No, my belly is not red or black! I am sure those in Australia will have made the connection but for those overseas I am referring to the poisonous red-bellied black snake (there’s a picture below). Re-energising mid-day with a gentle run through the park I met this little fellow on the footpath. He did not even move his head to look at me so content was he in the sun. I slowed my pace, crept past him, and then full of the heebie-jeebies, made a dash to put some distance between us!
The encounter reminded me of a story that my parents like to tell of my eldest brother. Alan has always been very inquisitive, bright-eyed, and curious about fauna and flora. They had taken him to the zoo and he had been able to touch a children’s python. He knew all about them now! And so, on a walk the next day, when they had come across a death adder Alan ran back to Mum and Dad shouting his excitement at having found a children’s python. Close call! He would have raced back to touch the snake if Dad had not quickly intervened and educated him as to the true identity of his new acquaintance.
I recalled the words of Paul:
“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
As a child I may have been intrigued by the snake and started poking and prodding it. It did no harm to me today because I went right around it. I was prepared to go out of my way to avoid the poisonous little fellow if I had to. But as a child, whilst knowing something of a snake’s potential to bite, I may still have tried if I could not provoke it from a distance with a stick and then see if I could not get the better of it. As a child I would have entertained danger.
We can entertain danger in our faith too. New believers and old alike get themselves into trouble when they poke temptations rather than flee. Joseph was smart – when Potiphar’s wife came to seduce him he fled! Each of us has different struggles although some will be in similar areas. I do not know what your little red-bellied blacks are but here are some example situations:
- A recovering alcoholic would be tempting the snake if he went into a bar where other Christians will go to pubs and such places, witnessing and living as the light without harm to their own faith. It would be wiser for one overcoming the addiction to avoid bars.
- A dating couple may be courting disaster to spend time alone together in certain places, such as watching a movie in the dark. Better to play it safe and stay in the light or in company.
- Some of us may be prone to gossiping. Allowing ourselves to enter into lengthy conversation with people we know will bring up gossip would be dangerous. It might be better to surround ourselves with people who avoid such slander until such a time that we feel confident to be able to turn conversation on to more uplifting subjects.
All well and good to say “stop drinking milk and start taking solid foods” but how does one go about it? I think its time to tell the truth – it wasn’t in fact a red-bellied black snake that I came across but rather in the past week I’ve been right up close and personal with two (small) green tree snakes. In retrospect I find my response to them amusing. Neither could have been more than 2cm in diameter and 40cm long. I only took fright because my brain said “snake!!!” and sent up alarm bells. In appearance they are no more disconcerting than a baby mouse or, for those who don’t like mice, a puppy. And yet I know that snakes are dangerous, will bite if I get too close, and some are deadly poisonous. Identifying what is fleshly (dangerous like a snake) and what is godly (safe like a puppy) comes down to educating ourselves.
In all of Paul’s letters he never leaves his disciples with only theology; he also gives them specific instructions relating to the church’s current struggles. Ephesians is a great example of this. In this book Paul spends three chapters telling them who they are “in Christ” and then goes on to show them what it looks like to live in light of their identity in Christ.
Here are some examples from Ephesians 4:
- Speak the truth with his neighbor
- Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
- Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
- Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
- do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
- Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
- Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Some final advice to avoid getting bitten:
Take a dog with you – the dog will scare the snake away before you come to it. AKA: Get into the Word of God. Let it be your guarding dog. If you are focused on the truth of God’s Word and living a life of righteousness you will be kept safe from these temptations.
In Ephesians, the Word of God is called the sword of the Spirit. Get into the Word and let the Spirit guard you with knowledge of the truth. Ephesians takes about 15 minutes to read. I encourage you to pick up your Bible and read through it now. Let your heart soak in the truth of who God has called you to be in Christ.