islam with all of its strictures as a safe place to go where they can seek moral purity. This is the reason why so many, particularly women in the West, turn to Islam.
So why do it Archbishop? You achieve nothing and you deny the faith you profess. Lives are harmed by your the lack of direction which you give. Please think about what you are doing.
As Christians we do increasingly feel on the wrong side of the accepted values in society. Whether it be the accepting of many ways to God, freedom to choose your own gender and sexual practice, abortion or euthanasia, in all these realms a true Biblical perspective is not welcomed. But that is nothing new. In fact there is a sense of normality being restored as we face up to interacting with the un-christianised world around us.
Having moved from what was largely a christianised world, though, we greet this change with sadness and alarm. This is even more so as we see the degeneration in society which is resulting from this de-christianisation.
Given this change all of us Christians, and particularly us oldies, can be guilty of misdirecting our concern about where our nation (and world) is headed. We can be always harking back to the past. The default position we can have is that any comment on Christianity or a moral issue, coming forth from our society is going to be against us. So we become paranoid.
I have noticed one or two cases of this of late. They have left me thinking that the response to the presenting issue has not been carefully considered. When the things that have drawn forth alarm, are calmly considered then the “outrage” seems somewhat misplaced. When this happens we can give ammunition to those who say that Christians are always whingeing about anything and everything.
Here would be a case in point where all kinds of statements are made expressing “outrage”. However, the reality is that the matter has been resolved and the CU will be allowed to be at future Freshers Fairs at Balliol College. And, I believe, Mr Potts has resigned.
Let us be careful then in how we respond to the culture in which we live. Let us not be surprised that the world is demonstrating itself to be the world. The world is, and always will be, operating without reference to God and His Word. But let us be careful to be measured and thoughtful in all our responses.
Little men have to win all the time. They gain strength from having to show that they can always come out on top. Whether the issue be important or unimportant they have to be seen to be on top. Whereas big men are happy to lose; they do not domineer.
Immediately, when we are talking this way we need to be aware that there are times when we cannot back down. If biblical standards will be compromised, through us backing down, then that is what we cannot do. We should always have the spirit of Isaiah 8:20 when we interact with people (and issues) Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn (Is. 8:20). So there are issues where, based on the precepts and principles of God’s Word, we should hold our ground. If we give way on those we are spineless and weak.
But we should be willing to bend on those issues which are not issues of principle. Our agenda is not to seek to exercise our strength in persuading (or bludgeoning) everybody to accept our opinion. I have said to May Lin in the past that I need to remember that “it is more important to be godly than to get my own way”.
Everyone does not have to do things my way. In fact I should be willing to listen to others and accept that there are times (more times than I might initially realize) when they have a better view on the matter in hand.
All this, of course plays out in church leadership. Elders must be able to discern between issues where there are clear biblical principles at stake and other areas where we are dealing with matters of personal preference.
Yesterday was a bad day. I felt “out of sorts” for much of it. I had an argument with May Lin. Also ended up going to the hospital and getting no help therefrom. What happened:
- The problems with my tooth (which I wrote about here) started to develop again from Tuesday, 3rd Oct. Yesterday things seemed to be significantly deteriorating again.
- With that happening and perhaps a despondency in my soul I felt deflated and “not with it”.
- I did something without communicating properly with my wife, May Lin. She was disturbed by this.
- We ended up arguing and my conduct was not what it might have been. I saw the presenting issue as a trivial thing; she did not.
- Her questioning my action put me into an unsavoury mental and emotional free-fall. This made it that much more difficult for May Lin.
- This all left a dark shadow over me.
- I went to the hospital about my tooth issue, but that was of no benefit. I went because the dentist had recommended me to do that. But they said “go back to your dentist!!”
But was it such a bad day?
- Before going in for my consultation at the hospital I felt such a freedom in prayer. It was a beautiful openness in speaking to my Father in heaven. This was beautiful. and also made the “we can’t do anything for you” responses from the hospital not so perturbing.
- The tooth issue started to settle down later in the evening.
- How many times have I urged other people that it is better to over-communicate rather than have a lack of communication. Yet there I was yesterday guilty of this. Communication is key in all relationships.
- I learned my weakness. I do not celebrate my sin, particularly as my wife suffered as a result. But it cannot be a bad thing to be aware of my weakness. We read in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. Paul writing concerning his experience with a thorn in the flesh says: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. To know our weakness is to be in a good place.
- I need to depend on the Lord always.
- I am reminded that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1. Tim. 1:15). There is, no doubt, I am a sinner after yesterday.
- I am reminded that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin (see 1 John 1:9). But that cleaning can only be known through real confession and repentance.
The psalmist says in Psalm 92:1-2:
It is good to praise the Lord
and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,
Giving thanks to the Lord is a good thing. Thanksgiving to our God should be filling our lives. One way we can regularly show our thanksgiving to our God is thanking Him for “our daily bread”. That means thanking Him for the food which we receive from His hand; it means giving thanks for our meals. When we have food placed in front of us it is good to give thanks to our Father. There are three things I want to mention here.
- Harvest. For those of us who live in climates where there is a time of year when harvest is focused, it is good to return to give thanks to the Lord. “Harvest” celebrations in church facilitate this. For churches to make an occasion of acknowledging the giver of all our good food seems to be a God honouring thing to do.
- Determining to Give Thanks. There are occasions when we are surrounded by unbelievers or the situation is just not appropriate for publicly giving thanks. In such circumstances we still must be thoughtful of acknowledging our God who the Giver, for the good things in front of us. This can even some times lead to conversations with others about what we have done, although, no doubt, there are also times when it will lead to mockery.
- When to Give Thanks. It does not seem that there is a specific instruction on this. We have developed a practice of thanking the Lord for our food before we eat. However, when blessings have been presented to the Israelites we read When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you (Deut. 8:10). This makes we wonder about whether or not we are being more biblical to give thanks after receiving our food.
………..is the right way! It always has been, always will be and is now. So I must always know that. I must know that there is a way that is the Lord’s, whether I feel it or not. Such a way is always the best way to be on. I read these scriptures one morning some time ago:
1) Faith In The Lord.
Though the fig-tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the sheepfold
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (Hab. 3:17-19)
This is a remarkably encouraging Word from the Lord to spur us on in the walk of faith. It reminds me that my faith is not feelings based or circumstances based, but the Lord based. And that is where faith is happy to place its true lot; with the Lord. That being so we can be happy to know that He enables me “to tread on the heights”. It is His ability and enabling that matters.
2) Money Cannot Buy You Life.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath.’ (Zeph. 1:18a)
This scripture demolishes so much of the propaganda of this world. “Life is better the more you have” is a mantra which not only fails to match-up in this life, but most spectacularly fails in the next. Money can’t buy you God and it can’t buy you heaven. And it can’t buy you out of the grotesque onslaught of judgement in the Day of the Lord. People triumph by faith in the living and true God and not by money.
3) The World Is Set On Ruin.
This is the city of revelry
that lived in safety.
She said to herself,
‘I am the one! And there is none besides me.’
What a ruin she has become,
a lair for wild beasts!
All who pass by her scoff
and shake their fists. (Zeph. 2:15)
As a nation, although we go through terrorist attacks or other turmoil such as the Grenfell Tower fire, we soon return to our carefree, self-contented, arrogant and self-sufficient ways. But don’t forget Philip that the end of that is always ruin. So you must learn to focus on the better way which is in Christ.
These were three helpful scriptures graciously given by the Lord, to an unsteady saint so as to steady me in the course of grace. Thank you LORD.