Remain in My Love…

John 15:10 (NIV)

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.

A simple message of obedience … wrapped in a greater context if we want to consider HOW we can keep His commands:

John 15:1-17 (NIV)

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to youRemain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

I want to outline some of the salient points that Jesus made in this passage using the vine and branches metaphor to guide our understanding of His Word:

1.       God the Father is the gardener!  He is the One who planted the True Vine! Jesus is the True Vine!

Isaiah 11:1-5; 10 (NIV)

1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious.

Revelation 5:5-6 (NIV)

5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, that is, the seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth. 

Revelation 22:16 (NIV)

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

2.       We (those who believe in Christ Jesus) are the Branches of the Vine!

This means that believers emerge from the vine.  We are an integral part of the Vine.  We have no existence or life except that the Vine has produced us and we are an inherent part of its growth.  It is from the branches that flowering buds will emerge, fruit will be set (borne), and a harvest will come forth … from ALL the branches that have formed from the Vine.  I believe this is the image of the metaphor Jesus has used to illustrate not only our relationship to Him and the Father, but also to manifest the depth of His life-giving love for us. Always remember that God the Father “tends” to the Vine.  He observes the branches and their well-being.  The Father notes those branches which are producing fruit and He prunes in order for them to produce even more fruit. Branches in Jesus that do not produce fruit, He cuts off. And what is the key to fruit production? Abiding in the Vine! ALL the resources we will ever need and utilize to produce fruit will come from the roots and through the Vine. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Verse 5) So each individual branch must understand that nothing less than an intimate relationship with Jesus will be able to produce the harvest that the Father is looking to receive from His Vine….

3.       If we keep (obey) His commands, we will REMAIN in Jesus … we will abide in Him and remain in His love.

Jesus states that He is the example of obedience for us.  As we visualize the obedience of Jesus to the Father, we see that His intimate relationship with the Father stems from HOW Jesus lived in obedience.  His relationship was that of Son. What did Jesus say? “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” (Verse 9) As Jesus bore the image of the Father, so we are conformed to the image of Him. The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews gives us some additional insight into how we too can become empowered for obedience:

Hebrews 5:7-10 (NIV)

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

First we observe the prayer life of Jesus.  He offered up prayers and supplications with fervent cries and tears to God! Note the intensity described here….  Second, the prayers of Jesus were heard by the Father because of His “reverent submission.”  I truly believe from this verse that “reverent submission” is the most important element of prayer.  As the Prophet Isaiah noted: “Our iniquities have separated us from God, and our sins have hidden His face from us, so that He will not hear.” (Cf. Isaiah 59:2) But Jesus was filled with the Spirit of the knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He delighted in the fear of the Lord.  And I think we are to have the same mindset if we desire to obey His commands and for His love to remain in us.

As Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered, I surmise that we must enter the same “winepress” in the pursuit of obedience. Sometimes God refines us in the furnace of affliction. (Cf. Isaiah 48:10) So as I ponder the idea of suffering in order to learn obedience, I am reminded by the thought that suffering will be manifested in the natural realm … in our bodies as we die to sin. (Cf. Romans 6:2) It is inevitable! Sin itself will not die; rather, we have to die to it!  And the process of sanctification will often feel like suffering as addictions are withdrawn … as strongholds of bitterness and unforgiveness are uprooted … as the iniquity of the tongue is tamed …  and as a myriad of temptations are resisted and escaped. Yet, “In our struggle against sin, none of us have resisted to the point of shedding our blood.” (Cf. Hebrews 12:4) But that is the course we must pursue if we are truly serious about holiness in our lives. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:1)

4.       My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

If we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, then we will all the more need to prepare for the suffering that accompanied His love for us! As Jesus shared His heart with the disciples, He told them that He was willing to lay it down for them.  Jesus called them friends!  And this is important to see: “You are my friends IF you do what I command”. This is my command: Love one another! “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands.  As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.”  (Cf. 2 John 1:6) Since by the example of Christ Jesus we know that the love of God is sacrificial, our love for one another will manifest as sacrificial as well. And we need to understand that sacrificial love will bring some degree of suffering into our lives … suffering that we will be challenged to endure unless we abide in the Vine through reverent submission to Him. Still, through suffering we learn obedience; the obedience that comes from faith (Cf. Romans 16:26) … the obedience that leads to righteousness (Cf. Romans 6:16) … and the obedience that accompanies our confession of the Gospel of Christ. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:13)

Love requires an emptying of ourselves.  It challenges us to be servants to others.  As Paul admonished, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”  (Cf. Romans 12:1) Paul goes on to instruct us to be devoted to one another in love; honor one another above yourselves; share with the Lord’s people who are in need; live in harmony with one another; live at peace with everyone; and do not take revenge. (Cf. Romans 12:9-21) And Paul wrote similar instructions to other churches: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Cf. Philippians 2:3-4)

Well, I have tarried here a while, but I hope that something has been said that will inspire you to look at the condition of your branch within the Vine.  Is your branch healthy?  Is it growing?  Is it producing fruit?  Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  Is the Father being glorified through your life and mine?  These are important questions to ask ourselves in order to cultivate and nourish our intimacy with Christ. It is imperative that His Word abide in us … that we are fervent in prayer … and that we pursue reverent submission to Him in all aspects of our lives.  This is HOW we will be equipped to “keep His command” to love one another as He has loved us.  This is how we will bear fruit … fruit that will last.  Indeed, I pray that we will hear these words of Jesus and put them into practice…. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The “Platinum Rule”

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We just talked about this yesterday.  Message unchanged….  There is a definite call to humble ourselves and to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think … as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (Cf. Romans 12:3) This reminds me of when Jesus taught His “Sermon on the Mount” and said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Cf. Luke 6:31) Perhaps, a “Platinum Rule” should read: “Treat others in the same manner that God has treated you in Christ Jesus.”  I think that raises the bar a notch….

We need to remember that God has been more kind, more gentle, more longsuffering, more patient, more forgiving, more compassionate, and more loving towards us than we ever tend to be towards one another; yet, we are made in His image and called to live as Jesus did. (Cf. 1 John 2:6) So this brings me back to two key passages:

Galatians 5:22-26 (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

It is only by the Spirit of God living within us that can ever hope to attain the godliness He desires within each of us.  And a person does not receive the Holy Spirit except that he/she believes in Jesus Christ … placing their faith in His life, death, and resurrection for the assurance of this gift. As Peter affirmed (and I often quote): “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3) And indeed, we need the power of God to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our relationships with one another.  I can see no other conclusion for a believer … a child of God.  As John emphasized in His epistle: “Dear friends, let us love one another … for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and know God.” (Cf. 1 John 4:7)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Law of the Spirit

Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

This verse is a great encouragement … and opens an entire chapter of Scripture focused on the immutable love of God for those who believe in the Lord Jesus.  Beginning with the word “therefore” to connect this affirmation of “no condemnation” for those who are in Christ Jesus, we should probably go back to Romans 7 to understand the “conclusion” Paul is bringing to the forefront.  It is Romans 7 where we find a detailed description of the spiritual conflict within us … the struggle to put our sinful nature to death.  Paul shares his insight on how the Law and its commandments work to reveal our sinful nature and to articulate how our sinful behavior and conduct manifest: 

Romans 7:7-13 (NIV)

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

In dealing with sin, we have to recognize that the Law and the Commandments were spoken by God through Moses to instruct His people … to impart light, wisdom, and knowledge to those He chose to be His people from all the peoples of the earth.  God said, “ Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Cf. Exodus 19:5-6) And, “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Cf. Leviticus 20:26) Indeed, the will of God has always been for His people to obey Him; and it is our obedience that should set us apart (sanctify us) from all other people:

Deuteronomy 26:16-19 (NIV)

16 The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 17 You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to Him, that you will keep His decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to Him. 18 And the Lord has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised, and that you are to keep all His commands. 19 He has declared that He will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations He has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as He promised.

We need to get this historical understanding and perspective because Paul indicates there is “new covenant” of obedience that will not come through the Law and its commandments; rather, it will take a spiritual form brought forth through the death and resurrection of Christ. Through the wisdom given to him, Paul shares how the Old Covenant administrated through Moses worked to expose the depth of moral corruption within us by giving us the knowledge of it.  And the sacrificial system instituted under Moses was a constant reminder of the need for atonement through the physical death (shed blood) of a “substitute” for the person who sinned … who violated the Law of God.  Paul explains that the commandments let us know when we have transgressed the holiness God expects of us … and through sin we have entered into condemnation and death.  It is this picture of the Law and the condemnation it brings forth that has awakened Paul to the truth of the New Covenant through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Romans 7:14-25 (NIV)

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I believe what Paul is articulating here is the internal struggle with the sinful nature we experience as humans. The conflict between our spirits and our flesh is ongoing; and we are in need of rescue from this spiritual war (the Law is spiritual).  Though in our spirits we desire to do what is right and good, we are unable to do so within our own power. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:6-8) Yes, it is Jesus Christ who has delivered us from the death brought through sin.  Jesus, the Son of God, became the eternal atonement through His physical death (shed blood) on the cross as our “substitute”. As the Apostle John affirmed: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (Cf. John 3:17)

God declared you and I are forgiven if we believe in His Son and abide in Him. Though as transgressors we are worthy of the condemnation of death, God in His great love and mercy ordained that in Christ Jesus there would no longer be condemnation for our sin. The penalty required for sin has been paid. Restitution has been made on our behalf. But we need to be careful to observe that this liberty from the law of sin and death is for those who are IN Christ Jesus.  Forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration is afforded to those who believe and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Let’s return to the Apostle John on this matter:

John 3:16-21 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Our human rebellion against God did not change with the introduction of the Law and commandments; rather, it only afforded the knowledge of our sinful human nature so that we would know what God desires of those He created in His image. “All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:3-6) Thus, it is only by the grace of God that we are saved. He sent His Son, Jesus, to not only bring true light into the world but to save the world from the condemnation of sin and spiritual death. As Peter informs us: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3)

So what is the application for us?  How do we live in obedience to the Law … and deal with our sinful human nature that draws us into rebellion against it?  Paul explains that we must live in the Spirit in order to accomplish the requirements of the Law.  And it is through believing in Jesus Christ that we receive His Spirit to abide in us forever.  For the Holy Spirit is the seal of our redemption … deposited as a guarantee of what God has promised to those who love Him. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:4-5; Ephesians 1:13-15) And so we are called to be led by the Holy Spirit and to live in Him:

Galatians 5:13-25 (NIV)

13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We cannot change what the Law and commandments bring to our conscience; nor can we resolve the conflict produced in our flesh because of our sinful nature.  We have to see and understand that a spiritual problem requires a spiritual solution.  And the Spirit God gave us affords us power, love, and self-control. (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7) Through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive His Spirit to indwell us and conform us to His image.  For this is the will of God!  This is the fulfillment of His commandments.  This is the New Covenant we enter through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is why we believe the love God has for us!  The “Law of Love” is put into our minds and it is written on our hearts because He abides in us and we abide in Him. The intimate relationship that God desires with us is perfected in love. This is how we know Him!

1 John 4:7-16 (NKJV)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

If we walk in the Spirit, we will walk in love. Through His indwelling Spirit, we will love one another as God through Christ Jesus has demonstrated His love for us. As Peter wrote: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  (Cf. 1 Peter 4:8) Love keep no record of debts. (1 Corinthians 13:4-6) This is why God will remember our sins no more. Our debt has been paid. We have been forgiven. We have been redeemed from the law of sin and death. There is now no condemnation! And this is why we praise and worship Jesus! Oh, how I pray these truths will encourage your heart to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Cf. Ephesians 3:18-19) And I pray we will love one another as He has loved us! (Cf. John 15:12) For love is how we will keep the Law of God so that our hearts will not condemn us:

1 John 3:11-24 (NIV)

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. 23 And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Wisdom From Heaven

James 3:17-18

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Wisdom….  We all need it.  We are urged by the Apostle James to ask for it.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) But we need to distinguish the wisdom that comes from God … and the wisdom that comes from the world and human intellect.  In seeking the wisdom for living that comes from God, James writes:

James 3:13-18 (NIV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Here we have a challenge … that our very lives should emulate the character of Christ Jesus. And James has some fairly salient points for us to consider.  He starts with the premise that those who are wise and have spiritual understanding demonstrate their “depth of faith” by living a “good life”.  And then he defines a “good life” as “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom”.  So as to further explain his instruction, James then contrasts the differences between the “earthly” or “carnal” wisdom of the world with the “heavenly” or “spiritual” wisdom that comes from God.  I think it might be useful to breakdown these “distinctions” James brings to our attention:

Wisdom that does NOT come down from heaven is labeled earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. It is manifested in human conduct such as “harboring bitter envy” or “selfish ambition” in your heart.  He goes on to observe that wherever you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  In other words, envy, jealousy, pride, covetousness, idolatry, and greed proceed from a pattern of life that is sensual, brutish, and of this world.  Such behavior is inconsistent with a life rooted in the love of God. By contrast, we see that those who live a “good life” through the wisdom that God gives are:

            Pure                            (i.e. seek holiness and self-control)

            Peace-Loving             (i.e. seek resolution to conflict and reconciliation)

            Considerate               (i.e. seek the good of others above themselves)

            Submissive                 (i.e. not only to God but to each other)

            Full of Mercy             (i.e. readily forgiving)

            Full of Good Fruit    (i.e. acts of service and compassion)

            Impartial                    (i.e. righteous judgement; unbiased)

            Sincere                       (i.e. genuine; unpretentious, faithful)

So we can infer from these “distinctions” in wisdom for living what is best, good, and wholesome in our relationships with others versus what is immoral, destructive, and unrestrained to the extent that physical, emotional, and spiritual harm ensues to another.  Only the wisdom that comes from above equips a person to live the righteous life God intends for each of us to live!  Perhaps that is the very reason God has drawn us to believe in His Son – so that we might be filled with His Spirit … the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Cf. Isaiah 11:2).

No doubt, to be filled with the Spirit of God is essential to living a “good life” as James envisions it.  And I can almost hear Paul chime in with his Letter to the Galatians on this matter … parsing out the same contrasts as James:

Galatians 5:13-26 (NIV)

13 You, my brothers and sisters, have been called to liberty. But do not use your liberty to indulge the flesh (and its nature); rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Cf. Leviticus 19:1815 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (the wisdom that comes from heaven). 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

So my prayer is that we will seek wisdom … ask for wisdom … and apply wisdom to our hearts so that our lives will be good and beneficial to others.  This is HOW we are to love one another as we ourselves have been loved by God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  So I will conclude with an excerpt of the prayer Paul offered up for the believers in Colossae: “I do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Cf. Colossians 1:9-10)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Battle of the Selves

Colossians 3:12 (NIV)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

This Verse is a “call” to us regarding our dispositions … our manners … our characters as new creations in Christ.  It reminds us that our redeemed lives are to be Spirit-filled with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  In this context we are to be forgiving … just as the Lord Jesus forgave us.  And over all these virtues, we are to put on love – which binds them all together.  The message here from Paul to the Colossians has quite the application for us because it describes the outward “physical” changes that should follow the inward “spiritual” changes that have caused us to become “holy and dearly loved” children of God.

So I think I will reprint this section of Scripture for your easy reference and reading.  I pray it will impact you and I in the 21st Century as deeply as Paul intended for it to instruct the Colossian believers of the 1st Century.

Colossians 3:1-17 (NIV)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And above all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

This is the new life we have been saved to live.  If you continue to experience conflicts with your earthly nature exerting itself above your inner man, you need to realize that the battle is now spiritual.  Verse 3 reminds us that the old person you were has died and the new person you are is now hidden in Christ.  But Paul instructs us that we do not wrestle against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Cf. Ephesians 6:12) But I will encourage you in this, as you see the physical manifestations of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love in your relationships with others, you can know that the spiritual battles are being won.  Think of your earthly nature as a barometer of your spiritual nature.  It might not be an exact measure but I’d venture to say it is fairly close….

So what is our application?  Well, our bodies (flesh and blood) are not really the problem.  The greatest battle is within our hearts … our inner beings … our souls.  For as a man thinks in his heart … so is he.  It is our hearts that God must capture; and He did through Christ Jesus.  Do you not realize that it is the kindness of God that led us to repentance? (Cf. Romans 2:4) The love of God is why we submit to His transformation of our hearts … so that we might be conformed to the image of His Son.  And this is why we are called to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  This is why we are admonished to put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. If we are not seeing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and in our relationships with others – then we need to do some serious introspection and start fighting those spiritual battles.  Paul tells us how to be winners:

Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

This is how you fight those battles. This is how you put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.  There are several defensive pieces of armor in the list above – but there is only one offensive spiritual weapon you are provided by God.  It is the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God.  And, of course, we would include prayer.  Paul instructs that we should be praying at all times in the Spirit. If you want to win the battles – then you will need both the Word and Prayer!  Finally, I will leave you with a couple of parallel verses to encourage you in this fight.  They assure us that our faith in Christ Jesus can overcome our earthly nature and the trouble we have in this world.

John 16:33 (NIV)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

1 John 5:1-5 (NIV)

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome,for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!