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!

Forgive As God Forgave You

Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

The message of forgiveness is at the forefront of building strong relationships.  I suppose we always need a reminder to be patient and to bear with one another in the midst of differences, grievances, and disagreements.  Christ Jesus bore our sins upon Himself and took the chastisement and punishment for them … yes, even dying in our place to pay the sin debt we owed.  This is the context and the example of “Forgive as the Lord forgave you!”  It was complete and full forgiveness; far beyond what the human mind can grasp at times.

Romans 5:6-8 (NKJV)

For when we were still without strength, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

There is a “right time” for us to forgive each other.  There is a “right time” for us to forgive those who wronged us in the past.  There is a “right time” for us to extricate a root of bitterness towards another person and release them from the debt they might owe us.  The “right time” is now … today! I assure you, there is no debt owed to us that is greater than the debt we owed to God for our own rebellion and sin.  If God chose to release (forgive) us, then we ought to choose forgiveness and release those who have sinned against us.  It is the most spiritually healthy thing you will ever do for yourself – forgiving others as God through Christ forgave you.

While I am thinking about it, I would like to comment on the nature of forgiveness because many of us have been “victims” of mental, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse at the hands of others.  We need to always understand that forgiveness does not excuse or condone what happened to us … the pain, the suffering, the distress, or the despair that it might have caused.  It does not meet that we “tolerate” the abuses or excuse or exonerate the person(s) who wronged us.  What is does mean is that we make a conscious, deliberate decision to “release” feelings of resentment or vengeance toward the person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.  We would do well to remember Romans 12:19: “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 32:35; 1 Samuel 24:12; Proverbs 20:22; Hebrews 10:30)

When you forgive another, you do not necessarily overlook or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the brokenness you have experienced. And though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it does not obligate you to make amends with the person who harmed you, or to release them from legal accountability if implicated. What forgiveness can do is bring you peace of mind and free you from corrosive anger. It does not require you to have positive feelings toward the offender, but it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you.  Forgiveness will enable you to heal and move on with your life.  In that context, forgiveness will afford you “reconciliation” for the well-being of your own life….

Here are a few additional Scripture passages addressing the matter of forgiveness:

Matthew 5:23-24 (NKJV) – God is more concern about your relationships than your religious acts

23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 6:12 (NKJV) – The Lord’s Prayer

 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV) – The measure you give is the measure you receive

14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV) – Read the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant which follows (Matthew 18:23-35)

21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

I think you get the picture here just from what Matthew recorded in his Gospel concerning the teachings that Jesus gave His followers on this issue.  And I would like to say, that I believe Jesus urges us to forgive for our own well-being … “for our own sakes”.  And that rationale would be consistent with the “motive” for which God forgives.  As declared by the Prophet Isaiah:  “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Cf. Isaiah 43:25) So there is a dynamic to forgiveness and not holding trespasses or sins against one another that appears to afford an underlying personal good associated with the “release” you will experience.

Romans 4:5-8 (NKJV) – The Blessing of Forgiveness

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” (Cf. Psalm 32:1-2)

So if you need to forgive someone, I pray that you will do so today – for your own sake and well-being. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) You have been blessed in this regard, and we are called to be a blessing to each other.  God set the standard and modeled it for us.  “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Wisdom From Heaven

James 3:17-18

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

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

James 3:13-18 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Full of Mercy             (i.e. readily forgiving)

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

            Impartial                    (i.e. righteous judgement; unbiased)

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

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

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

Galatians 5:13-26 (NIV)

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

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

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

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Love As You Are Loved

Romans 12:10

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

I know we have seen/read this particular verse before – but it is always a good reminder for us because it is based in the commandments of God.  We know from Jesus that the commandments of God are summed up into two “great” commands – basically: Love God. Love People.

Matthew 22:34-40 (NIV)

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:5); 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Cf. Leviticus 19:18) 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Luke 10:25-28 (NIV)

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:5); and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Cf. Leviticus 19:18) 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The Apostle Paul would go on to refine distill these two commandments into one:

Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” (Cf. Exodus 20:13-17; Deuteronomy 5:17-21) and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Cf. Leviticus 19:18) 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

The Apostle Peter affords us with the same perspective:

1 Peter 1:17-23 (NIV)

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from a pure heart.   23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

But I would like to remind us of the greater expectation and demonstration of love that Jesus “commanded” us as recounted by the Apostle John:

John 13:34-35 (NIV)

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another35 By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

Reflection:     “To love one another” was not a new commandment (Cf. Leviticus. 19:18). What was “new” was that believers were to love each other as Jesus loved them. Jesus commanded that we MUST love one another as He loved us. There is no ambiguity as to His command: “Love each other as God has loved you!” And John often resonated this “imperative” throughout his writings:

John 15:12,17 (NIV)

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 17 This is My command: Love each other.

1 John 2:3-10 (NIV)

We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands. Whoever says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did. Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

1 John 3:11-18 (NIV)

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s actions were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters,  if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 4:7-12,19-21

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

19 We love because He first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

2 John 5:4-6 (NIV)

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.

I realize that I have been quite exhaustive with this list of Scriptures in response to a single verse.  But I just find in my soul that loving one another is so central to the life and teachings of our Lord Jesus and a manifestation of HOW we show our love and devotion to Him as His disciples – how we demonstrate love as His Body in the earth – through loving one another.  Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)  So Paul urges us to be devoted to one another in love … to honor one another above ourselves.  And Paul will go on to write “practical applications” to encourage us in this pursuit to “walk as Jesus walked.” 

2 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

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 love. Make 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.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-10 (NIV)

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.  The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more….

So why have I delved so deeply into this topic? I’m not sure.  I have mediated and reflected for hours now.  Perhaps, this is something I just needed to “preach” to myself …  to remind myself that love … sincere love for others … is not optional for a life in pursuit of Christ-likeness.  When it hurts to love because someone has hurt us … when it is not convenient to love because it takes of our time … when it is difficult to love because we disagree on politics, theology, or other personal differences … when love requires financial sacrifice to provide for the needs of others … I often wonder HOW I will ever live up to His standard? I am reminded of His command to love as He has loved me … and I feel so inadequate.  As much as I would like to think that I live in the light of His love, I sometimes feel deflated knowing that I fall short of loving others with the same love that I have received from God. I hear Paul affirm, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) So how do I put that unmerited, compassionate, agape love into action – in real terms?  Then I considered that Jesus addressed this issue for us in great detail in His “Sermon on the Mount”:

Luke 6:27-38 (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, 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. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

(See Also Matthew 5:43-48)

I think the key thought for me to remember is that the love God has expressed toward me in His Son is “unmerited”.  His love for me was unmerited.  There is nothing I did to earn it or deserve it.  I am a sinner saved by grace alone.  And so I believe it follows that I am to love others without consideration of “merit”.  We should love others regardless of whether we think or feel that they merit or deserve our love, forgiveness, or compassion.  Just as God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends His rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Cf. Matthew 5:45), so we are to love others and be merciful to them fully for the sake of love itself (as modeled by Christ Jesus) … while they too are yet sinners (such as we were before coming to faith).  That is HOW God has loved us … without merit!

Philippians 2:1-5 (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….

When Paul instructs us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” I think there can be a tendency within any Christian to be filled with “spiritual pride” because of their “knowledge” … not remembering … “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11).  In humility, we need to show the love of God which we ourselves “received” by His grace! As Paul concluded, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)

So I conclude that I must keep all these points in mind as I self-examine and as I consider HOW to best emulate to others the love which I have received from God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It means to be devoted to others.  It means to encourage others.  It means to honor others.  It means to empty myself of myself for the well-being of others.  It means to be steadfast and faithful to others.  It means that I need to pursue holiness in my own life – not to feel superior to others but to be “sincere” in my relationships and not covetous. If I have no self-discipline or self-control, how can I truly be an effective witness for the glory of God?

Well, if you have read this far, I thank you for your time and indulgence.  I hope that something in this meditation challenges you or encourages you to reflect on His command to “love one another as I have loved you.” While straightforward in principal, it is not so simple in practice. We still have our human nature to wrestle, and we need spiritual power to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. As John insisted: “He who says he abides in Him (Jesus) ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (Cf. 1 John 2:6) I believe it is possible for us to do so … or at least a worthwhile pursuit.  So I pray for the courage to try … for the ability to perform … and for the wisdom to live worthy of His calling.  I pray for each of you to likewise progress in your journey of faith.  For I am confident of this very thing … that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.  (Cf. Philippians 1:6)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!