Mutual Possession

The Song of Solomon is an intensely devotional book. It is also a prophetic book in that it describes for us the relationship between the believer and Christ, the ‘Beloved’, with an intimacy which looks forward to the relationship between the believer and Christ in the New Testament. It expresses for us with a wonderful intensity the happiness of the one who is RightWithGod through Jesus Christ.

The bible describes the relationship between Christ and the believer in many ways. But there is one which is particularly amazing, and that is, mutual possession, a two-way possession. Putting this in simple language, Christ possesses us and we possess Christ.  The  idea is present in many places in the bible, but in the Song of Solomon it is stated twice by the believer, with amazing confidence.

The first of these occurrences is in Chapter 2, verse 16: “My Beloved is mine, and I am His”; the second is in Chapter 6, verse 3: “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” The happiness underlying these words in inescapable. The believer in this case is female. If there is a reason for this, it is that women are usually better at expressing their love than men, but there does not have to be any particular reason.

In this relationship of mutual possession, there is no coercion or oppression, as there sometime is in  possessive relationships between human beings. There is here a willingness and gladness on both sides to be possessed.  Human beings, by nature, are afraid of such a relationship. This fear tends to persist even after conversion, and must be forsaken, and replaced with a wholehearted and glad surrender to the total Lordship of Jesus Christ. Holding back in this matter is a cause of much unhappiness and lack of assurance among christians. True happiness lies in the relationship of “My Beloved is mine, and I am His”.

There is another amazing aspect of this. That is that, if there is this mutual possession, then He accepts her as His. He is not ashamed to own her as His own. The altogether righteous One is not ashamed to own a sinner as His own property, even His special treasure.

What is the explanation of such intense love on the part of Christ for His own? It is that He has loved her from the beginning, and purchased her. The believer is bought at a great price: nothing less than the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. He knows what that price was in a way that we cannot. But the result is  that He now looks on every one He has purchased as an exceedingly precious possession.

The believer, on the other hand, is so aware of her own sin and unworthiness that she cannot understand how Christ could ever love her so much that He paid such a price for her. Not only so, but He is not ashamed to own her as His possession. The result is that she loves Him more than ever. He is truly and intensely her Beloved.

The Grenfell Tower Fire.

It has been a painful experience to watch the pictures and reports of the Grenfell tower fire. It is heart-rending to think of what these people went through. This is intensified by the speed at which things happened, going from normal everyday life to unspeakable tragedy in fifteen minutes. Dozens of precious human beings going to meet their God and Maker.

Our thoughts are with those who are bereaved, and those injured. There is no doubt that the rescue and medical services, as always in our beloved country, have given their all to help, and we thank God for them, but the circumstances were such that they were limited in what they could do. Questions again arise as to the wisdom of housing people in high-rise flats at all, even though it seems to be a necessity in modern life. Certainly, more needs to be done in order to make these blocks safer. Some of the safety deficiencies in the Grenfell tower surely demand investigation, and we are thankful that our Prime Minister has ordered a full-scale investigation, and we hope that it will be thorough and as speedy as possible.

Meanwhile, as christians, we must not detach ourselves from this catastrophe, but be involved as far as we can, in prayer and deep thought about what has happened. We must seek the face of God in prayer for the bereaved and injured, and also for the investigation itself. We do not have all the answers, but we do have some.

The question on the lips of many at such a time as this is, ‘why did God allow this to happen?’ Our answer must stand firmly on the ground that God is God, and that therefore He controls all that happens. So, we have to answer, ‘yes, God did allow this to happen, but as to the ‘why’, we have to turn to the bible to understand the basic factors involved in God’s government of this world. The best place for us to go is to the first two chapters of the book of Job. The picture there is quite clear. There is God who rules over all, and there is Satan who cannot refuse any opportunity to do evil, but cannot make the slightest move except as God allows him. Satan, because of his evil nature, will always take such an opportunity to do harm, and take it to its limit; but he cannot go beyond the limit set for him by God, not even by the slightest amount.

The result of this is that, although we live in a fallen world, we do not live in a world of total evil, but in a world of controlled evil. All one needs to prove this to oneself is to thumb through a newspaper, and ask the question, what is the picture of the world that one sees? The answer is that it is not a world of total evil, but one of controlled evil. The fact is that we have never seen a world of total evil, and we never will in this life.

So the amazing thing is not that catastrophies such as the Grenfell tower fire occurred, but, how rarely such things happen. This is because, when man fell with the tragic consequences, God did not abandon the world He had created, but still rules it according to His perfect wisdom.

May this be a time for us to bow the knee before the God of all power.

 

The Recent Atrocities

It is not easy to comment on the recent atrocities in London and Manchester, yet one cannot be silent. Things like the death penalty used to be a deterrent to the taking of a human life. Some say that we should restore the death penalty for murder. I would be in favour of its restoration, not because I believe it would deter these atrocities, but because the bible calls for it. It is not a duty of the individual, but a duty of the state.

Immediately after the flood, God made a covenant with Noah, which has never been rescinded. In Genesis 9: 6, we read “Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man”. Every human being is precious because, among other things, he or she bears the image of God. Although the bible teaches us to be kind to animals, especially those who help us in our daily work, there is no prohibition on taking the life of an animal, because they are not made in the image of God, and are not morally responsible. For them death is the end, and there is no after-life. On the other hand,, man is made in the image of God, and is held morally responsible by God for all his actions. Every human being must give an account of themselves on the Day of Judgement: “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).

Sadly the death penalty would not help to deter the present terrorist groups, because their religion makes certain promises to them if they die in Jihad. Jihad basically means Struggle, or Holy Struggle, or Holy War, or War Against the Infidel. The latter meaning is applied by Islamic Terrorist groups to War against Western Society. However the Day of Perfect Justice is coming and they will not escape, but for them, as for us “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God”. There will be no escape

However, we can pray. We must pray for those who have suffered injury, and for the bereaved. Their pain and heartache is incalculable. We must also seek to obey the command to “Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), however difficult we find it.

As I write this, polling is under way in the United Kingdom. One of the big issues facing any new government will be its obligation to defend our citizens. It is very important to be clear that the State is, under God, given responsibilities much wider that the individual. This is clear from Romans 13: 1-5 which describe to us our responsibility to submit to the power of the State and the responsibility of the State to fight against evil. Verse 4 describes to us the responsibility of the ruler to take up the sword against evil: “For he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him who does evil”.

There is no doubt that the intelligence services and the police have done a good job. The speed of the police response in the latest London atrocity was amazing. However, the Police must be strengthened and given more powers.

Also questions must be asked of Islam itself. Is there something fundamental to Islam which leaves the way open to the kind of brutality and murder which has been perpetrated in different parts of the world in the name of Islam?

There are also questions that we must ask regarding our own nation. For example, are we under the judgement of God because of our moral decadence? I have no doubt that the answer to that question is, Yes. We, as christians, must seriously seek the face of God, pleading with Him to bring us to national repentance, and return us to righteousness.

Holiday Thoughts

In Psalm 95:1, we read, “O come let us sing unto the Lord: Let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation”. Why? Because that Rock is Christ. Why ‘Rock’? Because He is utterly dependable, making our salvation unspeakably secure.

Holiday Thoughts

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). Believer, there is a banner over you. It is Christ’s banner of love. It says, “NO CONDEMNATION”. How can that be? It is because Christ has paid the penalty for your sins so fully and completely that further charges would be unjust.

The Danger of Hardening your Heart

The danger the title speaks of is the greatest danger that anyone is open to. It is not a danger from any person, or power outside of yourself, but a danger from within you: the danger of hardening your heart against the voice of God. The title comes from Psalm 95: 7-8, and is repeated in the New Testament in Hebrews 3: 15. The background is called the ‘rebellion’, or the ‘provocation’, referring to a time when the Israelites hardened their hearts against God in spite of the fact that He had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The results for that whole generation were catastrophic. With the exception of two people, none of them entered into the Promised Land.

This sad situation is held up in the bible as a warning to us, not to harden our hearts against the voice of God: “Today, it you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”, Hebrews 3:15. What does it actually mean to harden our hearts against the voice of God? It sounds like something which only a really hard-hearted person would do. But this is not necessarily so. This is something the loveliest of people often do. They would not dream of rebuffing or ignoring a gracious  invitation to come to a wedding, or something of that nature, which had involved much planning, great cost and sacrifice. Indeed they would gladly accept the invitation, even if it interfered with plans that they had already made. Yet these same people may ignore and put aside God’s invitation to come to the greatest feast that anyone had ever prepared, the feast of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This was the costliest feast that was ever prepared in the history of this world. God gave His Son to this world in order to suffer and die in the place of sinful human beings, and so save them from the eternal destruction which they deserved. Not only so, but to give them a guaranteed eternal inheritance with Christ in heaven, where there is “fullness of joy, and pleasures forever more” (Psalm 16: 11). The invitation is to all human beings without exception to come freely and willingly to this great feast.

Your response may be, I have no intention of refusing this great invitation, indeed I have every intention to respond some day, or even soon. Please listen to me, my very dear friend, that is actually hardening your heart to the voice of God. The invitation is, “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart”. That implies that today you are hardening your heart, if you put it off even for one other day. Perhaps you may say to yourself, I would like to accept God’s invitation, but this is not a good time for me, tomorrow will be better. That is Satan’s evil plan to bring you to destruction. He never says to someone who is weighing up God’s invitation, ‘Forget it’. He will always say, ‘There is plenty of time”, and if you take His advice today, he has you where he wants: on the slippery slope of ‘another day’, when God says, ‘today’. “Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is  the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

(I will be on holiday for two weeks, but I hope to leave some ‘Holiday Notes’, while I am away.)

“True blessedness”

It is a natural tendency in man, especially in the present age, to project an image of oneself, of strength, confidence, success, prestige and so on. Sadly, this kind of ideal image has to some extent invaded the church, and even some of the pulpits of our land. The question we must ask is: Is this the picture of believers that is set before us in the scriptures? The answer is, No. Jesus began His ‘sermon on the mount’ with a list of the characteristics of the ‘blessed’,  in Matthew 5:3-11. Surely, there can be no doubt that He is giving us a list of the marks of a true believer, one who is RightWithGod.  The list he gives us is very different from ‘strength, confidence, success and prestige’. It is ‘poor in spirit’, ‘mourning over sin’, ‘meek’, and so on. This is very different; but the latter are the happy ones. The literal meaning of the word translated, ‘blessed’ is ‘happy’. In fact, the comforting words addressed to those described in verses 3-11, are found in verse 12: “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you”. Their reward was not to be the approval of men, but a reward which awaited them in heaven; and it was a ‘great’ reward. In this world, their predecessors, the prophets, were persecuted rather than admired; so it would be with them.

Obviously there is a difference between the image that many christians of today like to project and the biblical picture of the happy christian, that we have in Matt chapter 5. Does this really matter? Of course it does. The question of motivation comes strongly into it, and motivations are the really important things. It is not just what we do that is important, but why we do it. The worry is that the believer who is more concerned about what the world thinks of him, than about what God thinks of him, is wrongly motivated, because it is what God thinks of us that is important. We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 in words spoken by God to Samuel, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart”.

If we are christians, and truly RightWithGod, we will have a strong desire to get beyond the ‘child’ stage in our christian lives. This means that we must “put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). We must put away our ‘image building’ and seek the honour and glory of God above all things. We must seek to be like Elijah who was able to say, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts”(1 Kings 19:14). We should have something of that jealousy for the honour and glory of God, even though we are not prophets.

Let us examine our motives with honesty and sincerity, calling on the help of the Holy Spirit, the Great Enabler, to help us to get this very important area of our lives right, and to keep it right.

 

The Spirit of Adoption

We all become children of God the moment we are born again. We are “begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”(1 Peter 1: 3). Yes, at the moment we are born again, we experience a resurrection in our souls which is a spiritual parallel to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is an instant in which this happens, but God usually hides this from us for our good. By nature we are prone to boast about any experiences we might have. Although that great instant is hidden from us, we soon sense the effects that it has on us. Our desires, inclinations and tastes begin to change. The detail of this varies from person to person, but in every case there will be a general swing away from the satisfactions of this world to the satisfactions of the spiritual life.

But here, as is often the case, God shows himself to be the God of the second mile. What we have described above is the first mile, where we are made the spiritual offspring of God. The second mile is, that God puts His Spirit within us to dwell there permanently, and by doing so, God is adopting us into His family making us more than offspring. We enter into a true Father/child relationship with God, and the Spirit who now dwells within us enables us to instinctively address God with humble confidence as Father. This is why the Holy Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of adoption. As Romans 8: 15, 16 puts it, “ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that, that we are the children of God”. (The words, Abba, Father, are simply the same word repeated, ‘Abba’ being like the Hebrew word for ‘Father’. Truly, our God is the God of the second mile.

This is often the way that God conveys assurance of salvation to the believer. Every true believer wants to have assurance that he or she is truly saved. Now, our first instinct is to know that we have truly believed, and that our sins are forgiven, because Christ has bourne them for us. God does not usually give us that information directly, but He sooner or later gives it to us indirectly. We have already mentioned changed desires and inclinations. Here is another way in which he gives us assurance: by enabling us to address Him Affectionately and reverently as ‘Father’, knowing that He delights in hearing it.

Of course, there are many other aspects of the Father/child relationship, which we do well to keep before us. There are all the protections, privileges and provisions that come with this relationship; there is also the discipline which comes with it, and the loving Fatherly chastisement which often goes with that discipline.

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Unfeigned love of the brethren”

The title is part of 1 Peter 1:22, which reads, “Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently”. The word, ‘unfeigned’ is used four times in the bible: one other time in reference to love as here, and twice to describe true faith. It is a very demanding word for the serious christian. We are commanded to love one another; not just those we like, but all who are Christ’s. We are to love them because they are Christ’s; and we have to love them unfeignedly, that is, sincerely. Let us look more closely at this word.

To put it in the simplest language, unfeigned love is sincere love; love without pretence; love which is true and unstained with hypocrisy. In fact the word in the original language, translates simply as ‘without hypocrisy’. This standard of love is very high, even for those who are in a state of grace, that is, people who are RightWithGod through Jesus Christ. Christ Himself was the only one ever who was able to practise this love perfectly, and His command to us His people is, “That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34). His love was truly unfeigned love; it was perfect love which had no trace of hypocrisy in it. That is the standard that He set for us. We must never stop trying to reach this standard, although we will never reach it in this life. This quest makes us long for heaven where we will be separated from sin forever, and be able to love Christ and one another with unfeigned love.

However, while we are in this world, the verse we are looking at, 1 Peter 1: 22 gives us some help. The striving towards unfeigned love is part of the general quest for holiness, which the christian is constantly engaged in, namely,  purifying our souls. This purification received a great initial impetus at conversion, when we obeyed the truth of the gospel, but it continues until the end of life. None of this would be possible without the help of the Holy Spirit who helps our weaknesses, and makes things possible for us that would otherwise be impossible to us. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to progress in holiness, and this works toward the “unfeigned love of the brethren”, loving one another “with a pure heart fervently”.

All this would be quite impossible for us, except that when w received Christ, we received the Holy Spirit to be a permanent resident within us. There are many things laid upon us as christians, which we could not by nature even begin to strive for, which become things that we can sincerely strive towards, due to the help of the Holy Spirit, such as loving one another with love unfeigned. That is the way that He loved us, and if we wish to see that love in its ultimate expression, we must go to the cross and see Him suffering, the sinless One for condemned sinners, the Just for the unjust, the Rich for the poor.

 

When Wicked Men are God’s Hand.

King David was a peace loving man, but he had much trouble in his life. There is not always an explanation when trouble comes into the believer’s life. Few believers go through this life without some trouble. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world, you shall have tribulation (trouble): but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”. Nevertheless, God never sends trouble for no purpose, but always with a view to sanctification in the case of the believer. It may have an element of chastisement in it, it may not, and the question often the believer has when being tried is, ‘Is this chastisement, or is it not?’

In the case of David in 2 Samuel 16, he knew very well that the trouble he was experiencing was chastisement at the hand of God. Did this make the trial easier to bear? No; in fact it made it much harder to bear because he knew the explanation.

David had grievously sinned against God in committing adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, the Hittite, while the latter was away with the army defending his country. Then, when David found out that Bathsheba had conceived he tried to cover up his sin, but it did not work. He then arranged the death of Uriah in battle, and took his widow, Bathsheba, to be his wife, so that people would think that the child was his.

But he could not hide his sin from God. God sent Nathan the prophet with a message for David. Firstly, that he had seriously sinned against God; secondly, that he would never be free from battles and bloodshed; thirdly, that one of his own family would rise up against him, and that he would have to flee from him; fourthly that God had forgiven his sin; fifthly that the child would die. All this was, in due time, painfully fulfilled for him.

We are presently dealing with the fulfillment of the third of these promises. Absolom, David’s son, led a rebellion against his own father with a view to usurping the throne. David was forced to flee with a few faithful men. We have a description of part of that very sad scene in 2 Samuel 16:5-13. One of Absolom’s men, Shimei by name, came and threw stones and insults at David. One of David’s men offered to go after him and kill him, but David’s response was, No. He turned down the offer and commanded that Shimei be left to continue cursing David, and he gives the reason, “Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David”, (verse 10). This was a very strange thing to say, until we join it up to the sentence pronounced on David through Nathan the prophet in chapter 12. Then we realise that David was in the depths with conviction of sin. It was all a reminder to him of his grievous sin, and God’s sentence upon him for that sin. God was using a wicked man to be His ‘hand’ in his chastisement. How exceedingly painful! One of the many lessons that we learn from this whole story is the very important one: God sometimes uses wicked men to achieve His purposes in the sanctification of His people. So, our respose to the wicked when they assault and abuse us, must not be revenge, but an acceptance that they may be ‘the hand of God’. We must always in such situations, ask the question, ‘Is God in this?’ We may have to wait for the answer, but in due time it will come. In the believer’s life, nothing is for nothing.