Making a new Rule

Here I have gathered together Bible passages that are important to me, along with notes on my understanding of them.

In general, I see the Bible as being not only one of the major sources of our understanding about God (the other sources being direct inspiration by the Holy Spirit, and what we receive from others, particularly other Christians) but also being a book to live by. Perhaps I can make this clear by mentioning a Christian of several years ago, who on hearing a passage in the Gospel that many would like to explain away, didn't just come up with a more `radically fundamental' explanation of it, but exclaimed ``This is what I long to do, with my whole heart!'' -- and went and lived by it!

So I have particularly gathered together Bible passages to use as guidelines to live by. They seem to be self-explanatory to me, but that may just be what I see in them... so for many of them, I will add a comment that brings out what I have seen. Sometimes I will use short quotations, typically in opening out the meaning of a longer one; it is easy to take pieces of scripture out of context, but I am careful to use even short passages as I think they are really meant in their original context. And in places, I have emboldened some part of a quotation when it is that part that I want to draw attention to, but think that the other part (which I present in plain text) gives context that must be included.

Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:1,2,6]

For me, this is one of the central passages of the Old Testament (and it is cited emphatically by Jesus in Matthew 12:7); I am sure I am not alone in my tendency to think of my giving (other than giving to friends) in terms of what I lose rather than what they receive, and so this passage concerns not only what I should do, but also the attitude with which I do it. The example which brings this into sharp relief for me may seem like a small thing, but must be known to many people: You're talking with friends over coffee after Church, and as you leave one group of people and are about to join someone you wanted to see, you see someone heading towards you who you really don't want to talk to... someone who obviously talks for the sake of talking, who doesn't really fit in (and knows it) and has to try to trap people into conversations as they are generally unpopular (because they trap people into corners to talk to them), and besides they're boring because they talk for the sake of it... and yet you feel that to be a good Christian, you really ought to put up with them for a few minutes so they don't feel so left out (because everyone knows to some extent what it feels like to be left out, even if they try to forget it!). So, you let them buttonhole you (or walk the other way avoid them, feeling guilty)... now that is the wrong attitude, according to this text. Although you were aware of their need, what was uppermost in your mind was your own feelings about how much you wanted not to have this person corner you... you were thinking in terms of your sacrifice, that you `ought' to make `to be a good Christian', not about how much gratification you could give them by letting them have what they want.

Aside: I don't know what to do in this situation, either! Obviously, the really loving thing to do is to actually help them, and I doubt that that means giving them a few minutes conversation even if you manage to hide how much you'd rather be talking to someone else! Being a person of no small talk, and becoming steadily more direct with what I perceive to be God's truth, I'm getting closer to saying, the next time I'm cornered like that, ``I can tell that you desperately want to talk, so you won't feel so lonely, and I'm sorry for you and I really wish I could do something to help, but I'm no good at talking for the sake of it and it makes me feel stupid to try; you can have my attention for a while but you'll have to tell me what to say in response to each of your sentences, and I actually don't like you anyway so you might as well talk to yourself.'' That doesn't sound very loving either, but love isn't the soft option that some people think it is, and I'm not sure that this compares all that badly with living a lie and giving them that begrudged and dishonest attempt at conversation...

The passage starts with a short section of prophecy, which can be seen to foretell the resurrection of Christ on the third day... but it says ``he will raise us up'' and indeed we are raised with Christ!

And this brings up another of my ideas about understanding the Bible: that it is all tied together, as a single entity. Rules, laws and guidelines for life are tied closely to prophecy, in this example, and also, very importantly, the call to us to live the way God wills us to is tied to the sacrifice of Christ... our following of what God asks us to do has no power of its own, but is given power by the grace of God, that is, his freely-willed giving to us.

And this leads on to something else that I have to say, that I think is not always said enough in some parts of the Church, particularly those with an emphasis on mission: that all that we have, we have by God's grace alone. I mean this is a very gentle push only, as I think many of the `best' evangelists already know this -- I'm just bringing it up as a gentle reminder. It's not that this isn't said throughout the Church, and it's not that it would be denied by any true Christian; but when the emphasis is on encouraging those who have yet to say ``Yes'' to make their first response to Christ, it's easy to talk more about the human response than about the divine initiative that it's a response to... to talk about the human repentance more than about the divine forgiveness. The response and the repentance are vital, but they are possible only because of God's grace, which culminated in the incarnation, sacrifice and resurection of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed correct to say that we are saved by faith rather than by works, but in fact we are actually saved by grace... without grace, there would be no amount of faith that could save us (in fact, faith without grace would be very hard work!). Let me repeat that I mean this as only a gentle reminder; it is not that our response is unimportant (it is vital) nor that our repentance is not significant (it is often fully sincere) but that God's grace is so unimaginably vast that we cannot emphasize it enough. If the Church talked more about God's grace, our Christian faith and theology and world-view might mistaken much less often for narrowness and judgementalism, and many more souls might be saved.

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? [Micah 6:7,8]

It's so easy to offer God all sorts of things if only he will forgive us; in fact, he asks simply that we repent -- and bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance [Matthew 3:8], that is, follow what he has asked us to do, for to obey is better than to sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams [1 Samuel 15:22].

Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new spirit also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and ye shall keep my judgements, and do them. [Ezekiel 36:25-27]

This passage gives me both great encouragement and some resistance... encouragement to know that God will make changes for the better in me... and resistance because at times I want to have what flesh heart I already have removed, and a stone heart put in its place because that would make life so much easier (for me at least, and perhaps for those around me because I'd need less support)!

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? [Ezekiel 33:11]

It's too easy to slip into a view of God as being stern and critical, throwing one punishment after another at us, piling up test after test, taking our pruning (``every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit'' [John 15:2]) to extremes, until we give in and let ourselves be crushed to (psychological) death -- to me this passage is an important reminder that this is apparently not what he is up to... he wants us to change. But to be honest, I'm not sure how... it does feel crushing, that the change he asks for is for me to give up what I hold dearest (in my case, the hope of finding a wife to grow in love with) and that seems much the same at the moment! But even then, it is good to know that the motive behind is pressure on me is not to make me suffer for the sake of it, but for my own good (however little I want my own good!). See also [Proverbs 3:11-12].

[Psalm 15]

[Psalm 16:4]

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? [Psalm 137:4]

The Book of Proverbs is rich in practical advice on how to live God's way (and also has some excellent catty remarks about some kinds of people who I find very annoying!).

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. [Proverbs 3:5-7]

My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. [Proverbs 3:11-12]

See my notes on [Ezekiel 33:11]. Perhaps I resent the chastening a little less than I once did; but still, I find myself not giving in that easily to anything that might just be such chastening. (In particular, I find myself thinking ``What good does it do to rub it in yet again that I seem unable to form the loving relationships that most other people can? If I agree to think of myself as less worthy of human love than most people, will you take the pressure off?'')

So I suppose that brings up another point I'd like to make: Biblical answers are not glib!

Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. [Proverbs 8:33]

The quickest way to spiritual stagnation and death is to think that you're right, and not learn any more from either experience or instruction. The person who will not learn is referred to as ``the fool'' in Proverbs, and foolishness is characterized not by lack of reasoning ability but by reluctance to change... a insistence on sticking with what you have decided, and a shutting of the ears to anything that disagrees with it.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. [Proverbs 9:10]

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise. [Proverbs 10:19]

When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. [Proverbs 16:7]

I hope so.

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. [Proverbs 16:32]

This is an important one for me to take on and incorporate into my behaviour -- I have a quick temper, and I know it doesn't serve me well!

He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster. [Proverbs 18:9]

The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression. [Proverbs 19:11]

This is another one for me to take on -- I am easily annoyed!

A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment; for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again. Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end. [Proverbs 19:19-20]

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth; lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turn awway his wrath from him. [Proverbs 24:17-18]

Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him. [Proverbs 27:22]

See what I mean about catty remarks?

Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain. [Proverbs 30:8,9]

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. [Matthew 4:17]

Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. [Matthew 4:19]

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:7,8]

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. [Matthew 6:1]

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. [Matthew 6:21]

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. [Matthew 6:33-34]

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? [Matthew 7:1-3]

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more therefore shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:11-12]

And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses. Nor scrip for you journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, not yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. [Matthew 10:7-10]

For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. [Matthew 12:50]

This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. [John 6:29]

Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement. [John 7:24]

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. [John 8:7]

{John 10:38}

Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord nad Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. [John 13:12-17]

Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. [John 15:2]

Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. [Galatians 6:2] {add 1,3?}

God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse you hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double minded. [James 3:6-8]

There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? [James 3:12]

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. [James 5:16]

Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. [James 5:19-20]

Humble yourselves therefor under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; Casting your care upon him; for he careth for you. [1 Peter 5:6-7]

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. [1 Peter 5:8-9]

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. [1 John 3:18]

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. [1 John 4:17-19]

[Psalm 15] Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

[Psalm 16:4] Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood I will not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.

[Proverbs 16:20] Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out; so where there is no tale-bearer, the strife ceaseth.

[Proverbs 27:6] Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

[Proverbs 27:17] Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenancce of his friend.

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John C. G. Sturdy

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