“Is there only one reason for wise living? No! Quite the reverse! The One Wise Life is founded on a multitude of rationales.”

Trauts Rebmik


            As we’ve been working our way backwards through the Ten Commandments – for the benefit of a secular world – we’ve come to understand them as protective ‘stop signs’ and wise ‘safety barriers’ for Humanity. But we’ve already realized that as we get closer to the opening commands they’re inevitably going to get us looking upwards towards God. 

            Because, of course, whether our world chooses to believe in Him or not makes no difference to the fact that He exists, created all things, and is the centre of the life and purpose of human beings. Arriving at the fourth Commandment we find God fully in the picture.


            But as well as being the longest, there’s something else unusual about this Commandment. We’ve been looking at the Commandments from the Book of Deuteronomy, when Moses is summing up all that’s gone before, as God’s people prepare to enter the Promised Land. But they were first given in the Book of Exodus just after the people left Egypt 40 years earlier – and this Commandment differs slightly in the two versions. The Commandment itself is almost identical, but the reason given for it is different…

 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.    For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 
(Exodus 20.8-11)
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigners residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” 
(Deuteronomy 5.12-15)


            Incredibly, after six days creating the universe for human beings to live in, God quite literally has nothing better to do than to rest. Why? Was He tired? No. He wanted to enjoy His creation and spend time with Adam and Eve of course! Why else did He go to all that trouble? The Sabbath isn’t a holy day only for us, but also for God – a day to spend with His children. 

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2.2)

This Commandment has roots in the very first days of the created order. Before the disastrous choice made by Adam and Eve, before the break in their relationship with God and each other, at the time when God enjoyed nothing better than to walk in the garden with his children in the cool of the day (Genesis 3.1-9). And when God gives His Commandments, after the Fall of Mankind, in the middle of the broken world where evil persists, and as part of His ongoing plan of salvation to bless all nations through Abraham, God commands a place to stop working and to spend time with Him. 

This is still His longing. And it’s still not a restrictive command about what you can and can’t do on one particular day of the week. It’s a creative command about how you can spend time getting to know your Creator and growing into what He created you to be – a child of God! If Adam and Eve had never made that fatal wrong choice, then perhaps walking with God in the garden would have been the Kingdom of God on earth. In a world separated from God we can only catch a glimpse and have a small taste of the Kingdom by taking advantage of the opportunity that God offers us in the Sabbath.

But before we look at what the Sabbath commandment might mean for a secular world, we should remind ourselves that what we’ve called ‘the Sabbath principle’ is an essential part of both the Old and New Testaments. 


Just as when we looked at the commandment about adultery we found that ‘Marriage’ is a golden thread running through the whole Bible, so we also found that ‘Sabbath’ underlies the commandment about stealing – and it also runs through the whole Bible. And now we’re going to find that it underlies something even deeper.

The Sabbath Day of rest for all (every week), the Sabbath Year of rest for the land and for forgiving debts (every seven years), and the Year of Jubilee when all land returned to its original owners (after seven Sabbath Years), is an incredible principle of justice, fairness, and restriction on wealth. A remarkable socio-economic system that has probably never been tried! (Read again Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15.1-18)

The Sabbath Day itself is a constant punctuation mark in the daily life of God’s people from the middle of the Book of Exodus to the end of the Book of Nehemiah, the last history book in the Old Testament. A sabbath day is first mentioned when the Israelites began gathering the manna God sent them to keep them alive during their wilderness wanderings…

“Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot it melted away. On the sixth day they gathered twice as much… and Moses said to them: ‘This is what the Lord commanded: ’Tomorrow is to be a day of Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord… you will not find (manna) on the ground… six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.” (Exodus 16.21-26) 

            Having time for God was so important that He arranged for them not to even have to think about gathering food on the day He was going to set aside for them! 

            And historically the last mention of the Sabbath in the Old Testament is the occasion at the end of the Book of Nehemiah when Nehemiah had to bring reforms into the life of the people, long after they had returned from Exile, because they were, yet again, failing to live in obedience to God’s Law. And it was the Sabbath that was central…

“In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys… And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath… When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day… From that time on (the merchants) no longer came on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.” (Nehemiah 13.15-22)


So why is keeping the Sabbath such an obsession in the Old Testament? 

Christians often find it odd and a bit difficult to explain why keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. The others are more obviously about moral and godly behaviour, but isn’t Sabbath-keeping just legalistic? Anyway, our holy day is Sunday not Saturday. Surely we don’t have to keep Old Testament rules about what we do on Sunday? 

But this difficulty of ours only shows how badly we misunderstand the Sabbath. 

From Moses to Nehemiah, everyone in the Old Testament who had truly met God and walked with Him knew how essential it was that they make time to meet God and walk with Him! They completely ‘got it’ that as sinners in a fallen world separated from God, we easily forget Him and ignore Him – and so we need to clear a space and make room for Him.


Similarly, God completely ‘got it’ that He needed to make special provision to show His people that despite their sin and separation, He had created them to know Him, worship Him and be with Him. That provision was first a Tent in the desert and then a Temple in Jerusalem so that He could ‘live with them and be worshipped.’ And also, built into their weekly routine, He carved some Time out of their working lives so that He and they could be together. It’s always been God’s longing to be with His people – to ‘walk with us in the garden’ (Genesis 3.8) – and for us all to enjoy being Father and children together. Sabbath isn’t a time to stop doing things, it’s a time to start living with the Lord in the kingdom He is surely bringing about.

But as well as being mentioned more than a hundred times in the Old Testament, the Sabbath commandment is also spoken of some 60 times in the New. This is largely because it was a constant source of contention between Jesus and the religious leaders who opposed Him. Jesus often did things on the Sabbath Day that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law regarded as ‘work’ – and so they attacked Him for breaking the commandment. 

All of the first three Gospels tell us about a series of incidents that illustrate the problem perfectly – as well as showing us what Jesus made of the Sabbath commandment…

“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some ears of corn. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for the priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’ (see 1 Samuel 21.1-6) Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” (Mark 2.23-28)


            Jesus makes quite clear here what we’ve already discovered from looking at the Ten Commandments. God’s laws were never about rule keeping. But this was the Pharisees first mistake: they thought it was.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” God didn’t make human beings because He likes rules and wants someone to keep them! His laws were made for the benefit of human beings because He loves them and wants them to know Him. 

“The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath law in particular isn’t about restricting what work you can do, but about meeting with the Lord of the Sabbath – meeting with God Himself. And so Jesus was saying to those Pharisees: ‘Today, on this Sabbath, you are meeting the Lord of the Sabbath Himself. That’s what the Sabbath is for – not for rule-keeping!’

And incidentally, if that wasn’t a claim to be God, I don’t know what is!

But these very religious Pharisees had deeply misunderstood what the Law and what the Sabbath were about. They even wanted to use it to catch Jesus out and accuse Him – entirely for reasons of their own. And this really made Jesus angry…

“Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mark 3.1-6)


With absolutely no concern for the man suffering with a shrivelled hand, the Pharisees were looking for an opportunity to use a healing as a weapon to attack Jesus. If He did this ‘work’ on the Sabbath, they’d got Him! And this was their second and most damning mistake.

They had so lost sight of the purpose of the Law and had so lost sight of God, that they didn’t even recognize God Himself doing the work of His kingdom – and on the very day He had set aside for experiencing Him and knowing Him. And they started planning to kill Him for it – on the Sabbath! Throughout all four of the Gospels Jesus has this running battle with the religious leaders over the observance and the meaning of Sabbath keeping. This is surely a message, in itself, that truly knowing and experiencing God had been lost, even amongst the leaders of the people of God –and so Jesus had come to make Him known in flesh and blood.

The commandment as we find it in Deuteronomy makes the second reason for the Sabbath Day crystal clear…

 “On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigners residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5.14b-15)


The Sabbath is very definitely a day for spending time with God, but Deuteronomy emphasizes that it is also a day of rest from work. And it is to be rest from work for everybody. Men, women, young, old, slaves, foreigners – even animals – are all to be given rest on the Sabbath Day. This makes it very much part of ‘the sabbath principle’ of justice and fairness for all. And what better time to take rest than when everyone should also be enjoying time with God? It wouldn’t be at all surprising to find that this is the earliest expression in law of the equal value of every human being. Indeed the whole concept of human rights and equality springs from this kind of thinking. 

So taken together, the two versions of the Sabbath commandment tell us that all human beings need rest, and all human beings need the opportunity to get to know the God who created them – but who seems strangely distant.  So this protective and creative law carves out one day a week, 14% of our time, for exactly that. And a detailed reading of the Old Testament regarding ‘sabbath rests’ associated with the annual worship festivals takes that ‘ring-fenced’ time to nearer 20% of our lives!

In a secular world, this law also is a blessing from God.

Finally, there is one more mention of Sabbath in the New Testament that we must look at before we finish, because it casts the full brilliance of the Christian Gospel on the ‘sabbath principle.’ 

            It’s in the Letter to the Hebrews that Sabbath is mentioned for the last time in the New Testament, and it’s a fitting climax to the golden thread of Sabbath that runs through the whole Bible. 

In the first three chapters of his letter, the author of Hebrews demonstrates from Scripture that Jesus is superior to the angels and to Moses, and that He came to make God known to us in fully human form.  Then at the end of chapter 3, he draws a parallel between the generation of God’s people who refused to live obediently with God and died during their wilderness wanderings without entering the Promised Land, and the people of the ‘Jesus generation’ who can finally enter into the rest that they forfeited…

“Therefore, since the promise of entering God’s rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God said, ‘So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest.’’

“And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all his works.’ And again in the passage above he says, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’

“Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest… God again set a certain day, calling it ‘Today’. This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, saying, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’

“…There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following the example of the disobedient.” (Hebrews 3.1-11)


The Sabbath commandment clears a space where people can start to get to know God and start to live with Him if they choose. Christians enter this space of knowing God when they repent, believe, and start a relationship with Jesus. Sabbath living now means living with Jesus, and in Jesus, all the time – and so all the more should we be making time to be with Him, His word and His people. 

It still takes effort, of course, because we continue to live in a busy, driven, broken and self-centred world, and we ourselves continue to be busy, driven, broken and self-centred people. But Jesus is ‘Emmanuel – God with us.’ In Him we can taste, live and experience the kingdom of God before it has fully come. And so embracing the Sabbath commandment, in the way that Jesus understood it and lived it, is an absolute ‘no brainer’ for Christians! 

Despite regularly annoying religious leaders by ‘working’ on the Sabbath, we find in the Gospels that even Jesus Himself had a regular practice of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath and to the Temple when He was in Jerusalem; He had a regular practice of going alone to a quiet place to pray; and in many places He explicitly taught His disciples how to pray and how to relate to their heavenly Father. 

The first ‘calling’ of the first disciples of Jesus was to be with Him, follow Him and spend time with Him together; from the very start of the Book of Acts the followers of Jesus made it their practice to “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” – and because of the attractiveness of this lifestyle of spending time with God, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Throughout the Book of Acts, the followers of Jesus, including Paul, went regularly to the synagogue and the Temple – and evidence of time spent in prayer can be found in all Paul’s letters. 

None of this was legalism, and it wasn’t just part of the busyness of pursuing the Great Commission. It was carving out time to spend with God, to rest with God, and to enjoy the relationship with God that is the whole purpose of the Gospel – on the Sabbath, on other days, and as part of a whole lifestyle of living with the Lord in a world that didn’t yet have the joy and privilege of knowing Him.  What’s not to like about Sabbath rest! Even sociologists of religion say that ‘religious observance’ leads to greater sense of well-being.

            Only when we get to the Book of Revelation and its vision of where we’re all going, is there no need for Tent, Temple, Time or Sabbath…

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth’… ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God… I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple… The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face… they will no longer need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will be their light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 21.1-3 and 22; 22.3-5)

Until then, perhaps the link between living in God’s presence now, and living with Him in heaven is provided by this glorious ending to the Letter of Jude – the last of the New Testament’s letters to churches…

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore. Amen!” (Jude verses 24-25)


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“Parenthood is hereditary. You get it from your children.”

Trauts Rebmik


I think one of the most beautiful and profound truths – one that says a lot about ourselves and about the One Who made us – is to be found in the Bible’s Book of Psalms…

“God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68.6)

Love ’em or hate ’em, families give us our identity. From being proud that you look like your father, to being determined to trace your birth mother, to being damaged by parents who neglected or abused you – for good or ill, ‘family’ shapes us and defines us. And although things can go badly wrong in families as much as they can go gloriously right, God puts ‘family’ at the centre of His Ten Commandments. And He does it in such a way that the emphasis is not just on ‘me and my personal wellbeing.’ We are pointed in other directions as well…

“Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5.16)

At the start of these blogs on the Ten Commandments, I suggested that when God ‘blogged’ them to His own people nearly 3500 years ago, He quite understandably started with their acknowledged relationship with Him and worked down the list to laws about how they related to one another. But I’ve also imagined that if Jesus ‘blogged’ the Ten Commandments to a secular and godless society like ours, He might start ‘down here’ in ‘the fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into’ with protective laws about how to relate to one another, and then work back up the list to laws about relating to Him.

And that’s why we’ve been looking at them in reverse order!

10. Ambition. 9. Slander. 8. Theft. 7. Adultery. 6. Murder. 

With No.5, we’re at a sort of turning point in the Commandments as we look at them this way ’round, because they start turning upwards towards God and how to relate to Him. So, of course, this Commandment gets us looking back to where we’ve come from – our parents.

There are three things that the wording of this Commandment tells us about how we should relate both to one another and to God. And, once again, we start at the very beginning…


The first thing to notice is that this is one of no less than three Commandments that highlight and affirm the marriage relationship. Not coveting your neighbours wife, not committing adultery and honouring your father and mother – these all honour the relationship that God inaugurated right from the very beginning of creation.

“So God created mankind in his own image… male and female he created them… God said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number… It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him… That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 1.27-28; 2.18 and 24)

We are to honour our father and our mother, not because they will always be worthy of honour personally, but because they, and what they are intended to be, represent God’s whole purpose for family and relationships within the human race. Adam and Eve were the first ‘family’. Loneliness was banished because they were uniquely ‘suitable’ for one another; the multiplication of humanity came about because they were two sexes; and by their growing family they gave rise not only to all other family relationships but also to all other families on earth. As the mother and father who gave you life, your parents represent a direct connection with you and the God who created you – and they remind you of His created order.

Understanding the Commandment in this way also makes it clear that we are not only to honour our own parents, but the entire parental generation and the marriages they represent – and indeed the parental generations that went before them. Again, not because they will all be worthy of honour personally, but because what they represent is a glimpse into God as Creator, Parent and originator of Family. Our parents and elders often don’t reflect the character of God well, but because of the very nature God has given them, sometimes they do!


The second thing follows on closely from the first… 

Just as the one man/one woman Marriage relationship has been ‘written into’ our created-ness by God, so the Family has been ‘written into’ human society by God – and both figure extensively throughout the Bible as pictures of how God relates to us. We’ve already seen, when looking at the Commandment about adultery, how Marriage is a constant prophetic picture in Scripture – but in many ways Family looms even larger.

In Genesis Chapters 5 – 11, genealogies of fathers and sons sketch out families that form themselves into nations. And when God destroys the earth in a Flood, He chooses Noah and his family to start all over again (Genesis 6 – 9). When sin goes from bad to worse all over again, culminating in the Tower of Babel incident, God chooses Abraham and his family to set His plan of salvation in motion, and it’s the history and progress of four generations of Abraham’s family that fills the rest of the Book of Genesis – a full 38 chapters! Throughout this whole saga we see God working in and through these families’ relationships – however fraught and disordered they become! He is constantly restoring and honouring family relationships even when they seem hopelessly broken. This is clear from the forced surrogacies of Abraham and Jacob; to the favouritism displayed by Isaac and Rebekah towards their twin sons Jacob and Esau; to Jacob and Esau’s own fear and hatred for one another; and to the jealousy, callousness and cruelty between Joseph and his brothers, and towards their father Jacob.

All this history could have been told as a series of stories about great heroes. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was told as a series of stories about families, fathers, mothers and children.


Because God is a Father towards His people, whom He calls His children. Throughout the Old Testament, God as Father and the Israelites as His family, is a continuous portrayal of how God wants to relate to human beings.

“Say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son…Let my son go, so that he may worship me.” (Exodus 4.22-23)

“You are the children of the Lord your God… Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” (Deuteronomy 14.1 and 32.6) 

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” (Psalm 103.13)

“The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3.12)

“Hear me you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” (Isaiah 1.2)

“‘How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land… I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3.19)

“In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’, they will be called ‘children of the living God’… When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 1.10b and 11.1)

“Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?” (Malachi 2.10)

As well as telling the early history of God’s people as a family saga, warts and all, the first nine chapters of the Book of Proverbs are a father and mother’s wisdom being passed on to their son; the Book of Proverbs ends with the wise sayings of King Lemuel’s mother to her son, and it tells us that ‘a wife of noble character’ is the model for a wise life; and the Wisdom literature ends, in the Song of Songs, with a glimpse into the intimate life and love shared by a husband and wife – all this in amongst all the failures of ‘marriage’ and family relationships we find in the Old Testament!

Yes. In amongst all the mess of human behaviour that the Old Testament honestly portrays, Marriage and Family are a constant drumbeat.


And if Family is a constant drumbeat of the Old Testament, it’s the entire rhythm section of the New! Not only is Marriage and Family in themselves honoured in the New Testament, but Family becomes a theology of the Kingdom of God and of the Church.

The Family genealogy of Jesus is the stepping stone into the New Testament from the Old in Matthew 1.1-17, and Luke traces another Family line in Luke 3.23-38. We’re told that Jesus honoured His parents as a child in Luke 2.51-52, but in all three synoptic Gospels we also hear his Family’s early response to His ministry – and what He did about it…

“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ … Then his mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent someone in to call him… ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.'” (Mark 3.21, 31-35. = Matthew 12.46-50 and Luke 8.19-21)

Praise God that in due course His family came to believe in Him, but this incident wasn’t Jesus demoting His family, but promoting His disciples into His Family. In a profound way, this is the moment when Family became Jesus’ theology of Church. And towards the end of His ministry, we see this theology more ‘fully grown’…

Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.'” (Mark 10.28-31)

There may be many ‘shake ups’ in God’s dealings with humanity and some in our own family may not become members of God’s household, but God’s people will always be described as Family – and they will experience the Fatherhood of God. And of course, Jesus famously taught all His followers to pray..

“Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6.9)


By the time Paul and others are writing about Church in the rest of the New Testament, Christians and the Church are unmistakably the Family of God.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God… The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8.14,16-17)

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6.10)

“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2.10-11)

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do… Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.” (1 Peter 1.14-16 and 2.17)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1.1,11-13)

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3.1)


But the third thing about this fifth Commandment is that as well as simply telling us to honour Family and parents – especially our own – it goes on to tell us why, and what will result if we do so…

“Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5.16)

Very significantly, Paul points out this third thing that the Commandment teaches by quoting it while talking about children and parents in his letter to the Ephesians…

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honour your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6.1-4)

Honouring your father and mother – and honouring Family – is good for the health and wellbeing of society! And this is a promise! Honouring Parents results in Functional Families, and Functional Families are good for our personal flourishing and for the flourishing of society.

As we discovered when looking at the Commandment about adultery, by restricting sex to the one man/one woman relationship and forbidding Marriage between close relatives, the central marriage relationship creates not only children, but also all the other essential relationships of brother, sister, uncle, aunt, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, grandfather, grandmother and friend. In a sexualised society like our own – where almost any relationship is potentially sexual – the richness, strengths and variety of all other relationships gradually disappear.

Where honour for parents, marriage and family disappears, so does society itself!


Finally, this use of the fifth Commandment by Paul in Ephesians prompts us to ask what being obedient to it might look like.

For children it means obeying your parents. But how interesting that Paul says that it is Fathers who are “to bring (their children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” And not only does Paul put responsibility for good and careful parenting firmly into the hands of fathers, but when he tells Timothy how to be a Christian leader, he effectively tells him how this Commandment applies in the Church…

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God….  If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need… (1 Timothy 5.1-4 and 16)

So not only were Christians to honour their parents by caring for them in their old age, but the Church itself took on the responsibility of caring for older people who had no family of their own to do so. Yes indeed, the Church became their Family and was itself a Family.

So from earliest times in the Church, Jesus’ promise came true…

“Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10.29-30)





Stuart's Thinking Christianly Heads

“Coveting, slander, theft and adultery can really drive you wild. But when you’re dead you’re dead!”

Trauts Rebmik


Of all the prohibitions and ‘stop signs’ of the Ten Commandments, there’s one that surely ought to be a ‘no brainer’ for everybody on the planet.

After all, no one wants to get dead.

If there’s any humanity in Humanity surely everyone must agree that killing is wrong. Bereavement is the bane of our lives, illness carries the fear of death, and as Woody Allen so acutely observed: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

No matter how inevitable death is, surely everyone must know that ‘fast-forwarding’ the process for any of our fellow human beings is an evil act.

“You shall not murder.” (Deuteronomy 5.17)

But actually, there’s no ‘surely’ about it. Killing one another is a constant and continuous component of the human condition. In anger or in cold blood, with hatred or with indifference, as an isolated incident or as mass slaughter – we’re at it all the time. We even enjoy watching killing on the television as a spectator sport!

Fictional portrayals aside however, the word used in the commandment usually means a premeditated and deliberate act. So whether you’re killed by a friend, a serial killer, a war machine, an act of genocide, a systematic holocaust, a legal abortion or a compassionate policy of euthanasia – you’ve been murdered.

And God says “Don’t do that!”

But hey, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s ‘start at the very beginning’ again on this one, or we’ll soon be misusing the Bible as so many do in heated debates about the death penalty, war and pacifism.


I think we’d like to believe that murder is an extreme thing, something that crops up at the end of a long process of human sin. But I’m afraid it can trace its ancestry right back to the very start of human activity.

Of course, the first breaking of what would become the Commandments was an act of covetousness and ambition when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit because they believed what the devil had told them: “…you will be like God…” (Genesis 3.4-5).

But murder came hard on its heals, in the second generation…

“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” (Genesis 4.1-8)

And it wasn’t just a crime of passion, it was carried through with indifference…

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?'” (Genesis 4.9)

Even in the face of this cold attitude to his crime, it’s interesting to note that God didn’t punish Cain with death but with banishment from a settled and ‘well-provisioned’ life to an unsettled, isolated and nomadic existence (Genesis 4.10-12). And this filled Cain with fear – ironically because he thought he might be murdered!

“Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no-one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Genesis 4.13-16)

So God very clearly did not want people killing people – not even Cain the murderer! And this protectiveness towards human life is characteristic of all God’s dealings with human beings – even though He banished the murderer from His presence.

But things only got worse amongst Cain’s descendants, and one of them – a man called Lamech – demonstrates how commonplace murder became…

“Lamech said to his wives, ‘Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.'” (Genesis 4.23-24)

In contrast to this arrogance, brutality and self-reliance, when Adam and Eve had another son, some on his side of the family began looking to God…

“Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, ‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.’ Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 4.25-26) 

Down the subsequent generations of Mankind, although it was always possible to “walk with God’ – Enoch and Noah did so (Genesis 5.21-24 and 6.9) – the accumulating consequences of human sin became utterly appalling and, after a patience enduring some 1700 years (Genesis chapter 5), eventually…

“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind whom I have created, from the face of the earth… But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6.5-8)

Indeed, God did wipe out the human race and most animal life – with a flood. But He also promised Noah, whose family He spared, that He would never do that again…

“‘I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off… I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth… Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.’ So God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.'” (Genesis 9.11-17)

However, part of God’s covenant with Noah included these words…

“And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.'” (Genesis 6.5-6)

It seems to me incredibly important that we understand what all this is telling us about killing and about God. God does not want people killing one another. And God does not want to kill people. The Bible teaches us right from the beginning that, far from being the often-portrayed ‘violent and vengeful God of the Old Testament’, for Him killing is an absolute last resort in order to prevent a ‘total meltdown’ in the human race. Wherever our violence and killing came from, we didn’t get it from Him! Quite the reverse. He has to “contend with it” in us. 

All of this means that, yes, God does have a moral right to tell us not to kill one another! But it also tells us that, as our Creator, who gave us life and has promised never to walk away from His creation again whatever we may perpetrate, He also has the moral right to use death to curb humanity’s worst excesses – because He continues to see “how great man’s wickedness on the earth has become.” Indeed, as an introduction to the story of the flood we’re told that God even restricts our lifespan in order to curb these excesses…

“Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man for ever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.'” (Genesis 6.3)


So… given that this is the kind of God He is, we’re not surprised, that after choosing and walking with Abraham, and growing, protecting and rescuing a nation, when He gives them His Commandments He includes one that says “You shall not murder.” 

But we should also not be surprised to find that alongside His foundational Ten Commandments, he also gives them other laws designed to deter and to curb those excesses and behaviours which will destroy their society – and for a few of them He prescribes the death penalty for breaking them.

His intention in giving them all of His laws was that they should live a protected and prosperous life, living ‘with the grain’ of His created order. This is wonderfully expressed in these words that come just after the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy…

“‘Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and their children always!’ … So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you… walk in all the ways that the Lord God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” (Deuteronomy 5.29-33)

Some of these commandments include civil punishments for those who disobey them. We should remember that they were given to the Israelites in a nomadic situation when the whole nation was constantly on the move, so sanctions against serious anti-social and criminal behaviour were limited. In particular, prisons were not really an option.

For some things, people were to be “held responsible” or “God will set his face against them.” For other things, a time of isolation is prescribed. But the death penalty is prescribed for murder, child sacrifice, kidnapping, cursing God, idolatry, attacking or cursing your parents, committing adultery, rape, male homosexual intercourse, marrying both a woman and her mother, having sex with animals, and for being a medium or a spiritist (see particularly Leviticus chapters 18 – 25 but also Exodus chapter 21).

The question of whether other nations that are not ‘God’s People’ should apply these particular punishments to these particular behaviours is not addressed here. This simply tells us what was required of the Israelite nation then – and of course, there is no longer any such thing as a Nation that is also the People of God.  But a failure to recognise these behaviours as damaging to society, and a failure to apply sanctions to them, is morally negligent, bearing in mind the clear connection they have with the  personal suffering of so many, and the breakdown of so many societies. God holds all nations responsible for such negligence.

And by the way, we shouldn’t allow the mention of child sacrifice to fool us into thinking that this deals with an obviously more primitive age than our own, and doesn’t apply to us. Child abuse and child sacrifice are features of all modern societies, not the least of which is the killing of so many babies in the womb – sacrifices to the ‘gods’ of personal choice, personal freedom and personal self-fulfilment.


So apart from making it clear that we can’t use it as an argument against the death penalty, where does this leave us with regard to the Commandment “You shall not commit murder”? If God demands from each of us an accounting for the life of another, who exactly should we not kill, according to the Bible?

The application of the death penalty in Israel answers this question. It’s quite clear who this Commandment is intended to protect…

“If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely… and there is serious injury, you are to take life for life…” (Exodus 21.22-25)

“Anyone who strikes a person and kills them shall surely be put to death… If anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.” (Exodus 21.12-14) 

“Anyone who attacks (or kills) his father or his mother must be put to death.” (Exodus 21.15)

This Commandment is intended to protect people from before birth until old age. It’s as simple as that.

And in case there’s still any doubt, throughout the Scriptures pre-born infants are spoken of by God as persons for whom He has a purpose – from Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25.22-24), to Samson (Judges 13.1-14), to John the Baptist (Luke 1.11-17, 39-45) to Jesus (Luke 1.26-39 and 67-79).

And not forgetting, of course, the prophet Jeremiah to whom God said…

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1.5)

And of course, king David famously said of himself…

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139.13-16)

All that is required for you to be protected by this Commandment is that you were once a twinkle in your heavenly Father’s eye.


So it only remains to address the question of war – in the Bible and in our own day. 

But first some surprising and sobering statistics that might help us to gain some perspective.

Amnesty International estimate that there were some 607 known executions world-wide in 2014. This does not include figures for China for whom these statistics are a state secret – Amnesty International estimates “thousands.”

Our World in Data estimate that there were some 105,000 battle-related deaths in wars world-wide in 2014.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimate that there were some 437,000 murders world-wide in 2012.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that there were some 56 million induced abortions world-wide in 2014.

However inaccurate these figures might be, it’s absolutely clear which is Mankind’s preferred method of breaking the Sixth Commandment.


In the course of writing my forthcoming book, ‘A Pathway into the Bible – Walking with God, Then and Now’, I have read and re-read the Bible many times and very thoroughly, and whether we like what it says or not, it’s really very clear on the subject of war. And when we’ve understood what it’s telling us we’re still left with a dilemma – the dilemma God Himself continuously faces as He not only keeps His promise never to walk away from us but also still has to contend with the full extent and consequences of human sin.

On the one hand, it’s quite clear that God hates war. He condemns nations for war crimes, genocides and crimes against humanity through the words of the prophets from Amos onwards (Amos 1.3 – 2.5). Not only does He hate war but we find, particularly in the prophet Jeremiah and the Book of Lamentations, that He is a God whose heart is broken and who weeps at the violence and death that results from human sin. In what the context shows us is a heart-rending description of the dead bodies of people whom God treasures littering the streets of Jerusalem during the terrible 18-month siege of the city, He says…

“The sacred gems are scattered at the head of every street.” (Lamentations 4.1)

But on the other hand, it’s equally clear that God uses warfare to limit, control and punish nations that persist in aggression and violence – even when He has patiently given them every opportunity to pursue justice and a peaceful ‘foreign policy.’ This painful and awesome activity of God is written all over the Prophets and is an inescapable aspect of the History Books of the Old Testament, and what the Bible teaches about God’s dealings with humanity – including with His own ancient people.

Neither Jesus nor any of the writers of the New Testament modify this understanding of how God is at work on the global stage. In fact, the only words (as far as I am aware) that Jesus addresses to secular power are the ones He addresses to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate…

“‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realise I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.'” (John 19.10-11)

And some of the very last words describing the final actions of Jesus Himself in our world, before the coming of the New Heaven and the New Earth, speak the same language as the Old Testament…

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns…. He is dressed in a robe dripping with blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him… On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19.11-14)

Thank God that it is Jesus, the Saviour – and only He – who carries through this aspect of the activity of God in our fallen world!

But it’s in the words of Jeremiah in the Old Testament book of Lamentations, written from the very crucible of war, that we hear a very New Testament note of hope…

“Yet this I call to mind and have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness… For men are not cast off by the Lord for ever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” (Lamentations 3.21-23, 31-33)


God’s great dilemma is clear throughout the whole Bible.

He has promised that He will never again “cut off all life” (Genesis 9.11). He has shown Himself determined to always give us freedom to choose. He has demonstrated in His dealings with humanity that He will never walk away from us. Clearly, in God’s economy, freedom of choice and the opportunity to repent is to remain open for as long as possible.

And it continues to be true that God sees “how great man’s wickedness on the earth has become.”

What safer communities and what a more peaceful globe we would have if we took to obeying the command “You shall not murder.”

And what great patience must God have, what broken-heartedness must He suffer, and what a precious gift the opportunity of repentance and forgiveness must offer, that He should continue to walk with societies and with nations where babies are killed in the womb at a far greater rate than warfare and death penalty and cold-blooded murder have ever killed.

But the Old Testament and the New, the Prophets, the History Books and Jesus Himself tell us that God’s patience will not last for ever. 



Stuart's Thinking Christianly Heads

“Pay attention to the ancients, my son! The father of Proverbs spoke of broken bones: ‘A man who commits adultery rouses a husband’s fury.’ King Solomon spoke of love: ‘Rejoice in the wife of your youth – may you ever be captivated by her love.’ Jeremiah the prophet spoke of a broken nation with ‘lusty stallions, each neighing for another man’s wife.’

“Whether for healing a society, fostering love or avoiding a punch in the mouth, choosing faithfulness is the beginning of wisdom!”

Trauts Rebmik

Now I may just be talking to myself here, but…..

I rather like the story of Moses coming down from the mountain after receiving God’s laws. “Well,” he said, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is I’ve got Him down to ten. The bad news is the one on adultery is IN.”

Good joke, but the fact is that it’s the biggest and baddest of bad news that our society, and many others, are choosing to leave ‘the one on adultery’ OUT when it comes to the way we live our lives, the way we educate our children, and the way we develop our laws. This is because ‘the one on adultery’ is like ‘the one on stealing’: it’s very simply stated but it has a vital biblical backstory behind it…

“You shall not commit adultery.” (Deuteronomy 5.18)

The Hebrew word for ‘to commit adultery’ has a very specific meaning. It means sex when either the man or the woman is married to someone else. It’s a commandment intended to protect the marriage bond – one of no less than three of the Ten Commandments that honour marriage.

Because yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s marriage that is the big, biblical backstory that lies behind ‘the one on adultery.’ ‘No coveting’ is a recipe for Global Stability, ‘no slander’ is a recipe for Human Dignity, ‘no thieving’ is a recipe for Financial Security – and the whole Bible makes it absolutely clear that ‘no adultery’ is a recipe for a Healthy Society.

To understand why this is true, we can’t start by talking about adultery, we have to start by talking about the big, biblical backstory of marriage. In fact we have to follow that famous advice again, from the song in ‘The Sound of Music’ : ‘Let’s start at the very beginning, because it’s a very good place to start.’ And when I say ‘the beginning’, I really mean ‘the beginning’! The first words of the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, say this…

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1.1)

And right after He’d created everything else, He set about creating human beings…

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1.26)

But there’s more.

If all this is God’s work of art, then He’s also put His signature on it – and not so much ‘on it’, as woven into its fabric. It’s a signature that reflects His very character, not just in the substance of His creation but in a relationship that arises out of the substance of His creation…

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1.27)

God’s reason for creating “male and  female” is firstly, because He wanted them to…

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1.28)

And secondly, because…

“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”(Genesis 2.18) 

None of the animals were suitable companions for the man, and so God created someone who was ‘the same but different.’ This person was a woman! The man expressed delight and fulfilment at this wonderful result!

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  (Genesis 2.23)

And we’re told that this ‘same but different’ quality is the basis of marriage, and the basis on which Mankind, as a whole, reflects the image of God – and right at the very end of the creation account, His ‘signature’ is made to stand out in bold relief…

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and the wife were both naked and they felt no shame.”(Genesis 2.24-25)

So let’s get this straight. Human beings – male and female united together – have a unique resemblance to God. As a pair, we are His ‘spitting image’! God can be met with, in all His maleness and femaleness, within the intricacies of a marriage, because a marriage relationship consists of a man and a woman. His character as a relationship-making God is reflected in the very nature of this deep and complex marriage bond.

And all of us have an inescapable part in this foundational relationship, whether as husband, wife or child.

Many other passages in Scripture stress the importance (and the heterosexual nature) of this key relationship, and the need to protect it.

In the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament, of the first nine chapters of The Book of Proverbs (which are an introduction to the whole book and to wisdom in general) two and a half chapters are devoted to warnings against committing adultery (Prov. 5.1-23 and 6.20 – 7.27). One whole book, The Song of Songs, is given over entirely to exploring the emotional and sexual relationship between a woman and her male lover. It wholeheartedly affirms sex and heterosexuality. Clearly, this marriage bond is to be treasured, enjoyed and safeguarded as a deep expression of the way we are made.

Jesus’ teaching on sex in His ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in The Gospel of Matthew again focuses on marriage. He clearly intends us to understand that the marriage bond is not to be broken or violated…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 6.27-28)

The same is true in His teaching about divorce later in the gospel. He quotes from Gen. 1.27 and 2.24 to emphasise that we are created “male and female” and that, once bound together in marriage, we should not be separated…

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5.32)

Significantly, Jesus later goes on to speak about the possibility of remaining unmarried and sexually inactive for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19.10-12).

Paul’s teaching on the marriage relationship in his letter to the Ephesians once again emphasises its heterosexual nature. Like Jesus, he quotes the creation account and he draws a direct comparison between marriage and the relationship Jesus has with the Church…

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church… ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. ” (Ephesians 5.22-33)

And this thought that marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church picks up an idea that runs all through the Old Testament – and then all the way to the end of the New.

God made human beings with the ability, just like Himself, to make relationships. In particular, at the heart of our ‘created-ness’, He made us able to form the deepest and most satisfying of relationships with someone who is ‘the same but different.’ And in the Books of Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we discover a major reason why He gave us this marriage bond: it was so that He could use it to speak about the relationship there can be between us and Him – who are ‘the same’ (we are made in His image), ‘but different’ (we are human, He is divine)…

“The Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites…” (Hosea 3.1)

“‘Return, faithless people’ says the Lord, ‘for I am your husband…. like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me….'” (Jeremiah 3.14 and 20)

“The Sovereign Lord says (to His people)…’Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you…..and you became mine.'” (Ezekiel 16.8)

As well as Paul speaking of marriage as a picture of Christ and the Church, in The Gospel of John we hear John the Baptist comparing himself with Jesus…

“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3.29-30)

And the Book of Revelation ends – and rounds off the whole Bible – with a vision of the Church of God as the Bride of Christ…

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband… ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb (Jesus).’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain, great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Revelation 21.1-2. 9-10) 

The marriage bond, and the difference that God has made between the sexes, has a triple purpose. It is so that we can “be fruitful and increase in number”, it is to meet our deepest need for companionshipand it is a universal visual aid, built into creation, which speaks of the possibility of having a relationship with God. The marriage bond of one man and one woman really is the ‘signature’ of God woven into the very fabric of His creation.


But why doesn’t the commandment that deals with sex not simply say “You shall not have sex outside marriage”? Why isn’t it a prohibition of all extra-marital sex?  After all, many other Old Testament laws, and the unanimous teaching of the New Testament, is that sexual activity of any kind outside marriage is wrong.

Well, it’s because this commandment, just like all the others, isn’t primarily about urging us to good individual moral behaviour for its own sake! These Ten Commandments are God’s protective ‘stop signs’ urging us not to do those things which cause the greatest damage to human society – and the sexual behaviour that damages society most seriously is the one that breaks marriages.

Not only did God create heterosexual marriage as a ‘built in’ feature of what it means to be human, but marriage itself creates all the other relationships in the whole inter-connected network that makes up every human community.

Marriage creates husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, great aunts and great uncles, step-parents and step-children, blood relatives and yes, relatives by marriage.

When a marriage bond is broken, it impacts on all these other relationships, causing various degrees of hurt, distress, division and resentment – and it shakes and weakens families and communities, just as a building would be shaken and weakened if its foundations were broken up.

If you read the family stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Samson and Hosea – to name only the famous ones – you’ll find that whenever they took multiple wives or broke these laws, bad stuff always followed.

These behaviours are not commended in the Bible, they are simply described. They are demonstrations of why God’s ‘stop signs’ are always needed!

So adultery not only breaks faith within the deepest of all personal relationships, it also disrespects the marriage bond that demonstrates the divine image in humanity, it obscures the picture that marriage gives us of the relationship we can have with God, and – into the bargain – it destabilises families and destroys communities!

The Book of Leviticus extends and elaborates on the ‘no adultery’ commandment by listing a series of unlawful sexual relations – and it’s clear that the intention behind all of these is to protect and maintain that wider network of relationships that have been created by marriage…

“No-one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord. Do not dishonour your father by having sexual relations with your mother…. Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonour your father… Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter..(nor) with your son or daughter’s daughter… the daughter of your father’s wife… your father’s sister… your mother’s sister.. your uncle’s wife… your daughter-in-law… your brother’s wife… with both a woman and her daughter… with her close relatives… with your wife’s sister while your wife is living… with a woman during her monthly period… (and) Do not have sexual relations with your neighbour’s wife and defile yourself with her.” (Leviticus 18.6-20)

We should notice that all of these are specifically prohibited not only for the sake of those having the sex, but also for the sake of their spouses and other relatives, whether related by blood or not.

In addition, as we saw earlier, God made humankind “male and female”, and He made pro-creative marriage the foundational relationship that uniquely expresses His image. So to deliberately misuse sex outside that relationship, including with children (Leviticus 18.21), with your own sex (Leviticus 18.22) or with animals (Leviticus 18.23) – is a wilful distortion of a good gift that is part of God’s good intentions for humanity. It is to deliberately ‘scribble all over’ God’s ‘signature’ that He has carefully woven into creation.

Both chapters 18 and 20 of the Book of Leviticus make it clear that this destructive misuse of sex was characteristic of the nations that surrounded the Israelites of that time, and so God calls all – repeat all – of these practices “detestable things” – or as older translations have it “an abomination.” (Leviticus 18.26)

These laws are not about individual human rights! They actually tell us who not to have sex with so that the full range of other essential human relationships (including same sex friendships) can be enjoyed, and play their vital role in society, without always being potentially sexual. Where all relationships become potentially sexual, the wider web of relationships begin to break down, and society as a whole becomes coercive and abusive. We see this happening so clearly in so many societies today, that it’s actually quite surprising to find the Bible’s laws about sexual behaviour so widely regarded as unhelpful and inappropriate!


So what does Jesus and the rest of the New Testament have to say specifically about adultery, which the Ten Commandments pick out as the most serious and most damaging of sexual sins?

First of all, Jesus’ foundational teaching about the Law and the Old Testament is to be found in His foundational ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in The Gospel of Matthew

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5.17-19)

And when He specifically speaks about adultery, He’s equally clear and uncompromising…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5.27-30)

Which, being translated, means: “Don’t even think about it!” 

Jesus names adultery as sin on at least three other occasions (Matthew 15.19; 19.19; John 8.3); John the Baptist lost his life for pointing out king Herod’s sin of adultery (Mark 6.18); and Paul, in his letter to the Romans clearly affirms Jesus’ teaching, both on adultery and on how Law and Love relate to one another…

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” (Romans 13.8-10)

Which, being translated, means: “A Christian loves others by at least obeying the commandments!”

And the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews also pulls no punches…

“Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13.4)


As we imagine Jesus ‘blogging the Ten Commandments’ to our secular society – but starting at the bottom of the list and working back to the top – the protective effect of keeping these laws is crystal clear.

‘No coveting’ by individuals or nations would mean a much safer and more stable world. ‘No slander’ in personal or public life would mean a global increase in justice and hugely enhanced human dignity. ‘No thieving’ in private, corporate, national or international life would mean more widespread financial security.


No adultery, the honouring of the biblical backstory of marriage, and the limiting of sexual activity to the making and maintaining of marriage bonds, would mean ‘safe space’ everywhere for women, children and vulnerable adults, and ever-expanding possibilities of trust, loyalty and faithfulness in families, friendships and professional relationships. The improvement in emotional, physical and mental well-being would make for a healthier society that would be a joy to live in!


A Guest Blog by Gillian KimberPhoto on 22-10-2018 at 15.31 #2-2

“Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.” (Joel 1.3)

Let me tell you a third story…

A story about leaders and people.

About different kinds of freedom and slavery.

About choosing a kind of slavery.

And losing your freedom.



It is, I’m afraid, a rather long, sad story about wars and times of peace, and about how hard it is for nations and leaders to behave better than families. And, just as you are about to give up hope,  it’s about the astonishing Good News in God’s Great Story.

Now, Moses had a young assistant and apprentice, Joshua.

Near the end of his life Moses, who is amazingly called the friend of God, had overstepped the bounds. He lost his temper with the people and took the credit for what God had done. Now Moses was no longer the right person to lead the people: Joshua was. After a glimpse into the country first promised to Abraham, Moses died and God buried him in a secret grave.

Just like Moses had taken the people through the Red Sea, their new leader Joshua took the people through the River Jordan and into the Promised Land. Then the new generation that had grown up during the forty years in the wilderness dedicated themselves to God again by circumcision.

But first, God said to Joshua:

‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you

I will never leave you or forsake you

Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you

Be strong and courageous

Do not be afraid

Do not be discouraged

For the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go’

The four hundred years that God had told Abraham he was giving the people of Canaan freedom to choose how they would live, was over. Their sin and idol worship had reached its peak and God was using the nation of Israel to punish them.

By powerful miracles, very like those Moses had done, Joshua and the people conquered the fortified city of Jericho, the city of Ai, and many other cities with their kings, including one that would become known as Jerusalem. The stories shock us deeply, because God ordered them to kill the people in whole cities.

How could he do that?


We are challenged – can we trust that the LORD, the Righteous Judge knew what had been happening during those four hundred years? We know it included child sacrifice and the abuse of women in pagan worship….

While Joshua led them, the Israelites did serve the LORD, but after he died they were left to themselves, and chose to worship the war and fertility gods of the people they had conquered – called Baals and Ashtoreths. Then they married into their families and copied their way of life. Not good…

So, the LORD stopped helping them, and let them be defeated by raiders from their enemies.

Each time when it got bad enough, they repented – recognised they had done wrong – and turned back to the LORD, who then gave them war leaders called Judges to free them. However, as soon as that person died the cycle repeated. God had to choose judges from the people who were there, and it seems to me he didn’t have that many good people to choose from.

Deborah, a prophet as well as the only female judge, is probably the best role model. Of the other judges the most famous are Gideon, who showed great faith during his campaigns but ended up making an idol himself, and the mighty warrior Samson, who defeated the Philistines but seemed too easily to fall in love with their beautiful women.

However, the last Judge, Samuel, was more than a judge and a leader. He was born in answer to the prayer of faith of his mother Hannah. When he was a very young child she fulfilled her vow and apprenticed him to the family of priests at the shrine at a place called Shiloh. From the beginning he also showed that he was called to be a true prophet of God.

One night the old priest Eli and Samuel were asleep when the LORD called “Samuel!”

Thinking that Eli had called him he ran to him and said “Here I am; you called me”. Eli sent him back to bed, but after this had happened three times he realised that God was calling him. God had a message for Eli: he and his sons were about to be removed because of their terrible behaviour.

Samuel grew up to be a recognised prophet. Eli’s two sons were killed in a terrible battle with their enemies the Philistines in which they captured the Ark of God. This was the ornate gold-covered chest into which Moses had put the sacred stone tablets of the Ten Commandments for safe-keeping.

Eli died of shock.

From then on Samuel was both priest, military leader and Judge, rather like Moses and Joshua, leading the people in fighting the Philistines.

However, history was starting to repeat itself. Samuel was greatly respected, but as he grew old, his two sons who he had appointed to succeed him were clearly unfit to be judges. Together the elders of Israel came to ask him to give them a king instead. Samuel felt rejected, but in prayer God told him to do as they asked, but to warn them about the cost of having a king: serving in his army, paying taxes and losing their freedom.

Still they insisted.

God’s first choice, Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, was everything a fairy-tale king should be. He was tall, handsome, modest and powerful. He was a prophet and successful in battle. Samuel gave a thundering speech reminding the people to depend on the LORD and remember the miracles of the Exodus under Moses. Then he retired as their judge.

For many years Saul did well.

He expelled mediums and witches from the country, and his son Jonathan led successful campaigns against their enemies. But then, against God’s clear instructions he looted the spoils of war, so God called Samuel out of retirement to tell Saul that he was no longer with him.

So as the story goes on, we find Samuel again operating as God’s king-maker. This time the person of God’s choice is the youngest son of Jesse, David, from Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah. He was much less outwardly impressive than his seven older brothers, not yet old enough to be in Saul’s reserve army, and still looking after his father’s sheep. God said to Samuel:

“Do not look at his outward appearance

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.

Man looks at the outward appearance

but God looks at the heart.”

By now Samuel had died, and without his support, King Saul had become depressed and frightened of losing the kingdom. Meanwhile, as David grew up he became a talented poet and musician. He entered the king’s service as one of his armour bearers, but also as musician to play for the king and lift his moods.

Goliath, a nine-foot giant of a man, was the boastful and heavily armoured champion of the Philistines. Facing Saul and the Israelite army he challenged them to choose a champion for a duel. Embarrassing his older brothers, young David stepped forward in his shepherd’s clothes. Then, carrying just a sling and five smooth stones, he cried:

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin

But I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty,

The God of Israel who you have defied.”

With one stone Goliath was knocked unconscious, and beheaded by David with his own sword. Without their champion the Philistines took fright and fled.

There are many other stories of David and the way Saul increasingly distrusted him and made many attempts upon his life. Yet David waited for God to give him the kingdom he promised, and did not try to take the kingdom away from the man God first chose.

Finally, both Saul and his sons died in battle and David succeeded him as king at the age of thirty.

But life as king was even more difficult. In the forty years of his rule he won many battles against the enemies of Israel, and the prophet Nathan brought him God’s promises, instructions and warnings. We can get an idea of the heart that God was looking at when he chose him, by reading the numerous Psalms he wrote. They have inspired many generations of Jews and Christians to this day.

But in his later years, David too gave in to the temptations of being in power. Probably the huge number of wives he had was normal for kings in his day, but that does not make it any easier for us in our time to accept him as an ideal ruler.

But God was most concerned by his breaking of a marriage and the cover-up of his affair with Bathsheba when he arranged for the murder of her loyal husband.

David did repent, but his later years were marred, most terribly, by the abuse of his daughter Tamar by one of her half-brothers. Two of his sons tried to take over as king, and there were rivalries amongst his trusted leaders in his army. Despite his many failings, David’s faith, humility and desire to please God came to mean that he and his kingdom became a kind of taster for life on earth in the Kingdom of God, with a ruler he had anointed.

Most importantly, God promises him that:

“When your days are over

I will raise up one of your own sons to succeed you

I will establish his throne for ever

I will be his father and he will be my son.”

So, it came to be that Jews (up to the present time), have understood that the Messiah, a title which means both an anointed king and the leader who would finally deliver his people from their enemies, must be a descendant of King David.

Greek-speaking Jews used the word Christ, so we ‘Christians’ call Jesus, descendant of king David, our King and Saviour.

God chose Bathsheba’s son Solomon, to be king after David’s death.

Solomon was internationally famous for his learning and wisdom. He was the author of many proverbs, and probably a book on the meaning of life, and a poetic love song. The Kingdom of Israel reached its height during his long reign, and God called him to build the splendid Temple in Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant and be the national centre of godly worship. However, he caused great resentment amongst his subjects for the level of taxation – just as Samuel had warned.

Then under his foolish, proud and boastful son Rehoboam, there was idol worship again. Then the kingdom split in two. A northern Kingdom, with its capital city Samaria, broke away under Jeroboam, an ambitious rebel official in the king’s service, and very confusingly they took with them the name Israel.

The story of the many other kings of this northern kingdom of Israel is that they chose to worship the war and fertility gods of the people they had conquered under Joshua.  Of each one, a very similar thing is said:

The king “…did evil in the eyes of the LORD

walking in the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat

and his sin which he had caused Israel to commit.”

The worst of these was King Ahab and his wife Jezebel who displayed the typical pride, greed and violence of dictators even in our own time. His enemy and God’s mouthpiece, Elijah, was the most famous of the early prophets. God used all of them to warn his people in the two kingdoms of the judgement that would come if they didn’t change, and to plead with them to return to worshiping and serving him.

Later prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, pleaded passionately on God’s behalf for his people to return to him, and warned of the judgement that would follow if they didn’t. Isaiah glimpses the Messiah in his famous Servant Songs. He is also the most quoted prophet by Jesus and his apostles.

Eventually after twenty kings, all of whom worshipped idols, the LORD used Assyria to punish the Northern Kingdom for their disobedience and sin. They were mostly taken captive away from their land by the powerful Assyrian Empire, and the people living in that area became only loosely descended from Abraham’s family.

After the division of the kingdom, the Southern Kingdom became the Kingdom of Judah, named after the tribe of their kings who were all from David’s family.

Perhaps now, the political power of the Palace, the religious power of the Temple, and the words of godly prophets, would bring in the Kingdom of God on earth?

However, many kings were little better than their cousins in the north, and most people were happy to follow their example. Unfortunately, as in the case of the Northern Kingdom, God’s warnings fell on deaf ears.

The prophet Jeremiah wept over the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He could see how terrible it was going to be, but nobody was listening to his warnings.

In Judah there were quite a lot of kings like the reformer Hezekiah who, it was said, “followed the ways of his father David”, but many followed the ways of the north instead.

Meanwhile in Exile with the people of the Northern Kingdom, the prophet Ezekiel had had visions of the LORD who sees all. These revealed disgusting scenes of pagan worship back in Jerusalem, right within the Temple itself, and throughout the city and countryside – shocking abuse of one another in ways forbidden by God’s Law.

In time, the increasingly deaf kingdom of Judah would also be punished by the LORD’s instrument: in this case the cruel Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar, after he had conquered the Assyrians. The people of Judah became refugees in countries such as Egypt where Jeremiah found himself, or captured and taken to Babylon like the prophet Daniel, who in a similar way to Joseph, rose to high office, although a slave.

But there are wonderful stories of the way God delivered Daniel and his faithful companions from the political scheming they found themselves caught up in in Babylon – a fiery furnace, a den of lions.

However, probably the most important of Daniel’s God-given gifts was interpreting prophetic dreams. For instance, a dream was given to Nebuchadnezzar of an enormous statue with a gold head, a silver chest, belly and thighs of bronze, iron legs and feet of iron mixed with clay. It was utterly destroyed by a great rock. We can learn how Daniel told the king of his own time what God was telling him, but for us it is also a key to understanding how powerful kingdoms grow and are destroyed, and how God uses both good and wicked men to guide history towards his Messiah.

It was Daniel, too, who was able to tell the captives that they would return after seventy years of exile. This would finally happen under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah when the Babylonians were defeated by the “rock” of the Persian king Cyrus. (Bad people being punished by other bad people). Cyrus decided it would be a good idea to send back some of the slave peoples to their countries: maybe they would be grateful to be freed, and perhaps they’d take with them their grateful and humbled gods?

After many difficulties and delays, the destroyed city walls of Jerusalem and the walls of Solomon’s Temple were rebuilt. Then there was a great celebration during which the people promised themselves and God to live as he commanded.

So it seems to me that both judges and kings had a hard time being good themselves – let alone keeping the ordinary people from behaving badly.

But Ezekiel understood and shows us this: God justly and completely rules over all kings and powers. He will be faithful to his promises to Noah, Abraham and David, and therefore he will still establish his Kingdom here on earth – and his Messiah in the eternal city.

“And the name of the city from that time on will be:



But before the final coming in of God’s Kingdom

there is a great silence.

Humanity waiting for The Messiah.

God waiting for the right time…


Now let me tell you The Great Story

The crown of those three stories

The Great Story of Stories that is happening even now…


Four hundred long years passed, but God never stops being in charge.

The great kingdoms of Persia and Egypt rose and fell.

People prayed, but the LORD did not Speak.

The mighty Greek Empire of Philip, and his son the great Alexander, was swallowed whole by the mightier Romans.

Finally, at the right time, God Said his complete Word

and the Messiah came!

As one of the early leaders of the church said:

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command.

By faith Abraham …. Isaac…. Jacob…. Moses…. Gideon…. Samson….

David and Samuel and the prophets…. were all commended for their faith,

 yet none of them received what was promised,

since God had planned something better for us

 so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”


Jesus, was a descendant of David, but born into a humble family. His birth wasn’t like anyone else’s, but his earthly father Joseph had faith like that of Abraham, and his mother Mary‘s faith was like Hannah’s.

Like Moses he barely escaped being murdered when he was a child, by a frightened and wicked ruler. Like Moses he led his people through waters, as he calls us to turn around and follow him – to repent and be baptised with him in water.

Like David, he started ruling when he was thirty, the age of maturity. But he did not marry, nor did he sin like David and the other kings. David was anointed by the prophet Samuel, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God.

He alone used God’s power only when and how God willed.

Moses and Elijah often represent the Law and the Prophets. They appeared to Jesus on a mountain where his true, glorious identity was briefly revealed to three of his closest followers: Peter (the ‘Rock’), James and John.

Jesus’ most famous miracles of healing and deliverance from evil spirits, were greater and more numerous than the miracles of all the old leaders. His teachings seemed new, yet they went to the heart of what God had already revealed, and the laws he had already given. Children, women and the poor were treated by Jesus as nobody else had done in any of the Three Stories.

Just before he died, he and his twelve close friends were gathered to celebrate the yearly Passover festival. At that meal, Jesus took the rescue story of Moses leading Abraham’s family from slavery in Egypt, and fulfilled it by making it his own story, the story of the LORD, through his Messiah, finally bringing the kingdom of God to earth.

Yet Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of those close friends working for his enemies, and executed on a cross. It was an unjust and cruel death, ordered by Pontius Pilate who was a politician in a tight political corner.

His death, not the death of Adam, or the sacrifice of Isaac, became the full and fitting ‘Taking of Responsibility and Payment’ for all our sins against our Creator and Father. His willingness to suffer and die is the window that we look through when we want to understand how much God loves us and how much love costs.

Three days after his death, Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. More than five hundred people met him alive…. recognisable by the wounds from the Cross, but radiantly alive, speaking, eating and breaking bread as he used to do.

Yet he is changed.

Now Jesus’ body is no longer mortal, and perhaps because it is not touched by the limitations we experience, even people who knew him best were slow to recognise him.

Finally, before he left the limitations of space and time and went back into the eternity of complete unity and love with His Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit, he promised to send the Holy Spirit to them.


So Jesus completes in The Great Story, everything that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, had Said from the beginning.

And his Story is our Story…

His call to “Repent” is a call back to our first purpose to bear his image into his world, and to do it his way.

The Good News he brings us, is of the forgiveness we need for the wrong choices we made and make still, and the rescue we long for from the badness that enslaves us.

It is also of the resurrection victory he had over death and his promise that our deaths, too, will be defeated by him

God’s own Spirit is with us, helping us to hear his voice again. He takes Jesus’ words and teaches them to us, he inspires us in our prayers, he opens to us the many other stories of people in the Bible – examples both good and bad. He coaches and encourages us in our new Family of people we find both easy and difficult to love. He joins with us in our worship and takes us into the heart of God in Communion.

And the Kingdom of God grows quietly and steadily between us….

Together, as his Family, we tell The Great Story of how God made a beautiful world. Of how he gave us the task of taking his Image into it and ruling and shaping it to his glory. And of how we chose another way of brokenness and false gods, of exploitation and greed and death. The Story tells of the many ways we failed and fail still – and of how God ‘Took the Responsibility’ of bringing us back to himself. It is the Great Story of how each one of us – man by man, woman by woman, child by child – in our families and communities and nations, are being invited to be members of his new First Family, living his way in his Kingdom.

And when God finally judges all things, the Story tells us that his people will rule over his world as his Image Bearers – the Body of Christ – and as his beloved Bride.

Jesus says: “Yes, I am coming soon.”

And we call out to him: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”
















A Guest Blog by Gill KimberPhoto on 22-10-2018 at 15.31 #2-2

“Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.” (Joel 1.3)

Let me tell you a second story.

The second of the three stories in the One Great Story.

Where a people are made slaves and God leads them to freedom.



I’m sure you know that families and the people in them aren’t perfect.

Despite everything, Abraham wasn’t the perfect father and nor was his son Isaac. Isaac’s wife Rebecca gave birth to just two children, twin boys called Esau, the firstborn, and Jacob who came out of the womb holding on to his brothers heel.

Unfortunately, neither parent was wise enough to know that they should value both their children equally.

The boys had different natures: the elder, a man of action and impulse who loved the outdoor life, but his brother not macho at all. Jacob preferred to stay indoors with his mother and was particularly good at things like cooking. Very sadly Isaac made no secret of preferring Esau, and Rebecca followed suit by preferring the much quieter son Isaac.

A recipe for disaster!

This is what happened: Jacob tricked his brother Esau into promising him the larger and more important inheritance of an eldest son in exchange for just a tasty meal. Then, working together with his mother, he impersonated his brother and tricked his father, old blind Isaac, into making it official.

Jacob had to run for his life to take refuge with his uncle Laban after Isaac died. There he learned the hard way what it is like to be shamelessly exploited and cheated by a close relative. Much later he had to wrestle with God, his guilty conscience, and his fear of Esau, before he was ready to return home, complete with his twelve sons.

If you remember, these sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. These would be the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.

But Jacob never did learn how important it was to value all your children equally. No, he not only had favourites among his wives (yes, he had four. Leah, her younger prettier sister Rachel who was the favourite, and, I’m afraid, their two maidservants Zilpah and Bilhah) but also, among his sons, he predictably favoured Joseph and Benjamin, the two sons of his favourite wife. These are just some of the things in the Stories that are sad and not right, and nearly always lead to other things equally sad and bad.

What I didn’t tell you in the first story was that Abraham had taken a surrogate wife Hagar, and had a son Ishmael by her. This was a sin against Hagar, and a doubting sin against God that he had needed to forgive. He is always faithful, so at least he blessed Hagar and Ishmael too, with a nation descended from Ishmael’s own twelve sons.

But you can see how Jacob probably thought that having wives and surrogate wives wasn’t really a sin. After all everybody did it, even Abraham, and God didn’t seem to mind.

This is one of the problems God often has – if he punishes us for our sins, we think he is an angry God. But if he doesn’t, we reason that he approves of what we’ve done!

Back to Jacob.

When he returned finally, he found that Esau wasn’t still angry with him and they both settled down with their families at a reasonable distance from each other. But his favourite son Joseph got into trouble by not realizing how jealous his older brothers were of the way he was loved and pampered. They plotted together to get rid of him by selling him into slavery. They then covered up their crime by telling their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. In the end Jacob’s lasting grief made them ashamed.

To cut a long and interesting story short, God brought Joseph into a very important job in the government of the Pharaoh of Egypt, so that when a famine drove the whole family there as refugees, he was able to rescue them and settle them into the land. After he’d forgiven them, of course. Joseph and all his family lived and died in Egypt.

Their descendants stayed on. They didn’t fit in and become Egyptians partly because they had a different God. And also because Egyptians thought keeping sheep and goats made them dirty. However, they did well and grew in numbers so much that their rulers thought they were a security risk. The new Pharaoh decided to control them and use them by making them all into slaves.

Then the Rescuing God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob put his next part of the rescue plan into operation.

The Pharaoh had started to commit genocide by drowning all the boy babies born to the Israelites. One of these, a descendant of Jacob’s son Levi was put into the river in a little waterproofed basket like a tiny version of Noah’s great boat. Then God arranged for a royal princess to find him and decide to bring him up as an Egyptian.

She called him Moses, a name meaning ‘drawn out’ (of the water).

Later we will find lots of reminders of this event including when God rescues his people, led by Moses, by parting the waters of the Red Sea. Jesus is also ‘drawn out’ of the water of baptism. And the way we signal our rescue by God from our sins is by being baptized ourselves.

But first Moses had to grow up to adulthood in the palace and start to see how badly his fellow Israelites were being treated.

First, he had to try, and fail, to rescue them himself, run away, meet the God of his ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and learn that he isn’t just another ‘god-let’, but the LORD Who Is. Finally, The LORD sent him back to Pharaoh to set his people free by the power of his Mighty Hand. It’s a long and very exciting story, as Pharaoh again and again refuses to let his slave workforce leave. Through ten terrible plagues, the LORD showed how much more powerful he is than the gods of Egypt. His last plague involved the death of all the firstborn of people and animals. Only the Israelites and those who sheltered with them in a house marked with the blood of a sacrificed lamb were spared.

This is called the Passover, and many years later, Jesus, God’s only Son was crucified at the yearly Passover festival.

After that Moses, Aaron his brother, their sister Miriam, and all the the people and animals, spent forty years wandering around the desert gradually learning who the LORD is, and what it means to worship him and know him and be called by his Name.

Probably the most important thing they learn is that the LORD is Holy: meaning a kind of unchanging goodness that is dangerous to people like you and me.

This is especially important whenever we want to talk to him, ask for forgiveness or ask him to help us.

The TEN COMMANDMENTS that God gave to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai are the foundation of the holy way of life that God’s people are to live, and the miraculous provision of water and food in the desert reminds us that we should trust God to meet all our needs. These Commandments have been the conscience of his people ever since, whenever they have started to treat other humans as possessions to be used and abused.

Later, manna, the staple food that God provided, came to be thought of as ‘bread from heaven’. Jesus, however, said he was the real Bread from Heaven. He taught us to pray for ‘daily bread’, and to remember his body broken on the Cross in the bread of Communion.

The Ten Commandments tell us:

‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Do not have any other gods besides me.

Do not make an image of a god to worship.

Do not misuse the Name of the LORD.

Remember the Sabbath day of rest by keeping it holy and separate to worship me with all your family, servants and animals.

Honour your father and mother.

Do not murder

Do not break the marriage bond

Do not steal

Do not give false testimony

Do not covet anything belonging to another person’.

Later, Jesus would help us to understand that the first four commandments could be further summarised by the commands God gave Moses to “love the LORD with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” and the second six to “love your neighbour as you love yourself”.

Jesus brings us an even greater Rescue from slavery than the Exodus from Egyptso that we can truly live a life of love and freedom with our God.

There are some words in Psalm 105 that praise God for the events surrounding this Exodus:

‘Give praise to the LORD,

proclaim his name

Make known among the nations what he has done

Sing to him, sing praise to him

Tell of all his wonderful acts

Glory in his holy name

Seek his face always

He is the LORD our God

He brought out his people with rejoicing

His chosen ones with shouts of joy

That they might keep his precepts and observe his laws

Praise the LORD.’

The first five books of the Bible, are together referred to as The Torah or The Law by Jews of Jesus’ time and now. The English word ‘law’ doesn’t really express the combination of different kinds of law, the stories of people good and bad, and the Portrait of the Person of God which emerges.


The Story so far: Sometimes, when we hear of wars and greed in the world, we think that if God removed all the bad people in the world, then good people could live together fairly and peacefully. Well the stories of Adam and Eve, of Noah and his descendants, and then of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob show us that since the first bad choice to do things our own way, even the good people carry a kind of seed of badness in them.

At other times, when we realise how often we destroy ourselves and each other through fear, hatred and ignorance, we imagine that if God rescued us from our painful situation and taught us how to live together, we could do so fairly and peacefully. Well if you read the stories of Moses and the people you will, I hope, be convinced that rescue and education, though wonderful, are not the final answer either.


And so from this Second Story we find even more about how our God is a Rescuer, how patient he is with our failings, and how faithful he is when he has made a promise.

In the Third Story we will hear about the last of our usual ideas about how to put the world to rights………




A Guest Blog by Gill KimberPhoto on 22-10-2018 at 15.31 #2-2

“Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.” (Joel 1.3)

Let me tell you a story.

The first of the three stories in The One Great Story.

The True Story where all truths have their place.

Of things God said first, and God’s first families.


In the beginning, God 

(because there is nothing to begin without God who never began and who never ends, but always Is).

In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth; and God Said – Everything.

God Said everything heavenly, and everything earthly; everything that can’t be seen and will never be known except by Him, and everything we might see and know. So, the continents and the seas, the sky and the stars, the plants and the animals, and the germ of every form of life that can ever be, was created when God Said.

And God Said that they should Be and Become what was in his mind when he Said them into being; to have young, bear fruit and seed, to settle down and to settle in to this world that had been made by God.

Especially, God Said into being A Man and A Woman, made in his Image, to bear his image into the world he had made, and to fill it with the knowledge and love that he made it for, and to rule over all the creatures he had made.

That Man was called Adam, which means “made out of earth” and the Woman was called Eve, which means “made alive.”.And the first thing Adam and Eve were told to do, like all the plants and animal, was to Multiply. This meant they were to have babies, to settle down and to settle in to this world that had been made by God. Then they would discover and grow together in the depths of God’s wisdom and love, day by day.

This was the First Family in the world, doing what God had made them to do, loving the God who made them and all living things.

And God Said:

“It is good. It is very good”

But in order to be like him, God had made them able to Choose, to Decide, and Take Responsibility for what they did.

Adam and Eve Chose to go their own way, not God’s.

They turned away from God’s way. But they didn’t Take Responsibility.

Their family became a family where it was harder and harder to decide to be and become what was in God’s mind when he said them into being.

People died.

That was their Responsibility in turning away from the God who gave all life.  Soon Jealousy and Murder were invented, and Greed and Exploitation grew strong, along with Bad loving and Bad discovering. Things went from bad to worse. Terrible things were happening. God’s Image in men and women was almost lost.

Until God Took Responsibility and Said another thing:



“I’m sorry I made you.”

….and decided to start a Rescue Plan with a man called Noah and his family.

There was a terrible flood.

Nearly everything and everybody that wasn’t in the great boat, or Ark, which God had told Noah and his family to build, were destroyed……. Awful to imagine and terrible to think that God had to do this.

He started again. God’s first Covenant, or Big Promise, began with Noah when God promised he would never again destroy the whole earth.

But, as God knew it would be, it wasn’t a completely new start.

Noah couldn’t hear God’s voice as clearly as Adam and Eve had before they decided to choose for themselves what to do. Noah had children and grandchildren and all the families on earth now are descended from those children and grandchildren. And still people found it harder and harder to choose to do what God wants, and easier and easier to choose to go the other way.

Now the descendants of Adam and Eve, and even the descendants of Noah and his wife (we aren’t told her name, which is the beginning of a long sad story that is with us even now) were no longer acting like one family at all. There were many peoples in many families, each jealous of each other and ready to exploit one another.

So, God took a man and his wife, Abram and Sarai, and said to Abram:

“Go from your country and family to the country I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation and bless you

I will make your name great and you will be a blessing

I will bless those who are good to you and whoever wishes harm to you I will harm in the same way

And all peoples will be blessed through you.”

Then later, when Abram had given up hope of having any children, God said:

“Do not be afraid Abram, I am your shield and your very great reward.

Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.

That’s how many your descendants will be”

Then he said another very important thing:

“Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own

 and that they will be enslaved and ill-treated there.

But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves

 and afterwards they will come out with great possessions.

 You however will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.

In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here,

for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

Abram did an absolutely vital thing – he believed God would do what he had promised, and because of that, God forgave the sins Abram committed during his life due to ignorance, fear and foolishness.

This is the first thing we must know about the Great Story: when God Says a thing, the people who hear it must believe it.

Later God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “Father of Many” and Sarai’s name to Sarah, which means “Mother of Many” and gave him the rite of circumcision so that his family would always remember their special relationship with God.

Abraham and Sarah’s Son, Isaac, would go on to become the father of twins, and his younger son, Jacob, who was also called Israel, was the founding father of the twelve tribes who were called by that name, the people of Israel. And just so you know, the names of Jacob’s children and all the tribes named after them were:




 from whose descendants would come Moses, Aaron his brother, and all God’s priests.


 from whose descendants would come King David.

Then from his family, another King: Jesus, Saviourof the world.




 from whose descendants would come the famous judge Samson.





who would later be the saviour of his family.

Later still, Joseph’s two sons Manassah and Ephraim became two half-tribes,

and a descendant of Ephraim would become the last and most famous judge, Samuel.

Finally, the baby of the family was


These tribes became the new First Family about which the next story will be told. And the famous people who would be descended from them will be in the other stories.

But first, we need to tell an important story about Abraham and Isaac, because without it the other Stories will not make sense.

When Isaac was a boy, God said something to Abraham that is truly shocking and difficult to understand.

God said:


Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love

And go to the region of Moriah.

Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Abraham really believed God.

He believed God could raise Isaac from the dead, and so he did what he’d been told.

Right at the last minute, God showed Abram a ram to take the place of Isaac.

Because he did this, we know that although the LORD who gives us life has the right to take any life he wants, he is not like the blood-thirsty ‘god-lets’ worshipped by other peoples. Many children have been sacrificed to these. But the LORD, the God of the whole universe, will never tell another father to sacrifice his son in order to prove the extent of his love and obedience.

And now, every time Christians celebrate Easter, or take Communion, we remember the agony of Abraham and the trust of Isaac – and wonder at the cost to God of Taking Responsibility.

When we read the Whole Great Story in the Bible, we hear how the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel came to be a great and lasting nation in the land that God had promised Abraham. People from that family, the Israelites, or Jews, have suffered most of the great wrongs that humanity have suffered – and probably done many of the great wrongs that humanity have done.

In the Great Story we will hear that from this family came Jesus the Son of God who would bear, in his death, the guilt and sorrow of the sinning and suffering world so that there would be one New Family. This family would be made up of members of every nationality and culture. This family would do what Abraham did: believe that God keeps his promises. This family would also bear the Image of his Son into his world, his broken world.


So, from this First Story we hear of God, Maker of all First Things, including the First Humans, made in his image. The story tells us that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also Judge, Rescuer and Promise-Maker. He is the God who doesn’t give up on the people he made in his image, even when they turn from him to do terrible things.


But now we are ready for the next Story……






Stuart's Thinking Christianly Heads“However we may choose to view it, theft, whether in the personal, business, governmental or international sphere, is a matter of callous indifference to many: they can take it or leave it!”

Trauts Rebmik


It seems to me that God’s Ten Commandments aren’t so much ‘religious rules’ as sociological ‘laws of nature’ which we ignore at our peril! Think of what a stable political world we would be living in if human covetousness and ambition were to end! Think what levels of dignity would be enjoyed by humanity if false testimony and slander were to cease!

And now think what financial security there would be for millions if all forms of theft stopped! But are these Commandments that we’re imaging Jesus ‘blogging’ to our godless world really a recipe for Global Stability, Human Dignity and Financial Security?

Well…. yes!

And the Commandment against stealing has a particularly amazing economic ideology lying behind it that runs all the way through the Bible. ‘No thieving!’ is just the tip of the iceberg, although on the face of it Jesus’ ‘third blog to a godless nation’ is very straightforward…..

“You shall not steal.” (Deuteronomy 5.19)

Literally from Genesis to Revelation, it’s taken for granted that theft of money or possessions is wrong.

Jesus repeats the Old Testament Commandment not to steal…

“You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud…” (Mark 10.19)

And Paul does the same…

“You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?” (Romans 2.21)

“The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there might be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'” (Romans 13.9)

“He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work..” (Ephesians 4.28)

“Teach slaves…not to steal from (their Masters), but to show that they can be fully trusted.” (Titus 2.10) 

In the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs is compassionate and wise, but nevertheless uncompromising about theft…

“Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold…  (Lord) give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you… or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.” (Proverbs 6.10 and 30.8-9)

Incidentally, the same Hebrew word is also used of stealing a person – or kidnapping – and that can carry the death penalty (Exodus 21.16 and Deuteronomy 24.7).

And, of course, there are a whole variety of methods of stealing property including swindling, using false weights and measures, dishonest bargaining, failing to pay your employees properly, and moving a neighbour’s boundary marker…

“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolator or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” (1 Corinthians 5.11)

“Differing weights and differing measures – the Lord detests them both.” (Proverbs 20.10)

“‘It’s no good, it’s no good!’ says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase.” (Proverbs 20.14)

“Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” (James 5.4)

“‘Cursed is the man who moves his neighbour’s boundary stone.‘” (Deuteronomy 27.17)

All these are very common practices that have caused financial hardship and contributed to deep structural inequalities in countless societies down the ages. This is why stealing is prohibited in the Ten Commandments.


But what about that deeper economic ideology that lies behind the ‘No thieving!” commandment?  What is the Bible’s teaching about property of which ‘not stealing’ is just the tip of the iceberg? Interestingly, it’s the law about boundary stones – often joked about as hopelessly antiquated – which starts to reveal God’s very radical approach to human financial security.

“Do not move your neighbour’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess…” “Cursed is the man who moves his neighbour’s boundary stone…” “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers…” “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you.” (Deuteronomy 19.14; 27.17; Proverbs 22.28; 23.10)

When God gave the Promised Land to His people, He gave it to them (as His stewards of course) in tracts of real estate allocated to tribes and families. The land itself was the source of their financial security. The key thing, here, is that it wasn’t just given to the Nation, but to families and individuals – each was to have a personal stake in the Nation’s wealth, each was to have financial security. So the ownership of personal property was central to God’s good purposes for His people – and they were not to steal it from one another.

But there’s more!

The Book of Leviticus contains what is probably the most radical bit of law-making in the whole Bible. It’s ‘the icing on the cake’ of an economic principle of fairness and justice that runs right through the Old Testament. It’s very much linked with the Sabbath Principle which we’ll look at in connection with another Commandment, a Principle that is just one aspect of the Bible’s deep concern for the poor, the oppressed, widows, orphans and immigrants.

The principle of the weekly Sabbath Day of rest for all in the community regardless of status, is widespread in the Old Testament. But in Leviticus chapter 25 we hear also about the Sabbath Year whereby every seventh year the land ‘rests’ and is not cultivated – a time when the workers and the poor may harvest it. Later, in Deuteronomy 15.1-18, we also hear that in the Sabbath Year debts are to be cancelled and slaves are to be set free!

And then, back in Leviticus, we hear about the amazing Year of Jubilee…

“Count off seven Sabbaths of years – seven times seven years – so that the seven Sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded… consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants… The fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you… In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.” (Leviticus 25.8-13)

And the rest of the chapter tells how you must always treat the poor and destitute with respect. How all land is only bought on a leasehold basis and is returned to its hereditary owner in the Year of Jubilee. How rich members of a family can redeem land for their poorer relatives but it will revert to them anyway in the Year of Jubilee. And how hired workers and slaves are released in the Year of Jubilee!

This is an incredible principle of justice, fairness, and restriction on the accumulation of wealth which, as far as I know, has never been seriously practised. I wonder why?!


All of this puts a whole new complexion and gives an added depth to the simple commandment, “You shall not steal.” If it’s God’s view that everyone is a steward of what He’s given them, that we all own a personal stake in the wealth of our nation, and that that ownership is to be our God-given financial security, it means we all have to re-think what we believe about who owns what, the mechanisms of wealth creation, the ethics of pay differentials, and our whole attitude to how we steward our financial resources under God.

Certainly, we shouldn’t steal from one another, because we all have a God-given right to ownership of our property, but, correct me if I’m wrong, aren’t there other consequences of God’s economic principles? For example:

Shouldn’t access to financial security be the right of every citizen? Of course, we can all be irresponsible with money and resources, and many people are. But that includes businessmen cornering markets and stacking the game in their favour, the greedy demanding huge salaries and accumulating massive wealth, thousands of football fans being content to see sports stars paid millions while care workers are barely paid a living wage – as well as a few poor people wasting their money on cider and cigarettes!

Shouldn’t the permanent acquiring of huge wealth be regarded, in some respects, as a form of theft from the nation – and from that nation’s poor?   Clearly, the biblical economic principles we’ve seen include the perfectly acceptable possibility of some people accumulating more wealth than others, but the Year of Jubilee seems to be a way of placing a limit on that – and restoring the financial security of those who have lost everything.

Shouldn’t we regard the provision of basic financial security, in some form, for all citizens, as our collective responsibility rather than an act of charity? 

Shouldn’t we regard the ‘giving back’ of wealth to the community, as a personal obligation rather than an act of charity?

My goodness this is controversial stuff isn’t it? Don’t you feel all those objections starting to rise up?!

Or when it comes to our money, maybe human covetousness and our tendency to give false testimony about rich and poor alike, just makes this a pipe dream.

Either way, that prayer from the Book of Proverbs sounds very wise indeed…

“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30.7-9)


Stuart's Thinking Christianly Heads

“Just as in the Wild West, blackening a man’s name by portraying him in a black hat, reduces him to a target for every sharp-shooter in town – and we become ‘accessories before the fact’ to every kind of crime against the person. Can this be how the West is won!”

Trauts Rebmik


The last two of God’s famous Ten Commandments are probably the least mentioned. But failure to observe them brings about a huge amount of human suffering that accumulates from one generation to the next – and has escalated enormously in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Covetousness – the ambition to have what other people have – drives all kinds of human greed, exploitation and injustice. All political systems, right across the spectrum, feed the covetousness of a privileged group, and rely on the covetousness of ordinary people by giving them just enough of what they want.

Giving false testimony, by lying and by half truths, by slander and by rubbishing reputations, by selective use of facts and by subtle implications of wrong-doing, by always criticising but never giving credit, by jumping on bandwagons but staying silent at just the right moment – these things are often part of personal relationships, and always seem to be at the heart of so-called ‘political debate.’ Where we are not telling the truth about one another, human dignity is inevitably sacrificed.

This is why I believe Jesus’ second blog to a godless society would be…..

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” (Deuteronomy 5.20)

We’ve all been on the receiving end of false testimony and we know what it’s like to have people believing lies about us, so we truly have no excuse for not recognising this as one of God’s most vital ‘stop signs.’ Wherever we got the idea that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ from, I can’t imagine!

Giving false testimony in a court of law is just one end of the spectrum of this commandment, and the Prophets and the Book of Proverbs are full of what God thinks about that. But the New Testament – from Jesus onwards – makes it very clear that ‘not giving false testimony’ is also about our everyday living and talking.

Jesus places it right up there with the other destructive behaviours…

“The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’. For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean.'” (Matthew 15.18-20)

Paul also places it up there amongst the day-to-day bad behaviours found in a fallen world, and the day-to-day bad behaviours he feared he might find when he re-visited the church at Corinth! And where there’s slander, in his list, gossiping and arrogance are close by…

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful…” (Romans 1.29-30)

“I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be… I fear that there may be quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.” (2 Corinthians 12.20-21)

And what’s more, Paul, James and Peter all agree that slanderous, damaging and malicious talk needs to be constantly guarded against throughout our Christian lives…

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour… Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their need… Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander…” “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips…(Ephesians 4.25,29-31; Colossians 3.5,8)

“Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.” (James 4.11)

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind…(1 Peter 2.1)

Always speaking truthfully; always speaking helpfully; always speaking with the needs of others in mind – these are the hallmarks of authentic Christian living and talking. 


But there’s even more to be said about ‘giving false testimony’ and it has something severe to say about one of our most unattractive and destructive human habits – one that many Christians also delight in.

Whilst usually only knowing what we’ve heard second or third hand, from biased and often slanderous sources, we verbally attack politicians, public figures and anyone else whose head appears above the parapet. This quickly becomes straightforward abuse and character assassination – and Christians use the same well-worn excuses for doing this as everyone else. But the New Testament is clear about where all our political debate, principled disagreement and expressions of personal views must begin.

The Apostle Paul tells us…

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no-one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility towards men. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God appeared, he saved us…” (Titus 3.1-4)

Slander no-one! God knows – they’re as big a sinner as you are!

James the brother of Jesus tells us…

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”  (James 3.9-10)

Curse no one! God created them – just as He created you!

In case we still haven’t got the message, Peter, Jesus’ ‘right hand man’ also tells us…

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men… Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king.(1 Peter 2.13-17)

Respect everyone! God put them where they are – just as He put you where you are!

And, of course, Paul famously tells Timothy what should come first in all our civic involvement, political debating and social action…

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2.1-4) 

Pray for those in authority! God has an agenda way beyond them and they have a part in fulfilling it – as do you!

Doing what is right and showing true humility towards everyone; praising God instead of cursing what He has created; showing proper respect to those in authority and praying that they might contribute to God’s ‘Agenda of Rescue’ these are the hallmarks of authentic Christian public involvement and witness. NOT assassinating the characters of those who lead! To do that, is to give false testimony.


But particularly in the 21st Century, there are far more serious consequences to ‘bearing false witness’, and they can cause a whirlwind of political instability and chaos – whilst at the same time undercutting all attempts to genuinely ‘call to account’ those in authority or to faithfully ‘call out’ destructive cultural developments.

Just as television, which allowed so many to see how much more others have, must surely have fuelled the covetousness of the 20th Century, the huge growth of social media, which literally ‘gives a platform’ for millions to ‘give false testimony’, must surely be fuelling the political instability of the 21st Century.  Thousands of punters can have their proverbial ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ every day of the week! And huge numbers of us use that time to re-post gossip and assassinate the characters of political leaders and all those others whose heads show above the parapet. Not only does this barrage of half-truth ‘false testimony’ cripple, and sometimes destroy, even the better leaders we may have, it also screens out genuine criticisms of governments and their leadership. It also makes everyone deaf to voices raised pointing out disastrous social trends, dangerous ideologies and unpopular truths – all are assumed to be just another nasty personal attack on someone.

The whole testimony of the Bible is that those in any kind of authority are to be both honoured and respected, and corrected and called to account. The History Books of the Old Testament make it quite clear that God knows exactly how Kings, Emperors, Presidents and Prime Ministers claw their way to the top. And if He wants their characters assassinated He knows all of them well enough to make a far more just and effective job of it than we can.

However, God’s priority is not ‘single issue politics’, but His ‘Agenda of Rescue.’ God’s priority isn’t to make sure bad leaders, oppressors and wrong-doers immediately get their ‘comeuppance’, but to make sure that “all might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” As my thorough and continuous re-reading of the whole Bible has made crystal clear to me, God is always working on a much bigger canvas. He never walks away from the ‘fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into’, He works with the only human material that our fallenness has thrown up, and we can be assured that ‘comeuppances’ are on the way – sometimes sooner but certainly later!

In the meantime, God’s emergency ‘stop sign’ and urgent instruction is simple, straightforward and still ‘hits the nail on the head’ in the 21st Century…

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” (Deuteronomy 5.20)

If there is increasingly dangerous political instability in the world, centred around Brexit, militant Islam, sexual politics or President Donald J Trump, it probably has a lot to do with the name-calling and personal attacks reminiscent of the school playground.

So we should grow up and start obeying this commandment of God.

The hallmark of genuine Christian living and talking is to stop attacking people and to start ‘speaking truth to power’; to stop judging the lives of others and to start making sound judgements about the human condition; to stop armchair politicking and to start praying for the powerful; to stop following the world’s agenda and to start linking all our living and talking to God’s ‘Agenda of Rescue.’ 


Stuart's Thinking Christianly Heads

“The tragedy of humanity is not only that we are living on the ash heap of our own destructive waste and continue to generate it; but also that we live on the ash heap of many generations of every kind of selfishness – and to this day we continue to build it with our arrogance and our ambitions. Who can rescue us!” 

Trauts Rebmik


When God ‘blogged’ His Ten Commandments to His own people nearly 3500 years ago, quite understandably He started with their acknowledged relationship with Him and worked down the list to their relationships with one another.

But it seems to me that if Jesus ‘blogged’ the Ten Commandments to a secular and godless world today, down here on the ash heap we’re building for ourselves, He’d start with our relationships with one another and work up the list to the ones about having a relationship with God.

And because these Commandments aren’t the rules of a bossy Deity but the protective fences of a loving Father, the deepest danger in human society is addressed last in God’s order, but would come first in Jesus’s…..

“You shall not covet your neighbours wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbours house or land, his manservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”(Deuteronomy 5.21)

Covetousness is the overwhelming desire to have what other people have. And it’s otherwise known as ambition. Ambition of all kinds, whether for money, things, position, status or power, is actually ‘the root of every kind of evil’ and ‘the source of every kind of global instability’ – and yet ambition, acquisition and success is honoured as the best attitude and the greatest goals of most human societies. What Moses said we should only do with God’s Commandments, we do with ambition and success: ‘We impress them on our children, we talk about them when we sit at home and when we walk along the road, we tie them as symbols on our hands and bind them on our foreheads!’ (see Deuteronomy 6.4-9). But having the attitude of ambition and the goal of success simply adds up to covetousness.

Now admit it. You don’t like that idea at all, do you? You don’t think there’s anything the matter with being ambitious and making success your goal in life.

But Jesus affirms this understanding, even with regard to legitimate things we need…

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…. but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear… the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6.19-24, 32-33)

He affirms it with regard to power, status and position…

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…. not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…. just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.25-28)

He affirms it in His own message, choices and goals…

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing… For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it… So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say… the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 5.19; 12.49-50; 14.31)

“…not my will, Father, but yours be done.” (Luke 22.42)

The Apostle Paul affirms it by calling us to follow the example of Jesus…

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves… your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus ‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped… but humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross…'” (Philippians 2.3-8)

And as soon as Peter made his famous confession of faith, Jesus told him and the rest of His disciples…

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 9.34-35)

Anything less like ambition is difficult to imagine!

Jesus didn’t have an ambitious bone in His body. He chose not even to reach out and take what was rightfully His. He taught and demonstrated that all ambition should be crucified. And He taught and demonstrated that ambition to do the will and fulfil the purposes of God is called something quite different.

It’s called ‘Obedience.’


With the rest of the New Testament in my hand, I find that what we should be aiming for and what we should be teaching our children, isn’t ambition, acquisition and success, but integrity, truth and righteousness.

All the lessons of human history, down the generations, teach us that the pursuit of personal ambition, acquisition and success does not result in integrity, truth and righteousness. But the pursuit of integrity, truth and righteousness will never produce the evil results of covetousness.

And no, this isn’t just idealistic religious claptrap!

Very human and age-old proverbial wisdom tells us that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’, ‘money doesn’t make you happy’, ‘you never feel you have enough’, and ‘I wish someone had told me that when you get to the top, there’s nothing there!’

And far more seriously, we don’t need God to tell us that when we make ambition our watchword, we ‘tread on people on the way up’, ‘we allow the weak to go to the wall’, we ‘enrich ourselves at the expense of others’, we exploit people and become addicted to money and power. We should know by now that harnessing ambition, covetousness and greed to sustain nations does not result in justice and peace!

As James the brother of Jesus puts it so graphically…

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4.1-2)

And Paul had completely understood that covetousness, acquisitiveness and ambition lie at the very heart of human sin and culpable stupidity. And he knew that Christians can fall for it too…

“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… (including) evil desires and greed (Greek: covetousness) which is idolatry.” (1 Timothy 6.9-10; Colossians 3.5)

Because we’re created to worship the One True God, when we take our eyes off Him, we worship almost anything as ‘god’ – even if it’s only a wife like someone else’s, a house like someone else’s, status like someone else’s or absolutely anything that’s someone else’s!

If we fall off this precipice of covetousness we come to grief. And this is the precipice that humanity has already fallen off – into our self-constructed ash heap.


But surely the whole Bible tells me that God created us with a hungry longing in our heart and creative aspirations in our spirit – after all, we’re made in His image!

“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let him rule over all the earth.’ So God created man in his own image… male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.'” (Genesis 1.26-28)

But both Eve and Adam chose a piece of fruit over obedience to God’s calling of careful cultivation and stewardship of the earth – because of their ambition for what they were told it would do for them…

“Your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3.5)

And ever since the Fall, because God wouldn’t walk away, there’s been an emptiness and a wrestling in every human life, which we each try to resolve with pieces of fruit, money, status and power…

“I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3.11)

But there have always been those who have had their heartfelt longings met and their empty spirits satisfied…

“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol… Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.” (Psalms 16.5-6; 25.4; 24.3-6)

Because the truth has always been…

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37.4)

Our covetousness has built our ash heap and we’re building it still – one covetous act upon another! And so God’s most basic commandment is still needed and He still calls out ‘Stop! Don’t covet!”

But there’s only one way out, and Jesus both blogs the commandment and offers the rescue…

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is near… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled… Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock… Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 4.17; 5.5-6; 7.24; 11.28-29) 

So let’s not impress the idols of ambition, acquisition and success upon our children, but instead the adventure of seeking first God’s kingdom, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and living a life of grateful, fruitful and joyful repentance.

And let’s crucify all ambition, and live this life ourselves!