‘God is … fire’ – so how should we react?

Four tiny, dynamic, biblical statements about the nature of God

[] ‘God is spirit’ (John 4:24)

Jesus made this ultra-brief statement in his conversation with a Samaritan woman beside the communal well near Sychar. She held a warped concept of worship. True worship for her necessitated liturgy recited in a holy place (‘this mountain’, implying physical elevation above the mundane), soaked in tradition with spiritual history (where ‘our fathers worshipped’, John 4:20 – all Bible references from the English Standard Version). Jesus instantly replied that genuine worship was not a matter of a place with a patina, but what was expressed from the heart that was relational (‘worship the Father) and real (‘in spirit and in truth). The reason? Because ‘God is spirit’. Not ‘a spirit’ (as in the text of The Passion Translation) for, as we shall notice in the next two ultra-brief statements about the Almighty, God is not ‘a light’ nor ‘a love’.

However, the TPT footnote on John 4:24 is impressive with its literal rendering of the Greek noun ‘pneuma’: ‘God is breath or ‘God is wind‘. After all, the evening breeze seems to have featured in Jesus’ rooftop discussion with Nicodemus in the previous chapter of John’s Gospel (see John 3:8 in the context of John 3:1-8).

[] ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8)

John’s first letter often states that love is an attribute and an activity of God – something that God has or that God does (see 1 John 2:5,15; 3:1,16,17; 4:10,11,19). God’s love is a favourite subject of all God’s people, but how well do we understand: since God is love, this indicates his unique triune nature? The Father loves the Son in the Spirit: and this love of Father, Son and Spirit is always expressed as an outgoing overflow! An eternal individual God could not possibly be defined as ‘God IS love’!

[] ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5)

Again let’s remind ourselves that we are here considering what God is and not just what he does. And, as ‘light’ his presence causes the exposure of our flaws and iniquities, so when you fling open your conservatory curtains as the day dawns. you admire its recently washed windows, until the sun rising in full strength exposes the inadequacy of your handiwork. Also, the naughty child hiding in the under stairs cupboard hums to herself contentedly in the darkness until mummy’s torchlight exposes a spider or even a scuttling rodent and sets off a scream of dread..

The glow of God’s presence not only causes exposure of flaws but also enlightenment that shows us the steps we need to take. In general, God’s ‘word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105; compare Proverbs 6:23), but the awareness that God is there causes us to ‘know that we know that we know’!

[] ‘Our God is a consuming fire‘ (Hebrews 12:29)

This statement was first pronounced by Moses in a farewell address to the Lord’s people who were about to enter the Promised Land after his immanent decease. ‘I must die in this land,’ he confessed. ‘But you shall go over and take possession of that good land. Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image … that the Lord your God had forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God’ (Deuteronomy 4:22-24; 9:3).

On one of his several visits to the summit of Mount Sinai Moses observed that ‘the glory of the Lord dwelt’ there ‘like a devouring fire’ (Exodus 24:15-19). During a forty-day absence the people persuaded Aaron to make a golden calf from their donations of the precious metal, so that they could see the god that they worshipped with their sacrifices. Because of their gross offence the Lord pleaded with Moses to ‘let me alone that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them’ Exodus 32:1-35, especially 32:9-12).

‘On the day that the tabernacle was set up’ in which the Lord would dwell and receive his people’s offerings, ‘the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning.’ And this ‘cloud’ that ‘covered it by day’ had ‘the appearance of fire by night’ (see Numbers 9:15-18).

[] Talents of fire

No wonder then that, when the ascended Christ conferred the Holy Spirit upon his praying people on the day of Pentecost, he ‘filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance’ (Acts 2:2-4).

I well recall my own experience as a young Brethren evangelist, who was desperately thirsty for a fresh and deeper experience of the Holy Spirit, kneeling in an empty conference hall when another servant of the Lord placed his hands on me, joining his prayer with mine. I just wanted to bless the Lord, and suddenly I did so with an artesian gush of praise in a language I did not understand. This was the baptism ‘with the Holy Spirit and with fire’ prophesied by John the Baptist (Luke 3:16). But, after several days, as the ecstasy evaporated and doubts bombarded my mind, I took to heart Paul’s counsel to young Timothy ‘to fan into flame the gift [Greek charisma] of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands’ (2 Timothy 1:6), and continued to let my spirit pour forth in prayer to God in tongues, thus building myself up (1 Corinthians 14:2,4,14). As a result God was able to use me in prophesying and bring healing to the sick!

[] Fiery trials

Peter, writing to believers who were in exile due to persecution, encouraged them to ‘rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials’, because those trials tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold … tested by fireresulting in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ when he comes again in glory (1 Peter 1:6-7). He also told them: ‘do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you … but’ rather ‘rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings’ for the same reason (see 1 Peter 4:12, and Revelation 3:18).

Daniel’s three brave colleagues had refused to bow in idolatrous worship before Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘golden image’, that echoed the incident of Aaron’s golden calf. During their resulting test in ‘a burning fiery furnace’ they found the Son of God walking in the fire with them, so that nothing burned but the bands that bound them (see Daniel 3:1-30)! His uncreated fire apparently acted as an asbestos shield against the dictator’s manufactured fire.

[] Avoid ‘strange fire’

Leviticus 9:22 – 10:3 are two instructive paragraphs that contrast the uncreated fire of God’s own nature with ‘strange fire’ (King James Version), or ‘foreign fire’ (= the meaning of the Hebrew adjective), or simply ‘unauthorised fire’ (ESV) that ‘Nadab and Abihu’, two of Aaron’s sons brought into the tabernacle in their priestly censers, as they ‘offered incense … before the Lord’. This ‘fire … which he had not commanded’ could have been humanly produced by focusing the sun’s rays through glass onto combustible material, or by friction produced by two flint stones rubbed together. The Lord responded with uncreated ‘fire that’, previously, ‘came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering … on the altar’. Naturally, on that day on which the brazen altar had functioned for the first time, ‘when all the people saw it, they shouted [in the ecstasy of high praise] and fell on their faces [in silent awe of profound worship]’.

P.S. The consuming of this current creation at Jesus’ return

The heavens will be set on fire… and will melt as they burn … on the day of God’ (2 Peter 3:12) – ‘the day of the wrath of the Lord’, when ‘in the fire of his jealousy all the earth shall be consumed’ with ‘all the inhabitants’ (Zephaniah 1:18; compare Isaiah 10:16-18; 29:6; 30:27-33).

The subsequent fire of divine reckoning

[] ‘The fiery furnace’ (Matthew 13:42, 50) for all law breakers.

[] ‘The hell of fire’ (Matthew 5:22) for insulting a brother believer in anger!

[] ‘The eternal fire’ (Matthew 18:8-9 and 25:41) for yielding to temptation, or withdrawing creature comforts from those in need.

[] ‘Unquenchable fire’ (Mark 9:47-48; Luke 3:17) for similar reasons.

[] ‘The fire will test what sort of work each [believer] has done’ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). ‘If anyone‘s work is burned up he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.’

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