14 And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”16 Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. 17 But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. 22 But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. 23 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
Luke 11:14-23 NKJV
All three of the synoptic gospels tell this story. Jesus is accused of having Beelzebub and casting out demons by demonic power. See also Mark 3:22-27.
Jesus then proceeds to demolish this jealous / envy inspired accusation. The word kingdom is used to describe the structure and, the inevitability of its fall if it is divided against itself. The word house is also used, and in like manner, it will collapse if the house does not stand together.
So Jesus very clearly outlines the consequences of division. The perils of factions or having dissenting voices.
Thus it is apparent that division is perilous and therefore we need to be undivided. Maybe a better word that can be used here is unity i.e. not divided but rather united together.
Now, this story or parable is used to address an accusation and in our discussion here I would like to suggest that we have over the last decades developed a culture of accusation within the church or body of believers. How many groups have gone their own way, divided over an issue? How often are various church leaders or movements criticised by other movements or leaders. Jesus very clearly spells out that a kingdom will fall if it allows the practice of division and accusation to flourish.
Clearly, if we claim to belong to those proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, then it is imperative that we not be divided; that we not accuse one another of having or operating under soulish or demonic power.
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” 3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” 4 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” Job 2:1-4
Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. Rev 12:10 NKJV
How does Satan gain access to God? I believe it is through the accusation and the words we speak. We have attained access to the Throne of Grace because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross. His punishment, death and resurrection have made a way for us to have "God's ear". How we use that privilege is up to us. We can choose to partner with Satan or choose to speak in agreement with what the Father is saying and doing. Just as Jesus walked on earth and only said and did what the Father showed Him, how much more should we?
Having briefly looked at one of the consequences of being divided, In John 14 Jesus describes His own attitude and pathway. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. ...The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work.
May I suggest that after loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, our goal needs to be hearing and seeing what what the Father is saying and doing. Then we may be sufficiently stirred to love our neighbour well
From that place we may have something useful and valid to say.
24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
Matt 12:24-30 NKJV
James, the brother of Jesus writes a short and very powerful, confronting epistle. Specifically here I want to draw our attention to James chapter 3.
Alongside, I have put the 12 verses that need our attention. The Passion Translation puts this into our everyday English.
The ability to constrain our speech is evidence of maturity. James even suggests that perfection is possible if we can control our tongue. Surely, this is what Jesus was modelling and telling us in John 14. By only saying and doing what the Father was saying and doing, Jesus perfectly did the will of His Father.
This must become our goal.
My dear brothers and sisters, don’t be so eager to become a teacher in the church since you know that we who teach are held to a higher standard of judgment. 2 We all fail in many areas, but especially with our words. Yet if we’re able to bridle the words we say we are powerful enough to control ourselves in every way, and that means our character is mature and fully developed. 3 Horses have bits and bridles in their mouths so that we can control and guide their large body. 4 And the same with mighty ships, though they are massive and driven by fierce winds, yet they are steered by a tiny rudder at the direction of the person at the helm.5 And so the tongue is a small part of the body yet it carries great power! Just think of how a small flame can set a huge forest ablaze. 6 And the tongue is a fire! It can be compared to the sum total of wickedness and is the most dangerous part of our human body. It corrupts the entire body and is a hellish flame! It releases a fire that can burn throughout the course of human existence.7 For every wild animal on earth including birds, creeping reptiles, and creatures of the sea and land have all been overpowered and tamed by humans, 8 but the tongue is not able to be tamed. It’s a fickle, unrestrained evil that spews out words full of toxic poison! 9 We use our tongue to praise God our Father and then turn around and curse a person who was made in his very image! 10 Out of the same mouth we pour out words of praise one minute and curses the next. My brothers and sister, this should never be!11–12 Would you look for olives hanging on a fig tree or go to pick figs from a grapevine? Is it possible that fresh and bitter water can flow out of the same spring? So neither can a bitter spring produce fresh water.
James 3:1-12 The Passion Translation
Having just lived through an unprecedented time due to Covid-19 pandemic, with much of the world in lock-down for months, we have all no doubt seen the plethora of opinion that has been posted on social media. Much of it worded as if it were undisputed fact.
I guess it is now possible to find any possible opinion posted somewhere from one extreme position to its polar opposite and everywhere in between.
We all want to be heard. We have our thoughts, form opinions and then proceed to post it out there for all to see.
How do we inform our opinion? Do we do some research? How do we determine if what Dr. Google tells us is actually truth? Is it the whole truth?
The ability to determine fact from fiction or someone's marketing spin, is becoming very difficult.
Fact? Its cold outside - no, just an opinion. Fact? It is 10°C outside - yes, readily able to be measured and verified.
How are we to navigate our way in this period of somewhat free and unfettered "free speech"?
As I write this, the USA and NZ, among others, are creating new laws to deal with free speech in a social media setting.
There are many countries in the world that have no safe places to practice free speech. Communist and strongly socialist countries have for many decades practiced punitive measures and punishment against those that dared to speak in opposition to the approved government narrative.
In the context of relationship we are discussing here, I want to ask a question:
Do we have a right to express our opinon?
As a Christ follower, becoming Christian, what is it that I should be saying and doing?
Does a disciple have any opinion other than that of his or her master, teacher or rabbi? As someone who has lost the rights to his life by freely giving it to Jesus, I believe we have also lost the right to express any opinion of our own making.
A house or kingdom divided against itself will fall, it cannot stand.
Now, more than any other time in my life, it is imperative that I speak and act only, on what I am shown by Jesus through Holy Spirit.
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:45 NKJV
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 A man's anger does not produce the justice God desires.
James 1:19,20 NLT
I am now of a different race, a citizen of a nation we may refer to as the Kingdom of Heaven (or God) see 1 Peter 2:9.
The church has been referred to as an army. In Ezekiel, the prophet is commanded to prophesy over a valley of dry bones.
As the prophet obeys, and speaks the words he has been told to speak, we see a transformation occurring.
Firstly the bones move into alignment with each other. The bones provide structure and shape. The church is often referred to as a body. Let me suggest that the bones moving here applies to individuals in relationship. Moving from disjointed to becoming rightly connected to each other.
As the prophet continues tendons attach themselves to the bones. I believe this symbolises commitment and covenant. Tendons are strong, wiry and slow to grow and to heal. In the natural this is due to the reduced blood flow and oxygen availability. Similarly, in the church, these commitments and covenants have been slow to grow and heal. We must protect and value or honour these relationships, to ensure they are formed, strengthened, valued and protected.
Then before his eyes he sees muscles appear. The muscles give us shape and perform work. Of particular note we need to recognise that many muscles in the body work in antagonism. It takes a pair of muscles working in opposition to each other to move a part of the body. Here I believe is the ministry and giftings within the body. These are designed to have tension between them caused by different perspectives and abilities. That is why Paul talks about honouring the different parts of the body. Not all are equally visible, yet each one vital for the correct functioning of the body.
Finally, skin covers over the muscles to form the completed body. Complete but no life - yet. Our skin is what allows us to touch the world. At this point we are prepared to interact with the world. As he finally prophesies to the breath, the body can stand and move. Being led by the ruah of God the body can now do the work intended. Empowered by Holy Spirit a mighty army can demonstrate how in covenant relationship with each other, they may show we are Christ followers by our love. John 17:20-23 and John 13:35
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and placed me in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones. 2 He made me walk all around among them. I realized there were a great many bones in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said to him, “Sovereign Lord, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and tell them: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Lord’s message. 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: Look, I am about to infuse breath into you and you will live. 6 I will put tendons on you and muscles over you and will cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will live. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. There was a sound when I prophesied— I heard a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 As I watched, I saw tendons on them, then muscles appeared, and skin covered over them from above, but there was no breath in them.9 He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath,—prophesy, son of man—and say to the breath: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these corpses so that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as I was commanded, and the breath came into them; they lived and stood on their feet, an extremely great army.
Ezekiel 37:1-10 NET
So far we have seen that the members of a Kingdom must be united. Divided we fall. Only united will our task of bringing the Kingdom to hand, or within reach, be possible.
What we say and do must demonstrate the love and unity we are called to display. This stuff is much easier to talk about than to actually walk out in real life.
So how do we change?
Relationships are like relational mirrors in which we catch glimpses of our weaknesses, shortcomings, and character deficiencies. That’s a bad thing, but it can be a good thing if we do the right things when our areas of personal wrongness show up because, only then, can corrections be made. Change presupposes awareness.
“If you’re not sure where your flaws are, there’s a quick and easy way to find out. Get married. Or get a roommate. Or just get in close to someone because it’s in those close relationships that our flaws become evident.”
In order to change I must become aware of my areas of weakness, or where my view of life is just not right - it doesn't align with what God says over and thinks about me.
The interactions I have within the body require me to walk in humility and forgiveness.
When things don't go right, I must learn to quickly practice Matt 18:15-35
The first commandment with a promise attached is the fifth one
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12
Some cultures understand honour and practice it within their day to day lives. Many in the western world, where individualism has much greater sway, do not understand the importance and benefit to a community of practicing honour one to another.
Honour is a many faceted concept, it has many nuances and aspects. May I suggest that where the New Testament uses the phrase "one another" that we are being shown specific ways (verbs - action words) we should (34) or should not (7) behave.
There are (at least) 41 One Anothers that we can find in the New Testament. We would do well to study these and build their values into our life relationships.
23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:23-27
In recent years there has been a restoration of the practice of blessing. e.g. Ffald-y-Brenin in Wales where Roy Godwin has led a movement of Local Houses of Prayer, praying and speaking blessing that has travelled around much of the world. The orthodox church has this practice in their liturgy however much of evangelical christianity has little awareness of the power of blessing.
Why do I bring it up here?
In relationships we will experience hurt and pain. Sometimes we will struggle to know how to move past accusation. There are a number of leaders in the church that I have heard speak about how they deal with this. A significant key is to speak and release your blessing towards the other party.
I challenge you to try it. The stories I have heard about the results of praying and speaking your blessing over apparently locked and immovable situations are astounding.
Firstly let me say that in no way do I have all this locked solidly into my life. Even as I was preparing this, I was lured down a bunny trail and spent quite some time researching, reading and listening to information about the loss of yet another life. The action / inaction of four policemen, that has sparked the latest racial injustice protests around the world. What opinion could I form, should I form? The pain and injustice are real, very real. Having said that, are there words I need to say? actions I need to take? Silence about injustice is not an option either.
I think it all boils down to relationship.
How do I relate to others? It really matters.
I hope that the material presented here demonstrates that the Bible, Jesus and Christianity have much to say on this.
things need to change, and the only one that I have any control over is me, thus I need to start being the change that is needed.
Thanks for staying with me. I have deliberately presented this in the manner outlined.
Over the last few months as the world has grappled with a long list of major events, it has become very apparent that much of what we call Christianity has behaved no differently than those that are not Christ followers.
Much of the criticism leveled at the church has been brought upon it by our own words, actions or silence.
If we truly understood the power of unity we would do everything in our power to walk in it.
We have talked about how unity is not an optional extra we can either take or leave. We must remember: a kingdom divided will fall.
We have also talked about how we speak, what we say comes out of our thought life. Bitter and sweet from the same mouth? Let it not be so.
Accusation, based upon my necessarily limited understanding of something I have experienced or heard. Not an option.
Do I see clearly? Has the log been removed from my vision so that I can help my brother with the speck in His eye?
What makes me think that I have the ability to determine right from wrong? good from evil? Remember the sin we are all born into was as a consequence of partaking of the fruit of a tree called "the knowledge of good and evil". The father of lies deceived Eve by declaring we would become like God, knowing good and evil. Adam, knowing better, deliberately chose to join his wife and walk into the lie. We continually labour under the delusion that we have the ability to determine for ourselves what is good or not for me.
Our design, we are made in the image of the creator. God the Father, His Son and the Holy Spirit live in perfect relationship and harmony. Never out of synch with each other. We were created to enjoy that relationship, however it was not forced upon us. True love cannot be forced, it can only flow out of the freedom to choose.
All of mankind, each and every human, no matter their heritage, where they were born, how they have been raised, their world view - all of us carry the Ruah (breath of God) that uniquely sets us apart from every other creature on the planet.
We are eternal spirit beings with a mind, will and emotion, temporarily occupying a human body.
It is our choice whether or not to become a disciple of Jesus. To choose to Walk in the Spirit and thus actually become Christian.
It is all about relationship - firstly vertically - to love the Lord our God with all our heart. soul, mind and strength.
Then horizontally - we can choose to live the Holy Spirit empowered life necessary to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Is my relationship with another human being more important?
Is it more important to be right or feel vindicated?
We get to choose, time and time again.
Footnote: Recently at a twice weekly prayer meeting I participate with, we were praying about unity, particularly in the church, as we often do.
It came to me that we need to recognise a reality, that had, until that moment eluded me.
Unity is often thought of in the context of a bunch of folk being in agreement. Many churches and movements have a particular emphasis and articulate this well and it gathers those who agree and they unite around this or that theme.
So often in this world we think that gaining and walking in unity is a matter of articulating well the things we choose to walk in agreement on. Thus if we are smart enough, we can get the words and ideas clearly captured, explained and thus folk can "join" and we are walking in unity.
Unfortunately, most of my experience is that these kinds of agreements is more about uniformity of thought, speech and behaviour. To continue to walk together we must be agreed, see Jesus discourse after the resurrection. It takes humility, in order to walk in unity, a very important and necessary character attribute we must all seek to practice and walk in.
So what suddenly dawned on me was this:
The unity we are urged to walk in, as Jesus prayed in John 17, is not some masterful articulation of ideas, a confession, or creed. We can NEVER come up with anything that will hold us in unity, particularly when the going gets tough.
Rather, we are invited by Jesus to walk in unity with the Trinity.
This means I must be in a dynamic. living relationship with them. which is why we are given Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Our challenge is to submit, to still the cacophony of noise we allow in our thoughts, so we can see what the Father sees, hear what He is saying, and choose to squash our limited perspective opinion, and submit myself to speak and move in agreement with Him.
Simple really - well in definition at least.
Obviously this is much bigger than something we have tried to unite around until now. For unity to work, it has to be so much bigger than us. May I suggest that only what I have briefly outlined here has the capacity to unite us. It is coming, choose you this day, what are you going to unite with .....?