In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
How many people have I seen over the years whose faith has been diluted, even extinguished, say, by a spouse who was not a believer, or by a business partner who did not share the same Christian values.
I became a Christian through a direct encounter with God in my room at the University of Manchester hall of residence. He broke into my life, gave me a joy and peace which I did not know existed, then challenged me to follow his way. Those first days of knowing him were just like walking on air; and I remember thinking to myself, I must never forget just how awful life was before this.
It was on one of those early days that I went down to the bar of the hall of residence in the evening to meet and chat with people, and I received a surprise. I had taken a gap year between school and university and during that year I had not had contact with anybody from school. I was 90 miles away from it, but there sitting in the bar were two girls from my class, whom I had not seen for over a year. One of them I had always really fancied, but I had never had the courage to invite her out. Now, knowing God, I had a new-found confidence.
Even now I can feel the emotions as I stood in the lift going back to my room – I lived on the 15th floor – saying to God, Next time I meet her I am going to ask her to go out with me. I got back to my room and opened the Bible. This was such a big book; there seemed so much of it to read! So, I would open it at random and read what was in front of me. Whatever it was, I invariably found it gripping and fascinating.
On that day, in early November 1971, the Bible ‘happened’ to open at 1 Corinthians 7, a passage which speaks about male-female relationships. Reading it for the first time, I was intrigued. I read how an unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided (1 Corinthians 7:32-33).
Maybe you have had this same experience as me: the words seemed to jump off the page and I felt God speak to me: That is what I want for you, to be concerned only about my affairs. On that basis, I concluded that it would not be a good idea to ask this girl to go out with me; and I felt a confirmatory Yes from God. So, that was the end of a relationship which never began!
I have sometimes wondered how different my life might have been, had God not led me ‘randomly’ to that passage of the Bible, or what might have happened if I had started going out with that girl (always assuming that she would have said Yes!). She was not at all a bad or immoral person but, as far as I was aware, she did not share the Christian faith which I had recently discovered. I very much doubt that she would have encouraged me to build up my faith. But God in his mercy kept me away from a danger that I did not even see.
We can see in this story a tactic of the devil that I call infiltration: a person is moving towards Christian faith, or has embraced that faith, and he brings across their path another person who diverts them away from it. How many people have I seen over the years whose faith has been diluted, even extinguished, say, by a spouse who was not a believer, or by a business partner who did not share the same Christian values.
This is an old tactic, at least 4,000 years old; for we see it in the story of Hamor in Genesis 34. His son Shechem raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, but then decided that he would like to marry her. So, he got his father to speak to Jacob to try and arrange a marriage. Hamor says this to Jacob on behalf of his son, “Please give your daughter to him as his wife. Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it” (Genesis 34:8-10).
But this was not what God wanted for the people of Israel whom he had chosen and who were then in their infancy as a people. Had Jacob accepted Hamor’s offer, Israel would have become assimilated into the people around them and would have been unable to bear the testimony of God’s love, grace and holiness; and the history of the Jews would have been very different.
We face this same challenge today: avoiding this infiltration by guarding our heart from any negative influences of those with whom we have close relationships, for our heart is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23); and carefully choosing whom we allow to touch our heart, knowing that bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33).