Tag Archives: character

Strength of (God’s) character

We often admire people who show great strength of character. They have a hard time, and manage to cope, even to encourage others. There is nothing new about this – Paul knew that the philosophers of his time would say much the same, arguing about how to achieve this.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 (which we read today on 25 July, the feast of James the Apostle, replacing the readings in the regular sequence which would have given us Ephesians 3:14-21), Paul has an answer. Whatever good qualities Christians show, they are not a personal possession or achievement, but the gift of God.

The comparison he uses is clay pots – comparatively cheap (compared to bronze or precious metal), and always fragile. Although they can be chipped or broken, they can be filled with all sorts of precious things.

James was a fisherman, perhaps with a bit of a temper, if we think of his nickname “Son of Thunder”. One of the twelve apostles, he was the first to die as a martyr – before Peter was arrested and then miraculously released. (Acts 12). What was the point of that? Somehow the twin events showed God at work in frail humans. They were not guaranteed protection, but given support and purpose – as Paul says in this passage.

We are often perplexed, by the things happening around us, and not least our own reactions and failures. But there is no need for despair (verse 8), as God leads us on and provides what we need. We shan’t always look good, or come out of things with a glowing reputation, but we trust the Holy Spirit to lead us on and through all, and hopefully to allow even our failures to show something of God’s love and patience.

Invitation needs answering!

From time to time, people say the New Testament is useless to us because it is totally out of our culture. A half truth, which ignores the fact that human needs, and sin, don’t vary a great deal from age to age. Take today’s parable. [Matthew 22:1-14]  Unique to Matthew in this form (Luke 14 makes a different point in a story also about refused invitations), it does need some untangling and thought.

The first 7 verses tell of an invitation to a feast – refused, with the servant messengers ignored or ill-treated. This is clearly a reference to God’s invitation in Jesus (the marriage is of a Son). The destroying of the city may be a reference to the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD.

Verses 8 to 14 seem rather different – the feast is full, but someone without a wedding garment is thrown out. This could be a problem – how is someone off the street expected to get one? Some suggest they were given out by host. Thus the refusal to wear it becomes a deliberate insult. (Documented at Mari, Mesopotamia). Others say clean clothes were expected, as a compliment, and a third group point out that clothes in scripture often symbolise character.

The detail is obscure, but the point is clear: the invitation is free – your great good luck is to get one you might never have expected. But you do have to do something; first of all, go! Even when you get in and are enjoying yourself, respect the host.

Is there anything here for us? I don’t think we’d have much difficulty understanding how unwelcome is a wedding guest who gets drunk while telling stories against bride and groom; or who arrives in dirty overalls smelling to high heaven!  Part of this story is about the consequences of our actions. In terms of our faith, how do our actions affect our relationship to God, and to other people? You can’t earn a place in heaven, but you can lose it by failing to take the invitation, and following-up appropriately.

Or you could say that those who depend on His hospitality need to remember to honour God. If you hope for heaven, then start behaving like it! Not sometime when you get round to it, or if you feel like it. More and more our twenty first century culture wants to tell God how to run the universe. We believe in heaven, not in hell. We believe in being forgiven, but not in forgiving. We believe that someone else ought to deal with young people, the financial crisis, illness and death – so that we are free to do what we want.

And God says, “Once there was a king who prepared a wedding feast . .” Listen to the story. Think it through and take is seriously.

  • There’s good news – a free invitation.
  • There’s reality – you need to do something about it, and in time.
  • There’s a warning – what you do will have consequences.

 

 

Agency – but no Franchise!

Todays gospel speaks of receiving the Holy Spirit, but the story is really in Acts 2:1-21.  And a strange story it is – with the powerful images of wind and fire; we know how much energy they have.  But what are we to make of it?

Strange things happening around religious people and events are not new. When (I think it was John Wesley, the Methodist) preached, crowds came, and strange behaviour was sometimes seen – people fainted, shook, cried, even made strange noises. Wesley was asked about this, and wisely replied that if it led on to a changed and Godly life, good. If not, it was of no value.

So what does the Holy Spirit do? Is it about making us good?  NO, not “good”. Good can be boring.  So is the Holy Spirit about character change?  Maybe partly, but this still sounds a bit negative.  I would prefer to say the Holy Spirit is about making us GOD’S AGENTS.

There’s nothing automatic about this. The Spirit can change us, but you have to want it, and keep allowing a transformation that can be uncomfortable.  Do that, and HS will both give gifts, for benefit of other Christians (see the list in 1 Corinthians 12, and other New Testament lists), and produce the fruit of good character – not a boring “goodness”, but a sometimes provocative joy, a peace despite stress, and a self-control when others are losing it.

The Holy Spirit leads us into exciting service for God – secret agents without the secret!  We are not all leaders, but all have an important, and individual, part to play. (1 Cor 12:7 “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”)

See how it works in Acts.  A group of frightened, puzzled, insecure disciples (hiding behind locked doors) burst out, and become a force that takes the world for God.  They are still themselves, making mistakes, getting it wrong sometimes. But Peter’s sermon converts 3,000, and the gospel travels the known world (and beyond!).

So, are you signing up as an agent, or becoming an obstacle?