I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13 NLT
If we have allowed Jesus into our life, we are not and never will be forgotten. An eternity of friendless separation is the prospect for those that reject God. If we turn to Him, we have His promise to meet our needs in this life, and to be with Him for ever.
Living in an area where every few miles there was a garrison with its castle, and every church still displays the tombs of knights from that era, it is a reminder that medieval life was an unpredictable helping of plenty or poverty, security or injustice. One if the more horrific ways of perishing was to be imprisoned in the oubliette dungeon of a castle — the word meaning ‘forgotten’ — the prisoner that didn’t exist, for whom there was no ransom and no hope. It is a fair picture of the hell the Bible tells us we will face without God’s grace — and the way to that is the Way of Jesus, recognising Him as Son of God and our personal Saviour when we ask Him into our life.
This good news is the exact opposite of the oubliette experience. If we belong to God through Jesus, we are not — and will never be — forgotten.
Times of plenty are a danger because we too easily forget the source of our security and let our praise of the Lord who saved us lapse.
But in times of need — the present pandemic has been a jolt to our complacency — it is good to know that in Christ, we are not at all forgotten, and we are never far from the supply. The Good Lord of the friendly castle is not far away and looking out for us.
This is what Paul meant, writing from imprisonment to his friends in Philippi
His actual circumstances of little or plenty mattered less to him than his prospects which were assured in heaven.
Just as the share price of a company goes up on forecast earnings although present profitability may be poor, Paul says he knows how to be content — not anxious, not in fear of tomorrow — in every situation, because “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength”. And believing and declaring these words does seems to change the weather, the news and the outlook of the day in a way that’s hard to explain. Perhaps it is because we are taking a stand in agreement with heaven — a call that is heard up on the friendly castle walls as “one of ours”.
Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT
God chose us long before we ever thought about choosing Him. He has made it possible for us to be holy, fully accepted and in the closest of relationships by accepting what Jesus has done for us — there’s nothing to earn.
Everybody has a need to belong. And to belong to the family of God, with heavenly privileges and standing — it is not just belonging, it is being esteemed by God and the company of heaven!
Two threads run through the Bible which at first sight seem to be contradictory.
One is the idea of election, or being chosen. That is mentioned here. Even before creating the world, God chose people like us (He operates outside our rules of time and place) to be holy, like Him, and with Him.
The second is free will — God did not create man as an automaton, He did not create us to be boringly, unthinkingly subservient, either. So the choice of predestination also brings with it the element of our choice and our response to Him. We are free to be as independent as we like, although independence taken too far doesn’t play out well, it becomes close to a definition of, or root cause of, sin.
The children of Israel were God’s first chosen people, and they were set apart from other nations to know God and live by His ways. The code of conduct He gave them through Moses seems complicated and pedantic to us, but these were tribal, nomadic people with an oral learning tradition, and surrounded by evil influences where life was cheap and belief was superstitious. They had freedom to live well before God, or to make mistakes and there was grace to learn from them.
That’s the background to what Paul writes here, to people who had no historic reason to consider themselves chosen unless they were Jewish, and even then the fulfilment of their ‘chosen-ness’ had come in Jesus Christ. God has always intended the Jews to be the people who would demonstrate a knowledge of the true and living God, and lead others to know Him. Now Paul is writing to a church assembly which is multicultural. All can share an understanding of the historic background, going back to creation itself. But now Jesus has made a way through the barrier of sin which kept people apart from God. Through Jesus, and only through Him, all can share in fulfilling God’s desire for people created in His image to choose to be His.
Receiving what Jesus has done
He has chosen us to be those who choose Him, and to have His life in us, connecting with the huge privilege of sonship which was always the intention. Through personally deferring to Jesus and trusting Him with our lives by asking Him into our hearts, we can be counted blameless and holy by grace — receiving what Jesus has done.
This is very different from trying to live a holy and blameless life. Christ in our heart changes us, so we want to live as those who are His — and are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit in us.
Over the centuries the relationship of Christianity, us knowing God personally through Jesus, has been institutionalised. Relationship is difficult and unpredictable, and so the ingenuity of man has constructed various systems to achieve a holy and blameless life with priests, rituals, monastic and celibate setting apart and various legalistic adherences to words of Scripture — all of which fall short of the spirit behind the words, which is all about the relationship.
By contrast, sonship is the ultimate relationship. There isn’t a higher aspiration. If we have that, we are freed from the need to work to achieve it, and freed to live in this new identity.
God chose you before birth, called you and revealed Himself to you. For what?
What is your destiny, your special purpose in His plan?
To God, you are chosen, you are special, unique even. How would He introduce you?
No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 54:17 NIV
The world’s hatred of what is right and true can be real enough, but God’s love is far greater, and if we know we are His, He is for us1. This “heritage of the servants of the Lord” translates for believers into the new covenant in Jesus, which is founded on even better promises2
In our society generally, murder has provoked strong public reaction and a demand for severe sentencing. Strangely, murder of a person’s reputation is not seen in the same way, although strongly forbidden throughout the NT gospels and letters.
Yet false witness is such a fundamental evil it is called out in the Ten Commandments3. In the NT we find slander paired with malice as evils to avoid, and the fact that almost every letter to churches warns against this, shows it to be common even in Christian communities4.
Sooner or later we will encounter the reaction of someone who feels threatened or just jealous, in harsh and untrue words. Everyone who aspires to leadership tastes the bitterness of betrayal from someone who should have been counted a supporter.
Moses faced this on a number of occasions, notably in Korah’s ‘insolence’ (NIV)5.King David endured this from one of his sons who would gather support from travellers entering the city gate, by suggesting that his justice was better than his father’s6.
Today, politicians and sometimes civil servants face the subtle and difficult to defend attacks of ‘briefing against’.
Unlike physical assault, or direct confrontation, slander evades debate or defence. It is also the favoured tactic of the devil whose name, Satan, means accuser or slanderer7.
If we belong to Jesus, or even if we are on a righteous path, we are a target and the enemy of our souls, making use of suitably compliant and undiscerning people, will use this weapon to discredit or if possible, destroy what is God-given. It is “the heritage of the servants of the Lord” — it goes with the territory, as we say.
However, if we are the Lord’s and submitted to Him and His way, lies will be revealed, truth will come out and God’s order will prevail. Not immediately — there has to be a process of turning and realisation. The kingdom of God is no spiritual dictatorship, even if at times we wish it was! There are the twin currents of freewill and grace flowing, and those who have been deceived and used by Satan need every opportunity to find the way back into God’s will. But the promise of Scripture is that the weapon of evil words will not prevail and those assaulted by them will be enabled to set the record straight so that truth can bring healing to all.
Who has talked about you untruthfully to others? Who has been a false accuser? Now do the very hard but powerfully Jesus-like thing of forgiving them — extending to them the grace that God extended to you when He invited you into his kingdom. Not waiting for an apology, or confronting them personally — this is between you and God.
Father, You know what has been said (outline the accusation and how it made you feel). Now I choose to forgive (name them) without condition. Whatever compensation would be fair, I cancel it. I thank You for Your grace to me, and so I extend grace to (name them) And I choose to call down Your blessing on them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
“Love makes it impossible to harm another, so love fulfils all that the law requires.”. Romans 13:10 TPT
The Good News of Jesus and His kingdom is that we CAN live differently, because His living presence in us — the Holy Spirit — enables us.
The ‘golden rule’ — treat others how you want to be treated — is not unique in Christianity.
What is unique is the enabling or empowering that having Christ in your life brings to day by day living.
Christians are not just called to live above themselves. There is plenty of teaching about how to do this! But it is not simply the moral “do better” exhortation of a typical homily.
The Good News of Jesus and His kingdom is the good news that we CAN live differently for and in Him, because His living presence in us — the Holy Spirit, third person in the godhead — who gives us abilities and insights we don’t have in a natural way.
He builds on what is there. As God’s creations, we are all made like Him. But at the same, made different with a variety of stand-out characteristics.
Are you a caring, patient person? The Holy Spirit will add His gifts to what is already good.
Or an enterprising one? The Holy Spirit can turn you into one of God’s pioneers.
A musician? That can take you into a new area as the Holy Spirit focuses your talent in leading others in worship.
But there’s one attribute which is like a hallmark in precious metal. It is love, or rather, being one who is actively receiving God’s love, the love that took Jesus to the Cross on our behalf. What happens when we are being filled and impacted by God’s love? We overflow with it!
This is the hallmark of being genuine inhabitants of the kingdom of God that others see and want for themselves.
“Love makes it impossible to harm…” and this is what makes new life in Jesus, new. More than half of the foundational statements of the law, the Ten Commandments, are about not doing harm to your family, those around you, their marriage relationships, possessions and reputation. Knowing what not to do is important — but having a heart that is set on the very opposite of selfish harm, is even better. It is powerful!
Go to www.biblegateway.com and enter this verse, Romans 13:10. You will see the verse in the version of your choice. (e.g. New International Version). Just under the search box is a link to see the context of the whole chapter and also the verse in all English versions. There are some interesting emphases. What stands out to you?
For a prayer based on this verse, see this post on www.glowweobley.com
I set my heart on Your precepts and pay close attention to all Your ways. My delight is found in all Your laws, and I won’t forget to walk in Your words. Psalms 119:15-16 TPT
God is constantly revealing Himself, especially through different dimensions of His word. That’s how He speaks to us, personally, as His children, as we listen.
Precepts Principles. Covenants that require our willingness. Kingdom principles e.g. as taught by the parables of Jesus
Ways Demonstration from examples
Laws Foundational commands like 10 Commandments, Great Commandment etc
Words God’s ‘now’ word for me
What is our compass to guide us through life? It depends where our hearts and values are.
If you live in a village, the traditions and committees and clubs of that self-contained community may well be the values you live by. And they may be considerate and good — they have been ‘proved’ over a long period.
Our need to belong
In a town or city there is more of a sense of ‘being in the flow’ of what others are doing. There is peer pressure from those you work with, commute with, follow fashion with.
For a young person without strong ties to family or school, a gang may be the way of belonging. In ethnic communities, the laws of that minority culture, its related families and religion often dictate behaviour and stifle any individual aspiration to grow beyond those confines.
Everyone has a need to belong. The need to belong and be accepted in a local community can be the overruling factor — it’s part of our security.
God’s kind of belonging
God wants us to belong (in a good way — the loyalty of a slave offset by the freedom and honour of a son) and His kingdom community is protective, supportive, nurturing — and eternal. It also guides us into what works. But this is a choice — to give greater regard to belonging to God and listening to what He says, than other traditions or affinities that want to ‘own’ us.
God’s precepts, laws, ways and words overlap, but there are differences.
Laws are foundational, like the Ten Commandments or the Great Commandment of Jesus to love God and love others.
Precepts are principles like covenants where there is a partnership involved, needing our active participation.
God’s ways are what we learn from the whole of Scripture and Scripture’s commentary on itself, and the record of salvation history and more recent church history illustrates the tension between God’s ways and man’s ways.
God’s words are how we hear Him day by day. God is always speaking, and His Holy Spirit in us will often ‘lift’ a verse that was originally spoken or written for people centuries ago, a different time and context, and bring it to us with fresh meaning.
Fresh bread for today
God’s ‘now’ word is God’s fresh bread for today, and it’s something we all desire. It’s part of the reason — if we are honest, maybe quite a big part of the reason — we attend church, possibly take part in a small group — and read the Bible for ourselves. It’s not the only way God speaks to us but it is His number one way, and all other ways are checked out by it. Because it is fresh bread, we delight in it and pay close attention to it — together with the more enduring forms of revelation God has given us in His law and precepts and His ways, brought into sharp focus by Jesus.
A free account with Tecarta.com gives different versions of the Bible to compare (NIV and NLT are two of the best, accurate, contemporary-language Bibles available). You can receive their verse of the day — the source of many of these reflections. But many people prefer to read, and mark, and add notes to, their printed Bible.
For a prayer based on this verse and theme, head over to www.glowweobley.com and this page