• A better way to live for God
This week’s storyline which comes out of the interdenominational Bible readings set for Sunday, February 12, is under the title Learn What Being Spiritual Really Means.
Many people see being spiritual as being religious, but really they are opposites. Think of what you know of Jesus. He was very real with people, combining compassionate love and the power of God in ministry, yet the nearest He got to religious involvement was speaking in the synagogue at Nazareth — which nearly cost Him His life — and much later on, teaching in the outer temple courts in Jerusalem. And that did cost Him His life!
As Jesus travels around, He encounters all kinds of people. He brings the power of God to heal and deliver them — and teaches about what God is doing, and why.
There are no wordy rituals, or complicated language. He tells everyday stories, using them to teach in a down-to-earth and practical way. He models the spiritual kind of living that God wants from His people as these words from Psalm 119 tell us.
Blessed are those… who walk according to the law of the Lord… who keep His statutes…seek Him with all their heart [and] follow His ways.Psalm 119:1-8
You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed…I will praise You with an upright heart as I learn Your righteous laws. I will obey Your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.
So we’re talking about living out God’s word, and wanting what God wants. But — watch for the change in how we put it into practice, as we move on in our story.
We start with the Israelites about to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. Their by-now elderly, revered, leader Moses is giving them a revision pep talk. He is summarising the teaching which they received as The Law, 40 years before on Mount Sinai, and why it’s vital for them to obey it.
This is learning to be spiritual, original version, the way it was under the Old Covenant. Here it’s strict instruction, “precepts that are to be fully obeyed” — like military Standing Orders, set out in terms of life and death, blessing and curses. He urges them to choose life, to choose well, by making it their priority to love the Lord, who loves them, as we hear now from Deuteronomy 30:
…I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction… Love the LORD your God… walk in obedience to Him, and… keep His commands, decrees and laws. Then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you…Deuteronomy 30:15-20
But if your heart turns away… and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods… I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life… love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him…
All of us start our faith journey distantly aware of God, but as a remote, and seemingly unapproachable figure. This is like that Old Covenant scene with Moses addressing the people. Some churches are still on this original version, using the language of priests who perform particular actions, giving homilies that restate commandments, as a separate class from the people who receive them.
But all that has changed with Jesus — and with us discovering that we can approach God the Father and know Him, through Jesus.
Jesus came to show us what God, who is Spirit, is like in human terms we can relate to. He came to be the gate of access and also the way, the very means for us to have a personal relationship with God Almighty, through Him.
This is big. It makes us reflect on who we are, and what sort of lives we have led, and what place God has in our lives — if at all.
Jesus wants us to learn what being spiritual REALLY means. The new version He introduced is less complicated than the original version. It’s all about Him, and His spiritual capacity to be part of us, and us being united with Him.
Jesus is the only person who has lived life so in touch with, and submitted to His Father, there was no independence, no hint of selfishness. That’s a fair definition of sin — and Jesus (unlike us) lived free from it. That’s important in relation to what follows.
Knowing that His time of self-sacrifice was drawing near, Jesus went to Jerusalem and delivered His final teaching there, in the temple courts. He knew the religious authorities were looking for any excuse to arrest Him, and just before Passover, that is exactly what happened. He then went through a mock trial with false accusations being brought by the religious hierarchy.
Why? It was a spiritual battle, which manifested in their being jealous of His following, while they and their controlling ways were unpopular. So they pronounced Him guilty of blasphemy, and delivered Him to the Romans to be executed. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, was at first unwilling to put to death a man who had done nothing objectively wrong, but to prevent a riot, he agreed and after a Roman flogging, a bloody spectacle, Jesus was nailed up on a cross to die.
And so, Jesus did not resist going to His death, His self-sacrifice for sin. Not for His sin — there was none — but for ours. He had lived in perfect fellowship and obedience to His Father. But under the Old Covenant, which Jesus obeyed, without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness for sin. Jesus shed His blood for us, which is the reason that we can now come to Jesus with our muddy and muddled lives and ask for our sin to be counted under His sacrifice, for Him to be our Saviour as we pledge to live anew under His direction as our Lord.
This is a step of faith, and it’s a transformation. For some it’s dramatic, for others more gradual. The Holy Spirit comes into us, at which point we experience belonging to God, as we are reborn spiritually as one of His children — John’s gospel and letters bring this out — and we become aware of His deep, faithful committed love for us. And our lives change. The old angers, resentments, tendency to use bad language, sexual temptation? Well, they still exist, but we have a different way of saying ‘No’. As we hear Jesus’ words now we can hear them as a list of situations we must not get into, and some actions we must do — but we can also hear them with spiritual ears in a new way which we will talk about after we have heard this reading starting at Matthew 5 verse 21:
Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment… And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you… first go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court… or your adversary may hand you over to the judge,…and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart…
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
…It was said… long ago, ‘Do not break your oath… But I tell you, do not swear… by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by… earth, for it is His footstool….All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.Matthew 5:21-37
The first way to hear these words, the original version of experiencing God’s word that we discussed, was with the mind; it was a ‘do-or-don’t do’ decision of the will. Nothing wrong with that, except the difficulty! But there is a second way, which is to hear these words in a spiritual way.
If we have come to God through Jesus, we are now enabled to hear the teaching and to live it with the Holy Spirit’s help. This is learning what being spiritual REALLY means. Jesus’ teaching covers anger and violence, disputes and legal proceedings, temptations to break marriage covenants, and to go back on our word.
What is the common thread running through all these? It’s all about our relationships, and how much of a priority we make them. When we first came close to God Almighty, it was a very uneven kind of relationship, where He had everything to give, and we had nothing worthy to even offer. Yet God accepted us just as we are, forgiven and loved, despite everything in us that deserves to be penalised and punished.
That close relationship is exactly what God seeks, and it’s not fair. It’s biased! Biased towards us, and having made that discovery, it changes every other relationship we have, including the difficult ones. If God treats us so much better than WE deserve, we find we have the capacity to bear with others who hurt us or let us down, and forgive them in a gracious love which is beyond our own.
With the Holy Spirit’s help in our lives, we have a better way to navigate the rocks and rapids of uncertain life in an imperfect world. But it’s a choice. And too easily we fall back on the old ways, the familiar ruts, how we used to behave and relate. It takes some determination not to do that. And where we’re going to next in the story, is an insight into Paul coaching his friends in Corinth who are struggling with that exact issue.1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ…
For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you… when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not acting like mere humans? [You are still worldly].
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
… Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow… For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
When we become Christians we are given a new identity. We’re no longer independent outsiders. We become God’s children with a lot of growing up to do! Paul writes of his rather wayward friends in Corinth as “mere infants in Christ”.
It’s a common problem. We carry over traits from the old life which are more familiar to us than living in the new life with its new ways. This is really about how free we are — and being free of these old habits is gaining spiritual maturity.
We’ve all met people, or been to churches or fellowships which have real spiritual vibrancy and energy, but perhaps the people are not very kind or come across as a bit ‘up themselves’ and controlling.
If we are living for Jesus the way the Spirit leads us, we will have His humility. We will be growing in His love, putting Him forward, not ourselves. Unfortunately the old, and the new natures, can coexist, and in a very disruptive way.
Recognising the dangers which Paul spells out here, puts us on the path to overcoming it, and saying ‘No’ to what does not belong in our new life.
This is learning what being spiritual really means. It means being like Jesus, and letting others glimpse Jesus in us. Yes, it’s a high aim, but if we are open to Jesus working with us, working within us in fact, He will get us living in the new life He gave us when we received Him as Saviour and Lord. And when we slip, we can go back to Him at any time — even every day — and ask for a fresh impartation of His Spirit, to be able to live more like He lived.
Praise You, Jesus, that You came to be the fulfilment of the Law.
Thank You for giving me a much better way to live for God — by receiving You as my Lord and asking You to be my Saviour. I couldn’t pay for my sins by any amount of charitable living — but You paid the price for me. For us.
Empower us by Your Spirit to love and worship God by living His love — and drawing others to Your light. Amen.
See this week’s TLW Bible study for Sunday, February 12 and based on the set readings used by many different churches and chapels — the basis of this post
Watch the video which uses excerpts of the readings as part of the storytelling encouragement for this week
Link to the Facebook TLW page: https://fb.com/TLWbiblestudy