Welcome back and a very good day to you. Having kicked off the Blog yesterday with my very first post I am now just hoping that there isn’t any deep underlying and unconscious cosmic significance concerning the fact that it was, as I have only now realised, April Fool’s Day. (Critics, please fail to take note!) But be that as it may, I will proceed on the assumption that all is well and that the unfortunate proclivity I have in the direction of being a bit silly sometimes (I do so enjoy it!) doesn’t get too much in the way. So hey, our subject for today is…
Whether we like it or not life rotates around things like hierarchies, prioritisation and ascending and descending orders or importance; and following the Lord is no different. Whilst some people are consciously aware of their priorities and of why they order life in the way they do, others give it little or no thought. Yet even those who don’t think things through still have some kind of order and prioritisation in their lives, even if just that of lazing around on the sofa all day watching TV and eating Pizza. But what matters to us as believers is understanding just what our priorities ought to be, hence the idea of ripples on a pond.
When you throw a pebble into a pond circular ripples spread out in a wave motion from the central point of where the pebble entered the water, and this is exactly like the the way we order our lives, whatever that ordering looks like; but our concern here is what it should look like if we really are living consistently with the clear teaching of scripture.
So what is the central point from which all the ripples flow? What does the point of entry of the pebble into the pond represent? (Dramatic pause for frantic scribbling of answers on papers!) Yes, well done! Go to the top of the class! It’s the Lord! For us as believers He is the central point, or at least, He jolly well should be, of absolutely everything, and every aspect of our lives should flow from Him, and from our relationship with Him, and so consequently from His teaching and precepts. That much is clear. But what we need to understand is that the ripples then fan out in an order or importance and primary priority the closer they are to the origination point, and that whereas more and more ripples are appearing all the time, there is nevertheless always one that is the closest to the origination point, and one that is the second closest, and one that is the third closest, and so it goes on. And what I want to establish here are what the first 5 ripples ought to be, and in what order, because if we get these wrong then everything else will be wrong as a result.
The origination point is the Lord Jesus Himself, so what is ripple number one? Obviously, our individual relationship with Him. If I am not right with Him, whether because of not actually being a believer in the first place, or because I am a believer but one who is out of fellowship with Him relationally because of ongoing un-dealt with, unconfessed and unrepentant and sin, then whatever fans out from that is doing so through the filter of not being right with the Lord and will therefore, by definition, be contaminated and spoiled. priority number one is, therefore, maintaining a daily relationship and walk with the Lord in which we are being truly obedient to what we know of His Word, are seeking to ever grow in that knowledge, and then being painfully honest with ourselves when we have sinned, putting that right with Him quickly, specifically and definitely.
The next ripple is that of our biological family life. If Jesus comes first then, in my case, my wife and daughter come next. And if it is the case, and it is, that I can never be to them what I should be if my relationship with the Lord is not as it should be, then likewise I cannot be to others outside of my family life if I am not in right standing with those in my own biological family. It’s priorities! It’s an hierarchy of righteousness and godliness, and one thing can only come out of another, so if the more foundational thing is wrong, then anything else built on it, and resulting from it, will be skewed and corrupted as well.
It is little surprise then that the usual pattern for the letters in the New Testament is that their burden boils down to husbands properly loving their wives and Christ loves the church and laying their life down them, and to wives submitting to their husbands and honouring them as their head, and parents being wonderful parents and children being wonderfully obedient and respectful children. (Beautiful, isn’t it?)
But there’s more to this because ripple number three is to do with the fact that, whereas nowhere does the New Testament actually explicitly command believers be part of a particular and specific church, every verse is written on the clear assumption that they are. And thus we have our next ripple of priority; church life! To be sure, if family life isn’t in order then neither can church life be, but we must be clear that neither are we complete simply knowing Jesus personally and being part of our biological nuclear family. We need more than that, and what we need is, as biological families (mum, deadened the kids), to be part of an extended family of the Lord’s people with whom we have significant and open ongoing relationships, that being, biblically speaking, what being part of a church is meant to actually.
In exactly the same way that biological family life provides both mutual nurture and accountability, church life provides us with another layer of nurture and accountability outside of the nuclear family. Not that church life ever trumps family life, of course not, but in exactly the same way that it’s not good for man to be alone, neither is it good for individual families to be isolated and unrelated to others outside of them. Insularity is alway dangerous for a Christian (unless imposed for reasons beyond one’s control) and we need to be tied in with others at every level; and especially when husbands are the head of their families and can never have the ultimate accountability to their own family that can be provided by the husbands of other families. With authority comes great responsibility and no man should be the head of a family without ensuring he has real and significant personal accountability to other godly brothers who are in the same position.
But there’s more still because we next come to the circle of the wider body of Christ, or to all the other believers around who are part of other specific and particular churches other than the one we are. Remember, only as we are in a righteous stance toward each ripple can those ripples spreading out more widely be engaged properly by us, but in exactly the same way that although I know Jesus individually yet need others in my life, and in exactly the same way that my nuclear family need other families to be in fellowship with (church life), each particular and specific church needs fellowship outside of itself with other believers comprising the wider body of Christ. Again, insularity is the danger of the Christian life, and any manifestation of closed off attitudes or spiritual exclusivism is always a sign of something being very wrong.
Thus far we have the following:
- Jesus – the epicentre of everything
- My individual relationship with Him
- My relationship with my nuclear family
- The particular and specific church my family are part of
- The wider body of Christ (believers in other churches)
But of course theres another ripple that ought to come out of these radiating five others, and it’s my relationship with unbelievers as I engage with the fallen world in which I live. Whether at work at the factory or office, or visits to the shops, or hanging out with our neighbours in our street, or even unbelievers in our wider nuclear family, a big part of our lives is that which we experience outside of family, church and the wider body of Christ. But again, what we have to understand is that only as the previous five ripples are in good order, only as I am living in right relationship in the Lord to each can it be safe for me to engage with a fallen world of which I was once a slave and in which I was once a child of the devil.
The only way to be, as scripture teaches, in the world but not of it, is to guard the ripples of these relationships as closely as I know how, and to embrace the priorities they present and to surrender to the challenges they bring. How can I love my wife and child as I should if my own personal walk with the Lord is a complete disordered mess? How can I be an active participant in the church we are part of if my relationship with my family is wrong and if there are things I haven;t put right with them? And how can I have any fellowship worthy of the name with believers in the wider body of Christ if the truth of the matter is than in so doing I am actually trying to ignore, or avoid, or get round, or escape from, the accountability with which I am presented through being part of a particular and specific church? When running away from the accountability that results from fellowship with brothers and sisters who know one really well , nothing is more relieving than fellowship with other brother and sisters who don’t know me as well and who are therefore not presenting me with the quite same challenges.
And of course if all the things are not in place then it’s quite simply the fact that my relationship with unbelievers, with whom it is absolutely God’s will I engage, will result in me becoming like them rather than them seeing my good works, and seeing my godliness, and giving glory to our Father in Heaven. We will, in fact, just be a sort of vaguely ‘Christian’ version of them, and they will see right through as they label us the hypocrites we are.
So hey, it’s like ripples on a pond…and it’s wonderful beyond words! Thank you Jesus for washing us with the water of your Word and for the ripples of your ever out-spreading holiness in the beautiful lake of our lives!