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Chapter 3


skirting the Swamp, and the Pomp,

and Seeking to Please Him


In introduction, let us review a point concerning life itself. It is NOT about surviving, despite the ludicrous Darwinian concept, which imagines that to survive is to create life. It does nothing of the kind, but exhibits it. To HAVE something to exhibit you need what it takes for that, and a movement of material particles is no part of life: it is a directive from the first, a pattern of orders and a place for a spirit which moves with understanding, thoughts and ideas, and makes decisions about material things, spiritual things and life. There is everything the matter with the chatter about matter coming from nowhere and arranging to organise orders about something quite different, and transcendentally beyond it, as if Sunday School platforms generate students.

Therefore when you dismiss as ignorant claptrap the whole idea of survival, as if this made life, and consider what life actually is, for man, you begin to think straight. If a person once realises that it is not a valueless folly in which the game is to proceed anyway, anyhow, somehow, so long as you proceed, and begins to consider its purpose, then you at least are on a road, not walking along a fence-top, or in ditch. Some say that they are interested in quality of life: but what quality ? If you build a house and want quality in the house, what quality ? Order ? architectural beauty ? comfort ? convenience ? an arms cache ? order for what ?

If life is to give satisfaction to those who have it, why is this the case ? are they gods who are to order it about ? is man central to the universe ? since when ? is he some majesty ? What then is the purpose of life ? Earth may well be central to the starry universe, says Dr Hartnett, but that does not make man the super-star. The first thing is to know who made man and matter, and the second thing is to know why He did so. With inimitable engineering facility, God made man; with unfathomable spiritual power, He gave man mind and spirit to choose. Why ?

It is not in order to regard life as a plaything, a comfort zone. Conditions which arise from man alone make that clear. It is a precious thing, of immense complexity of construction and facility of operation, where truth is sought and peace may be ditched by temper. Clearly, we need self-control, to avoid damage, which is contra-productive, and wisdom to know objectives, since nations impinge on nations, and constant warfare is merely a large-scale destruction. What is the point in that ? Do you bash a car into your neighbour's wall as a form of finding out what the car is for ? For that you go to the manufacturer. Let us then look at the only verified account of the will of God in existence: the Bible. This morning it is in Proverbs 19, that we ponder various principles.



"He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul,
but he who is despises his ways will die."

At once you see two facts: not only does the Creator give advice, or perspective concerning issues, He gives commands. In this, it is just like the DNA which is full of concepts built about commands which order form and formatting in each generation, first to bring your body into being, like an architect and builder combined, and then for the manner of its maintenance. It is not suggestion; it is command. For the mind and the spirit, likewise, there is command. As the body, thus built, is made a wonderful thing for liberty to use, so the mind and spirit by creative command are helped to be a wonderful function for the fulfilment of their purpose. As to that, you simply and obviously have to ask God. If you see some weird looking piece of electronic equipment, then maybe it could be used in this way or that, if you understood it.  You DO need to ask the maker, unless you have a fit of egotism and imagine that if YOU are there, that TELLS you all you ought to do!

We return to Proverbs 19:16. If you follow the rules for your life, and your equipment, you are keeping that life, that soul. If on the contrary you DESPISE your ways, do not think much of them, think them mere elements for pleasure, will, self-advancement, survival and the like, then you will die. You are, in that case, rather like a madman wielding an axe as you see fit, not realising it was MADE sharp and convenient, for a purpose of utility, not murder.

The interesting rendering in the margin for despises his ways, is reckless in his ways. In other words, if you take over and think little of life, just using it for yourself as a god, this is reckless, like taking a powerful sports car and finding what gives you most satisfaction in its driving. That is the way of death, ignorant, self-centred, life-devaluing death. You may be important for a time, but you are then a thief of the work of God, witless and not wise, acting as if deprived of spirit and wisdom, and paying the cost of your own folly. If you wanted to survive, then you might spend your time driving from this danger and into that hope, in a reckless, feckless misuse of resources, with no idea of the journeying purpose. It is necessary to enquire WHY it is given, and the fact that you get it automatically at birth, in no way diminishes your responsibility.

In fact, first of all, life is most valuable, remarkable and potentially productive of understanding and wisdom, power and knowledge, wonder and things of glory. You need to value it for its multiple powers and potential, and find what are the values intended, and to use it with reverence for the Maker, and self-control for yourself. THEN you begin to look at the word of God, as we now do.



"What is required of a man is lovingkindness,

and a poor man is better than a liar."

Kindness basically means having a sense of your own kind, feeling the bonds of people-ness and seeking to look as you pass, not only on your own things, but on those of others of your kind. It comes to mean a certain sweetness of disposition, so that you look for the good of another person, and seek if you may to implement it with tact, or challenge, thoughtfully and carefully. LOVINGKINDNESS is a biblical word, which can be rendered mercy. GOD is very expressive of this. It implies a certain patience, longsuffering, understanding, knowledge of what is good for the welfare of its object, desire for its fulfilment of its potential and right positioning before the Maker without whom nobody knows anything more than a scaffolding.

It implies a thoughtful and understanding disposition to be helpful for good, discerning to avoid the evil and graciously interested, looking for the ways which avoid for another, needless judgment and failure, upon a road for wisdom. That is this lovingkinness. After all, as Proverbs 19:22 implies, it is better to be loving and loved, even if you lack a lot of money, than to be a horror of self-will, in lying about the truth and wilfully divorcing yourself from what is the obvious will of God, which equally obviously is a method of gaining the end worthy of life, and not a mode of finding an eventual death, a variant of life associated with just judgment and your due. Better kind than wined!



Once you are clear who God is, the God of the Bible, of sacrifice and love, who gave His only begotten Son so that we might not be misbegotten, but saved from sin and alive in liberty to love and filled with mercy, living in peace in His presence as friends of God, and what you are, then you are situated to respond to the things which follow. Thus a sudden rage is ill-advised. You may have misunderstood or BEEN misunderstood. Someone may provoke you because that person did not understand either you or your purposes or your actions. To respond to escalate the tension in pride or annoyance is clearly counter-productive. It is an invasion of life, a misuse, not a realisation that it is a sacred thing. It is as if to DESPISE life instead of valuing and esteeming it as a great product of God.

Hence you are slow to anger. Moreover, you may have missed the intense suffering someone may have sustained, or some element of the situation which would help you at least to see the provocation at work more clearly and so cover it better, rather than allowing yourself to be simply stirred.  Indeed, generally you would increase the evil by sudden anger, though at times, when the thing has been adequately verified,  anger may have its place (cf. Mark 3:5). When once and eventually stirred, as you see in Jeremiah and  Lamentations, it can have dire effects through the simple imposition of justice, where mercy is mocked.

Here in Mark,  then, you see that Christ loathed formalities, when these lacked love! Anger from Him was not at all common, but this sin of religious unhelpfulness was common! Moreover, as shown in Mark 2, there had already been an epochal epic in which He had put the point once and for all. WHICH, He said, is easier, "to say to the paralytic, your sins are forgiven," or effectively to command that a paralytic take up his bed and walk! So that "you may KNOW that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins," He continued ... then putting the order, He commanded, Get up and walk! to the paralytic! He did just that: Christ commanded, the paralytic responded, just as the creation of the universe, the cosmos and man, did in the first place, as recorded in Genesis 1. The Creator takes initiative, makes things happen and maintains them by His power.

That was obvious. If He had not been Himself, but another, this COULD not have happened, let alone consistently.

One slip here, then,  and the Messiah was bunkum. One long delay and His post was in doubt. Here, as seen in Mark 2,  was the be-all and end-all of His ministry. Either He was the Son of God, engendered by the Holy Spirit for the millenially forecast post of being the final sacrifice for sin, had the power of God as the incarnate Son of the Almighty, God's own child, was the Word of God incarnate, or He was not. The difference is infinite, for one option involves fraud or delusion or both; and the other points to the greatest event, at that time, in the history of the universe, with God actually coming on Campus in person. The greater one, in passing ? It was the very sacrifice itself, with the resurrection both authenticating it and making it worthwhile, a torn body and a serene intelligence, with spiritual grace carved in the Rock of love and mercy.

The event, therefore, as shown in Mark 2:1-12,  was a just test. Jesus Christ wanted to heal, the man wanted to be healed, and His time in any one place was limited; He was not a principle God, who had the right ideas, but sorry, could not carry them out. He was God as man, and both could and would fail in NOTHING, as whether in truculence or in tenderness, He met each person in each situation, and over-ruled to secure what was to the point. That too, it was part of being deity; but it was also an exhortation implicitly.

Let us learn from this. Don't ever sacrifice truth or love or compassion to 'higher interests' of self-esteem or survival or strategy. Make each post a spiritual winner. Of  course you do not do an impersonal KGB calculation, saying: If we hide this evidence or kill this man, it will be better for the  State! NOTHING is EVER to be unfaithful to ANYONE. Love is like that: and love is of God.

When, therefore, the events of Mark  3:1-6 arose, the withered hand case on the Sabbath, Christ made it clear that to do good on the Sabbath was not excluded. He had chosen to make a lot else clear too, in that earlier session with the paralytic! The thrust had already been put, and indeed, since Christ IS the Lord, made flesh, then the testimony had been clear from the days of Isaiah, and it was the Spirit of Christ which was in the prophets (I Peter 1:10-12) which deposited this challenge to compassion, probity, spirituality and not ceremonial formalism, centuries before. The anger therefore did not suddenly arise, but was the result of centuries of forbearance, with judgments indeed emanated reluctantly, and of further crucial reminder not long before, from Christ in the flesh.

Accordingly,  when anger showed in Christ, it was scarcely sudden and not at all frothing! It was judicious, effectual, to the point and after MUCH patience, with a Messianic input already at the highest level.

"The discretion of a man slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression," (Proverbs 19:11).

Further, He did not exact penalty on the unbelieving crowd, or many of them, those of holy hauteur, ceremonialists, but went on for some years before, His OWN crucifixion coming first, Israel met its due come-uppance!

Here we see a further stretch in the path of wisdom. If someone really offends you, and it is apparent that it is a genuine fault, while it is not a peril to the future - like finding a thieving partner - nor an evil for which you become responsible if you do not act, a thing of some doubt perhaps - then one option is recommended. Let it pass (Romans 12:18-20).

“If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.

"Dearly beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath:
for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.'

"Therefore if your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink:
for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This means a decrease in the tensions surrounding this phase of life for all concerned. If you can in conscience let it go, do so. It is a glorious thing not to be spiteful, recklessly vindictive, self-importantly intoning your outrage, if the thing can as well be ignored. It makes for a certain grandeur of spirit, unwilting love of life, lack of self-importance that encourages others to be like this too, which makes life less an ignoble and specious thing, hateful and odious, and more a thing of spiritual beauty and goodness, to be admired on all sides.

When however spiritual truth and love is involved, when evil is blatant or incisive or specious and penetrating, the time does come. It is all in its place: you don't decree something to be rubbish and needing its tin, unless it makes its position to be eminently clear; and as to that, as in Israel, it may do this in many ways over a long time. The patience of God is clearly as remarkable as His judgments; both have a certain holiness. Is it not a little like a hospital, where the Staff do everything in their power to dissuade a smoker with lung cancer to desist and hope, but when the time comes, must remove the lung, or let cancer win amid the clouds ?



In a way, this failure to exploit opportunity for clamour as in 19:11 above, has a splendour of the Lord in it. Let us  move further. You now see someone poor in goods, perhaps in a foul situation because of it, possibly through folly. You could pour resources down the drain without accomplishing very much; but in that case, it might be not so much a 'poor' person as a rank one.

However often you find something, someone, some situation where there is duress, difficulty, a downward spiral, something which has mounting problems from inadequate cause because of injustice or folly on the part of grasping or selfish people, ruining much that could be good. Here mercy may operate, but you need the guidance of God for good, since He is its author!

"He who has pity on the poor, lends to the Lord,
and He will pay back what he has given."

Wilberforce's anti-slavery crusade cost him much, but he shines like a star. It is not the gratification at having done good which is the point, the 'feel good' aspect some wish to focus, for this knows nothing of the love of God. It is not that you buy nice feelings about yourself by shedding shekels in someone's direction; but that KINDNESS moves in you and you IMPLEMENT it by seeing and acting in a discrete way for what lacks. It may be a mental lack, where ignorance ruins, or a physical one, or a spiritual one, and the last is the worst. Pity on the poor masses who are being directed to hell by devilish devices on the part of spiritual terrorists who rankly ruin life for many: this is one application. Hence the Gospel and the word of God are promoted at cost, for poor indeed is the one who lacks counsel and survives as if this were the point of life. That would be like a car, if it could, deviously disobeying the driver because it foresees a hard time if it does what it is supposed to do, turning this way and that, like a wily or vicious horse.

It is the Lord who repays kindness to the poor in whatever category. To grow more like Him is to have better and deeper relationship with His profound peace, with His wonder and holy beauty. To do good out of love of the Lord, is to dignify life with responsibility. This same love and wisdom, however, can have other outcomes.



There are times when failure to confront becomes not mercy but fear or indifference: which is to DEVALUE LIFE. If you find a scoffer, a mocker of Christ, someone cynical, evil, blatant, spoiling much, the time may come when it is necessary to expose, confront and disclaim such brinkmanship. Being slow to anger is not the same as being undisposed to respond altogether. Paul once, in Philippi, when harassed by a devil-possessed girl saying loudly that his party was of God, turned on her and drove out the devil. That ignoble person is sly, and can even, by apparent praise, undermine the seriousness with which someone is taking in a message of gravity and grace.

In parallel, Peter and John confronted the priestly party which had power to arrest them, saying this, when rebuked for preaching through Jesus the resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:1,19):

"Whether it be right in the sight of God to obey you rather than God, you judge!"

Proverbs 19:25 says this:

"Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary;
  rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge."

In other words, there is a time when you have to act vigorously in denunciation or rebuttal or reproof, and when that time comes, redress may be made by effective, well-planned action, without any indirection. On the other hand, if a wise person, a goodly man is erring, carried away perhaps by too much success or money or prestige, and going on auto-pilot without thought, making some great blunder, then the time may come when direct exposure and rebuke is better than watching his decline, when God may deal with his error in some graver way.



Through all of this, there is lovingkindness, realism, concern, the quality of valuing life and being unafraid of the calls this makes, as you fear God and keep His commandments, humble in this, that however you relate to others, you see life as precious, its conservation and fulfilment as a responsible aim, and God as the one who defines its purpose, which of course is to be at peace with Himself, and to find FREELY, His good favour in life,. This is not in foolishness and recklessness of thought or conduct, of spirit or of will, awaiting your come-uppance, pointing only to ruin in the end, to wastage of life, and sacrifice for nothing. Abundance of life comes from being owned, redeemed by its Maker (Romans 3:23-27), on terms beautiful beyond comparison: that of children and friends of the Almighty (I John 3, Ephesians 1), secured for ever with no desire to depart! (I Peter 1:3-7).

Here then are some of the principles of going with God, of abundant life in Him, a thing given while it is HE who is sought, for as in all love, the one loved is not a means to an ulterior purpose, but a focus. In love, the transcendent case if the Lord, and it is His commands which so far from  stultifying wisdom, shine light into it, like light shone from above, enabling ocean depths to be seen clearly.

It is when the light shines, and the spiritual eyes are open, that stumbling may be most readily avoided, the exuberant vitality of life found, where it belongs, in Him who gave it. As Christ put the point (John 8:12, 9:4):


"I am the light of the world.
He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."

 Again, we hear:


"I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day;
the night is coming when no one can work."

It is in John 12:35-36 that we find this abundant light on life:


"Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you;
he who walks in darkness does not where he is going.
While you have the light, believe in the light,
that you may become sons of light."

As Proverbs 19:21 puts it:

"There are many plans in a man's heart,

Nevertheless, the LORD's counsel, that will stand."

Understand then, what stands, and do not fall;

for in Him there is strength, and faithfulness to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25, 6:19).