读经：箴22:7-16 林后11:1-15 赛20:1-23:18
Your Closest Relationship
Sophie is an only child. Her mother had fourteen miscarriages before she was born. Her parents adore her. She adores her parents. Sophie is now in her twenties, and still loves to spend as much time as possible with her parents.
She told me that when she was at school she and her fellow pupils were asked whether they thought their parents loved them more than they loved each other. Most of them replied that they thought that was the case. However, Sophie replied that she thought her parents loved each other far more, but that it was this very bond of love that made her feel so secure and so loved.
At the heart of the Christian faith is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. To be a Christian is to know and love Christ.
What is this relationship like? The Bible describes it using human language, and human analogies. It is a relationship of the closest possible intimacy. It is like that of a parent and child (Luke 15, Romans 8). But Paul goes even further in terms of intimacy: he refers to Christ as our husband and the church as his bride (2 Corinthians 11:2; see also Ephesians 5:22–33).
1. Enjoy friendship with the King
Proverbs 22:7-16Ashley Madison is a Canadian based online dating service marketed to people who are married or in a committed relationship. Its slogan is ‘Life is short. Have an affair.’ It claimed to have more than 37 million users. On 15 July 2015, hackers stole all the customer data and are now publishing it, including people’s email addresses.
A book recently published in the UK suggests that adultery may be good for the health of marriages. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Intimate relationships require faithfulness. The Lord ‘frustrates the words of the unfaithful’ (v.12). ‘The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit’ (v.14a). Adultery breaks the faithfulness of marriage and is therefore a ‘deep pit’.
‘Whoever loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for a friend’ (v.11). Here, the writer is referring to a human king. The combination of integrity and charm can bring people into contact with leaders of all kinds, even friendship with a king.
But, not everyone can be friends with the Royal Family. Few people know a human king. Amazingly, you are invited to be friends of the King of kings and Lord of lords: Jesus Christ.
The language used in verse 11, ‘pure heart’ and ‘gracious’, is not dissimilar to the language used in 2 Corinthians 11:3: ‘Your sincere and pure devotion to Christ’.
Friendship itself requires effort. We have to keep choosing to show love and faithfulness in our actions to maintain an intimate relationship. ‘The loafer says, “There’s a lion on the loose! If I go out I’ll be eaten alive!”’ (Proverbs 22:13, MSG). In other words, the lazy person makes far-fetched excuses as to why they do not have to get up and expend any effort.
All intimate relationships, including your relationship with God, require effort and time if they are to grow and flourish. Decide today to devote time and energy to your friendship with God.
Lord, thank you that you invite me to be a friend of the King. Help me to be pure in heart, gracious in speech and generous (‘generous hands are blessed hands’, v.9, MSG). Keep me from unfaithfulness.
2. Guard your marriage to Christ
2 Corinthians 11:1-15Sometimes we make life too complicated. We can make our faith too complicated. You are called to ‘simplicity that is in Christ’ (v.3, KJV). Simplicity does not mean being simplistic. It means having a ‘wholehearted and sincere and pure devotion to Christ’ (v.3, AMP).
Paul led the Corinthians to faith in Christ. He introduced them to their husband and called them ‘the bride of Christ’. He did not want them to be led astray: ‘I promised your hand in marriage to Christ, presented you as a pure virgin to her husband… you are being lured away from the simple purity of your love for Christ’ (vv.2–3, MSG).
Children have a ‘simple purity’ about their lives. They have an uncomplicated approach to relationships. They enjoy themselves as much as possible. They are carefree and without concern. This is the kind of simplicity you need to guard in your relationship with God.
Paul loved them: ‘I care about you so much – this is the passion of God burning inside me!’ (v.2, MSG). ‘It’s not that I don’t love you; God knows I do’ (v.11, MSG).
Paul was determined to preach ‘the gospel of God to [them] free of charge’ (v.7). ‘I’d die before taking your money’ (v.12, MSG). As I have mentioned before, this is one of the reasons why I feel so strongly that no one should ever be charged for going on Alpha. Nor should we ask for money at the end of a course. The gospel must always be ‘free of charge’.
However, someone has to give funds to meet the expenses: ‘My needs were always supplied by the believers from Macedonia province’ (v.9, MSG). Paul was quite happy for other churches to contribute financially so that the gospel could be preached free of charge. It is not wrong to fundraise, but we should not try to raise funds from the people to whom we are preaching the gospel.
Paul is worried that the bride is about to run away with the false teachers – teachers who are preaching a different gospel, a different Jesus in a different spirit (v.4). They, like Satan himself, are masquerading as angels of light (v.14).
This disguise makes spiritual discernment difficult, and also very important. We don’t want to be suspicious of other people’s motives, but we do need to ask for spiritual insight and wisdom.
Paul is not speaking here about other Christians who see things from a slightly different perspective, or those who have come to a different conclusion to us on secondary matters of doctrine. The people the apostle is warning against are ‘money-grubbing preachers’, ‘pseudo-apostles’, ‘lying preachers’, ‘crooked workers’, ‘sham to the core’ (vv.12–13, MSG).
This is not the equivalent of another Christian denomination or tradition. This is not Christian at all. It is ‘another Jesus’ (v.4, MSG). This is why Paul cares so passionately. To go after ‘another Jesus’ would be spiritual adultery. He is passionately concerned to guard their sincere and pure devotion as the bride of the true Jesus Christ.
Jesus, I love you. Help me to stay close to you. Keep me loving and serving you with a wholehearted, sincere and pure devotion.
3. Fix your eyes on your Maker
Isaiah 20:1-23:18God created us all for an intimate relationship with him. Sadly, both the world, and sometimes even the people of God, chase after other things and fail to look to their Maker and consult him over their plans.
Isaiah announces God’s judgment on those who look to or rely on anyone or anything other than God himself (20:5). He says that Tyre, the ‘multinational broker… that controlled the world markets’ (23:3,8, MSG) would crash. God would ‘puncture the inflated reputations’ (23:9, MSG).
He prophesies against Jerusalem: ‘You looked and looked and looked, but you never looked to him who gave you this city, never once consulted the One who has long had plans for this city’ (22:11, MSG). They were looking to their own strength and not relying on the One who made the city of David, and who ultimately made them as well.
Isaiah also prophesied about Eliakim. He was a good man, as appears from the title applied to him by God ‘my servant, Eliakim’ (v.20). He is made master of the palace, a post roughly equivalent to prime minister.
God says about him: ‘I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open’ (vv.21–22).
This foreshadows the ‘key’ that Jesus was to give to Peter and the disciples (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). To them he gave the keys of the kingdom but, ultimately, Jesus is the holder of all the keys. In the book of Revelation Jesus is described as the one who ‘holds the key of David. What he opens, no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open’ (Revelation 3:7).
He is the one to whom we should look. He is the one we should consult about our plans. Do not to trust in your own strength but rather to look to your maker and fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).
Lord, I commit to you the plans for the term ahead… Lord, I pray that if any of our plans are not right that you would shut the door on them. For those plans that are of you, Lord, thank you that no one can shut the door against them.
Lord, most of all, help us to stay faithful in our intimate relationship with you as our friend, our king, our husband and our maker.
‘The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge.’
God is interested in all knowledge, including science and research.