Few precious metals hold the same degree of lure as
does gold. It has been associated with the best and worst throughout
history. Abraham was said to be a man rich in gold and silver. Moses
covered the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant with the metal but
that same metal was used to build the infamous Golden Calf when
Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness.
Gold has been known and mined since
prehistoric times. The earliest known map is of a gold mine Nubia,
Egypt. The precious metal was highly valued for ornamentation and
rituals. Gold in antiquity was relatively easy to obtain. In nature
gold is usually alloyed with silver but is also found with copper,
lead and mercury and many other minerals. One of two chemical
processes are used to extract the precious metal from the other
minerals. The purity of the metal is referred to as a carat. The term
comes from the carob seed which has a reputation for having uniform
weight. The purity of gold usually ranges from 10 to 22k with most
gold coins at 22k. However, pure gold is designated at 24k. At that
quality the buyer knows that he or she is purchasing an item that is
completely free of all impurities.
The concept of purity was deeply ingrained in the
Jewish faith. In the OT purification had to do with both the removing
of all impurities and uncleanliness from an object and/or the act of
setting an object or person aside for the exclusive use of worshiping
God. The removal of impurities reminded the community that God
deserved the very best. The act of dedication focused their attention
solely upon Yahweh, the God who brought them out of Egypt. These
acts of purification reminded the Jews that their acts of worship
were not common ordinary, everyday occurrences. They were sacred.
Moses emphasized again and again that all the ceremonial instruments
and the people using them in the Tabernacle had to be absolutely
pure. They could not have any material or spiritual defect.
" The Lord said to
Moses: “Take the Levites from among the
other Israelites and make them ceremonially clean."
(Numbers 8:5-6, NIV)
"Moses slaughtered the
bull and took some of the blood, and with his finger he put it on
all the horns of the altar to purify the altar. He poured out the
rest of the blood at the base of the altar. So he consecrated it to
make atonement for it."
(Leviticus 8:15, NIV)
These ancient practices of ceremonial purification
tend to be ridiculed today as superstition. Simply by pouring water
over our hands or sprinkling blood upon a piece of furniture does not
endow the person or the furniture with special powers. We have
forgotten that they were rituals to remind the people to take their
religion seriously. Maybe that is why we tend to ridicule them. We
are uncomfortable with the idea of having to take our religion
seriously. People who take their religion seriously are expected to
demonstrate a high level of commitment and great personal sacrifice.
We prefer moderate commitment and manageable sacrifice, nothing
excess. The author of John had a different understanding of the
faith. He believed that believers should do everything necessary to
remove every form of impurity from their life. He wanted his readers
to strive for 24k purity.
The practice of striving for moral and ethical purity
has historically been called in the church the practice of piety.
Today either term carries a legalistic meaning. To help us move
beyond the negative stigmatization and view piety as the practice by
which we shape our lives before God in grateful obedience to what he
has done for us. John Calvin wrote a similar definition:
I call piety that reverence joined with love
of God which the knowledge of [God's] benefits induces.
This is what the author of 1 John is essentially
saying. He begins the section by saying “How
great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be
called children of God!” The word “lavish” is a wonderful
paraphrase of the Greek. The literal translation means “to give”
but that is such a bare bones description. Love that is so great is
more than just given, it is lavished, it is poured out upon the
recipient. This love entitles us to a hope that one day we will be
made like him. Knowing that our ultimate destination is to be made
like him, we should purify ourselves. We do whatever it takes to
remove anything that does not reflect God's own nature.
Her childhood years were very difficult. She was
raped by her mother's boyfriend who was then killed by her uncles.
The event caused the young girl to go mute for six years. She spent
her teens and twenties as a dancer but she lived in social isolation
from her earlier rape. At 16 she gave birth to a son after which she
toured Europe and Africa in the musical Porgy and Bess. In the
60's she joined the Harlem Writer's Guild and became involved in
black activism. Her first book, I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings
was greeted with critical acclaim. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971
for Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die . Maya Angelou,
along with Robert Frost, was only the second poet ever invited to
read a poem at a presidential inauguration. She read On The Pulse
of a Morning that had been requested by the then President-elect
In 1995 after years of writing award winning
literature, she appeared on the Today Show with Bryan Gumble.
He asked her if she still had a “Wish List.” Had she set any
other goals or objectives that she wanted to accomplish?
"Oh, my Lord, yes," she exclaimed.
"I want to become a better writer. I'm very serious about it.
It's what I am. It's how I describe myself to myself, and [I want
to be] a better human being. I'm trying to be a Christian, which is
no small matter. I mean it -- I'm always amazed É when [people]
walk up to me and say, 'I'm a Christian,' I always think, 'Already?
You've already got it?' My goodness."
Maya Angelou was not going to allow her professional
or spiritual life to become contaminated by impurities. She wanted to
continue to improve; to continue to strive to make herself better.
She wanted to become pure 24k gold.
Whatever the reason, too many Christians allow the
impurities of their spiritual lives to remain. They allow the
materialism of the age to strangle their growth. They allow the
prejudices and bigotries of their generation to stymie their
maturity. They allow their doubt and fears to hold them back from
accomplishing great things for God. The author of 1 John encouraged
his readers to engage in an ongoing process in which they were
constantly trying to remove the sludge from their lives.
In his book on Reformed Spirituality, Howard
Rice, a former professor in spirituality outlines three practices in
which Christians should constantly practice. First he states that we
should display Generosity toward those in need. The
pages of the gospels are filled with stories that speak of this other
person orientation. In response to a question by a lawyer on the
subject of who is my neighbor Jesus told the parable of the good
Samaritan. He challenged the rich young man to sell all that he had
and to give the proceeds to the poor. He warned the rich that they
could easily become preoccupied with expanding their fields and
building bigger barns at the expense of their souls. He praised that
wee little man Zacchaeus for being willing to reimburse everyone who
he cheated and giving half his possessions to the poor. Once again
this is consistent with the writings of John Calvin who wrote “Christ
is either neglected or honored in the person who needs our
The second practice that is often neglected in our
over-indulgent society is Frugality. Rice saw this
world as a gift of God and therefore a place to enjoy. We should not
completely abstain from the pleasure of this earth but we should be
careful about excesses. Because of the sinful condition of our
hearts, we have a tendency to want to abuse our opportunities of
pleasure. Our greed drives us to hoard. We should practice restraint
through fasting. This fasting should not be limited to just a 40 day
period before Easter. In fact, John Calvin would be appalled if we
limited are fasts to just that period. He would also be appalled if
we limited our fasts to food. Our fasts should include every area of
our life. From the food we eat to the vacations we take. From the
cars we buy to our homes. By fasting, by doing without, by exercising
self restraint we detach ourselves from the entangling grip of
material possessions. By making a conscious choice to buy a smaller
car not because we have to but because we see it as a result of our
spiritual life we demonstrate that God is truly first in our lives.
There will also be times when we believe that we must
completely abstain from something. It could be food, sports, or a
hobby. Such a fast is not done for self abasement or to punish but is
designed to exercise self discipline and mastery over our desires.
Review the lives of great women and men and two qualities always
stand out. First each has a superior level of intelligence over their
colleagues. Secondly they will have a high level of self discipline
and be able to say in order to accomplish a goal or objective. The
spiritual life requires the same.
The third practice of the spiritual life that must be
practiced on a daily basis is Obedience.
By obedience I am referring to the moral and ethical commands of the
law. The church is divided over how it understands this. The
conservatives emphasize the sexual standards of the Law. They argue
that God created us to find our sexual completeness only through the
union of a man and a woman in marriage. They consider anything
outside of these parameters to be a transgression of God's law. On
the other end of the theological spectrum the liberals remind us that
usury or the practice of loaning money at a high interest rate was
equally abhorrent in the OT. John Calvin wrote that “moneylenders
sit at their ease without doing anything and receive tribute from the
labor of all other people.” Calvin would have just as harsh words
for the money managers of Wall Street as he would for the sexually
promiscuous. Jesus told his disciples, “Go into all the world and
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all
that I have commanded you.” Mt 28:18-20
The author of 1 John says that the Christian is a
person who is on their way to seeing God and being made like him. To
this end there can be no imperfections. God will not settle for 10k,
or even 14k Christians. He wants us to remove all the impurities of
our lives so that we become as pure as 24k gold.