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!

Dealing With Sin

Matthew 18:15 (NIV)

“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.

It appears that the Holy Spirit wants us to deal with the issue of sin within our relationships.  As the Apostle John admonishes us:

1 John 3:1-10 (NIV)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the Law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

So in the context of this “post resurrection” understanding brought to us by John, let’s go back to the matter Jesus discusses with His disciples and followers while He was still with them:

Matthew 18:15-20 (NRSV) – Dealing with Sin in the Church

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out their offense when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that brother or sister16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Cf. Deuteronomy 19:1517 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a pagan or a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

An authentic encounter with Jesus Christ should produce a discernible change of heart within an individual.  It is not enough to simply know about Jesus; rather, a person must enter into an intimate relationship with Him … experience the new birth (born of God through His Spirit) … conceived in deep repentance and complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior.  John tells us that one who is born of God will not continue to sin because the Holy Spirit within them will bring conviction to their heart. This conviction will lead to confession of the sin. And as John instructed: “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) Likewise, we are called to have this same mindset of forgiveness with one another. (Cf. Colossians 3:13) Indeed, I think the Apostle James brings additional perspective on forgiveness when he enjoins us “to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed.” (Cf. James 5:13-16) I think his message is that not only should we “release” the one who sins against us, but we should advocate in prayer for their “release” in heaven.  In other words, when we forgive someone, we should ask God to forgive them as well. It does not necessarily change the consequence(s) of their sin(s), but the intent is to release the debt owed for their offense just as God in Christ released you….

Jesus taught that when we pray to God, we should ask for and receive forgiveness for our sins (trespasses or debts) because we have forgiven those who have sinned or trespassed against us.  What we are asking for is the “release” of the debt we owe for our own conduct toward God. We plead for the blood of Jesus to atone for our sin. We ask for His grace to be extended to us. So it is “expected” that we have forgiven others with the same grace that we have asked of the Father for ourselves. Jesus noted: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Cf. Matthew 6:9-15) With this context in mind, I encourage you to revisit Matthew 18:18 again: “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven.” Consider that if you or I withhold forgiveness from someone (bind it on earth); then it could be that our own prayers for forgiveness will be withheld from us (bound in heaven). It could be that we are guilty of the same sin(s) committed against us. Just a thought … in case you never committed the act of adultery but did so in your heart with a spirit of lust or covetousness.  Remember, Jesus has extended the threshold of sinfulness beyond physical deeds to include the malicious intentions of our hearts. For example, our tongues (our words) can wound the spirit or even murder the life of another person. If you have ever physically or emotionally bullied others, you have in essence murdered them in your heart….

Matthew 5:21-24 (NIV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder (Cf. Exodus 20:13) and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (an Aramaic term of contempt or verbal abuse) is answerable to the council. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

More than our tithes and offerings … more than our gifts or sacrifices of praise … God is concerned with the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He observes how we demonstrate our love for other people.  Is our love sincere or just lip service?  Is our love for others manifested in our prayers? God knows in truth.  In Christ Jesus, the love of God embodied in the greatest act of forgiveness … the release of our own sin debt.  Likewise, it is our forgiveness of others that expresses our love for them. Oh, it may be difficult in our human nature to do so; but the precepts presented here in Scripture are too obvious for us to disregard or dismiss.  Forgiveness does not mean what someone else did to you was acceptable. It was wrong. It was painful.  It impacted, diminished, or desecrated your life in some way. What they did should NOT be tolerated; however, it can still be forgiven. You can still “release” them and pray for them … even if reconciliation with you is not possible. In doing so, you affirm God has been merciful to you….  Remember, God did not excuse our sins! What He did was release us from the judgment for them (death). In most cases, we all still suffer from the consequences of our sin. Perhaps this is why James encouraged us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed of our brokenness….

Consider what Paul declared: “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!  “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (Cf. Romans 5:9-10) I believe forgiveness is probably the most powerful demonstration of love ever conceived in the heart of God.  And if we are to love one another as He has loved us, then forgiveness of others must be within our hearts as well.  The riches of His kindness, longsuffering, and patience is intended to lead us to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4) Perhaps, if we too acted with kindness and forgiveness, the one who offended us might be granted repentance as well. (Cf. 2 Timothy 24-26) As the Apostle James pointed out: My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (Cf. James 5:19-20) And we should take to heart the lesson Jesus taught us:

Luke 6:27-37 (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most-High God, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

When you love your enemies and do good to them, your reward will be great!  We were once enemies of God; and yet, for the JOY set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) We have been called in Christ Jesus to share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. (Cf. Romans 8:17) Peter affirmed this reward as well: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (Cf. 1 Peter 4:12-14) Yes, somehow we need to find it within us to be kind to those who sin against us.  To me, the greatest kindness we can extend is forgiveness.  We can release them to God for His judgment.  Perhaps they might respond to His kindness.

Romans 12:17-21 (NIV)

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:3520 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, then feed him; if he is thirsty, then give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Cf. Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Well, I see that I have covered quite a bit of ground on the issue of forgiveness.  A final thought to share is that communication and interaction are essential for forgiveness and reconciliation to be realized.  We are expected to “confront” our offenders.  We should go to them in love … even when we should feel righteous anger toward them.  How we feel is important … but how they are separated from you and from God is the greater issue to be addressed.  When people sin against each other … we must realize that we sin against God.  There should be a deep sense of sorrow for the offense.  There should be a great desire to effectuate reconciliation. The impulse to seek revenge should be counterbalanced with a deeper desire to see repentance and restoration. And even though you act in a spirit of grace, there could be ambivalence or indifference on the part of the offender. Still, you and I should do what is best and just commit them to God.  And do not be offended or upset with God because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  His kindness once led you and I to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ. So I believe that we should pray that God would do the same for those who offend us. For God is longsuffering toward us all – not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (Cf. 2 Peter 3:9)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Love In Action

1 John 3:18

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

I want to continue to focus on the theme of love.  Since we know that “God Is Love” (Cf. 1 John 4:8, 16), I believe we should never leave this topic in our unending pursuit of the knowledge of God.  When we study love, we study the nature of God … the character of God … the passion of God … the grace of God … the Spirit of God … and the Son of God – who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His Being. (Cf. Hebrews 1:3) Indeed, it is love itself that we pursue when we seek God and all that He is….

And so, as we examine our verse, we see that love must move from an abstract to reality … it must move from a thought to an action.  The concept of love is a noun … but the demonstration of love is a verb.  Love is something you DO!  As the Apostle John exhorted in 1 John 3:16-18, “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.”  So, love must be genuine.  It must be authentic.  It cannot be mere lip service … and be real!

Paul, likewise stated, “Love must be sincere.” (Cf. Romans 12:9) And Paul will go on to explain how sincere love manifests itself:

Romans 12:10-21 (NIV)

10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people willing to do menial work. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:3520 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Cf. Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Apostle James had a similar passion and theme when he wrote:

James 2:14-17 (NIV)

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

The Apostle Peter addressed the same issues in his epistle:

1 Peter 3:8-14 (NIV)

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-16) 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.

1 Peter 4:7-11 (NIV)

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

My point is that the apostles emphasized the issue of love in action.  And I surmise it was because they observed the greatest demonstration of love in action when they walked and talked with our Lord Jesus.  They were eye witnesses of His compassion and came to understand the personal, sacrificial nature of love in its highest form.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8) And to me, it is in this context that we must consider what Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Cf. John 13:34-35)

So I pray that as we begin our day … and each new day … that we will commit ourselves to love one another.  I pray that we will be sincere and sacrificial.  I pray that the love we have and share with others … for others … will be a true reflection of what lies within our hearts.  For then, we will have followed His command and fulfilled the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Cf. James 2:8) Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (Cf. John 14:15) So, let us keep His command to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Cf. Matthew 22:37) through the authentic demonstration of love for one another.  Amen

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!

Love and Forgive

Leviticus 19:18 (NIV)

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

This is a very familiar verse … but do we really pay attention to what it says?  Do we practice what is commands? Notice the text says “anyone among your people.”  Do that mean within our church?  Or community? Or country?  In the context of the Old Testament, I believe this would have referred to the nation of Israel or the community of fellow Hebrews.  They were called to love another as fellow citizens and heirs of the covenant.  By implication, Christians, have a similar command to love another within the community of believers (brothers and sisters). (Cf. 1 John 3:16; 3:23) And so it follows, love does not seek revenge or hold a grudge against a fellow believer.  Love goes beyond what our human nature … our sinful human nature … would seek to do when we feel wronged, harmed, or otherwise disrespected….

Paul shares with us “the more excellent way” to relate with one another:

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.

What I sense is this really all gets down to the issue of forgiveness.  And we need to examine how that manifests itself in our relationships with one another. Knowing our own imperfection and capacity for disobedience … our propensity to sin and miss the mark … our insensitivity to grieve the Holy Spirit … and yet we ask the Lord to forgive us our trespasses.  Are we so self-righteous and better than others that we are unwilling to forgive someone who wrongs us … who wounds us … who is insensitive to our feelings?  Jesus has some strong words for us in this regard:

Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

And consider the parable that Jesus shared in Matthew 18:21-35 – especially His commentary on the parable found in Verse 35.  I firmly believe this is an area in our walk … in our journey of faith … that can become a major stumbling block for wholeness and healing in our own lives.  The bitter roots of anger we often harbor against others at work or at church, or yes, even within our own families are destructive to no one but ourselves.  And worse … we separate ourselves from the compassion of God we all need and pray to receive.  And comparing the sin(s) of another to your own is a futile exercise.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23)  Consider these strong words of caution from the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:14-17 (NKJV)

14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; 16 lest there be any fornicator or godless person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.

Well, I just sense that there is a need for us to examine forgiveness.  We need to forgive others and we need to forgive ourselves as well.  The Apostle Paul had much to share in this regard, so I will end with his exhortations:

Colossians 3:12-14 (NKJV)

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.

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NKJV)

31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!