Today is the final Lord’s Day for the year, with 2015 on the horizon and approaching fast. As I look back over 2014, one notes the incredible amount of violence and destruction that has occurred in the world. More recently we can think of the siege in Sydney bringing a terror type attack to Australia, which in context was somewhat lesser compared to the massacre of Pakistani children and teachers in Pakistan just a week later, or a dozen other similar atrocities that occurred across the world this year. One can also think about the loss of two large Malaysian airline aircraft with many hundreds of passengers during this past year, or the thousands killed in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Sedan, Nigeria, Congo, Ukraine and other world hotspots. We can stop, and consider the epidemic ofeven when one considers the Ebola virus killing thousands, or other disasters including flood and landslides. As we see them, we should remember that these events should not surprise us, they were prophesied more than two thousand years ago. In fact, ever since sin came into the world through Adam and Eve, so too has man’s violence against man, and other corruptions of God’s perfect world found in the Garden of Eden, including changes to bacteria and viruses to make ill and destroy, rather than balance nature as God intended. We read in Matthew:
And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24:6-8).
With this in mind, the question I want to contemplate today is, ‘How should Christians respond to what happens in our world?’ and more specifically ‘What should our stance be when faced with conflict’?
In thinking on this question, I believe that the answer starts at home, therefore, today, my main text is:
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled (Hebrews 12:14-15).
Peace with holiness is the bottom line, as an answer to the questions. The words of the writer to the Hebrews words are the antithesis of current thinking where at the slightest provocation world governments send in fighter planes, rockets, SAS forces and so forth, peace is always a secondary option, holiness non-existent. Today, I do not wish to be political, and trust that the following thoughts are not so, though in a world that thinks so differently, some may suggest that I fail in this aim. However, violence is becoming so prevalent in our society, striking at the very heart of civilisation as we know it, yet Scripture points out that we as Christians should not retaliate, nor pursue vengeance. Our place in this world is different, and our mission is to spread the gospel peaceably with holiness.
Let us start this discussion in the Old Testament and look at national leadership, in this case, Saul as King, David as the anointed one, and the great chase with intent to kill by Saul, of his once ally, David. We read in 1 Samuel how David was hiding out in a cave. Saul comes into the cave for privacy to relieve himself, David creeps up and cuts of a corner of his robe. He then regrets it, even though servants were pushing David to strike Saul down. David says in regret: "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord."(1 Samuel 24:6) Saul’s action against David were totally unjustified, and certainly not the role of a King against a subject. For Saul the action was driven by jealousness, David was the better soldier, and had a better relationship with the people. They sung his praises, rather than Saul’s. However, Saul was the King. God anointed Saul through His servant Samuel, and appointed him to be king. The persecution was personal, and carried out with the resources of his kingdom, that is, the government of the day. The same today would be the government hounding an individual to the ends of the country using the army, ASIO, police, and legal team, paid for out of the government purse.
This scenario is one consideration I put before you, a local issue where your government doing something that personally affects you. What do we do when government does stuff that is not to our liking? I for one will complain. How about more local? Exchange the word King for boss, or leader in something else in our lives. The principles are the same, at no matter the level. We as Christians are to live peaceably with one another and not retaliate even in unfair situations. Paul recognises that sometimes, others will be impossible, but he basically says – that should not be you or I. In those situations, when you have a Saul in your life, pursuing you, then get out into the desert. Stay away. Don’t be where they will rile you, change jobs if needed but we are to do it – it is our reaction, not an expectation of the other, where they are the perpetrator. Sure, it will not be fair (as applied by the world), but it is how it is if we are to apply our first two verses to our lives. These verses have no caveats, no clause where attack and retaliation is allowed. So, I ask myself, how and why, but more so - what do I need to do, to live peaceably and a Holy life?
We read in 1 Peter a reiteration, really, of the message given in 1 Samuel: Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. (1 Peter 2: 12-17)
We read here about the will of God. God is in control. What we see and will explore a little further shortly, is that if the person who offends or sins remains on the earth, God virtually says “I have not finished with him yet… leave him to me” It is God’s work, not ours. Who are we to think we can sort out someone for a sin, where God has not given us the authority or power to do so (vigilante). Here I am not speaking of those areas where God has given us authority: as a brother in Christ; and, as a parent over a child. Our role is to submit to any authority over us that God has placed. This verse does have a caveat – fear God. If the government says that by fearing God we will be executed, as is happening in Syria and Iraq, then we continue to fear God, for shortly we will be with Him. We though, outside of the caveat are to ‘do good” much like ‘be holy’. Of note, it is worthwhile remembering that being holy will ensure that our ‘doing’ is that of doing good.
Before we move forward to the core message, we need to note another major doctrinal point. It is about revenge, it is about getting someone back, and, it is about expecting recompense. Paul writes:
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. (Romans 12:17-19)
This is a reiteration of what was written back in Moses’s time and we have already seen similar in our preceding Scripture: Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them. (Deuteronomy 32:35) What is most interesting about these verses is how one interprets them. The vengeance part is easy and if you are an enemy of God don’t expect to win. If someone harms you or your family and you belong to God, and that person does not repent, God will pour His wrath out on that person. On that note, this surely gives us great reason to grieve for the soul of that person and do our best to bring them into the Kingdom, for they are surely doomed to hell without repentance and salvation.
The words in Romans 12:19 – I will repay, should be read as a statement for the victim, not the Lord’s action against the perpetrator. It is God acknowledging the wrong done to the victim, and noting that what they will receive in eternity will far outweigh the compensation that may be sought here on this earth. Executing a criminal is not for a Christian to demand, or even want. As noted, it is our place to bring the gospel to the person whose mortal body is so sin-filled that imprisonment and death seem to be just punishments. If we are not to repay evil with evil, note that we are not left doing nothing, but rather, we are to do good. If every Christian harmed by a non-Christian spent the best part of their energy to bring the sinner to salvation, the spread of the gospel would be enormous. Jesus said in a parable: Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you? (Matthew 18:32) Jesus died for us and our sin. He sacrificed everything. God gave us His Son to be a propitiation for us. We therefore, the undeserved, receive the greatest gift freely of all, eternal life. Should not the worst of sinners also be given that same gift, after all, Jesus died for all, not for those who live reasonable lives? This is an alien thought to the world; however, it should not be for us.
This leads us then onto out main point. If we are to be as described, how do we get there, as it is not normal human nature? As we all know, we are indeed fortunate. Paul tells us: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer can lead each one of us into the pathway that is right, that is good, that is Holy. However, as with all things worthwhile, we have to master this new way of thinking, and to master something takes practice. Even the best pianist practices, the most eloquent speaker practices, the greatest runner practices, as Paul writes:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
I put to you dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what better place to discipline the body, to practice the race, to master the art of forgiveness and love, to practice the art of never being offended, to hone the skill of exhortation without creating offence, but in love and humility, is within the church!! Of course there is the home, and the same applies within a family, but not all have families that cause one to become annoyed, angry, or hurt. Some families can do all of that I know, but the church – the best practice ring for all!
Where do we start? A brother said to me – 1 Corinthians 13 is not just a wedding chapter! I believe that he is right. How often do we hear this chapter at weddings, but that is it? It could be a chapter that can be written on the lintels of every home, affixed to the fridge, so it is lived within the home as it is taught at wedding ceremonies. Perhaps it is a chapter that needs to be turned into wallpaper for church walls, taught regularly and with vigour from the pulpit, be a mandatory update for every home group? Let us re-read it now.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13
Note how the chapter starts. It starts as someone who appears most spiritual. The chapter is written for the likes of us, saved, Christian, but lacking the one thing that makes it all work. Why did Jesus die on the cross? Of course we all know John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. In this verse we see why God did it. He loved us. Nothing more, nothing less, pure love. So much love that He did not want to have to punish us, to pour His wrath on us. He looked at humanity and realised that to throw everyone into the lake of fire, to condemn all to Hell was just not a solution. He loved us. It is like having to punish the favourite child, we love them, but not to punish them for a known crime is not love at all. Allowing your child to walk free without adequate punishment for a wrongdoing is condemning them to Hell. They will not be disciplined, they will be spoilt, and love without balance of correction and praise from the parent is wasted. So what was God to do? The only just punishment for us was death, unless a perfect sacrifice was made. So God did. Out of love for His children, His creation, He gave us His only begotten Son to be the perfect sacrifice, to be our substitute, to allow us to live. That is love. God says therefore, that technical spiritual perfection, being able to speak in tongues for example, as an apostle could do, without the personal investment – giving of self to another – that is what love is, this technical perfection is a waste of time.
Paul then appears to rethink his message. Perhaps we are so thick we will fail to understand this. After all, not everyone is top of the spiritual list in terms of speaking in tongues, or prophesying. He then moves to the person who has enough faith to move a mountain, or who is philanthropic and gives his wealth away to poor people. If a person is willing to be martyred for his faith, yet has the inability to love the one who most needs love, for example, an Islamic State terrorist bent on destruction, then we fail, we have nothing. To take the gospel to the Muslim extremist will take an enormous amount of love for that people, for you are likely to die. God sent His Son to His chosen people, knowing full well that Jesus would be killed by the very ones He came to save. However, Paul says – being a martyr and achieving that through anything less than loving the people that are doing the killing is a waste of time – ‘it profits me nothing’. No profit. Businesses that fail to make a profit go bankrupt. People who cannot love will become relationally bankrupt, ineffective, and not able to make a profit – save souls. If I do not save one person through martyrdom, because I have not shown the love needed to touch even the most evil heart, then I might as well not have tried!!
What comes next? Let us re-read these most important words: Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Note the bookends. Love suffers long and it never fails. We do not give up. We may stop expending energy one on one with a spiritual cot case, but we never give up. We remain in prayer for that person, we remain in contact with that person, we give them love whenever we see them, no matter how rude they are back. However, love has other attributes that we tend to forget about. We see love being given with pride. I am loving, and everyone knows it, because I tell them that I am. I baked a cake for Mrs Jones, I cut Mary Smith’s lawn, I baby sat Joan’s child for nothing, aren’t I just the generous one…! Crash and burn, that is not love. Jesus healed and told the recipient to tell no man. He cared and prayed and supported without a thought for himself - And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Luke 9:58) Being a Christian is not about self. Once we place ourselves up front, we lose, we lose where we need to be focused the most, that of loving others.
Note that love brings us down to even our thoughts. The one who loves does not even think evil. Not even passes a thought. How much evil is hidden in your head? God knows. I cringe before Him some days for the evil thoughts that happen in my head. I pray regularly and often for discipline in thinking, for thoughts are just the start. We must ensure our thinking is always right, holy in its nature; we cannot hide anything from God. It is pointless to smile and hug a person, and inside think – ‘it’s entirely your fault so why are you crying?’ What hypocrites we can be inside our own heads!!
I need to bring into this discussion a single word – offended. It is a frequently used word, and sadly so. I believe it is used within the Christian circle just as often as used within the world. To become offended is something that comes as second nature. Sometimes we use the word ‘hurt’. ‘They hurt me’, and that is usually in the terms of words. It may be a lack of invitation to a party, someone seeming to ignore you in the corridor, walking straight past without a word. ‘I am offended how they treated me’ is the cry. How did they treat you? Perhaps they did not see you, we can fall over our own feet, we easily during a time of great distractedness in our lives fail to see someone. However, the bottom line is a different question. If they did not speak with you, what did you not do? Greet them? Go after them and say ‘Hi, are you OK’? That is the loving response. But our response is – I’m offended. What does Scripture say? ‘…does not seek its own, is not provoked’. We read in 1 Corinthians 13 love is not provoked! We should not take offence, ever! We just love that person. If the slight towards you is deliberate, then, loving them back will often change the relationship. Perhaps they are shy, afraid of you, after all you are part of the ‘inner circle’ (yes churches have these too), or have a university education, or some other reason you are not to know. We first ‘endure all things’ and we love that person. Imagine a church that loved totally, all the time. I read the other day of a church that split. Arguments within the fellowship broke out, people sided with each other, two distinct groups emerged, anger, offence, and complete disintegration of the congregation occurred. Why? The church was choosing a new carpet, that is why, and some wanted one thing, the others something different. The church has a lovely new carpet now, and half the members, feeling hurt, resentful, I guess wondering what went wrong, and I suspect blaming the people who left for disharmony. Where was the spirit of love? Why was there a unwillingness to compromise – this wasn’t doctrine, this was carpet! The author pointed out that he could cite a dozen cases where church splits came from such trivial matters. Without love within a congregation, as described here in 1 Corinthians 13, then failure at the most basic level occurs – fellowship one with another.
Love is shown within the congregation, and of course, in the home, by the following: For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:13-15) Anything less that serving one another is the equivalent of biting and devouring each other as we see the world do, everywhere, from household, to local communities, to government, and nations against nation. I use the church example as it is close to home, without me getting too personal. I get selfish at home, I want what I want sometimes, and let anger get the better of me. Later, looking back on fights I have had in the home, they are all trivial; none were life or death, none made a scrap of difference to the big picture; I just failed to serve, or compromise on an issue that was wholly compromisable. Most issues are just this. It is fine to compromise. Do we sit facing this way, or in a big square? It does not matter; it is not worth an argument. Should we sing with or without a piano? It does not matter, it is not worth an argument – practicality should be the principle, not some point of history without doctrinal consequences.
Now, lets consider Philippians: Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfil my joy by being like- minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1)
The key here I believe is the two words ‘in Christ’. None of this is possible if we try. If we try as hard as we can we still will be, quite literally, trying! Through Christ though, all things are possible. Paul is begging the Philippians to love, to be like minded, of one mind. It is about agreeing, but more so. If I am likeminded with you, then I will change my thinking to be like yours, in Christ. Naturally, these are of things of Christ. I doubt that the verse means that I need to like the car you like, but I have no need to make negative comment about the other person’s car. It’s a car. They like it, be happy for them. Note the words - in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. That takes practice, and practice. We cannot be masters at this immediately in becoming Christians. However, those who have been Christians for a while, what happens when we practice love on the new believer, caring, giving affection, mercy, grace, teaching, mentoring so that they may grow in their new knowledge, in Christ? I put to you that mastery will follow as the new believer imitates those that are caring for them, and imitation will give way to genuine change.
What is in it for me? Sigh! Lowliness of mind should block such thinking, but God knows our pitiful state. He has Paul write to us: And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9) Rewards! We will be rewarded. It goes all the way back to our earlier discussion about vengeance. God says – I will repay. You will get a reward if you live according to Scripture. God does not give us emptiness at the end of lifetime of serving Him through serving others. We need to be careful though. If I receive an Order of Australia here for my work in the community, why would I expect God to reward me as well? I have received a reward. God says if you want to be rewarded in heaven, humbleness, secret serving, quiet serving, no trumpet blowing of ‘look at me serving’! Not well these words of Jesus:
Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (Matthew 6:2-4).
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5) is not written for nothing, some obscure text that fails to make sense in a ‘me take all’ world. This is one of the keys to being able to achieve 1 Corinthians 13, as well as our verse out of Peter. From loving families, to loving churches, to be able and willing to submit to leaders and rulers, governments and kings, Matthew 5:5 is the short version of the standard that describes the Christian, that is, the meek. Remember, it is not the word weak, something completely different and alien to the meaning of meek. Meekness takes incredible strength and resolve. Meekness is a deliberate way of life, it certainly does not come naturally, except for a handful of people in the world. Meekness is the attitude that lacks pride, that is hand in hand with humility. A neat summary can be found in a sermon by John Piper:
Meekness begins when we put our trust in God. Then, because we trust him, we commit our way to him. We roll onto him our anxieties, or frustrations, our plans, our relationships, our jobs, our health. And then we wait patiently for the Lord. We trust his timing and his power and his grace to work things out in the best way for his glory and for our good.
The result of trusting God and the rolling of our anxieties onto God and waiting patiently for God is that we don't give way to quick and fretful anger. But instead, like Moses we give place to wrath and hand our cause over to God and let him vindicate us if he chooses. And then, as James says, in this quiet confidence we are slow to speak and quick to listen. We become reasonable and open to correction. Meekness loves to learn. And it counts the blows of a friend as precious. And when it must say a critical word to a person caught in sin or error, it speaks from the deep conviction of its own fallibility and its own susceptibility to sin and its utter dependence on the grace of God. Meekness begins with God and ends with God.
As I have delved into this topic, I find more and more Scripture that fits the discussion like a glove. I cannot go past the following verses from Philippians though, for here is yet another key to loving without compromise, loving selflessly, never expecting love in return, let alone anything else. For that is the measure of humbleness, doing for someone something without expectation, fanfare, or, if possible, being noticed doing it. It is the ability to walk through a hail of insults, or lesser, and never taking offence, but continuing to love, even if it means moving to a distance, the attitude never changing. We have one example, and only one that will provide the perfect guide: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
This is why Piper stated that meekness begins and ends with God. Jesus needed God to do what He did. He obeyed His Father in a plan that He himself had helped to design before eternity began, to go to the cross, to suffer and die, in order to save the world of sinners that He loved so much, that it was all worth it. Scoffers may say that Jesus also knew that there was light at the end of the tunnel, that heaven and the throne awaited. But the scoffers fail to see the big picture. Death on a cross is no walk in the park. But in a sense, being crucified is a walk in the park against what Jesus took to the cross – every single sin that had been committed, and will be committed until He calls time! Every sin was punished, and He bore that punishment. It would break our minds in less than a millisecond if we had to even think about taking on sins of others. The character trait that brought this to fruition is seen in the Philippians verse: [He] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant. Again we can note how every single message about living as a Christian comes back to being a servant, serving, humbleness, meekness, taking no reward, accepting no offence, having no self-righteous anger, being willing to die for the undeserved. This is love; this is 1 Corinthians 13 being lived.
As a near final thought on this topic, I read the other night these verses from Ezekiel 16:
I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendour which I had bestowed on you," says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 16: 10-14)
Here we have a beautiful pictorial passage about Jerusalem when God chose her. Not only did God change the clothes of the bride to the best clothes one could imagine, think silks, embroidered and luxurious soft linens, reds and purples and gold, jewels befitting a queen, but God also ensured the body was nourished with the best He could offer, and lastly, she was remodelled into the most beautiful creature on earth. This chapter in Ezekiel is important as it is a picture able to be transferred to that of the Church. When we, the living stones that make up the Church are brought into salvation, not only does heaven rejoice, but we are reborn. We too, metaphorically have new garments – we are clothed in Christ (Galatians 3:27), we are fed – He is the bread of life (John 6:35), we are made perfect (beautiful), and the splendour is all of God – we are for His glory, nothing else. What is sad about the Ezekiel story is that we have not learned from it. Jerusalem destroys her beauty and everything given to her by God. We, by failing to recognise the utmost importance of 1 Corinthians 13, and therefore, failure to live as we ought, do the exact same action as Jerusalem, and the rest of Ezekiel 16 is solemn reading indeed. There are consequences for not living a life that is godly, holy, humble and meek.
You may say, it is all very well to quote these passages of Scripture, and exhort us to follow them. But it is not that easy. God knows this, however, He does tell us numerous times the way of going about it some of which we have already mentioned. Perhaps though we can finish by looking at a couple more of these ‘how to’s’. First in Psalms: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you. Psalm 32:8-9 shows that God has His hand up. He is there beside the help desk. The desk has a sign – help and advice freely given, in fact God is the help desk, He is the source of all wisdom. On the desk is a help book. Its title is ‘Everything you need to know to live a life for God’ sometimes shortened to ‘The Bible’ or ‘Scripture’. The advice and the book are both free. God tells us not to be like a horse or mule. We can have understanding. If we find understanding hard, naturally we have the aforementioned Scriptures: Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works. (Psalm 119:27) God’s precepts and His wonder works are found in the Scriptures, The Psalmist knew that the way to understanding was through God Himself. The Psalmist wants God to make him understand.
If God makes us to understand, then we will never be labelled as a mule or horse, if the making is because we are asking and cooperating. Woe to the person who refuses to come to an understanding, and rejects God after taking Him as King and redeemer. Then God will place a bit and bridle on them, and they will turn the way God wants them to go, eventually. God is merciful; He gives a long lead, but will slowly shorten it until His way is returned to a life. We know this, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13). But we also know that doing it alone is hard. Therefore God provides these Scriptures: And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2) or in Proverbs: As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. (27:17) God gives us people who will help us with understanding. Mentoring and being mentored is vital in our lives. God has given the majority of us, certainly here in Australia where Christianity is freely spoken, men and women who will mentor each one of us. We should look in our lives to those with a knowledge and hunger for the Lord, to assist us to understand, to walk, and to grow in the Lord. It does not necessarily have to be an older person either, as the example of Timothy shows us. It needs to be someone who has a heart for the Lord, as shown in their study, in their speech, and in their lifestyle.
Once we have our heads and hearts in the right place – in the knowledge of the Lord, in the meditating on Scripture, in prayer, as shown in our lifestyle and choices we make, then loving ones neighbour as ourselves, being a person who will not take offence, who will not let a person’s words hurt them, rather will love that person back with such openness that the love will change the perpetrators heart – they either will run a mile, or come weeping before you in repentance. You too then will become a person who does not give offence, for how can someone who dedicatedly shows love to others offend them? With the firm establishment of God’s Word in each of our hearts, and all traces of horse or mule gone away, then humbleness, holiness, meekness and living for God will be second nature. It will no longer be something that we have to consciously do. Will we fail – absolutely! Will that failure collapse the persona – only if it were fake in the first place, it will come down like a house of cards. The changes must be deliberate, calculated, and worked at, but it must be genuine. Genuineness only comes from allowing the change to happen from within, and only through the work of the Holy Spirit. It will come about from the work of the Lord in our hearts, and by our deliberate decision to be as Paul - I die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31) which is living the verses: Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14) Then we will live as John commanded: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 3:11) and we will know, as others will know that we are living Scripture as John further tells us: we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. (1 John 5:2)
A summary can be had in one verse: again from Corinthians, and we see it in chapter 15. Note the words steadfast, immovable, always – why? Because these are great character traits to have, we no longer sway in the wind, we no longer let others sway us, for we are the Lord’s doing His will, and because of this, we are loving others, for love is the greatest character trait of all.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58.
Although this summarises the thoughts of today, I need to finish with original text so the summary is put into its context of today’s message: What do we Christians do about all the bad stuff in the world? We:Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled (Hebrews 12:14-15)
Let us pray.
 See ABC news: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-12-15/sydney-siege-hostages-cafe-martin-place-police-operation/5967232 (accessed 15 December 2014) etc.
 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-12-17/pakistan-massacres-mourns-students-killed-taliban-peshawar/5973958 (accessed 17 December 2014)
 John Piper (1985) Blessed Are the Meek, sermon posted on http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/blessed-are-the-meek (accessed 22/12/2014)