Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
"Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet."
Before I go any further, does anyone know for certain what a TUFFET is? No? Then, if you don't know, I have failed to communicate anything.
"Eating her CURDS and WHEY."
We may vaguely know what curds and whey are: by-products of milk. This time I have only managed to communicate something vaguely.
"Along came a SPIDER and sat down beside her, and FRIGHTENED Miss Muffet away."
At last! We have no problems in communication. We know what a SPIDER is and we understand the feeling of FRIGHT.
I have used this well-known nursery rhyme to illustrate three levels of communication:
Where NOTHING, only SOMETHING, or EVERYTHING is clear.
Everyone in the business of communicating needs to strive for the third level.
God is also in the business of communicating to His creatures. What does God communicate?
He communicates HIMSELF. John tells us that God is LOVE. So when He communicates Himself, He communicates His LOVE. Out of the abundance of God's heart, His mouth speaks of LOVE.
That should be a simple message. Yet sometimes nothing seems to be communicated or we receive a vague, confused message. Perhaps the most often quoted verse in the Greek Scriptures is John 3:16. This is how it reads in the Authorized Version:
"For God so LOVED the world that He GAVE His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
On the surface, that sounds straight-forward enough. But everyone knows that the scriptures weren't originally written in modern English. So we have to face the fact that they could be inaccurately translated. For example, the Contemporary English Version, which has been given the Plain English Award, reads,
"God loved the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life and NEVER REALLY DIE."
But it is not enough to make it crystal clear; it must be what God wants to communicate. Part of that verse states something that is the exact opposite of the truth.
The Greek word "aeon" means a period of time WITH a beginning and an end. Yet most translations would have us believe that what God is communicating is time WITHOUT a beginning and WITHOUT an end. Something has been lost in translation.
Some may say, "But surely it doesn't matter if it means for a long period of time or for a never ending period of time?" In this particular instance, that is so, in effect, because when the eonian times are finished, death will be abolished anyway. It is essential, however, if we want to receive a true message from God, that we use sound words.
Another important principle is in 2 Timothy 2:15. We are to CORRECTLY CUT the Word of Truth. In order to work so that we have no cause to be ashamed, we are to rightly divide the Word.
In our example, we are overhearing a conversation that doesn't involve us. We are reading someone else's mail. That is a sure way to misunderstand what is going on.
Christ was speaking to a man, a Jew, who was awaiting the Messiah to set up His kingdom on this earth. Nichodemus was told that he could not perceive that kingdom unless he were begotten anew.
But no-one can do anything in order to be begotten anew. No works by man.
GOD has to open the gate of faith. UNbelievers will not enter into that kingdom. The context of John 3:16 is MILLENIAL in its scope. This verse is part of God's communication to be studied by ALL people, but it is not to be applied to ALL peoples at ALL times.
John's good news is limited to those Jews who BELIEVE into the Son. Not just those whose MOUTH says the words, "I believe," but those whose HEART says, "I believe."
What happens to those who don't believe? If the BELIEVERS "shall not perish but have everlasting life", then the UNbelievers shall perish and not have everlasting life.
This makes a mockery of "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." He loves only those whose eyes of faith He has opened! No matter how much we may treasure this Scripture, we dare not try to hold God to a "PROMISE" He has not made to us. Especially as there is a far better example of His love for us today.
Until Paul came along, God imposed a news blackout on one particular aspect of His love. Today, in business, a company may prepare a press release with an embargo. Only a few people will know about it, until a certain time and date. Then the news can be released, so that everyone can know about it.
Only when Paul was in prison could the news about the SECRET or the MYSTERY of the gospel be broadcast. Today, Paul's good news is unlimited. God is CONCILIATED whether people believe it or not. And nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.
When we properly understand this communication of God's love we can rejoice that God loves His whole creation. What seems like unfairness or favourism, or a world out of control where evil triumphs, is no such thing.
If we ignore these two scriptural principles, we are forced to rely on human philosophy and reasoning. WE shall be the losers, because we shall inhibit our own growth in maturity.
The surest path to MATURITY is to dump all human philosophies where they conflict with God's Word. Paul told the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 2:6-7):
"We speak a message of wisdom among the mature. We are speaking God's wisdom in a SECRET which has been concealed before the eons."
"We have obtained not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God."
This SECRET is for the growth of the body, for the upbuilding of itself in LOVE. Until this letter, the saints were adolscents.
We would do well to make a prayer of Paul, recorded in Ephesians 3:14-19, our own during this fellowship weekend.
"On this behalf am I bowing my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, after Whom every kindred in the heavens and on earth is being named, that He may be giving you, in accord with the riches of His glory, to be made STAUNCH with POWER, through His spirit, in the man within, Christ to dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, having been rooted and grounded in LOVE, should be strong to grasp, together with ALL the saints, what is the BREADTH and LENGTH and DEPTH and HEIGHT - to know the LOVE of Christ as well which transcends knowledge - that you be COMPLETED for the ENTIRE COMPLIMENT of God."
We need to petition God for the power to enable us to realize and appreciate this SECRET message of God's grace and love. This reveals the transcendent love of Christ. We will then be completed for our future destiny.
One sure way we can know if someone loves us is if they are willing to give up what they treasure most. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS!
We see how Abraham showed he loved God in Genesis 22:2:
"And saying is He, 'Take, pray, your son, your only one, WHOM YOU LOVE, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him up there for an ASCENT OFFERING.'"
Surely, he showed his love by being willing, if necessary, to sacrifice Isaac. Most translations call Abraham's offering a burnt offering. It signifies the entire surrender of an individual to God. For that reason, it could not be offered "without the SHEDDING of blood".
We cannot speak of God's love without speaking of Christ's sacrifice. Not only did God spare not His own Son, giving Him up for us all, (Romans 8:32), but Jesus said that no one is taking His soul away from Him, but He is laying it down of Himself (John 10:17).
There is another important principle involved with ascent or burnt offerings. King David wanted to buy the threshing floor of a Jebusite so that he could build an altar to Yahweh. The man was prepared to give the land and oxen for nothing. 2 Samuel 24:24 in the NIV records David's reply.
"No, I INSIST on paying you for it. I will NOT sacrifice to Yahweh my God burnt offerings that cost me NOTHING."
In the story of Abraham being prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, we can see that it could have cost both of them something. Not only is a lover prepared to give his most precious thing to his loved one, he must be prepared to SUFFER. If we think that love never involves suffering, we are sadly mistaken.
But does GOD suffer?
That is not just a hypothetical question. If He does suffer, then His love is real.
When God communicates with us, He speaks as a human being. He speaks of feelings we can understand. God is not a father who says, "Don't do as I DO, do as I SAY."
The fruit of the Spirit includes patience. For God to give us patience through His Spirit, HE must be patient. Patience and long suffering are required during a time of suffering.
Not only does God allow suffering, He created the cause of suffering. Not willingly, but He has also had to bear the pain of Sin in His creatures. Read Isaiah 43:24b:
"But you have BURDENED ME with your sins and WEARIED ME with your offences."
Perhaps the clearest proof that God suffers is seen in Christ. God is in Christ, and if Christ suffers so does the Father. We certainly know that CHRIST suffered. Hebrews 2:10:
"For it became Him, BECAUSE of Whom all is, and THROUGH Whom all is, in leading MANY sons into GLORY, to PERFECT the inaugurator of their salvation through SUFFERINGS."
Did the Father suffer when Christ cried out to Him:
"My God, My God, why do YOU forsake Me?"
Who could believe otherwise? The heart of God must have been torn by this extreme measure required for the SALVATION of all and the JUSTIFYING of His ways with mankind. God Himself became deeply involved in the sacrifice of His Son, in the woe sin had inflicted on the world and the rest of the Universe.
Every religion tries to answer four questions:
WHY was I born?
HOW should I live?
WHY is there so much evil in the world?
WHAT happens when I die?
There have been many human philosophies claiming to answer these fundamental questions. The only satisfactory answers must be revealed by God and ALL involve love.
1) Love cannot live alone; it needs to be shared. It is inconceivable that God could live without sharing His love with others. We were born to be receipients of God's love, and to share that love with others.
Which leads us to the answer of the second question:
2) We should live as those who are loved by God and want to reflect that love in our lives. We are told in Ephesians 5:1:
"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of LOVE, just as Christ LOVED us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Some people say, "I have to love my brother, but I don't have to like him." But what do the Scriptures say? Romans 12: 9-10:
"Let love be unfeigned. Abhorring that which is wicked, clinging to good, let us have fond affection for one another with brotherly affection ."
Then it says we are to be "enduring afflictions" and "contributing to the needs of the saints, pursuing hospitality." We would be in a sad way if God said to us, "I have to love them, but I don't have to like them."
How do we prove our love? Do we have to slay dragons for our true love? Or engage in seven Herculean labours? No, we prove our love in the same way that the Church in Corinth was to display the proof of their love. 2 Corinthians 8:24;
"Show the PROOF of your love and of our boasting over you."
How? Paul wanted to test the sincerity of their love. They had already said they were willing to give to the poor in Jerusalem. Paul merely instructs them to do what they said they were going to do. Now was the time to act on that willingness. In other words, "Put your money where your mouth is."
God, too, displays His love - He proves His love for us, when He does what He says He is going to do. True, not everything God says He will do, has yet been done. But enough has been done to give us CONFIDENCE that it will be.
3) Perhaps the biggest barrier to believing that God is love is the existence of evil. Yet evil is an expression of God's love. That sounds crazy doesn't it? Adam in the Garden of Eden knew NO suffering; NO sin or bad conscience. But God's love was hidden from him. Without the darkness he could not appreciate the light.
Today, we live in closer communion with the Father than Adam in Paradise, despite (or because of) all the evil, the pain and the suffering. We see evil every day, yet Adam could not have said what Paul told the Romans (5:5) and what we can say:
" ... the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which is being given to us."
Never forget we have done NOTHING to deserve that love. We love God, because He first loved us. Never forget that NOTHING we do, can make God love us MORE, and NOTHING we do, can make God love us LESS.
4) Millions of people fear death, yet death is not the end for the believer or the unbeliever.
Everyone eventually will live and not die again. There will no longer be pain, suffering and death for anyone. We know almost nothing about the consummation. But what we DO know is that it is not a return to some imaginary golden age. It is God's display of His love for His creatures and His way of engaging their affection.
What we also know is that one day there will be no need of faith and expectation. We shall see what mankind has long hoped for and it will be reality. What will remain will be love. The entire Universe will be in total harmony with God.
When God is ALL IN ALL - then we shall really know what love is.
Today, even believers are influenced by this world's values and cultures. But an immature world cannot see that love often involves obedience, sacrifice, pain and suffering; that there is a price to be paid and that promises must be kept.
So far in this talk, there has been no new truth. Until now. Remember, you heard it here first!
You may be thinking, "He hasn't told us yet what a TUFFET is."
A tuffet can be one of two things:- A low three-legged STOOL, or a little grassy bump or TUFT, big enough to sit on. The curds are the lumpy bits of sour milk that has curdled. The whey is the milky part.
So with this information about Little Miss Muffet, there are no longer three categories of communication. There is just ONE - everything has been communicated.
Here is my final Scripture; It is a very familiar Scripture that perfectly communicates the source of love.
It is 2 Corinthians 13:24:
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the LOVE of GOD, and the COMMUNION of the holy spirit be with you all! Amen!"
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