Love and Self-Control

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2Timothy 1:7)
When you can't show love, show self-control!


Nothing new under the sun

And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” 
Exodus 32
It's not modern and it's not scientific. The proposition that the right ingredients and blind chance alone are responsible for any form of life is one of the oldest expressions of idolatry.


Always assume best intentions

Joshua 22 is an important chapter. It shows how easily misunderstandings and divisions can arise between God's people. Especially where communication has broken down.

It is easy to read too much into the actions (or inactions) of our brothers, and to pay more attention to an inferred attitude behind the action than the action itself.

The tragedy of this story is that covenant brothers, comrades in arms, those who once extended the kingdom and fought the Lord's battles side by side now find themselves on opposite sides of the battle lines! The true enemies who remain in the land are given a rest while God's people square off against each other. The accuser of the brethren can take a day off because God's people are doing his job for him!

A greater tragedy still that such things still occur amongst God's new covenant people. As the apostle James says - such things should not be!

Before we ready our swords for battle, before we let the arrows fly we should take the time to ready our ears to listen and our hearts to understand. Invest the time to reopen the lines of communication and learn what the true issues and motivations are.

Most of all let us not forget that our battle is not against flesh and blood. And it is certainly not against our brothers in the Lord. When brothers fight it never pleases or honours the one who is Father of both.


Table of Jubilee

The Lord's table is the New Covenant Jubilee. A regular event when every debt is cancelled. Not just the forgiveness of our debts towards God but a relinquishing of every debt between the covenanted people of God. The same blood that washes away our sin is received like a dialysis that is to flush out all the bad blood that may have accumulated in the corporate body. Jesus taught that it is impossible to receive forgiveness until you let go of unforgiveness. The table is thus an end of bondage and a new beginning of freedom towards God and each other just as Jubilee was.

There is a reason we should talk to a brother who has wronged us before we come to the table. It's not just so we can come in a right manner. It's because afterwards we have no right to mention it again. The same grace that forgives us requires us to forgive them.


Positive correction

I had a dream last night. That in itself is not unusual. In my dream I was running. Those who know me will know that that is not unusual either! However, what is unusual is that I very rarely ever remember my dreams, and when I do they are almost always significant.

In my dream I was running. And I was running well. I was moving at speed; my legs were moving fast. I was taking great strides and I was covering the ground with ease. It felt great! Then I looked down and saw that I was wearing my work shoes!

My work shoes are very familiar shoes. They are well worn and fit my feet great. I have worn them every day, Monday to Friday, for many years and they have served me well. But they are totally inappropriate for running!

My first thought was that if I was moving so well it couldn't be that much of an issue. Perhaps it wasn't so bad that I was wearing the wrong shoes. If I had managed thus far and was making such good progress perhaps I should just carry on as I was. But I know too much about running to accept that lie for long. I knew that if I continued sooner or later it would become an issue.

Then a very positive thought came to my mind. If I'm running this well in the wrong shoes, how much better will I do and feel when I put the right shoes on!

As I was thinking about the significance of this dream this morning, I felt stirred about how we receive and respond to correction in our lives. We can often react to it as a negative thing. A judgement or a criticism. It can be taken in a discouraging way to imply that we are not running our race well.

However, correction comes to us all. None of us have reached perfection yet and so recognising what is not right and making improvements is an important part of our continued growth and progress. Correction doesn't just come to those who are running badly. Sometimes it comes to those who are running well. Not as a criticism or as a discouragement, but as an opportunity to make something that is good even better.

One of the marks of maturity in the Christian walk is how we respond to correction. Do we take it personally and get upset. Do we think it is no big deal and try to carry on as before. Or do we seize it as an opportunity to make us even more effective in the race marked out for us.

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;reprove a wise man, and he will love you.Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. 
(Proverbs 9:8-9)



Need for a bigger space

Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See, the place where we dwell under your charge is too small for us.  Let us go to the Jordan and each of us get there a log, and let us make a place for us to dwell there.” And he answered, “Go.”  Then one of them said, “Be pleased to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.”  So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. (2 Kings 6:1-4)

I love the response of the prophet in this passage. When faced with this expression of frustration, he could have easily taken it personally. He could have seen it as a slight on his oversight and leadership. He could have got defensive of his choice of dwelling and started enumerating the reasons why he felt it was perfectly adequate for the task. He could have tried to turn things around and suggested that there was a bad attitude or source of bitterness in the motivation behind the request. But he doesn't. He recognises a genuine frustration borne out of a desire to do greater things for God and he does all he can to help.

Sadly, there are many times where poorly-articulated frustration from those being led meets with insecurity in those leading and the results are not as pretty. There needs to be wisdom, both in the way we articulate our frustrations and in the way we respond to the frustration of others. Not all frustration originates from the flesh. Sometimes it is a stirring of the Spirit to provoke us not to settle in the small place.

Haven't we all felt at times like the place we are in is too small for us?


An Eye for an Eye or Turn the Other Cheek?

If anyone injures his neighbour, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. (Leviticus 24:19-20)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

It is probably the most famous "contradiction" in the Bible, and one that I have been asked about on several occasions. It also touches on one of the most important issues of life - how do we react when someone does us wrong?

So which is it? Turn the other cheek or an eye for an eye? And if it is one why does the bible contradict itself by also mentioning the other?

As with so many matters of biblical interpretation it is very important to understand the context. If the context of these two passages were the same it would indeed be a profound contradiction. But they are not the same and so we are not comparing apples with apples but apples with oranges.

In the Leviticus passage the context is social justice. God is giving the people the laws of the land which they are to live by and which the courts and judges among them are to apply. The principle of "an eye for an eye" is a very important one here. It basically means this: Justice should be just! The punishment should fit the crime. Most people have inbuilt sense of justice and understand the moral outrage when a vicious criminal who has inflicted callous hurt to his victims is allowed to walk out of the courtroom with a smirk on his face. Equally we know the pain we feel when we hear of travesties of justice where people are imprisoned or executed by the courts of the land for "crimes" that are trivial or in most people's view no crimes at all!

This sense of justice comes from God. He feels the same.

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17:15)

Strong words! And ones that illustrate how important the issue of justice is the the Lord. He is after all the Judge of all men. He is the one who will ultimately settle all scores, right all wrongs, issue recompense or punishment where it is due and give to all men according to their deeds. It is God's heart that his heavenly standard of justice be represented in the earth. That kings and rulers, courts and officials execute their duties without corruption or bias.

However when Jesus is talking about turning the other cheek the context is different. He is not speaking about making just laws for the land but about interpersonal relationships. Specifically he is dealing with the issue of how we should react when we are wronged, hurt, upset or in any other way aggrieved by someone we are in any form of relationship with.

When we are wronged or hurt unfairly by someone it is very easy to feel a "righteous anger" about the injustice of it all. Our natural inclination is to take matters into our own hands; to treat the other person in the same manner as they have treated us (or worse!). However, as the bible points out, a man's anger when he has been wronged is very rarely righteous!

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)

Jesus is saying that we should not try to be the source of our own justice. Just as it is wrong for a lynch mob to try to enforce their own interpretation of the law of the land and the justice that is due, it is wrong for us to try to enforce the justice we feel we are due in our relationships with others. It's not for us to try to bring them to account. Instead we should trust in the justice that God himself will provide.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Another common reaction when we are wronged or hurt is to put up our defences. We may not actively seek retribution but we avoid, ignore and generally go out of our way to not be anywhere near the person who has hurt us. Whether we acknowledge it or not we are thinking, "I'll never let them make me feel that way again."

This is the powerful impact of Jesus' words to turn the other cheek. Because he is not just telling us not to seek retribution on the ones who have hurt us. He is telling us not to raise our defences too! Don't shun them. Don't cut them out. Don't ignore them or blank them. Stay vulnerable. Stay open. Stay in touch. Continue to show them love and kindness even if it means they have the opportunity to hurt you again!


I'm not saying it's easy. I'm certainly not claiming that I've got it all right. To be honest I struggle in these areas too. But I do believe this is the standard that God wants us to live by. Lord, by your grace enable us to do so. Amen.