读经： 箴29:1–9 彼后2:1–22 但3:13–4:18
Recently, I interviewed two men of courage and faith at our evening services. One, Ben Freeth, inspired by his faith in Jesus Christ, has taken a courageous stance against the unjust regime in Zimbabwe. As a result he was beaten, tortured and forced to watch his elderly mother-in-law and father-in-law undergo torture from which the latter eventually died. Yet in the midst of his suffering, he chose to love and bless the torturers.
The second man I interviewed was a pastor from one of the sixty countries around the world where physical persecution of Christians still takes place. He had been imprisoned and, at one stage, sentenced to death for no other reason than his faith in Jesus Christ. Yet in the face of extreme suffering he refused to deny his faith.
The lives of men and women like this are hugely inspiring, challenging and motivational.
1. Inspirational champions of justice
Proverbs 29:1–9I am inspired by the examples of individuals and organisations that care deeply about justice for the poor. There is so much in the Bible about issues of poverty and justice. The ‘Poverty and Justice Bible’ highlights over two thousand verses that wake us up to these issues.
Justice really matters. ‘By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down’ (v.4). As The Message puts it, ‘A leader of good judgment gives stability; an exploiting leader leaves a trail of waste’ (v.4, MSG).
No justice system is perfect. However, it is a privilege to live in a country that has a good justice system. It is terrible to live in a place where bribery of judges and politicians is normal.
‘When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan’ (v.2). In other words: ‘When good people run things, everyone is glad, but when the ruler is bad, everyone groans’ (v.2, MSG).
The righteous person has a clear conscience and can sing and be glad, whereas an evil person is snared by their own sin (v.6).
Caring about ‘justice for the poor’ (v.7) is the mark of a righteous life: ‘The good-hearted understand what it’s like to be poor; the hardhearted haven’t the faintest idea’ (v.7, MSG).
Lord, help us to make a real difference to this world in seeking to bring justice to the poor, the homeless, the prisoners and the hungry.
2. Inspirational godly lives
2 Peter 2:1–22I am so thankful for the examples of those around us today like Bishop Sandy Millar, Father Raniero Cantalamessa and many lesser known others who inspire us by their example and godliness.
The New Testament, like the Old Testament, speaks out against bad leaders. This chapter is a strongly worded attack on bad leadership in the church – lying prophets and immoral teachers.
It contrasts the life of Noah and Lot with the ‘false teachers’ (v.1).
Noah, ‘the sole voice of righteousness’ (v.5, MSG), lived among ‘ungodly people’ but was ‘a preacher of righteousness’ (v.5).
Lot also was a ‘good man’ (v.8, MSG). He was ‘a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)… The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials’ (vv.7–9).
Peter holds out Noah and Lot as examples to those to whom he is writing, as they contend with false teachers who ‘introduce destructive heresies’ and follow ‘shameful ways’ that ‘bring the way of truth into disrepute’ (vv.1–2).
These false teachers are not simply other Christian leaders with whom Peter disagrees. Their lives and teachings are at complete odds with the Christian faith: ‘With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning… they are experts in greed… They have left the straight way’ (vv.14–15). They appeal ‘to the lustful desires of sinful human nature’ (v.18). ‘They promise… freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for people are slaves to whatever has mastered them’ (v.19).
The things that Peter describes here can seem very tempting – which is why he is so concerned about these leaders. His descriptions of pleasure seeking (v.13), sexual freedom (vv.14,18–19) and the pursuit of money (v.15), all strike a chord today.
The false teachers are slaves to these things, yet they entice others (especially new believers) into the same way of life, leading them astray by promising freedom (vv.18–19). However, true freedom is only found in God’s ways, not in any of these enticements that promise so much but actually result in emptiness. Peter describes those who pursue and recommend them as ‘springs without water and mists driven by a storm’ (v.17).
This is a terrible warning: ‘If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs’ (vv.20–21).
Lord, the pull of the world is strong. Help us never to turn our backs on you, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
3. Inspirational faith and courage
Daniel 3:13–4:18I am always inspired by people of courage and faith who refuse to be frightened or intimidated.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are inspiring examples of absolute trust in God. They refused to bow down and worship the image of gold, in spite of the threat of being thrown into a fiery furnace. They were determined to do the right thing, however great the cost might be, because they believed in God and his power to vindicate them if he so desired.
They said to the king, ‘Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’ (3:16b–18, MSG).
It would have been easy for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to have tried to find a way out. They could have sought to negotiate a settlement with Nebuchadnezzar that involved some compromise but not too much. But they had complete confidence in the power of God to deliver them if he wanted to, and if he did not, they were still going to trust in him and obey him.
This is an inspiring example. When faced with difficult decisions ask, as they did, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ Then do it regardless of the consequences.
Their absolute trust in God was a tremendous witness to Nebuchadnezzar. As he looks into the fiery furnace he sees four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks ‘like a Son of God’ (v.25, KJV). Reading this through the lens of the New Testament, it is hard not to see the fourth man as Jesus Christ himself, who was with them in their time of trial.
They came out ‘not a hair singed, not a scorch mark on their clothes, not even the smell of fire on them!’ (v.27, MSG). If you are facing trials in your life that might seem like the fiery furnace, you can be assured that the Lord Jesus Christ is right there with you in whatever situation you are facing.
Even Nebuchadnezzar himself is inspired by their example (v.28). A change of heart began in him as a result. However, it took a long time for God to get the message through to him. In spite of Daniel’s example in chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar was not converted. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s absolute trust in God had a big impact on him. However, his conversion was not complete.
In chapter 4 we read his remarkable testimony of how he did eventually come to acknowledge God. Giving a testimony brings great pleasure: ‘It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me’ (4:2). By this stage, his attitude had completely changed and the glory was all given to God (v.3).
He begins by saying that, in one sense, he had all he wanted. ‘I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous’ (v.4). But underneath the prosperity and contentment there was a deep fear (v.5).
One of the main points of the book of Daniel is that God uses inspiring examples like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and their absolute trust in God to change a king’s life – and as a result, to change a nation.
Lord, help me to do the right thing, however great the cost appears to be. I long to be more like those inspiring men and women who champion the cause of justice and poverty. Thank you that their examples raise my sights and show me what is possible.
‘The righteous care about justice for the poor.’
On a visit to Zimbabwe, I was inspired by the church there. It shines. We met many people who have taken up the plight of the poor and are trying to make a difference. Are there any injustices under my nose that God may want to draw to my attention?