These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
Paul referred to himself as “the chief of sinners” (v.16). The main reason he believed this was because of his past. Before his conversion to Jesus Christ he had been an ardent Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians. He had travelled up and down the country arresting believers, and in some cases had them stoned to death. Stephen, the first Christian martyr was stoned by those who laid their clothes at the feet of Paul (Saul in those days).
Paul was now mortified that he had persecuted the Church and had blasphemed against Jesus Christ. He was also now aware that all the things he thought had been good and what he had done to impress God were in fact worthless. He wrote: “All my righteous deeds are as filthy rags”. But he was not going to live the rest of his life flagellating himself for his sins. Jesus was indeed the Christ and the Saviour. It would be sacrilege to refuse the forgiveness so freely offered. If God had forgiven him, then he should forgive himself. Jesus had come to set him free, not to increase his guilt and failure.
Paul, as a Christian, was also aware that he was a sinner because he still continued to sin. He spoke of this constant struggle he had as he tried to overcome his ‘old nature’. He cried out, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19)” So Paul not only felt he had lost his early years by fruitlessly attacking Christians, but he had lost opportunities by his own weakness and failure to win over the “flesh”.
He was also tempted to be frustrated with his long periods of imprisonment. How he longed to be out preaching and reaching out to the corners of the known world. And yet his time was not lost. Whilst in prison others started to preach. While he had been around their gifts seemed to be not needed, but now they emerged and served Christ. And even more importantly, Paul wrote letters. It is these Epistles that have survived long after anything else he did. His letters were a direct result of being in prison.
Lord, even my religious zeal may have been misplaced and not done out of love. Put a right spirit within me. Amen.
1 What did Paul think of his previous ‘good’ and ‘holy’ life?
“He would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate” (v.16) RSV
The story of the Prodigal Son is one of the best known in the Bible. Sadly, it fits our theme over these weeks of ‘Lost Years’. This younger son decided that he was going to live life to the full. He cajoled his future inheritance out of his father and set off to make his fortune, or rather, to lose it!
After an unspecified time of riotous living he ran out of money. Some of the best years of his life had been squandered in self-indulgence, instead of steady work and application. In the end he “would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate”. He was reduced to looking after the animals that his race felt were ‘unclean’. His life had become dirty and immoral.
We too may feel we wasted our years at school or university. We avoided the dull and arduous route and pursued quick money or a life of pleasure. Maybe the last thing in the world we wanted to be was to be like our “elder brother”. In the story that elder brother was a man of duty but not of joy; he was unforgiving and ungenerous. So it is understandable that the younger one wanted to be free and be real, but it was nevertheless a selfish and dead-end route.
God knows, and he wants us to fulfil our potential in the years that remain to us. Our past need not be a ball and chain that drags us back for the rest of our life. Unlock it; let it go. The past is past. With God, let us turn to the future and start working and striving with all the strength and the talents that he gives us.
There is also a spiritual application from this story. We may have wasted the best part of our life in neglect of God and of our soul’s requirements. Our spiritual well is dry. But let us take heart, even now if we turn to the Lord in repentance, we will find he is merciful. Indeed he will “run to embrace” us (v.20). He will restore our relationship with him and fill us to overflowing with love, joy and peace.
Jesus, I am sorry for the past. Grant me the chance to live my future for you and for others. Amen.
1 What is God’s message to those who go their own way?
Joseph was a young man with a bright future ahead of him. God gave him dreams that one day his father and mother and brothers would all bow down before him. He became his father’s favourite son and was consequently given a coat with long sleeves (which meant he was above manual work). Surely, he must have reckoned life was going to be continual ease and privilege.
How wrong he was. In order for God to be able to exalt him, he had first to bring him down a few pegs. Joseph was arrogant and conceited. So much so, that his brothers hated his guts. They decided to get rid of him. At first they were going to kill him, but eventually they sold him to some passing traders. He ended up in Egypt. He must have been hurt, angry and embittered.
He was sold in the market as a slave and was brought into the household of Potiphar (who was captain of the guard). There he quickly rose through the ranks. But he was betrayed by his master’s wife who accused him of attempted rape. He was thrown into prison where “his neck was put in a collar of iron” (v.18). While in prison he again rose to a position of trust, but even after interpreting the dreams of the imprisoned butler and baker of Pharaoh’s household, he still remained forgotten for some years more.
Finally his break came. He had learned his lesson. He was now humbled and useful to God. Pharaoh summoned him to interpret his dream. The result was that Joseph became second-in-command to Pharaoh in all the land, and was in charge of all the food supplies.
When his brothers came looking for food because of the famine, Joseph had learned such grace that he told them that what they had done to him they had “meant for evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). God can indeed restore the lost years.
Thank you Lord that you redeem my past and integrate it into my future. Amen.
1 Who became useful to God and to his master after conversion?
Many people are dogged by regrets when they consider their past life. Either someone else has robbed them of their best years or they themselves, through fear or idleness, or excess have wasted those years.
Such regrets can be very debilitating and can produce cynicism or loss of energy: why bother? And yet, the nature of our glorious gospel and the nature of our God who inspires the gospel is one of a future filled with hope.
In our passage today we find that God (through the prophet Joel) has been addressing various categories of people who have reason to regret their past. First there is the “aged men” (1:2), and secondly “you drunkards” (1:5), then there are disappointed brides (1:8), and then struggling farmers (1:11). The ‘robber’ in the lives of all these people is illustrated by the “locusts” (1:4, 2:25). These creatures have eaten away all their past hopes and efforts. The result was dissatisfaction and frustration.
May be we can identify with such sentiments. Have we made wrong decisions and missed out on opportunities? Have others overruled our lives? Did we fail exams or get pipped at the post in a job application? Were we tied to our parents or jilted at the altar? God knows!
Over the next weeks we shall consider the hope that God wants to bring us. The years that “the swarming locust has eaten” (v.25) will be restored to us. Of course we cannot get back the past, but the future can make up for what was lost. The most transformative thing that God can, and will do, is to fill us with his Spirit. In our reading we have that great passage which St Peter quotes on the Day of Pentecost: “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh …” (v.28). Your Spirit-filled life will then enable God to open up new doors of opportunity. With God there is always a future and a hope.
Lord, I am sorry for my past. I long for better things. Fill me anew with your Spirit, and fill me with hope. Amen.
“a man who sows discord among brothers” (v.19) RSV
Over the last week we have been looking at things that God hates and abominates. They have all been to do with spoiling relationships: pride, lying, murder, false witness, plotting evil, etc. Today we come to the last of the list of seven in Proverbs 6:16-19. God’s commandments are that we love one another, even our enemies. So naturally he will be displeased when we start to destroy one another.
One way to do this is to be a spreader of discord. For some reason some people love to drop in a juicy morsel of gossip, or in some way to put in the wooden spoon and stir it up. A proverb says: “He who goes about gossiping reveals secrets” (Proverbs 20:19). The gossip we spread may or may not be true, but it’s usually not in the best interests of the person(s) in question.
Slander is another way to stir up trouble. The Church at Smyrna suffered from this malicious and hurtful attack. Jesus says: “I know your tribulations … and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9). This passages links slander with the activity of Satan. The Greek word diabolos means slanderer.
The Corinthian church was split asunder by discord and party spirit. Paul wrote to them saying that he had heard that “there is quarrelling among you (1 Corinthians 1:11). The members of the church were despising those who were, in their estimation, inferior Christians. Either their baptism was inferior or their spiritual gifting was or their freedom in the Lord was! All this was destructive of harmony and love.
So, let us speak good of others, and let our conversations be seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Our aim is to be peacemakers and reconcilers, not spreaders of harmful gossip. “Blessed are the peacemakers” said Jesus. It is so easy, so tempting to be catty, but if we want to sleep peacefully at night we need to be creative and wholesome.
Thank you Lord that your mission is one of reconciliation. Help me to speak words of peace and blessing. Amen.