"Our choices made with free will may aid or hinder, but can never stop Gods ultimate purposes."
Read Psalm 40:4-8, Matt 5:17-20
If parents were asked what was the one question that their children asked them that really got on their wick, really made them feel uncomfortable at times and one which they really wished they could avoid answering, then surely it must be "Why?......"
"Why cant I do that?.......Why cant I go out?........Why should I?"
Most of the time the "Why?" is asked not because the child doesnt understand the instruction, more often because they dont understand the reasoning behind it.
And how do we answer them? Do we enter a long moral debate about the pros and cons of taking a particular action....... or do we sum it all up with "Because mum knows best" or "Because I say so!"
Youngsters may be satisfied with an answer like that for while, but anyone who has teenagers will know that such a reply holds little credibility. Older children need a greater level of explanation, together with knowledge of boundaries that have been set, and the reasons why. They may get their revenge by asking an even harder question "How?" How are they supposed to measure up to the expectations that we as parents demand.
And yes of course, there are parallels in our relationship with God.
As new Christians we want to know why God makes particular demands on us.
While were still young in the faith we still need to know what Gods requirements are.
As we get older and understand more, we must learn to accept greater responsibility.
But the bible assures us that God our Father is not overly harsh with us his children. He doesnt whip us into submission, but treats us as family and friends rather than mere servants, he takes us into his confidence, empowers us for service and brings us into partnership with himself. Listen to what Johns gospel has to say
"I have called you friends, for everything that I
learned from my Father I have made known to you.................All this
I have told you so that you will not go astray............But when he,
the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth."
The Jews knew that God had chosen Abraham to be the father of their nation, and their experiences of the exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea and entry into the promised land confirmed their belief that they were the chosen people of God. They knew that God was with them. He had made covenants with them, and his will was that they should obey those requirements set down in the covenant agreements.
But more often than not, Gods expectations for his people were not met. Demands for faithfulness, justice and high moral values fell on deaf ears, and exile was the result. Even reminders through his prophets such as " Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as much as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams..." were conveniently ignored.
After the return from exile, the Jews still took no heed of those words. The Rabbis insisted on the need to be obedient to Gods will as revealed in the Jewish Law, the Torah
The written law of the ten commandments was also accompanied by an oral law, which tradition claimed was revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The law consisted of 603 further rules, of which 248 were positive requirements, and 365 negative, or if you prefer "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots"
The law was considered Divine, the very last word on everything, the largest to the minutest part of your daily life. So if a situation or action was not actually there in black and white, then it must be inferred about, and it became the job of the scribes to work out the detailed implications of the law as it affected everyday life.
This was no easy job, but was attacked with some relish apparently. Scribal law was finally completed in the 3rd century AD. This was no pocket companion, running as it did to 800 pages in translation to English, and was in itself so complicated that commentaries were produced to explain it. One of these stretched to 60 printed volumes.
So as you can imagine, keeping the will of God was no easy matter for the ordinary Jew, and the Pharisees became the self- appointed regulators of these somewhat onerous requirements. Scribes would spend hours in arguments over important theological matters such as ;
Is it work for a woman to wear a brooch or a wig?
Is it work for a man to lift his child on a Sabbath?
Did a tailor commit a sin by going out with a needle stuck in his robe on a Sabbath?
Is this really what God had in mind for his people. Could this really be a part of his will for man, to be in bondage to the law?
When Jesus bursts onto the scene, we suddenly get a whole new perspective on the will of God.
He boldly announced that he had come not to destroy the moral law but to fulfil it (Mat 5:17)
That the righteousness shown by his followers was to exceed that of the Pharisees (Mat 5:20)
Paul proclaimed that "Christ is the end of the law" (Rom 10:4)
The rules and regulations of the law were to be fulfilled in Jesus (Mat 5:17) and instead of the minute observance of ridiculous instructions, Jesus taught a new concept of the will of God - through forgiveness, salvation and freedom - and a new way to obey it with the commandment "Love one another" (John 13:34)
The Christian view of the will of God therefore is somewhat different from that of Judaism. It doesnt rely on the strict observance of rules and regulations, but believes that the will or intentions of God for his creation and mankind are revealed to us through the scriptures and through the life and teaching of Jesus.
Gods will is seen at work in three major areas:
1)Creation - First things first. Creation was Gods idea, no-one to put him up to it. And just as the personality of an artist can be detected through the brushstrokes on a canvas, so the magnificence, diversity, beauty and complexity of the universe are a reflection - however pale - of the greatness of God. The whole natural order of things as we see it is the direct result of the divine will, and Hebrews 1:3 tells us that its continuation is dependent on his word of power.
God created for his own pleasure - Do we plant a garden up so that the neighbours can get the benefits, or so that we can sit there on a summer afternoon and enjoy the fruits of our labour . Genesis 1:31 says that God looked at all he had created and was pleased with it.
God created in order to make his name known, and one way he does this is through creation. His nature is to communicate, and as he reveals himself so he draws people to himself. Isaiah tells us "Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land for ever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendour."
God created for his glory and this is the ultimate reason, that God created humankind for his glory. Isaiah 43 has it this way "everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." God is glorified by everything that is good, and everything that is in accordance with his will.
Just as the free will with which we have been blessed enables us by choice to give glory to God, so the beauty of creation gives glory to God.....read Psalm 8 if youre in any doubt!
We and all those who have gone before us are beneficiaries of the creativity of God, but are not the reason for it. God might well have destroyed the world as a result of mans rebellion, but he didnt. Rather he provided the means, firstly through the prophets and then through his Son, so that man could find his way back into a relationship with his creator. Listen to Lukes message in Acts 17
"From one man God made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being."
Providence God isnt just in the business of keeping his creation just ticking over, hes at work throughout human history in order to achieve his plans and purposes - sometimes visibly, sometimes without us knowing. Hes at work in his created world (remember Jesus calming the storm) and through circumstances and people used to achieve his purpose (such as Mary and Joseph). Even pagan rulers like Nebuchadnezzar were unconsciously used by God. He used the forces of nature and the nations around Israel to further the cause of his chosen people.
Our choices made with free will may aid or hinder, but can never stop Gods ultimate purposes.
A quote from George Buttrick:
Gods providence is not in baskets lowered from the sky, but through the hands of those who love him. The lad without food and without shoes made the proper answer to the cruel-minded woman who ask, "But if God loved you, wouldnt he have sent you food and shoes? The boy replied, God told someone, but they forgot."
God is also working for the individual Christian. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you," God tells Jeremiah, "before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
"Even the very hairs on your head are all numbered." says Jesus to his disciples. So far as each one of us is concerned, Gods intention is for us to play a part in bringing the Good News of his love in Jesus to the whole world, and to be a part of that vast crowd in Revelation called, chosen and faithful followers who will inhabit heaven.
The fatherly love of God for us as individuals is also extended to the larger community of the church. He cares for his people, provides for his people, is here with his people and as Romans chapter 8 tells us those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
"In my fathers house are many rooms," said Jesus, "I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."
"Trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to his love, and the future to his providence." said Augustine.
Woodrow Wilson put it this way. "I firmly believe in Divine providence. Without it, I think I should go crazy. Without God the world would be a maze without a clue."
I said earlier that Gods will is seen at work in creation, providence and salvation. Paul says, and I make no apology for quoting so many verses (Id rather you believed what the bible says than what I might say) in Gal 1:4 that the self sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was in direct response to the will of His Father, so that we might be rescued from our fallen world - or this evil age as my translation has it. And with this salvation comes a lifestyle "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Gods will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
As we see and understand about Gods will for his creation, for us as individuals and for the church, then God asks us to go that one step further - he asks for us to become active participants in bringing it about. "We must obey God rather than men" said Peter to the high priest. We must live lives worthy of our calling, and we are called to be holy.
The Greek word is hagios which has a root meaning different. We are not called to be the same as those around us, we are called to be a different kind of people, living as witnesses in the world, living with compassion, living in prayer, living in fellowship, living in love and living with the confidence of knowing that Gods ultimate will for us is fellowship with him in heaven where we will enjoy the full glory of the risen Jesus and live in his light. Then we can truly join with the multitude of heaven in Revelation 19 and shout
"Halleluiah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God"
Like the Jews of the Old Testament who had a choice, to follow Gods covenant agreement or not, we too have a choice - the free will, to choose to live our lives according to Gods will - or not. There is no other choice we can make.
Alice came to a fork in the road. Icy panic stung her as she stood frozen by indecision. She lifted her eyes towards heaven, looking for guidance. Her eyes did not find god, only the Cheshire cat leering at her from his perch in the tree above. "Which way should I go?" blurted out Alice.
"That depends..." said the cat
"On what?" Alice managed to reply
"On your destination. Where are you going?" queried the Cheshire friend.
"I dont know..." stammered Alice.
"Then" said the cat with grin spreading wider, "It doesnt matter."
IT MATTERS TO THE CHRISTIAN