Have you ever thought of someone’s behaviour as being legalistic? What did you mean? The dictionary meaning is exalting the law, usually with the purpose of applying the law in a way not intended by the law makers, and using the law for selfish ends. Jesus was harshly critical of the Pharisees for being legalistic. They would use obedience to the law for self-serving reasons, to limit what they would do for others, and as a weapon of judgement. Pharisaism has become a byword for legalism. The ultimate misuse of the law is to try to use it to justify oneself to God. As if someone’s obedience to a set of laws is going to impress God!

Yet, probably because of legalism’s negative associations, we sometimes wrongly criticise people as being legalistic when they are simply appealing to the law for support. The law in this case can be the law of the state, or some other regulation or principle that has generally agreed authority. Laws in themselves are not bad things. They seek to make our society a better place. The laws God gave to Israel through Moses were a good thing. Those laws do not apply to us as non-Jews living thousands of years later, but the issue Jesus had with the Pharisees was not about the laws themselves, but the way the Pharisees were using them.

Church rules and doctrinal statements (whether they are formally documented, or not) can function the same way. What is intended for the good of their members can always be misused. They can be used to justify breaks in fellowship between believers, especially with those in churches of differing doctrinal viewpoints. If faith is construed as holding to a set of doctrinal beliefs, as distinct from, or additional to, personal trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, a legalistic use of those doctrinal statements becomes a real possibility. Church doctrinal statements are attempts at describing our relationship with God. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, we can use these different insights to help us in our pursuit of truth. But may us Christians never be divided because of legalism. There is a temptation to separate from Christians of other denominations over fear of what others might think. Jesus knew the problem of being misunderstood, so it is unlikely that we will avoid it. Besides, how do you know what others might think? Some might respect you for it. Jesus would.

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A Bible Reading Plan

Reading the Bible from beginning to end is hard going. The various books that make up the Bible are not arranged to be read in that order. They are grouped together in various literary categories, e.g. history, psalms, prophets, gospels, letters of Paul, etc. and the books within some of these categories are arranged in decreasing order of length!

The attached Bible Reading Plan is arranged to make reading through the Bible more interesting. The Old Testament is three times as long as the New Testament, but the New Testament Scriptures are more accessible to the modern reader and speak more directly to Christians. Therefore, I have intermingled New with Old Testament readings and included the New Testament twice. The Psalms, Proverbs and Gospels are spaced throughout the plan at appropriate places. There are no daily portions and you can proceed at your own pace. If you read an average of one chapter per day, it will take you four years to read the entire plan (Old Testament once and the New Testament twice).

Print the two pages of the plan back-to-back on an A4 page and fold in three to form the bookmark Bible Reading Plan. Printing the plan on parchment style paper looks good. I hope it helps you enjoy reading the Bible. Download here: BRP_v10c

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Water Under the Bridge

How long are offences offensive? Does the passage of time make it inappropriate to be offended by something in the distant past? Does there come a point in any conflict between people where we just have to say “it is all water under the bridge now” and require no admission of guilt, no apology, and no recompense? Let bygones be bygones? If we are ever going to move on beyond being offended so we can repair broken relationships, is it necessary in an imperfect world to overlook offences? Doesn’t God forgive our sins? Who are we to hold them against others? Surely we wouldn’t want to be like “The man who knew he was right”, and make everyone suffer for the sake of our being in the right?


The problem with an offence that is not properly dealt with is that it remains a barrier to a reconciled relationship. Forgiveness implies that the forgiven person has done something wrong, and acceptance of forgiveness implies admission of guilt. Relationship problems need to be resolved by forgiveness, admission of guilt, apology, and mutual desire to restore the friendship. Forgiveness may have to occur on both sides of a dispute. None of us is perfect. Pride is an obstacle to be sure, but so is truth. The passage of time dulls the memory, but the closer the relationship that has been damaged, the greater the pain and the sharper will be the memory. “Water under the bridge” denies the importance of the offence, belittles the closeness of the relationship that has been damaged, and sees less importance in truth than a comfortable life. Trust cannot be re-built on the basis of forgetfulness.


So what is the solution? What does God do? God lets people off the hook. He forgives them. He refuses to retaliate in judgement (at the present time, anyway). But forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation, but not sufficient. Forgiveness is the response of the offended party. In a dispute between people both parties might be guilty of offence. The offending party has to accept the forgiveness. This involves admitting guilt and agreeing that he or she should have acted differently. Usually people require an apology before we forgive someone, but this is not necessary. God does not do that. He offers forgiveness before we apologise, and allows us to decide whether we will receive it. But it is one thing for a holy God to do that, and quite another for a sinful human being to forgive another sinful person.


We tend to label people as good people or bad people. We only want to be friends with the good people. Some see everything in shades of grey, a continuum from goodness to badness, and they stay away from those they think are worse than they are. Jesus saw everyone as being evil and alienated from God and in need of receiving his forgiveness. Jesus was known for befriending “sinners”. Of course, not everyone during Jesus time on earth wanted him as a friend. But Jesus did not say to them, “Oh well, it’s all water under the bridge now. Let’s agree to disagree on some matters and be friends as best we can.” He let them walk away.


It is difficult for us to forgive anyone, and especially difficult if they do not accept the implied accusation of guilt and do not want to be reconciled with us. Nevertheless, we must choose to forgive them. It is for our own good that we do this. Bitterness and resentment damage us more than anyone else. In the case of a work colleague or a family member, it might be necessary to continue with a superficial relationship for the sake of the job, or for the sake of others. Such a “water under the bridge” approach needs to avoid the water that keeps coming. A certain distance in the relationship will always be maintained for one’s own protection. On the other hand, a close relationship will not be destroyed by the raging waters of life which simply flow under the bridge.

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Respect has to be earned, it can’t just be given.

The other day I was watching an episode of Star Trek where Counsellor Troy said, “Respect has to be earned, it can’t just be given.” This didn’t sound right to me. On Googling the phrase I found that many people have commented on this phrase. I found that younger people, thinking of bosses, teachers, and parents, tend to agree. On the other hand, I found Christians who disagreed because they link respect with Jesus’ command to love others whether they deserve it or not.

I asked God what he thought about it. This blog posting is to add his reply into the public forum.

To give someone the respect that they have earned makes you a “slave” to them. You can only act according to their performance. 2 Timothy 1:9 says God did not call you because of your works. You did not earn salvation. God does not have to weigh up your performance and bow in respect to you. Your purpose and grace should take you beyond being enslaved to other people’s performance. Purpose to love others because it is what you do.

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Church Identity

When we think about church unity we need to be clear on what the church is. My understanding of the church is a community of sinful people saved by God who strive to continue Christ ‘s mission in the world.

If we see the identity of the church in terms of (1) a community of people in relationship with Christ, (2) as continuing Christ’s mission in the world, and (3) acknowledging that the church’s members are sinners, church unity will enhance the church’s witness in the world. Christian unity is in the spirit just as Jesus and the Father were one in spirit (Jn 17:21). From this unity of the spirit the church can show its unity to the world through its mission. Doctrinal differences have more to do with heritage and academic considerations than a spiritual relationship with Christ.

Physical church unity is only important in as much as it makes for efficient and productive mission. In other words, the existence of many denominational organisations is of no importance provided that it does not make the church ineffective in its mission. Combined church ministries, evangelistic campaigns, social welfare organisations, and missionary organisations are evidence of the essential unity of the church.

All Christians are part of God’s family, family disputes do not change the fact that we all belong to the one church of God. Our relationship is with God and none of us is in Christ’s body by any distinctive of our own. When we look for a distinctive in ourselves as the basis for church unity (as with our salvation) we are detracting from the grace of God. Just as Jesus accepted that the enemy has planted weeds in his field, we will need to accept this too.

The presence of sin in the church is not a reason to become defensive, but a reason to praise God for the salvation of sinners in Christ. This does not mean that we should “continue in sin in order that grace may abound” (Rom 6:1). Sin is the reason behind church splits. It is not just the other party’s sin, but the blind spot that does not recognise that we are just as sinful and in need of God’s grace. There is no “us” and “them” in the church, only us sinners in need of a saviour. Schism is evidence of our sin. Christian unity is evidence of our salvation.

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