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 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!

This Is My Story….

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….

This verse is connected with the themes we have been reading about the past week on sharing the Gospel.  Interestingly, I believe this passage is the most succinct instruction we can find in the Bible regarding evangelism in its “simplest” form.  We do not have to pass out “religious tracts” in the mall or door-to-door in order to be evangelists; although there might be occasion to do that sort of activity.  We do not have to stand on street corners with banners and megaphones heralding Scriptures; although if the Spirit directs you to do so … you should obey.  But if you think about it, when most of us were “touched” by the Gospel message, the context was probably somewhat different.  Your exposure to the message about Jesus Christ probably came through someone with whom you had a relationship.  It could have been a parent, a sibling, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or simply an acquaintance.  Maybe someone did hand you a gospel tract, or a religious billboard caught your eye and planted a spiritual seed. But most likely it was seeing “something different” in the life of another believer or hearing the personal, spiritual experience of someone you trusted that inspired or encouraged you to have a “real” relationship with God….

As I read this verse, I connected with its instruction of “how” to be an effective witness of the Gospel.  First of all, Peter indicates that we must have a “strong” relationship with Jesus ourselves.  In our hearts we are to “revere Christ as Lord”.  This means we have humbled ourselves and surrendered our lives to His authority.  This means He is worthy of our praise and worship.  This means we have experienced His life-changing grace in our hearts and desire our lives to reflect the holiness for which He saved us.  As the writer of Hebrews admonishes us: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) If we revere Christ as Lord in our hearts, we will pursue a life that reflects that faith and hope and love.  As Peter wrote in his second pastoral epistle:

2 Peter 1:3-11 (NIV)

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. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If we are living a life that is reflective of a genuine relationship with our Lord Jesus, then others will see it. And sometimes … your life in Christ will produce curiosity in someone who is seeking to have “more” of that “something” you appear to have in your life. It will be attractive to them because you reflect the light of God found only in Jesus. And so Peter instructs us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Note the extreme language: ALWAYS. To be prepared means we have “practiced” in order to be ready. We have “fine-tuned” our thoughts about our own personal encounter with Jesus. We have “reflected” on our own experience of His faithfulness in our lives. And then sharing the Gospel … well it simply becomes sharing our own story!

But do this with gentleness and respect,” Peter writes. This all sounds very similar to what Paul advised, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Cf. Colossians 4:5-7) And this is why I think we need to reflect on how to best communicate and share the good news of Christ Jesus. The manner and the circumstances in which we shared the Truth with someone can determine your effectiveness and mine in reaching that person for God. If we appear pious or superior in our tone, we do not reflect the One who said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Cf. Mark 9:35) So the question to ask is are you and I “prepared” to answer anyone about our faith and our hope in Christ? But a more crucial question to ask might be: “Is our love for others evident in our walk … enough so that it would be a conversation starter for a stranger or an unbeliever?”

Okay, I’m going to stir some conviction…. What is a definitive application for us to consider here? Well, for unbelievers to respond to the Gospel … they need to see a “real” Gospel. They need to see a genuine outcome of the power of God to believe it exists and that it is authentic. We live in a generation and a culture that increasingly dismisses or rejects the existence of God, and more specifically, the message of Jesus. I believe some of this intellectual skepticism can stem from inadequate “evidence” of the work and power of God in the lives of those who profess faith in Him. We cannot see the wind, yet we can observe its movement and impact. Likewise, we cannot see the Spirit of God, yet a person should be able to discern His manifestation in the life of a believer. I believe when the presence of God is seen because His impact is observable, faith is formed. So if our lives do not authentically reflect the transforming power of Christ, then how is there evidence for an unbeliever to move from skepticism to the reality they are searching to find? I pray that each of us will be introspective and consider if the “wind” of our lives is sufficient to “stir the leaves” in the hearts of unbelievers. If it is, I would venture to say that someone is going to ask about the faith they “see” you have in Christ Jesus. So be prepared to tell them your story. It is a great one to share!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!