when there’s no fear of God

I have a message from God in my heart
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
before their eyes.

In their own eyes they flatter themselves
too much to detect or hate their sin.
The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;
they fail to act wisely or do good.
Even on their beds they plot evil;
they commit themselves to a sinful course
and do not reject what is wrong.

Psalm 36:1-4

At work we just finished running “The Wisdom Books: Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes” in the Our Daily Bread Ministries Discovery Series, Understanding the Bible, by Tremper Longman III. Quite good. One part that stood out to me is just how apart from the fear of God, little else matters if you’re looking for godly wisdom. Or just wisdom period as spelled out in the Bible, specifically Proverbs. Longman points out how there are sayings in the book of Proverbs that anyone might agree with, but that all of them are to be seen in the context of the fear of God. Which is awe and respect, even reverence for who God is, God’s mighty power and even love.

This is a fundamental difference between those who are Christians and those who are not. I’m not saying that no others have any fear of God. But only in Christ who himself is the ultimate wisdom does one come into a saving relationship with God. And the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs). Without it there’s no godly wisdom at all.

The psalm quoted above makes the point that those who don’t have the fear of God don’t have any of the humility that goes with that. The fact of the matter is that God is God and we’re not. That should help us pay attention to our thoughts and attitudes, and put many of them on check with some repentance along the way.

After thoughts on those who don’t fear God, the psalmist turns their attention to God, asks God for his protection, and expresses certainty of the wicked’s downfall and demise. A primary difference between those who fear God and those who don’t is that the former turn to God, while the latter most certainly don’t. Christians pray for those who persecute them. So looking to God when troubled by others is both prayer for God’s intervention and their salvation. In and through Jesus.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.
May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!

 

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wisdom in the real world

One of the major themes of Scripture is wisdom. We have wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, even Song of Songs. And some of the Psalms. I would like to include James from the New Testament, and you can find snippets of wisdom everywhere throughout Scripture.

What marks out Biblical wisdom is “the fear of God” which is foundational to it. But also it’s plain to see that the wisdom talked about in Scripture is for us as we really are, for life as it really is, not some idealized version.

I think this is important, because it might be easy for us to give up on the pursuit of wisdom, or think we really haven’t received it from God, because we’re so aware of our flaws. But the wisdom given is for flawed people, yes, to help us walk in the way of God, and not in our own way. But also to help us do better, both unlearn and learn, and continue, not only in the way of wisdom, but as life-long seekers of it.

We’re told that Christ is our wisdom. Ultimately we find God’s wisdom in him, and actually to understand all the rest is to see it in light of him. This is from Scripture, God’s written word, and the Spirit. So that means we don’t leave any of the Scripture witness behind. And we especially mark all that is pointed and helpful for us on our journey. As we continue on in the way of wisdom. In and through Jesus.

where wisdom begins and ends

Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning
and even among fools she lets herself be known.

Proverbs 14:33

It’s a struggle to find, live, and remain in wisdom. Lasting wisdom begins with “the fear of God” (Proverbs 9:10). So it’s relational, beginning with God, and then impacting others. But it has to find residence in our hearts. That means our inherent foolishness has to be owned up to, checked, and ultimately scrapped. Which is why it’s best for us to be slow to try to impose ourselves in any way on anyone else. We best make sure we’re in line first before we can even imagine that we can help anyone else. As we read elsewhere, when we judge others, we do the same things (Romans 2). It’s not like what we’re seeing isn’t a real problem. But wisdom reminds us that the best thing we can do is pray. And be slow, even reticent to do anything else.

Wisdom is given to us from God, into our hearts, first and foremost, so that we might change. It’s not so that we can impose our wisdom on others. It’s to receive God’s wisdom for ourselves, our own lives. As we do that, it’s our lives which can speak volumes to others. And that includes those caught up in foolishness, which of course none of us are above falling into. And like the text above tells us, even to fools. It’s how we live, but that starts from the heart. It must settle into our hearts in a way which impacts our lives. The book of Proverbs along with the rest of Scripture will help us understand what that means. It’s ongoing, never ending in this life. But it is something we need to deliberately pursue and be engaged in. Always for change in ourselves. And through that change, hopefully others will find their way into the same wisdom. In and through Jesus.

living with our differences

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

Colossians 3:15a

In the real world there are stark differences of opinion, and that includes the church. When we say church, we should include the entire church also, and not only our local assembly. How do we learn to live together with our differences?

The word translated “peace” hearkens back, when considering Scripture, to the shalom of God’s kingdom. It’s not just an absence of strife, though often that’s where we need to begin. It’s the presence of a love that includes everyone, and therefore accepts each person, regardless of their view on anything. And it’s a gospel kind of love, intent in all of us finding our way in Jesus. Together yes, but as individuals. We each have to find that for ourselves. But we live it out together as members of one body in Christ, the church.

I think that means that we need to side step what might harm that. And a large part of understanding what that might be would be to consider what Christ would be about in the world. We after all are members of Christ.

When it comes to issues on which we disagree, it’s best to err on the side of love. Drop whatever violates love. If there’s something important enough to work through, do so, but also agree to disagree, so that we’re willing to drop it. There’s actually more strength in not having the last word, than having it. But our heart should not be in winning an argument, but love: God’s love in Christ by the Spirit. We are taking the way of the cross, the way of Christ, if we are willing to look like the losers. And acknowledge when we are wrong. And pray.

“Let the peace of Christ rule.” That’s a watchword for us as individuals, especially important in our relationships with each other, in the church. In and through Jesus.

 

what’s next?

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:1-8

James was probably the best known pastor of the early church, certainly of Jerusalem. And as such, he was a pastor at heart. You can tell from the way he starts out the letter from him we have in our Bibles in the New Testament. He wastes no time, but gets to the trials believers face. The trials of many kinds covers it all: any kind of trial.

James takes more of a constructive than comforting approach. They’re to consider it pure joy because of the maturity it can bring. Namely because it tests their faith which leads to endurance or perseverance, which leads to mature well rounded out character.

The testing of one’s faith is related to seeing that it is genuine through and through. We can have a saving faith, enough to be forgiven and enter into life. But God wants more, and in our heart of hearts as God’s children, so do we.

Nevertheless a trial is a trial. It’s not something that in and of itself we’re going to like. And James expresses that there are many kinds of them which intimates that perhaps we will receive quite a few ourselves. The critical point is our faith essentially meaning our trust in God and God’s promises to us in Scripture. Everything stands or falls over our faith or lack thereof.

But it’s good to hold the big picture in view, in fact that’s what James’s words tell us. Faith results in perseverance which results in character. That’s more constructive to me than comforting, though we might say it’s something of both. And more of that comes when James points to the needed wisdom we can receive from God in answer to prayer. With the additional thought that if we fail to believe that the generous, gracious God will give us that wisdom, then we will remain stuck in whatever condition we’re in.

Perhaps we need to work on the very first point then all else will more easily follow. That is, we’re to count such pure joy. Instead of shrinking in horror, or whatever our conditioned response is from such experiences over the years. Knowing what God says the outcome will be, and what we’re to do in the meantime.

Everything we need is present in this passage. As we go on from day to day in this life in and through Jesus.

dealing with difficult people

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-24

If you live, you’ll have to deal with difficult people, who at times can make life more difficult. As Christians, we turn to the pages of Scripture for help. And I find Paul’s words here in Romans (click link for fuller context) helpful.

In a nutshell, Christians are simply to do their part. I think we can confront or challenge others, but we’re never to repay evil for evil. I think that includes using violent means, though if someone were attacking someone else, then I think you should do what you can to stop them. The Christians’ dependence on the state as a God-given institution against evil is in play here (again, click link above to see that).

To go into much detail beyond what is written here for me becomes murky. As Christians we should simply try to stick to the basic words of Scripture. But inevitably differences will arise as to whether “if it is possible, insofar as it depends on [us]” means that Christians could ever resort to any kind of violent resistance. I personally have changed my view in leaning toward the position that the Christian can participate in the state, and thus bearing the (small) sword as a police function. And in that, violence should be used sparingly, only as a last resort. There’s no question in the text, that the state in its God-ordained role, does end up resisting evil for the good of Christians and of all society.

The big watchword for me here is simply the directive to live at peace with everyone insofar as that depends on us. That means we might have to put up with things that are not helpful. We’re to leave any vengeance in God’s hands, instead of seeking to exact it ourselves. The state actually ends up being part of God’s exacting of justice, so it seems, when they function correctly. Although sadly to say in too many places in the world Christians and even society in general is left with corrupt governing officials.

The directive is clear whether we like it or not. We’re to do good to our enemies, or to those who make life difficult for us. But I’m not for a minute referring to cases like a woman being beaten by her husband. She needs to separate from him, seek protection from authorities, and I believe she can divorce and remarry on the grounds of desertion, because in effect that’s what he’s done.

This is not a nice comfy part of life. We’d rather avoid all such things together. But it does happen. We do well to go back to the words of Scripture, God’s word, and seek to live by that. To even bless those who persecute us, as the text tells us just before what is quoted above. At the same time, living in peace with others doesn’t mean letting them run roughshod over us. We need wisdom from God to know what that will mean in any given situation, as we seek to remain wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. In and through Jesus.

a good prayer to regularly pray

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

Psalm 139 is a remarkable psalm, one I think I want to dwell on in coming days. Interestingly it begins with a similar thought.

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.

As Christians, we have a sensitivity to sin, and hopefully first and foremost, sin in our own hearts and lives. As God’s children through faith in Christ, we no longer want to sin, but instead, we want to please our Father. But still, sadly enough, we sin in this life. We just haven’t arrived. Or we make mistakes with no evil intent, at least nothing wrong we’re aware of. But maybe not the better part of wisdom. We know somehow that we’re lost in the weeds, so to speak, our witness surely impaired.

Of course we confess our sins to God, and where need be, to the one we’ve sinned against. And on other matters, we do well to lay low, and simply be quiet. While at the same time praying the prayer of the psalmist quoted above, again and again. We are looking to God to change us. To make us people who are wiser, more like Jesus. In the words of the psalmist, people of no offense, not hurtful (NASB) in our hearts and thoughts.

A prayer I want to be praying more in coming days.