Worth More Than Sparrows

Luke 12:6-7 (NIV)

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

At first glance, our Verse of the Day provides us encouragement as Jesus shares how the Father values each one of us.  The idiom or metaphor of numbering the hairs on our heads indicates that the Father knows us intimately.  He is aware of our every problem, every need, every situation … and is concerned about every aspect of our lives. As David noted, “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken. (Cf. Psalm 55:22) And Peter recounted this truth when he wrote: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (Cf. 1 Peter 5:7)

But what I found challenging is the surrounding context in which our passage is found.  I’ll reprint it here for us:

Luke 12:1-12 (NIV)

1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to His disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.  11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

This larger context creates some theological tension for us. First, we are warned about the deception of hypocrisy in our lives. Jesus indicates it will be exposed. Then He shifts to “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more; rather, fear the One who has authority over your eternal destiny.  Yes, fear Him!”  Then we are assured that God knows us intimately and we are valued, and He encouraged, “Do not be afraid.”  Then we are admonished regarding our profession of faith and its determination of our forgiveness. I mean, there is a lot to consider here. The question is whether each one of these “teachings” are connected to the other, or if they are simply being presented by Luke as a “list” of teachings that Jesus was communicating to those who gathered to hear Him … similar to how we see various Proverbs being presented.

When I read some other commentaries on Luke 12, I could not find a consensus on the issue I posed.  Some commentators broke out each “discourse” within Luke 12:1-12 as I have outlined them here into separate “small sermons.” The idea is that each topic has its own application as we allow these teachings of Jesus to impact us. Notice how Jesus begins each “topic” with the words: “I tell you.” To me this indicates a separation of thoughts or messages; however, I find here an overall theme of how our relationship with God is to be viewed, understood, and expressed. And, perhaps, that is what our application should be … understanding that our fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus must be based on truth and sincere faith. We do not have to be afraid of our future if we reverence God and place our complete trust in Christ Jesus His Son … whom He sent to reconcile us to Himself.  To me, this is the core message being taught by Jesus.  Jesus is affirming that we can trust Him, but we must be humble and honest in our willingness to confess Him as Lord! When tested, and we will be tested, the evidence of sincere faith will be manifested to all.  Our true faith will be exposed and will be seen by those around us … as it is already known to God.

So this is an important lesson for us to embrace.  The truth will always be exposed in the light.  There is no place for hypocrisy with God.  We deceive ourselves if we think our hidden sins are not known.  We might fool people, but we will never fool God.  He knows and sees all things done.  And so, perhaps, that is the warning for us to fear God … the One who has authority over our eternity after our physical death here on earth.  Our faith is being tested each day … each situation … each choice or decision we make for ourselves.  So we must view our relationship with God in this context of truth and light.  God knows each of us intimately; and He desires us to know Him intimately as well.  So honesty is the place to start.  If repentance is indicated, then follow through.  As John advised: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and His word is not in us.” (Cf. 1 John 1:8-10)

Lord Jesus, your words challenge us today.  As we consider what you are teaching, I pray that each of us will self-examine our hearts and see the truth you have brought to light.  I pray we will follow the prayer of David when he confessed the sin that he tried to hide. David was exposed, but he determined to repent and restore His fellowship with you.  I pray each of us will find the same honesty and courage to return to you and be reconciled when your Spirit convicts us of hypocrisy and dishonesty.  Against you and you alone we sin, and nothing is hidden from your sight.  Teach us to fear you, O Lord.  Let obedience be our reverence.   

Psalm 51:1-12 (NIV)

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

May our hearts embrace the teachings of Jesus. May our hearts repeat these words of David. Yes, may our hearts be sincere so that we will walk in the truth.  In Jesus Name I pray, Amen….

I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. ~ Psalm 119:14

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Every Knee Will Bow…

Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Our Verse of the Day is a solemn declaration of the supremacy of Jesus Christ and the exaltation due Him.  To surrender and submit ourselves to the authority and sovereignty of Jesus Christ is the will of God the Father because He is glorified through His Son…. I would like us to take a closer look at Jesus … the exalted Son of God … to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given by the Father. (Cf. Matthew 28:18) We can start with the Gospel of John and his introduction of Jesus to the world:

John 1:1-4; 14 (NIV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 14 The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

With this Scripture in mind, I want us to look at our verse in its context:

Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV)

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 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. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature (in the form of) God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature (the form) of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest placeand gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.

In this context, there is a focus on humility and submission to one another; and the purpose is to exhort us to be of the same mindset as Christ Jesus.  And then Paul introduces the surpassed example of Christ showing how genuine humility should be manifested among ourselves. For God the Creator to appear in the form of a Son of Man, made in human likeness, is an incomprehensible act of divine humility in itself.  As John articulated it – “the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” It is because of this extreme humility that Christ Jesus willingly took upon Himself (even so far as to experience human death upon a cross) that God the Father exalted Him to the highest place and position of authority.  Perhaps, this is the part of the reason why Jesus taught: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Cf. Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14) The Apostle James admonished, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (Cf. James 4:10) And, Peter likewise taught, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that HE may lift you up in due time.” (Cf. 1 Peter 5:6) If God humbled Himself to reach us, then we should humble ourselves in our relationships with one another.

But the other lesson that I see is the exaltation of Christ Jesus.  Because of His death upon the cross … because His own blood was shed as an atoning sacrifice for the remission of our sins … Jesus is most assuredly worthy of our adoration, worship, and praise.  His name is above every other name! As Peter declared, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Cf. Acts 4:12) And so, God the Father has ordained that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, for His own glory.  And we have seen this same call for worship declared through the Prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 45:22-24 (ESV)

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance (shall confess to God).’ 24 “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to Him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against Him.

Indeed, every soul ever created by God WILL bow before Him!  Every tongue WILL confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!  Every person who has rejected God and the Son … who have rebelled and raged against Him … will come before Him and be ashamed. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10) There is no one who will be exempt. For He has said, “I am the Lord, that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another nor my praise to idols.” (Cf. Isaiah 42:8) Yes, God will be worshipped because He will not give His glory to anyone:

Isaiah 48:9-11 (NIV)

For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely. 10 See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. 11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.

It is clear to me that all people … of every tribe, of every language, of every nation … will one day bow before the throne of God and worship Him. The issue is whether we will do so now while we are alive through our own free will … or whether a person will be “required” to do so when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  It WILL happen because Father God has declared it, and He is sovereign over all things.  God desires everyone … whosoever will believe in Him … to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light. (Cf. 1 Peter 2:9) His lovingkindness leads us to repentance and to a knowledge of the truth! Therefore, it is urgent for all people confess Jesus Christ as Lord now … while it is still called today. “For just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” (Cf. Hebrews 9:26-28)

So I pray each soul will come to the knowledge of God and make their confession of faith. And I pray the church, the Body of Christ, will work as His ambassadors to lead others to the truth … so that repentance and reconciliation will come to those who respond to the Gospel. “For we must work the works of Him who sent Jesus while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” (Cf. John 9:4) And let us be humble and gracious as we encourage the lost to seek the only One who can save them.  Let us deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Jesus. (Cf. Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) Jesus said, “ If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (Cf. John 12:26)

And so I will finish with this thought: Jesus declared that He was sent to seek and to save the lost. (Cf. Luke 19:10) So as His Body … His presence in the world … we must continue His mission.  Jesus has left the ninety-nine and is searching for the one that is lost.  That is where He is … and that is where His servant will be also.  Each of us who know Jesus as Savior and Lord were saved to serve … are sent to be workers in the harvest. We could double His harvest right now if each one of us would reach just one unbeliever.  So I challenge myself, and I encourage you to consider it as well, to set sight on just one person you know is not saved and get focused … get intentional … and be steadfast. Enter into devoted prayer and intercession for that one person and be patient. Yes, be present and available to them. Engage them when opportunities are presented. Let your conversation be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer them. (Cf. Colossians 4:6) Let your light shine before them so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Cf. Matthew 5:16) This is how we humble ourselves with the same mindset of Christ; this how we serve in hope to prepare them for an authentic encounter with Christ Jesus. We prepare the soil and plant seed; we fertilize and water. But it is God who gives the increase for harvest. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:7) So let us be authentic witnesses of His love, grace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness.  Let us demonstrate the joy of our salvation and the self-discipline we exert through the Spirit of God to be obedient to faith. Then, let us pray in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:25) I hope these ideas will encourage you in your pursuit of lost sheep.  “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Cf. Galatians 6:9)

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. ~ Colossians 2:9-10

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!

If My People…

2 Chronicles 7:13-14

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people; if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

We have heard this passage from 2 Chronicles quoted several times since the Coronavirus Pandemic began; and I saved it for today: Our National Day of Prayer!  Although I realize this is being sent out quite late in the day, I hope it will impact our thoughts and attitudes about prayer everyday….

I believe the context of 2 Chronicles 7 is important for us to review. Beginning with Chapter 1 of 2 Chronicles, we learn about the heart of King Solomon and his prayer for wisdom. God granted the request along with wealth, possessions, and honor. Then beginning in Chapter 2, the narrative shifts to preparations for the building of the Temple, and construction begins in Chapter 3. The furnishings are reviewed in Chapter 4, and the entire work was completed in Chapter 5 when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the innermost sanctuary (Holy of Holies) of the temple.  There were sacrificial offerings and worship, and the manifested glory of God filled the temple as a cloud….  I invite you to read this historical account when you have the time….

But it is Chapter 6 that sets the stage for our call to prayer.  Here, Solomon addresses the assembly to bless them and then offers a public prayer of dedication.  He expounds that the Temple cannot contain the God of Heaven; but Solomon asks that God be attentive to the prayers and supplications offered before Him there, and to hear from heaven … to forgive, to judge, to heal, to restore, and to show mercy.  What you will note in his prayer, is the acknowledgement that people will sin against God – for there is no one who does not sin. (Verse 36) But the holiness of God has to address the issue of sin.  There is an expectation of repentance on the part of people and forgiveness on the part of God.  And this interaction is what occurs during prayer.  God judges the sin … but He is sovereign to justify the repentant sinner….

In Chapter 6, as Solomon prayed, there is a list of the judgments or afflictions that he shared as examples:

1.         When anyone wrongs their neighbor and is required to take an oath before the altar

2.         When the nation is defeated by an enemy because they have sinned

3.         When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned

4.         When famine or plague comes to the land; blight or mildew; locusts or grasshoppers

5.         When enemies besiege in the cities; whatever disaster or disease

Solomon goes on praying, asking the Lord God to be responsive to prayers offered:

1.         When the foreigner (outsider) come and pray toward the Temple, grant their prayers for Your glory

2.         When the nation goes to war against their enemies … grant their prayers and uphold their cause.

3.         When people sin and repent … forgive and restore them.

Beginning in Chapter 7, when Solomon finished praying, the text states that “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple!  What a powerful manifestation … revelation of God in response to prayer!  The people saw the power of God fall, knelt with their faces to the ground, worshiped, and gave thanks to God.  And then an incredible time of sacrifice and worship followed these events over the next seven days.  And this sets the stage for our verse:

2 Chronicles 7:11-16 (NIV)

11 When Solomon had finished the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the Lord and in his own palace, 12 the Lord appeared to him at night and said: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. 13 WHEN I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

Did you note the word “when” in Verse 13?  It indicates that God will engage or allow His natural creation to bring affliction to His people.  We could view the ensuing suffering and consequence as judgment for sin; but perhaps, the purpose of God is to recapture our attention. Maybe these things “happen” because of sin … our sinful nature … and God wants us to recognize we have offended Him; that we have transgressed His commandments and need to repent. He desires us to repent, to seek forgiveness, and to receive restoration.  It is not about what God allows to happen to us; it is about our response to God’s correction and discipline!  It is about our hearts … our sorrow … our reverence and love for God.  Whatever happens … whatever we observe or encounter in our physical life … it should prompt reflection and repentance and restoration in our spiritual life.  As Solomon prayed:

2 Chronicles 6:28-31 (NIV)

28 “When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when enemies besiege them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, 29 and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of their afflictions and pains, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— 30 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know the human heart)31 so that they will fear you and walk in obedience to you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors.

What you and I do in prayer … how we respond to God in whatever situation or circumstance He brings into our lives … impacts relationship with Him and reflects our faith in Him.  It means that we should keep a humble spirit and attitude. It means that we should realize we are not perfect and need to repent and confess our sins to Him. God wants us to carefully observe His commands … and to endeavor to fulfill His will in our lives. (Cf. Deuteronomy 4:6; 11:22) But when we fail, we need to see it.  We need to recognize it and respond in humility and transparency. As the Apostle John affirmed: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9) Father God wants us to enter His presence and to seek Him.  He is willing to hear … willing to forgive … willing to heal. But His response is conditional.  It is conditioned upon our willingness to humble ourselves; to pray; to seek His face; and to turn from our sinfulness.  This is the key to effectiveness in prayer.  This is the message for the Prodigal … for the wayward and lost! God wants the attention of His people, and He will allow adversity to accomplish His desire.

So in our prayer time, let us humble ourselves and seek God while He is near.  While we are still and focused, let us repent of every sin that offends and separates us from intimate fellowship with God.  And let us give thanks to God for Lord Jesus Christ … for His atoning sacrifice and redemption.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; yet God did not leave us in a desolate place of hopelessness. God is far too concerned about the destructive power of sin and its assault our well-being.  So He laid the iniquity of us all upon His Son to rescue us from the dominion of darkness and to bring us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. (Cf. Isaiah 53:6; Colossians 1:13) Yes, let us praise God today for His mercy and grace.  And may we fear God with all reverence and walk in the obedience of faith. As Paul urged: “Whatever happens, let us conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. (Cf. Philippians 1:27)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

First Place is Last Place

Mark 9:35

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

I find it interesting that the message of humility continues to cross our attention…. And, again, the verse provided for us is one where Jesus is teaching His disciples on how to view themselves in the context of their roles as disciples … and later as apostles.  Let’s put our verse into its surrounding context.  It is similar to the narratives that we have read from Matthew and Luke a few days ago.

Mark 9:30-36 (NIV)

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because He was teaching His disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it. 33 They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.36 He took a little child whom He placed among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

I find this fascinating … regarding the argument over who was the greatest in the group of disciples.  Why?  Because the matter came up on the heels of their failure to heal a boy possessed by an impure spirit.  Jesus had rebuked them for their lack of faith … even when He had given them power and authority to perform such signs and wonders. (Read Mark 9:14-29) Nevertheless, they were apparently enamored with their “power” to exercise authority over physical affliction, illness, and demonic oppression.  One can sense that these giftings began to fill them with spiritual pride. It would seem they were misguided with self-importance because of the power and authority given to them. So Jesus had to correct their wrong thinking.  Their gifts were given to serve other people … not themselves or to affirm their own spiritual egos.  Their gifts were given to draw people to the divine source of power manifested through those gifts … to confirm the truth of the testimony of God concerning His Son, Jesus, the One whom He sent into the world to save the world.  Spiritual gifts are about Jesus … and not about us.

How easy it can be in our flesh to glory in our spiritual gifts rather than to exalt the One who gave them. Jesus cautioned the disciples to keep their attitudes in check … to remain humble even while operating in the supernatural.  This is evident from the narrative recorded in the Book of Luke when Jesus appointed and sent out disciples to heal the sick and to share the Gospel:

Luke 10:17-20 (NIV)

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

It is not always about what we do or how we serve the Lord Jesus.  It is simply about Him … His Name … His Identity … His Love which surpasses all understanding!  As Jesus stated, we should rejoice in our salvation through Him!  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the tools He uses through us (His servants) to show forth His power and glory … so that the Gospel is seen and heard in truth by unbelievers!  Gifts confirm your authority to speak the truth … not to exhibit some sort of superiority over others.  Spiritual gifts manifest your heart is obedient to the One who called you and gifted you to serve one another in love.  With this thought in mind, there are two passages regarding spiritual gifts that Paul wrote which I would like to share here:

Romans 12:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore, 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. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

1 Corinthians 12

1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Paul will continue in 1 Corinthians 13 to expound on the way of love … to affirm that love is the most excellent way to approach the exercise of the gifts that we have been entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit. As Jesus taught (commanded) His disciples and us as well … “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Cf. John 13:34) Love is the reason for the gifts He has distributed to us … to empower us to work together as one body for the sake of those who are lost … those who have wandered … those who are broken in spirit and in need of healing.  Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Cf. Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32) As the Body of Christ, that is our mission as well.  We are ambassadors for Christ … and He has given us of His authority and His power to accomplish His mission in our time; in our generation.  So, I pray that we would all humble ourselves and carried out the work that we were created in Christ Jesus to do … good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Humble Yourselves

James 4:10

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Our verse today was short … but it has profound theological application for us.  Let’s put it in context first:

James 4:1-12 (NIV)

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  You adulterous people (those unfaithful to covenant with God)! Don’t you know that friendship with the world (desiring the things of the world) means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that He jealously longs for the spirit He has caused to dwell in us? But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34) Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a fellow believer or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

When we look at our verse in context, it takes on deeper meaning and challenges us to look at the issues of humility and submission.  James begins with our own desires … the desires of our hearts.  He exposes the intensity of desire by describing the “carnal” behaviors associated with it … when personal desires exert themselves above what God wants and desires for us.  Sometimes our own desires drive us to murder or kill (and that could be with the tongue). Sometimes our own desires drive us to quarrel and fight.  Sometimes we believe that God should grant us what we pray for … but we have asked Him with wrong motives in our hearts ~ because what we want is often self-centered and not God-ordained.  James describes all of these behaviors as “friendship with the world” because they come from the desires of our flesh … and not from the Spirit of God.  And when a believer acts in these ways it creates “enmity with God” and he or she is in opposition to what God has called them to be in Christ Jesus.  Such conduct is not of the indwelling Spirit; rather, that person has grieved the Spirit (Cf. Ephesians 4:30), or worse, has quenched the Spirit (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19) within them.

So in Verse 7, James confronts believers who have allowed themselves to be filled with everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life— because these come not from the Father but from the world. (Cf. 1 John 2:16) He admonishes us to submit ourselves to God and to resist temptation and to flee from what will destroy intimacy with God.  James calls for repentance … a change in direction … a change in our mindset lest the enemy gain a foothold (Cf. Ephesians 4:27) which can then become a stronghold.  James advises that if we desire something for ourselves, then we are to humble ourselves before God and allow Him to exalt us … allow Him to grant it according to His will and purposes….  That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34)

Our Lord Jesus afforded the greatest example of what humility before the Father should look like; and we examined this in a recent study.  I will repeat it here because it is apparent that God wants to address our propensities to exhibit pride and self-exaltation:

Philippians 2:3-11 (NIV)

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. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Oh what this world would be … what the Body of Christ would be … if we would just submit ourselves to God and humble ourselves before Him. As believers, we have been invited to a great feast … to the marriage supper of the Lamb.  We are the wedding guests! But our seats at the table have been determined by the Host according to His own will and counsel.  There is plenty of room at the table for everyone to enjoy the celebration! But when we covet the best seats at the banquet … when our own spiritual or religious pride deceives us into thinking we hold a higher position or place of prominence in the Kingdom, God is not pleased.  He becomes jealous for His Spirit … who He placed within us. As Jesus taught,  “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Cf. Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14)

Here are a few of the stories that Jesus shared to illustrate the necessity of humility in our walk of faith:

Matthew 11:11 (NIV) – See Also Luke 7:28

“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John 13:3-5; 12-17 (NIV)

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

12 When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Mark 10:35-40 (NIV) – See Also Matthew 20:20-23

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Throughout the Scriptures, God asks His people … those who He called to be His own … to humble themselves!  And I believe humility begins with reverence for God; understanding that His Will … His Word … is the final authority over all He created; including us!  God is sovereign. Submission to Him means obedience.  We are to obey the Lord our God in all that He has commanded us.  As Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 8:3, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.”  Likewise, God opposes the proud … those who would exalt themselves.  For the proud do not seek God; in their thoughts there is no room for God. (Cf. Psalm 10:4) As King Solomon observed, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Cf. Proverbs 11:2) And, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Cf. Proverbs 16:18) And Solomon advised, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the heart of fools.” (Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:8-9)

Lord, I pray that we your people, will humble ourselves under your mighty hand … and allow You to lift us up in due time.  For you will not yield your glory to another … and whoever exalts themselves will be humbled. You, Lord,  are the potter; and we are the clay in your hands. You, O God, determined in advance the works you have prepared for your people to accomplish.  You, O Lord, appointed gifts for your people as you determined.  What you chose for one you did not choose for another … so that we might submit ourselves to one another … so that we might serve one another in love as you taught us.  So I pray, Lord, that we will respond to this wisdom you have given us … that we, your children,  might be meek and lowly in heart … that we might not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. So let us exercise our gifts according to your grace so that YOU and you alone are exalted! In your name, I pray.  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Think on These Things…

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Ever find yourself stuck in a negative thinking pattern?  I know that I have … and I have sometimes struggled to get out of its ditch.  But what is the source of negative thinking?  Why does it overtake us at times?  I believe one of the reasons is unfulfilled expectations.  We expect something to happen, and when it does not come about, we feel disappointed.  We might feel rejected when a relationship becomes severed.  We might feel hurt when that new position was not granted and given to someone else.  Such situations can cause our emotions … our flesh … to take hold of disappointment and allow it to fester into bitterness, and perhaps, even anger….

Sometimes negative thinking is the function of low expectations and feelings of worthlessness.  A person could believe that life is too hard, unfair, or unkind, and might not expect that any degree of happiness is attainable.  There are very real situations such as extreme poverty, oppression, the effects of violence and abuse, which can easily discourage or obscure reasons for hope. Yet, some of the most emotionally and spiritually healthy people that I have met in life have suffered these types of situations and circumstances.  People I have met in third-world countries, who endure personal hardships beyond my imagination, have inspired me with their faith, joy, and contentment.  What causes their countenance to shine under such conditions?  What changes low expectations or unfulfilled expectations into attitudes of joy and hope?  Is it not how we view and think about the contexts in which we live or the relationships that permeate our lives?

In our verse, Paul gives us some exhortations to elevate our thinking patterns, and it encourages us to not be unduly swayed by the temporal circumstances of life.  Things did not always go the way Paul wanted them to go.  He bore a “thorn in the flesh” which he pleaded to the Lord to heal … but He did not remove it.  Paul did not allow even this unanswered prayer request to sever his relationship with the Lord.  He eventually learned there was a greater reason to keep it in place … to humble him … so that he might better understand the power of Christ to overcome our weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10) Paul suffered many things at the hands of those outside the church … as well as inside the church.  Yet, Paul stayed focused on the hope of the resurrection.  Paul declared, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Cf. Philippians 3:10-11) In spite of the sufferings and disappointments he experienced, Paul would write:

Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What we think about is critical to a positive, emotionally healthy outlook on life.  The thoughts of our hearts are manifested in the exercise and expression of our faith.  And though some of us might have been victims of actual violence, abuse, hatred, cruelty, oppression, or injustice; our thinking does not have to take up permanent residence under the darkness of those experiences. Though there may be deep wounds and visible scars … profound emotional or spiritual brokenness … we know that in Christ Jesus we can find healing! In Jesus, we have access to a sanctuary of peace for our souls. He is the Prince of Peace! He is the peace of God which transcends all understanding.  Oh, indeed, Jesus is a refuge of light and hope!

I think the greatest precipitator of negative thoughts within our hearts are the emotions and memories that can form during human interactions which fail to meet our expectations for love, acceptance, respect, trust, devotion, and so forth.  Beyond physical interactions with others are the words we use to express our thoughts, ideas, and emotions.  There are words which can speak love and affirmation into the heart of another. But to often, we tend to dwell on the wounds of words spoken.  Harsh words spoken in haste … demeaning words spoken in hate … words spoken that inflict emotional harm. Such words reveal the inner thoughts of our true character and human pride.  And so I think we need to examine some Scriptures that address our attitudes and mindsets which impact our relationships:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 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. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Joseph, when he was sold into slavery in Egypt, persevered in faith.  Though he was severely mistreated by his own family, Joseph later said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Cf. Genesis 50:19-21) Jesus knew first-hand the sorrow of humiliation; the dejection of being misunderstood; the painfulness of rejection; and ultimately the trauma of psychological and physical abuse.  But on the cross of impending death, we find Jesus interceding, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Cf. Luke 23:34) And despite of the suffering and hardship that Paul endured to spread the Gospel, he did not let disappointment in the words or actions of others keep him from the zealous pursuit of intimacy with Christ. Paul allowed the transforming power and example of Christ to change the attitudes of his heart … and it is evident that his new way of thinking changed how he related to others.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in loveMake every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:22-27 (NIV)

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

There will always be disappointments in our lives.  There will always be the failure of others to meet our expectations.  There will always be situations and circumstances which God will allow to test our faith.  So when discouragement comes … when frustration arises … when bitterness or anger attempt to take root, Paul advises us to think on better things … to take the higher road … to follow the examples of Christ who suffered all these things and more:

Colossians 3:1-17 (NIV)

1 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 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. 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 in 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 over 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.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Just Between Us….

Matthew 18:15

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

Our passage today is one that most of us would probably rather just leave on the printed page.  No one relishes confrontation … even if it is well-meaning or intended to be constructive.  It is simply uncomfortable to most of us … and we are vulnerable to being misunderstood or accusations of being “holier than thou”.  We know that we too are sinners saved by grace.  So what gives us the right to point out the fault of another … the sin of another … when we struggle with our own issues and strongholds?

Well, let’s review this passage in a larger context to perhaps bring some clarity.  Jesus is teaching here, and He shares a parable about sheep who leave the flock and go astray. Of course, we can relate that the shepherd in this story is Jesus (that great Shepherd of the Sheep – Hebrews 13:20), and it expresses His deep concern for those who stray and need to be returned to the safety of the flock and the Shepherd.  The metaphor of sheep here indicate that He is speaking about His followers … believers.  Recall His words, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (Cf. John 10:27).  So I think this parable should be interpreted within the framework of a believer who has strayed from the faith and the need to seek them out:

Matthew 18:12-17 (NKJV)

12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.  15 “Moreover if your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

I think the context of the preceding parable sheds some light on why Jesus taught us to confront a person who is strays into sin and disrupts fellowship with another believer. Jesus cares deeply for the one who loses sight and wants them to return … to be reconciled … to be restored to fellowship.  His heart is that no one should perish.  So it follows that chasing the one who sins … pursuing the one who goes astray … is an act of kindness and grace.  The purpose is not to act superior to the offender; rather, the purpose is to gain their heart for the glory of the Father!  Further, note that in the parable, the shepherd leaves the flock (gathered believers) to look for the wayward individual. Again, to me, this is a clear picture that Jesus is teaching His followers.  The concept of taking action to seek out and to return those who become lost in sin is the objective.  And so the lesson of the parable is for the Church … which I believe makes Verses 15-17 that follow connected to it.

If a brother or sister has committed an offense (sinned against you), you and I are to seek out the offender. That generally would mean that we are to confront them regarding the offense.  We are to do so privately.  If necessary, another believer or two might join you to address the matter so that truth is established over feelings and emotions. Ultimately, the sinful offense should be taken to the Church if it cannot otherwise be handled in a private manner.  Paul addresses the necessity of this process at length in 1 Corinthians 6. So, I encourage you to read the full chapter to evaluate his instruction regarding the role of the church in discipline.  Further, the context for Chapter 6 follows an exhortation from Paul in Chapter 5 – dealing with the sin of a member in the church at Corinth.  I have reprinted an excerpt for your reference below:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NIV)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside13 God will judge those outside. Therefore, “put away the wicked person from among you.”

Therefore, it is clear that we as a body of believers must deal with the sin that occurs in and among ourselves.  It is required of us the church just as it was required of the Israelites to correct sin among ourselves for the glory of God and His Name. We need to seek the one among us who strays and restore them in love.  We need to confront the one among us who sins against the commandments of God.  I think the point that Paul is making here is that those who claim to be Christians yet live like unbelievers in the world must be confronted because of the disrespect and reproach they bring upon the name of Jesus Christ.  If believers continue to conduct themselves like unbelievers, they have not separated themselves from the world … and therefore are not truly part of the church (called out ones) they profess to be.  The “hypocrisy” provokes contempt for the Body of Christ among unbelievers … and incites those outside the church to blaspheme the name of Jesus and the holiness of God to which we have been called….

Romans 2:17-24 (NIV)

17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed (profaned) among the Gentiles because of you.” (Cf. Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-23)

Yet, as we judge sin within the church, we are to approach our “responsibility” with the heart of God.  Yes, we are to be firm and steadfast in the truth and His revealed will.  God is holy and we are to be holy as well! But we are admonished to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ Jesus – God forgave each of us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) Even those outside of the church … those in the world who live in sin and darkness … we are to engage with the same love, grace, and compassion as one seeking a sheep who has strayed. Our Lord Jesus died for us because of our sin. (Cf. Romans 5:8) He died to take away the sin of the whole world. (Cf. John 1:29) Our response to His sacrifice and atonement is to pursue the righteousness and holiness for which He died.  Let those who claim to be Christian … live worthy of that name!  And when we fail, let us gratefully receive the correction of one another in humility and in reverence for our Savior. (Cf. Ephesians 5:21) “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10)

I’m not sure how well I have articulated my thoughts here, but I hope this meditation and reflection will encourage you to read further and to study these concepts presented in the Word for yourselves.  There were numerous cross-references that I did not begin to share here due to the scope of the subject, but perhaps this start will inspire you to pursue self-discipline and holiness in your walk with Christ Jesus … considering the impact it has not only upon the church, but also the influence it has upon the culture around us.  As the Apostle Peter instructed, “Live such good lives among the pagans that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God in the day of visitation. (Cf. 1 Peter 2:12) I believe Jesus desires that we build fellowship within the church and relationships outside the church in order to continue His salvific work in these last days. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Gentle Answer

Colossians 4:5-6

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I think this passage is familiar to most of us … and its message is one of humility in our attitude and conduct.  Too often, I have seen Christians view themselves or project themselves to others as “superior” because they have come to a knowledge of the truth and believe that Jesus is the Son of God … sent to be our Savior, to redeem us, and to reconcile us to God the Father.  Sometimes they allow themselves to become filled with pride over their salvation … forgetting they did nothing to earn or deserve the unmerited kindness and mercy shown by God.  Salvation, at its core, is the most humbling experience a human being can undergo because we are utterly dependent on what God has done for us and there is nothing that we can add to it….  Salvation does not make us superior; rather, it makes us indebted to the One who gave us freedom from the penalty and power of sin.

That said … when we encounter other people, and especially those who are non-believers, Paul instructs us to be wise in how we act and speak toward them.  We are to approach others with the same attitude and grace as Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 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. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Why is this important?  Why does Paul instruct us to be careful in how we approach seekers and non-believers?  Because we ourselves received Jesus Christ through faith … and this was not of our ourselves … it was the gift of God. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8).  It was the kindness of God that led us to repentance in the first place. (Cf. Romans 2:4) So we are to be kind to one another … compassionate … forgiving … just as in Christ Jesus God forgave us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) As Paul related to Timothy, the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, and not resentful. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:24) So let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone.  This will equip us to make the most of every opportunity we are given to lead others to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Ability of Humility

Philippians 2:5-8

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

I love this passage of Scripture because it gives us a defined expectation for how we are to approach relationships with one another.  Paul clearly indicates that our own personal mindset that should determine the character and quality of our human relationships.  Embedded in his thought process is that we should have the inclination or mental attitude as Christ Jesus.  It is a fixed state of mind … unwavering.  Steadfast.  Resolved. Committed.

So what was the mindset of our Lord?  How did He view His relationships with people … with us?  Paul indicates that Jesus displayed an inconceivable attitude of humility.  “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage.”  He took on the very nature of a human servant! And He was so obedient to His Master – Father God – that He was willing to die for the purchase of our redemption … even death on a cross.  Wow!  The bar was set extremely high for us! 

Is Paul using hyperbole?  I’m not inclined to believe he is doing so.  I think he is just trying to describe the “mindset” or “attitude” of humility we are to emulate.  Our tendency as humans is compare ourselves with others and then find some point with which to elevate ourselves – mostly in our own eyes but sometimes in the form of diminishing others.  It reminds me of a parable Jesus told:

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

It is clear that our Lord Jesus desires us to be humble in our attitudes … in our spirits … and in our conduct.  As Paul more fully shared, humility is to govern our relationships within the Church – the Body of Christ:

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with yourfaith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

The most tangible manifestation of that character is to be willing to love one another to the fullest depth possible – regardless of the personal cost.  And put in context, the giving of ourselves through serving the needs of others within the Body of Christ … as each of us has been uniquely equipped to do … is the application of this passage.  We are not to boast of our gifts … or find pride in them … rather we are to exercise them for the needs of others.  Servanthood.  That was the mind of Christ when He walked this earth.  That is the heart of Christ as He lives in us.  We have been redeemed to participate in the divine nature to operate in our spiritual giftedness for the benefit of others.  Humble servants is what Jesus called us to be for His Kingdom and glory!  

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!