Pastor's Piece - A New Beginning
by Dr Barry Wright
A New Beginning
The year 2009 represents again a new set of opportunities and a new beginning in which to orientate our lives for the better. As we greet this New Year it would do us well to look back to examine closely the history of what has recently passed into eternity. It is in this respect that the admonition of the apostle Paul would seem to go to the heart of the matter when he says in 2 Cor 13: 5, 'Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test your selves...'
Paul is suggesting here that those things of minor consequence need to be put aside and allow those of eternal interest to be brought to the fore.
As we examine ourselves it is important to put aside all those things that have created issues and problems in our own lives and the lives of others.
What fruit have we borne during this year that has now passed? What has been our influence on those around us? Have our lives resulted in bringing others into a close relationship with God and with each other?
If our influence has not been positive, we need to learn to put away all bitterness, envy and malice and let patience, longsuffering and love become an essential part of our being. If we allow Jesus to be a part of our lives, the Scriptures make clear that our lack will be supplied.
In Phil 4: 8 the apostle Paul continues his advice in order to mature our Christian experience by suggesting that 'Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.'
The human mind will always be set on something and Paul was to make clear to his listeners that they needed to set their minds on the right things. This orientation becomes of utmost importance, as it is a law of life that if a man thinks of something often enough, he will come to the point where he cannot stop thinking about it (Barclay, 1975: 79).
In his list Paul first suggests that we are only to look on those things that are true. We need to recognise that we live in a world where many things are found to be deceptive and illusory, promising what they can never perform, offering an untenable peace and happiness that they can never supply. Consequently, we all need to set our thoughts on those things that will never let us down (Ibid).
In talking about honesty, Paul, in using this word, is describing something that is serious and has the dignity of holiness upon it. It would seem that while there are things in this world that are flippant and cheap and attractive to the light-minded, he is suggesting that the mature Christian will set his mind more on those things that are serious and dignified (Ibid).
In talking about justice Paul is making reference to giving God and men their due. While there are those who set their minds on pleasure, comfort and easy ways, the Christian's thoughts are to be placed squarely on his duty to man along with his duty to God (Ibid: 80).
With a world that is full of things that are sordid and soiled, Paul is suggesting that there are still things to be found within it that are pure. As such, he says that we all need to set our minds on these things so that they may pass even the scrutiny of God (Ibid).
In speaking about those things that are lovely, Paul would seem to be referring here to all things that are attractive and that call forth love. He was to recognise that there are many in the world around us whose minds are only set on vengeance and punishment calling forth bitterness and fear in others. Additionally, he sees that there are still others whose minds are so set on criticism and rebuke that they only call forth resentment. In Paul's words, the Christian is called to set his mind on attractive things such as kindness, sympathy and forbearance causing people to eventually respond in love (Ibid).
Those things of good report were to be the words that were seen to be fair, gracious and high toned in a world that is full of the ugly, the false and the impure. It may not be going too far to suggest that the words we speak should be only those that are fit for God to hear (Ibid).
If there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Paul's words encourage us individually to cultivate the grace of Jesus, to be meek and lowly of heart, to be firm, unwavering and steadfast in the truth because he knew that that this was the only way we could advance in the Christian life.
A New Year, in Heaven's eyes, is seen to be one of the oldest gifts to man. In great anticipation we can all receive it like an alabaster box of precious things. The items contained therein can involve talents of time that we all need to employ judiciously. It may also contain jewels of faith and the courage to enhance our Christian witness along with the many opportunities where we are able to provide service to those in need.
As we stand at January's gate it becomes a time of real responsibility where we contemplate the pathways that the New Year will bring.
For young people it can provide an exciting prospect as they sense that they may well embrace some of the most eventful decisions they will ever make in this life.
For parents, it offers a priceless privilege to provide positive influences for the kingdom to those children that Heaven has temporarily entrusted to their care.
For the mature believer it provides new opportunities to lift up the 'Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world.'
My prayer is that we all resolve with God's help, to make this New Year far better than any that has gone before and to approach it with courage and confidence in the knowledge that we have a God who loves and cares about us all.
Barclay, W. (1975) The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians - The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA: The Westminster Press.
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