You and I can please God. It is amazing when you really think about it: human beings – seemingly so insignificant when we look at the size and scale of the universe that God has created – have the ability to please the Lord. It is also possible to ‘displease’ the Lord (Isaiah 66:4c). The apostle Paul wrote, ‘Find out what pleases the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:10), or as The Message translation puts it, ‘Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it’.
1. Praise the Lord
Psalm 113:1-9Praise is the appropriate response to God. It is not that he is a megalomaniac. He is worthy of all our praise. We teach our children to be thankful – not for our own sake but for theirs. We are pleased when they are thankful. God teaches us to praise him because it is the right response to him, and because it is good for us. Thanksgiving is an appropriate response to human generosity. Continual praise is the appropriate response to God’s generosity.
The psalmist repeats over and over again that we should ‘praise the Lord’ (v.1). We should praise him all day long, ‘From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised’ (v.3). We should praise him throughout our lives, ‘now and tomorrow and always’ (v.2, MSG). We should praise him particularly for his love for the marginalised: the poor, the needy and the barren (vv.7–9).
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord …
2. Live in the light
Ephesians 5:8-33Ephesians 5:8–14
As Christians, we are called to be a community whose conduct shines as a beacon to others, illuminating the way that God intended life to be lived.
Paul wrote that you are ‘light in the Lord’ (v.8). Therefore, you should live as ‘children of light’ (v.8). Light produces good fruit: goodness (generosity towards others), righteousness (doing right in relation to God and humanity) and truth. These are ways you can please the Lord (v.10).
Light exposes evil. The best way to get rid of evil is to drag it into the light. Evil thrives in the darkness, but the moment it’s brought into the light, its power diminishes.
Ask God to shine the light of the Holy Spirit into your heart. If the Holy Spirit exposes an area of darkness, deal with it through confession and repentance. The moment you do so, the power of evil is broken.
Lord, help us to get rid of darkness in our lives and to live as children of light, shining in a way that pleases you.
3. Make the most of every opportunity
Time is our most valuable possession. You can get more money but you cannot get more time.
Paul wrote, ‘Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil’ (vv.15–16). We must not fritter away our lives, like fools. Life is short – we should live in the moment and make the most of every day.
Lord, may we not live carelessly or unthinkingly. Rather, may we make sure we understand what you want and make the most of every hour of every day.
4. Be filled with the Spirit
Paul contrasts the escapism of substance abuse (getting ‘drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery’) with being ‘filled’ (v.18) with the Holy Spirit. ‘Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him’ (v.18, MSG). In these verses, he uses ‘filled’ in the present continuous tense, urging us to go on and on being filled with the Spirit.
Being filled with the Spirit leads to singing ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ (v.19) instead of ‘drinking songs!’ (v.19, MSG). It leads us to worship the Lord Jesus in our hearts and to give thanks to God – the very opposite of grumbling and complaining. It is characteristic of the Spirit-filled community to be grateful to God for all things, in all places and at all times. It leads to mutual submission as we see in the next section.
Lord, please fill me today with the Holy Spirit.
5. Submit to one another with love and respect
John Paul Getty, once the wealthiest man on the planet, who was married three times, said, ‘I’d give my entire fortune for one happy marriage.’ Mutual respect is the key to a happy marriage. The key words in verses 21–33 are ‘respect’, ‘love’ and ‘submit’. The overall heading for this section is that ‘out of respect for Christ’ (v.21, MSG), we are to ‘submit to one another’ (v.21).
The word used for submission is different from the word used for ‘obey’ (6:1). Submission is voluntarily yielding in love. It is a beautiful characteristic and it is clear from the overall heading, ‘submit to one another’ (v.21), that he expects mutual submission. This teaching would have been a revolutionary concept in first-century culture.
Respect is the key to a good relationship between the sexes. We are not at war. As Pope Benedict put it, ‘In Christ, the rivalry, enmity and violence can be overcome and has been overcome. It is respect throughout marriage that elevates the other and gives them the dignity and increases their confidence and self worth.’
The overall emphasis of the passage is on love. Although it is directed particularly at the husband, it would be absurd to suggest that the love is not mutual. Paul is saying that both love and submission are mutual. Love is self-giving; this is how a husband submits .
This kind of love is sanctifying (vv.26–27). It makes us holy. It makes us like Jesus. It is sensitive (vv.28–30). And it is sealed in marriage by sexual union (v.31). This is the New Testament context of sexual union. It is the most beautiful and the most romantic attitude to sex and marriage. As Robert Spaemann put it, ‘The essence of marriage is that two lives, two whole biographies, are so tied together that they become one history.’
Furthermore, these verses are precious gems to be treasured because of what they suggest about the forthcoming marriage feast of the Lamb, and the consummation of the union between Christ and his church. In today’s passage in Isaiah (see section 7 below) we get an insight into what this union will be.
Lord, help us in all our relationships, whether we are married or single, to submit to one another, respecting and loving each other and pleasing you.
6. Be humble
Isaiah 65:17-66:24Isaiah 66:2b
‘These are the ones I esteem: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and tremble at my word’ (Isaiah 66:2b). ‘But there is something I’m looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say’ (v.2b, MSG).
This is another way to please the Lord. Through constant study of, and submission to, his word, God keeps us humble and contrite. It is easy to become prideful until we fall on our knees before God and his word, and see ourselves in the light of his truth.
Lord, help us to be humble and contrite and reverently responsive to what you say.
7. Look forward to a world where everything pleases God
Isaiah encouraged the people: ‘Be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create’ (65:18). God promises that he will create ‘new heavens and a new earth’ (v.17).
This new heaven and new earth will finally be a place where everything pleases God, where he can ‘delight in [his] people’ (v.19). In these final chapters, Isaiah sketches out a glorious vision of what this new creation will be like.
This passage also warns of the coming judgment, as all that displeases God is excluded from this new creation (66:4b).
The imagery of a new creation, which these chapters give us, is then a picture of joy and rejoicing (65:18–19a); a place where there is no more suffering and ‘the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more’ (v.19b). This prefigures some of the last chapters in the New Testament (see Revelation 21:4).
Isaiah promises that everyone will reach their full potential (Isaiah 65:20). But the New Testament goes even further, with Jesus promising eternal life. There will be no need for funerals, undertakers or cemeteries. God’s people will be given immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53).
Isaiah looks forward to a time when all activity will be a blessing (Isaiah 65:21–23a). There will be no more work in vain. There will be no more labour or toil. Rather, there will be a restoration of the rule over creation for which we were originally entrusted (see Genesis 1:26; Revelation 22:5).
There will be a closeness of relationship with God (Isaiah 65:23b–24), with no more struggling or seemingly unanswered prayer. We will have an unimpaired vision of God and of Jesus.
There will be harmony and peace (v.25). All relationships will be restored – including even the animal world. There will be unity and intimacy in all our relationships. Nature will be restored as a place of stability, safety and peace. The kingdom of God will be fully established. Martin Luther wrote, ‘I would not give up one moment of Heaven for all the joys and riches of the world, even if they lasted for thousands and thousands of years.’
Lord, we praise you for this wonderful promise of a new heaven and a new earth. May it spur us on in our desire to live now in a way that pleases you.