Readings for Sunday, November 19
Finding the message
Choose life by following God’s word and God’s ways
The nation of Israel at the time of Moses didn’t have what we take for granted; in particular, they didn’t have the salvation history of Israel to refer to. However, Moses impressed upon them that the word was “near”, in other words, by no means out of reach. They had heard it and it was in their oral tradition.
We have a lot more reference and education, not to mention a personal relationship with God. They related to Yahweh through priests and sacrifices and the Law. We can know God through Jesus and revealed by the Holy Spirit. But we “choose life” through the same fundamental commitment to walk in His ways and not our own.
Choose to heed the voice of the Lord – or remain complacent and face judgment
The challenge moves from “choose life” through pledging obedience to God, to choosing salvation through a change of heart.
In the time of the law and the prophets, this was a change of heart from complacency to response. Whether listening to God speak through Moses setting out the law, or God speaking through prophetic voices at different points in history, who repeatedly recalled people to the law, there was always a tension between those who heard and listened and responded, and those who heard but remained complacent.
The phrase we pray frequently “Your kingdom come” is our way of calling down God’s order into our lives and world, with the realisation that we are responsible for our hearts and attitudes. We are greatly helped in this by being able to choose new life in Jesus, and to receive the revelation of the Holy Spirit who convicts the world “of sin and righteousness and judgment” John 16:8. In other words, He sensitises us to what inevitably leads to God’s wrath, and reveals to us what by contrast is the path of righteousness and ongoing salvation through submitting to the lordship of Jesus. God in His mercy always provides a way out from His judgment. What keeps us from receiving God’s grace and peace, in a world which is inviting His wrath? It is usually our pride and self-sufficiency – and complacency, the point of the passage.
Choose the eternal purposes of God rather than living for the present in what cannot endure.
Part of the key to this prayer to God to have compassion on His servants is to see the timescale measured against eternity as in verse 4. This is hard for us to grasp, as is the reality of God’s wrath, and our experience of it in trials of life, because of man’s sin and sentence of death that is the starting point.
On its own, it is a grim picture of the human state, but the compilers of the Psalter have followed it with a psalm that speaks eloquently of the happiness of those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” and “make the Most High their dwelling” (Psalm 91:1,9). See also Psalm 103.
Another key to how Psalm 90 speaks to us is to think about the contrast between a holy, pure, all-loving God and man’s natural selfish state. For a New Testament perspective of man’s unredeemed depravity, and God’s response to it, read Romans 1:18-32. Of course there is a choice, a way out for those who turn to God, but God’s mercy (like wrath, a big word) would become less arresting, less immense, less of a focus of our unstinting praise, apart from the context of our sin and its consequences.
Choose to honour God in all He gives us, investing to grow His kingdom rather than playing for safety.
The word ‘talents’ used by some translators can take us away from the central meaning of this parable, which is about faith and readiness.
Everyone who has accepted the lordship of Jesus has a measure of faith (Romans 12:3,6), and this grows (2 Cor. 10:15) with maturity. The Lord expects us to put to work the faith that we have; the effect of this is to gain more.
Like the subject of the story who went away, and might return unannounced at any time, we are charged with being ready for Christ’s return at any time and being found faithful and active and working with what He has given us – investing ourselves and our gifts, by faith, in making a better world.
Choose to stay alert and responsive to God as He speaks to us and leads us by His Holy Spirit
This teaching for the Thessalonian church reinforces for us the choice we are given if we are truly the Lord’s. We have been given free will, to respond to God’s love or not; to do what pleases Him or to do what pleases us. That choice is gently guided by the Holy Spirit. We need to be awake and alert to follow His leading and be aware of His prompting.
The Old Testament passages paint a stark picture of God’s holiness contrasted with man’s selfish and willful nature. Here, in Paul writing to a church of Spirit-filled, Spirit-led believers the emphasis is on choosing what we know to be right in God’s sight.
In our world we face constant temptations to worship things that should not take our attention away from God, and our flesh nature will try to pull us off track. However we have the Holy Spirit, depicted in Scripture as a dove, and needing some alertness on our part to discern and to follow on the right path.
Jesus may return at any time. Will He find us in faith, building His kingdom, and aware of our responsibility to make good choices for Him? We don’t have to look for the effects of His wrath and judgment – but we are strongly reminded, we always have the choice, to find our own way or to choose to ‘follow the dove’ and walk toward Jesus.
- We can come across passages in the Bible that seem to ask a lot, yet here is a teaching that the “word is near us”. What help do we have to know and put into practice the word?
- Are we inclined to be complacent in our daily or Sunday by Sunday routine? If we suddenly became aware of an urgency to prepare for the imminent return of Jesus, what would we change?
- How does being more aware of God’s wrath and the reasons for it, help us love Him more?
- Is there a situation that is testing your faith? How is that also growing your faith?
- How difficult is it to know and choose what is right in God’s sight?