In a previous article we looked at the question of evil. Why does God allow evil? We defined evil as the absence of good and saw that, in God’s original creation, everything was ‘very good’. Welookedat the role of Satan in the fall of man and woman, from a place where they walked with God to a place where they are in conflict with God. This is where we find ourselves today. But we also saw that God’s plan for us is still good and the ‘good news’ is that God, in Christ, takes the initiative to win us back to that place where we are free to walk with Him once again.
This is being written just after Christmas 2001 and it seems that the message of Christmas has once more passed us by. The world, it is said, is a more dangerous place as war of one sort or another is threatening to spoil any promise this new millennium might have held of a fresh start and a peaceful existence. People are asking “where is this peace on earth, good will to all men? There’s not much peace in the world”.
Israeli’s and Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, Loyalists and Nationalists, wherever you look conflicting parties are trying, and failing, to find lasting peace. But Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). And we have already said, “God is ready to bring peace to anyone because he already is sitting at the table awaiting our presence to agree on the ‘peace talks’ “. But the peace the Bible speaks about is not the peace that the world finds so elusive, i.e. a cessation of human conflict.
The peace Jesus brings is a cessation of humanity’s conflict with our creator – peace with God (Romans 5:1). The good news of Christmas is the promise of God’s peace on earth, and the offer of God’s ‘good will to all men’. It is only when God’s peace enters the hearts of men and women that the conflict will stop. Whether we are witnessing to the cults or just to our neighbours and work colleagues, this is still the message.
There are many references in the Bible to two worlds. Writing of great people of faith the writer to the Hebrews declared,
“All these people were living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)
Christians are said to be in the world but not of the world. Our being in the world is witnessed by the simple fact of our physical presence in the world. Our not being of the world is witnessed, hopefully, by our striving to live by the standards of that other world to which we, with the saints of all ages, look forward.
In the parable of the weeds Jesus told of a man whose enemy sowed weeds among his wheat. The weeds and the wheat sprouted together but when his servants suggested they should pull up the weeds he said, “No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” (Mathew 13:24.30) This is a good description of the world in which we live. There are so many reasons to be thankful, so many acts of kindness, so many instances of sacrificial giving, and this is the wheat. But then there is so much that is wrong, so many selfish motives, so many cruelties, so much suffering, and these are the weeds.
As the weeds and the wheat grow together they reflect two ways of doing things. This, too, is referred to in the Bible. James writes,
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peaceloving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness”.
The people ‘of this world’ think and act according to the wisdom of this world. There are two things we need to keep in mind as we consider the wisdom and conduct of the world. The first is that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). As we see evil in the world we are often more quick to condemn than God himself. It is often remarked that for some Christians the gospel is only for ‘respectable’ sinners. But we should remember that even from the cross Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those responsible for his death.
The second thing to remember is that, while there is a time given for men and women to repent, there will also be a time when God’s wrath against the wicked will be revealed (Romans 1&2). But James again counsels us “Be patient then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming…the Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James:5:7-11). Again God’s compassion and mercy holds back his wrath so that many may be saved.
The people of that other world, of course, think and act according to its wisdom. Since we are, however, in this world two things occur. One is that we continue to witness the ‘wisdom’ of this world shape the lives of the unsaved. The second thing we see is that this world continues to influence us because our salvation is the beginning of a process. Remember that we are sealed with “the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…” Ephesians 1:13-14). And so there is more to come. God gave gifts to the Church “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-14).
God does not pull up the weeds all at once for fear of damaging the crop. We are promised that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6) and we need to show the world that our hope is built on God’s sure promises and not our temporary and limited experiences.
In our witnessing it is important that we are guided by heaven’s wisdom. It is also important to remember that God hasn’t finished with us yet. Of course this is not an excuse for bad conduct on our part, but it is a reason to be humble as we realise that the world sees us as under construction and not as a finished building. And perhaps the best face to show the world is a humble one that acknowledges this fact. It is also important to remember that Christ died for sinners.
When we are, understandably, horrified by the wickedness we see in the world we can too easily overlook this fact and forget what we once were ourselves. It is also worth recognising how much better the world is for the efforts of even those whose faith is misplaced but whose conduct in light of that faith may yet reflect something of that heavenly wisdom under the influence of common grace.
When the world asks where God is in all this we need to bring home the message that we all stand condemned without Christ. His patience with others whom we are so eager to condemn is the same patience he shows us. We should be thankful for that. As we hold up the mirror of God’s word we need to help people see how lost they are without Christ. It is fashionable these days to sometimes present the Christian faith as a lifestyle choice, middle income, middle class, good people one and all getting together to make a better world. But, however unfashionable, the message of the Bible is still one of repentance, faith and new birth out of Adam and into Christ (Romans 5), a new life rather than simply a new lifestyle.
As we help people make sense of the world we need to continually bring them back to God’s view of things. After all repentance means we stop seeing things our way and begin to see things God’s way, and act on this new vision of things.