How are We to Love the Brethren?

How are We to Love the Brethren?

© 2023 C. O, Bishop

1st Thessalonians 4:9-12

But as touching brotherly love [philadelphias: (root is “philéo”)] ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love [agapan: (root is “agapao”] one another. 10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren [believers] which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;

11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; 12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.

Introduction:

Here in verses 9-12, we see two forms of “love” commanded (in verse nine), and several general commands as to how that is to be carried out.

The first form of love mentioned here in verse nine is the “Love of the Brethren.” The Greek word is “philadeplhias.” The word comes from the root, “philéo,” and is usually translated “brotherly love.” It has to do with a “familial care for other believers:” seeing them as our family, and caring for one another in that way.

But the second word, in the latter portion of the same verse, is from the Greek root “agapao.” It is completely different than “philéo.” And this is the one Jesus commanded the disciples to have toward one another.

What is the Difference?

The “philéo” love has to do with how we feel, and how we function, toward family: It is how we are to feel and act toward a brother or sister. (Always assuming that the family has a bond of familial love and affection and concern for one another: some families fail in that regard.) Paul points out in verses nine and ten that they are already applying this love toward the brethren. He feels no need to exhort them regarding this love.

But the subject has shifted by the end of verse nine: he has switched to the subject of “agapé” love. He says they had already been taught that they were to “Love one another:” (He quotes Jesus on this note. See John 13:34, 35.) He says that they had already been demonstrating this agapé love to all the believers in their geographic area. But he exhorts them to increase and grow in that function.

So, How is that done? What does that “Look like?”

Keep in mind that agapé love has nothing to do with feelings. When we read the description of the agapé love, in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8, we notice that there is no reference to feelings, at all. Every single descriptor is demonstrated by actions. They all describe how agapé love behaves or does not behave.

So, let’s explore each of the descriptors and see how they might find application in our lives.

1st Corinthians 13:4-8

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: 

Please notice that because the Greek language has about five different words for love, four of which are used in scripture. The King James Translators attempted to set apart the agapé love by using the word “charity” to translate it. The “problem” for us is that the word “charity” has changed over the years, and now it virtually only means “giving to the poor.”

In a way, that makes sense, as the meaning of “agapao” means the pouring out of yourself for the benefit of someone else, without regard for how it affects you. Jesus demonstrated that Love at the Cross: He poured Himself out for us, not allowing His own feelings or comfort to interfere with His sacrifice for us.

So, What do we see as the Descriptors for Agapé love in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8?

  1. Agapé Love is patient (longsuffering.)
  2. Agapé Love is kind.
  3. Agapé Love is not envious.
  4. Agapé Love is not given to arrogance, boasting or pride.
  5. Agapé Love is not “puffed up”…not filled with self-importance.
  6. Agapé Love is not given to inappropriate behavior of any kind.
  7. Agapé Love is not focused on self, or the needs of self.
  8. Agapé Love is not easily stirred to anger.
  9. Agapé Love is not given to assuming bad motives in others, nor keeping a “score.”
  10. Agapé Love is not pleased with evil things, no matter to whom they happen.
  11. Agapé Love is happy when truth is honored, even if it is not to its own benefit.
  12. Agapé Love is able to bear up under every load, and withstand every trial.
  13. Agapé Love is able, despite circumstances, to hope for God’s blessing in all things.
  14. Agapé Love is able to outlast any trial, enduring it as part of love.
  15. Agapé Love is eternal, and it has eternal value.

Interestingly, verse eight goes on to point out that some of the things we may think are eternal are not! The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not eternal. They are for this life only. There will come a time when those gifts are no longer needed. But the Agapé Love has eternal value and will not cease to function. Choosing to love in this way is always an act of the will…not a response to feelings. It is not based on emotions, but rather, it is a voluntary choice.

What are some Other things we know about Agapé Love?

Romans 13:10 says “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore Love is the fulfilling of the Law.”  Jesus confirmed this, in Mark 12:30-33, saying that the twin commands “thou shalt Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength,”  and “thou shalt Love thy neighbor as thyself” were the “core value” of all of God’s commands. That, if you fulfill those two commands, you have fulfilled all the rest!

Galatians 5:13 says we are not to use our “Christian Liberty” as an opportunity for self-serving, (serving our flesh; our old sin nature,) but rather, by agapé love, we are called to serve one another. (Love Serves!) Jesus said (Mark 10:45) that “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many,” (Love Gives! Love serves, and Love gives!)

1st Peter 4:8 exhorts us, “And above all things have fervent charity [agapé love] among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

Cover sins? “Cover…” how? Agapé Love motivates us to “throw a veil over” the faults of others. God says that in the same manner that He has forgiven us, He expects us to forgive others.

So, How has God forgiven us?

In Psalm 103:12, He says that he has removed our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. That is a pretty powerful statement! I have always appreciated that particular comparison because it is unlimited. If I fly North, I can only fly so far before I will suddenly be flying South! And the reverse is also true. But! I can fly East for the rest of my life, and I will never suddenly find myself flying West! And the same is true in the other direction. It is an unlimited separation.

Furthermore, (in Psalm 103:14) God says that “He knows our frame, that we are dust….” He understands our frailties and He accepts us as we are. (Will you be that considerate toward those around you? Will you accept them as they are, and choose to tolerate their idiosyncrasies? Will you tolerate their irritating mannerisms, and their flawed logic?) The word “forbearance” means to lovingly “put up with” one another.

How do you see other believers?

Romans 4:7, 8, quoting King David, says “Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

God the Father sees you in Christ…and only in Christ. He sees you as perfect, clean, and holy, in Christ!  The Lord chooses to no longer see you as a guilty sinner. Can you choose to see other believers in that same light? That is what agapé love requires.

If you are loving others with the Agapé love, then you are not so likely to hold their faults against them. In your own mind, you will set aside those faults and you will overlook their shortcomings, and not take into account the wrongs you have suffered. Why? Because their soul is more precious to you than your own comfort. Their well-being is more important to you than “standing on your own rights.”

What are the Results?

The result of agapé love ruling your life will be a more consistent tranquility, as well as a deep concern for the welfare of other believers. You will find that you are no longer likely to be offended by others. You will genuinely care about what they care about, and look for opportunities to be a blessing to others without calling attention to yourself in the process.

Relationships will deepen, as others sense that you genuinely care for them, not just superficially, or “just when it looks good.”

Priorities will begin to change as you begin to see others through God’s eyes. Your focus will shift away from self, and you will increasingly find yourself asking God to show you His way to respond to life, and His path for you to follow. Your church-family will become increasingly precious to you, as you learn to see the brothers and sisters through God’s eyes.

The “Litmus Test”

The reality of whether we love God is revealed by whether we treat the brethren with His Love. 1st John 4:20 poses the question, “…he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?

So, if someone claims to love God, but their actions show that they do not love other believers, then God says they are lying about loving God. That sounds harsh to us. But it is in the same verse we just read: It is the first half of that same verse. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar…” The reality is, we are fooling ourselves…deceiving ourselves.

And, in 1st Thessalonians 4:11, 12, he says another result is that we will be more likely to tend to our own business, and to live quiet lives. We will also be productive, looking for ways to maintain a clear conscience and good relationships with others, particularly unbelievers.

Practical Holiness

We will strive to earn an income through honest work, and use that income in a way to honor God, and not be dependent upon others, for testimony’s sake. These are good principles for today as well: today, there are various programs which may tempt us to milk “free money from the government,” not admitting that it ultimately comes from our fellow taxpayers. We don’t want to have a reputation for being “freeloaders,” of any kind.

Galatians 6:4, 5 agrees, saying “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.”

But if another brother or sister is under a crushing load that they cannot bear, we exercise the love of Christ and ease their burden.

Agapé love is practical. And it looks for the opportunity to bless others in practical ways.

Jesus showed the ultimate example of Agapé Love when He bore our sins at the Cross. He met our need, without respect to what it cost Him.  We can either follow His example or fail to do so.

Lord Jesus, fill our hearts with a consciousness of Your presence and Your Love. Teach us to love as You love.

How Should We Live?

How Should We Live?

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

1st Peter 2:11-25 Galatians 5:16-23

Introduction:

We saw last week that there are “changes coming,” for all true believers. No matter who I was in the past, life is not going to be just as it was before. I have a new heritage, and a new Master. It is obvious that things are going to change. So, we need to think about what will change, and how.

We saw last week that there were things destined to be “laid aside and left behind” as we press forward to walk with Jesus. We also saw that there was an expectation that we would begin to display a “family resemblance,” since we have been born again—“born from above,” as some of the passages say—and specifically, we are born into the family of God, as His real children.

Now Peter goes on to admonish and exhort the believers to “live up to” the calling they have received. I can’t lose my position in Christ, but walking with Him does require some attention as to my response to the world around me: without that attention to my walk, I will constantly stumble, and fall back into the mess of my old habits and responses. So, Peter gives fair warning against this trap:

Abstain from Fleshly Lusts

11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

He prefaces it all with the fact that as long as we are in this World, we are literally “strangers and pilgrims:” travelers, nomads…just “camping out,” here; seeking a home not in this world, but in that which is to come. The song, “This World is not my Home” is correct: we are “Just passing through!” But it is so easy to forget that fact. Peter warns us to not forget, but, as strangers and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against our souls.

The goal is that our lives should reflect the truth and grace of God before unbelievers, so that, when they speak evil of us (as He says will happen,) they will eventually have to confess before God that our lives(the Greek word “anastrophe,” translated “conversation,” here, means our “way of life”) and our works actually have shown the truth of our testimony, and that they have rejected and persecuted us without cause…and in so confessing, they will Glorify God in that day—the “day of visitation.” Our reputations should be built upon the truth that people can see in our lives, not just what we say is there. This is the importance of a living testimony, which is expected to agree with our spoken testimony.

If I consider, for a moment, the phrase, “Abstain from fleshly lusts,” I might also step over into Galatians, where the “works of the Flesh” are listed. These are what the lusts of the flesh produce, if I allow them in my life. The word “lusts” simply means “strong desires, and isn’t even always a bad thing, though we use the word that way almost exclusively.

The Lusts Produce the Works (Galatians 5:16-21)

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

I find it fascinating that the “works” (plural) of the flesh (verses 19-21) are listed seventeen strong, with an eighteenth item that is a “catch-all” phrase: “and such like”. The list is literally twice as long as the nine-fold list in verses 22, 23, and that last item extends it to include everything that the human heart can imagine. And it is plural: if I am partaking in any of these, then I am in the flesh; it’s as simple as that. Any one of these marks me as being “in the flesh.”

But the next “list” is half as long, and it is singular: it is not a “smorgasbord” from which you can choose what you would like to exemplify. It is a “nine-fold” fruit (singular), or a single fruit with nine aspects, or characteristics, and all nine aspects, or characteristics, have to be present or it is not the Holy Spirit who is producing it.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Notice that last bit? “Against such there is no law…?” Why is that even an issue? It is because the whole context of the book of Galatians is the separation of Law and Grace. If you are walking in the Spirit, then the Law will have no effect on you because it does not touch the things of the Spirit. That is why God can freely tell us, here in 1st Peter 1:13-15, to submit ourselves to Civil Authority.

Civil Authority

13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

As a general rule, believers are to cheerfully submit themselves to human civil law. Is there a possibility that the law of man can “cross the line,” so to speak, and be in direct conflict with the Law of God? Surely there is! But it is actually pretty rare. Usually civil laws are made to protect the law-abiding people from human predators and to protect their personal rights against those who would take them away. It is a rare thing for the laws of man to require us to do something that is wrong, or to forbid us to do something God says we are to do. But it can happen.

A week ago, we received the news that our governor had mandated “no more than 25 people in church gatherings.” That does not force us to disobey God, though it might have made us work harder to obey Him: we were willing to split the services to keep below 25. But the ruling also said that enforcement was at the discretion of local Law enforcement; so we called the local police chief, to see what he would require, and we were told that he has no intention of enforcing such a mandate, and that if he comes here it will be to worship with us, not to act against us.

So, we obeyed the law, and simultaneously obeyed God. And, in the process, we allowed the local law enforcement to see that we are not in rebellion, which strengthens our testimony with them, whether they are believers or not.

We virtually always have an option to not disobey God, and still be obedient to the law. In the unusual event that there is literally no avenue of escape without bringing down the judgment of an evil, ungodly employer or government, then that becomes our option: we can lose a job, or our belongings or our freedom or even our lives as the final option. Believers have made these hard choices for virtually all of human history.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not go into the furnace because they disobeyed God, but because they obeyed Him. Daniel did not end up in the lion’s den because of dishonoring God, but because of honoring Him. Daniel submitted to every ordinance of Man until the ordinance clearly required him to ignore God, and even then, he was in his own home, praying toward Jerusalem, not out on a street-corner, haranguing crowds of unbelievers in the name of the God of Israel. He was quietly obeying God when they came in and arrested him. We need to keep these examples in mind.

16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

We are truly free in Christ: we are free to serve Him, but we are not free to use our “liberty” as a way to cover sin. We are free to serve and to suffer, as the servants of God. We are not free to use our freedom to damage someone else unnecessarily, nor to express self-will and rebellion cloaked in a show of “piety.”

Honoring Man, while Honoring God

17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

Notice that there was no hint of “backtalk” here: they were to extend respect and honor to all those around them. They were to commit themselves to the Love of the Brethren, in keeping with Jesus’s command in John 13:34, 35, and to fear God above all human authority, and yet, to honor the human government. He goes on to give some examples:

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

Is it possible that we will suffer grief in return for good behavior? Certainly it is! And, if that is what really happens, then God is glorified by that suffering. But if we are “off in left-field” doing things God has warned us not to do, and end up being punished for our misdemeanors or infractions, then it does not honor God…it dishonors Him. I have heard of Christians losing jobs specifically because they are Christians…and, in anti-Christian countries, people are imprisoned or even killed because of their faith. In those cases, they have honored God by their obedience and their suffering.

But when I have also known believers who were jailed for tax-evasion, or theft, or other crimes, they were not suffering for their faith: they were being punished for wrongdoing. And that does not honor God. Is it possible that the government will use your taxes for evil purposes? I can just about guarantee that they will! When Jesus paid taxes to Caesar, was Rome using that money to promote godliness? Of course not! And yet, we are told to pay our taxes, and not be rebels. We are to take Jesus as our example:

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

Whole books have been written about what it may mean to “Follow his steps:” I am not going to spend a lot of time on the subject, but I do think we should at least look at this particular context to see what is in focus, here:

In the first place, the subject in this context is the concept of “suffering for doing rightly.” Jesus certainly did nothing but “good, righteous works,” showing compassion and kindness to the poor, and holding the privileged and wicked religious leaders accountable for their sin. However, this passage is not suggesting that we all quit our jobs, and walk around attempting to imitate Jesus in His earthly ministry: I have no gift of healing, nor of any sort of miraculous sign-gift. So I can’t imitate that portion, but I can imitate His righteousness and I can strive to learn His Word, so that I can offer the same message of Hope which He offered.

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

We can at least see that we are to trust God for justice, not other humans, who are flawed individuals, just as we are. We can also see, obviously, that we are especially to abandon the kinds of wrong behavior that could get us in trouble with civil law, because there is no glory to God in suffering punishment for unrighteousness. Dishonesty and a vengeful, sharp tongue are both mentioned as things Jesus did not exhibit.

But for believers, it goes further, as Jesus judges the hearts, not just the outward actions. There are people who teach that “unless there is an outward action, it isn’t sin.” Sorry…that is simply not true. Every man who is honest with himself knows what it means to “sin in his heart.” And, it is interesting to note that the specific sin Paul addressed in Romans 7 was covetousness! (What part of your body do we use to commit Covetousness?) It is specifically a sin of the heart and the mind! Jesus judges the heart, not just the outward actions!

What is the “Goal” of our Salvation?

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

We are dead to sins, that we should live unto righteousness. That is the goal!

Now, this last phrase, “by whose stripes ye were healed,” is a direct quote from Isaiah 53:5, but the conclusion is strictly New Testament: We could not be “dead to sin” in the Old Testament. But, according to this passage, along with Romans 6 and Galatians 2, we believers during the Church Age truly are dead to sin, as we died with Christ, and the result is supposed to be that because we are alive to Righteousness and alive to God, we should live for God.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

This final passage reminds us that the letter was originally to Jewish Christians: the gentiles were seldom referred to as “sheep,” but the “lost sheep of Israel” was a common theme. In one place, only, John 10:16, Jesus said “16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” I believe in that reference he is talking about the Gentiles who would respond in faith: In the Church Age, there truly is one fold and One Shepherd. The Jews who had strayed from the God of Israel were considered “the lost sheep” of Israel. The Gentiles were simply considered to be foreigners and heathen. In fact, the word “gentile” simply means “heathen.” So these who had once been “lost sheep” of Israel had been returned to the shepherd and “overseer” or “Bishop” of their souls. The word translated “bishop” is “episkopos,” meaning “supervisor” or “overseer.”

We gentiles have been born into the family of God, and He is truly the Shepherd and the Bishop of our souls as well, but we were not the lost sheep of Israel. We did not “wander away from God:” In fact, regarding the lost world, in Matthew 7:23, Jesus said “I never knew you! Depart from me ye workers of iniquity.” He does not say, “I once knew you, but you just wandered off and got lost: too bad!” He says he never knew them. We were born as sinners, just as the lost Jews were born as sinners. That is where we all start out!

This is probably a good time to be reminded of what Jesus says about us who have become His sheep: John 10:27, 28 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them Eternal Life, and they shall never perish.” Also, in John 6:39, he said “this is my Father’s will who sent me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” As a gentile believer, you will never become a “lost sheep.” He will keep you for eternity. You have been placed into a new relationship with the Savior, and it is entirely dependent upon Him, not you!

We are His forever! Now we need to learn to walk with Him!

Lord Jesus, allow us to walk with you and reflect your holiness as a testimony to the world that has rejected You. Teach us to walk in Your footsteps!

Three Distinctives of the True Church

Three Distinctives of the True Church

© 2009 C. O. Bishop

Introduction:

Last week I mentioned that people in our church are rightfully concerned about current world events and how they may affect the Church. So, as we think about such events and what our response should be, it is appropriate to ask ourselves what God would have us to do. We find the answers to that question, of course, in God’s Word…He is the one to tell us what He wants of us.

As Christians, it matters how we behave. Our salvation is secure in Christ, but He has given us some assignments as well. For example, He says in Acts 1:8 that we are to be witnesses for him in the world. Paul reiterates this, many years later, in 2nd Corinthians 5:18-20, saying that unto us has been given the ministry of reconciliation, and that we are his ambassadors. So how do we carry out that mission? How do we build credibility? What is it about the believers that should convince unbelievers that our message is true?

Three Distinctives

The Word of God lists three things, all of them behavior-specific, and things we can make a choice about.

  1. Love (John 13:34, 35) Jesus said “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples…”
  2. Unity (John 17:21) Jesus said “That the world may know that Thou [God] did send Me…”
  3. Practical Holiness (Matthew 5:13-15; 2nd Timothy 2:19) Jesus said that if our light shines for others to see, they will glorify the Father. Paul says, “Let every one who names the Name of Christ (calls himself a Christian) depart from iniquity.”

Chronologically speaking, the call to practical holiness (obedience) precedes the command to love one another. But in the economy of God, it can be demonstrated that His Love was extended to us prior to creation, let alone prior to the fall into Sin, or the giving of the Law, etc. The Love and Grace of God were part of the plan, certainly, before the world was created. (Revelation 13:8) But I am personally convinced that God’s Holiness is His primary attribute. (Isaiah 6:1-8) Even His Love is subject to His Holiness.

But, In God’s dealing with the Church He reverses that order, and commands first that Agapé love be the undergirding basis for ALL other principles—why?

Love (John 13:34, 35) (Read this passage)

In the Gospels (Matthew 22:37-40), Jesus revealed to the Jewish lawyer that to “…Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and strength, and to love thy neighbor as thyself…” encapsulated the whole Law. The Pharisees had specialized in the outward compliance to the Law…but Jesus pointed out that the undergirding principle was Love. Romans 13:8 reiterates this principle in the epistles.

Jesus commanded the disciples (John 13:34, 35), saying, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Notice that this is a God-given means by which the World is to judge the Church. This is the way that the World can determine whether you are a real believer. God knows for sure—but if the World does not see this evidence, they are not expected to believe you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What do we know about this sort of love? We can see it demonstrated in the life of Christ, and see its characteristics in 1st Corinthians 13. Notice, as we read through 1st Corinthians 13:1-8, that every single characteristic of the Agape love is NOT a feeling, but an action. (Read it) None of them has much (if anything) to do with how I feel. They are directives as to how I am to behave. When God said “For God so loved the world…” it was not saying “God loves you SOOOoo much…” It is saying, “in this manner God loved the World:”. In fact, in Spanish, that is exactly how it is translated: “Porque de tal manera amo Dios al mundo…” in this manner God loved the World.

So…we have been commanded to love one another in the same manner as Jesus did. What exactly did he do? Did he go around feeling tender and mushy all the time? Hardly. When Jesus cleared the temple, he certainly was not feeling or acting tender or mushy…but he was acting in love. Were all the things he said sweet and gentle? Hardly. He called the Pharisees “sons of Hell”, and a “brood of vipers”, and hypocrites and all sorts of other not-so-nice things. Was he being unloving? No! Jesus went on serving, teaching, healing, meeting people’s needs, long after he was exhausted. He met each person at the level they approached him. The weak and poor he received very gently. Toward the rich and powerful he seemed rather cool sometimes, though in one case—the rich young ruler—it specifically states that Jesus loved him…yet he gave him a hard choice, and sent him on his way.

What is the Agape love all about, then? The Agape love can be defined as “that act of the will that moves an individual to do what is in the best interest of the recipient of the action, regardless of how it affects the one who is acting.” It means that to act in Agape love, I have to do what is really best for the other person, even if it does NOT make me comfortable. In some cases it may mean giving what I did not feel comfortable giving. Or, conversely, it may mean that in some cases I may not give at all, because the individual in need intends to misuse the gift…or because he/she is in the predicament because of irresponsibility, and there has been no change of heart, so the gift would be an enablement to commit more sin.

It means that I am not free to shoot off my mouth and be rude. It means I cannot be self-centered. It means I am not necessarily going to be on the receiving end of relationships. It means humility when self-will seems the order of the day. It means not paying back evil done to me. It means considering others better than myself (Philippians 2:1-7; Romans 13:10), and seeing their needs as taking priority over my own. It frequently means deliberately taking a “back seat”, so to speak. Jesus taught this principle over and over. This is NOT an easy assignment. In fact, my guess is that is so entirely contrary to human nature that it is only possible via the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Agapé love seems to only be possible when God loves through us. Otherwise it seems too likely to be contaminated by human weakness and sin.

Unity (John 17:21) (read this)

What about unity? What does it mean? Are we all to be in “lockstep” about everything? All believe precisely the same set of dogma—chant our catechism in unison? Memorize our creed, and quote it word for word at every opportunity?

Got a bad secret for you…. The teachers in your church do not all agree about every detail of doctrine. We do have unity in all the essentials and far beyond. We practice forbearance in things not essential to the faith. And Love is the undergirding factor that makes it all possible.

  • Unity is not achieved by abandoning truth. The Ecumenical movement has sought to create “unity” by abandoning doctrine…by saying “Oh, let’s not fight over what the Bible does or doesn’t say! Let’s just love one another and praise God!” That may sound good, but Jesus stated that His Word would never pass away, and that whoever ignored it and taught others to do the same was in deep trouble!
  • Union and unity are not the same. Workers in two companies that have gone through a merger may be unified in their plight, but they are anything but united in spirit or purpose, as all of them individually are primarily concerned whether they will have a job, and be left in peace to do it.

Unity means “no fighting”—it does not mean “carbon copy Christians”. There are some essential unities listed in Ephesians 4:1-6 (read it) … notice that we do not create the unity of the Spirit. We are called upon to maintain it, in the bond of peace. We are told to respond to one another in humility, in longsuffering, in meekness. We are told to forbear one another in love. (Forbearance means “putting up with each other.”)

  1. One Body—one true church—not supposed to be splintered and fighting amongst ourselves. (This is the body of Christ at large…not a denomination.)
  2. One Spirit—the Holy Spirit. Third Member of the Godhead. God.
  3. One Hope of your calling. In this age, we are all called to a single hope…the assurance in faith that by Jesus’ propitiating blood at the Cross, we will be with Him, cleansed, safe, secure, and His forever.
  4. One Lord—The Lord Jesus Christ is not divided. There isn’t one Jesus for one denomination, and one for another.
  5. One Faith—the saving faith in the character, person and work of Christ.
  6. One Baptism—the Baptism by the Holy Spirit into the One Body of Christ (1st Corinthians 12:13). This has nothing to do with water, by the way, and happens at the moment of salvation.
  7. One God and Father—it is interesting that the simple belief that “there is one God” does not produce unity—Jews, Muslims and Christians share this belief, but utterly lack unity. And even among those who claim Jesus as their savior, there is very little unity. Why?

What did Jesus say would occur if the church had unity? He prayed that we would have Divine Unity, so that “the World may know that” Jesus was sent by God. So…when we do not have unity, what should we expect the result to be? I believe the result will be that the world will conclude that Jesus was not who he said he was, and that God did not send him. Is that a serious enough consequence? Do you think it may already have happened?

What is real unity? How do we avoid disunity? Sound teaching in God’s Word helps. We can agree upon those seven truths that Paul laid out as being essential…but usually we go beyond. We want the other guy to agree with us on every last detail of what we believe. From what I see in scripture, that is not called for…and maybe not possible. But forbearance is possible.

Let’s move on to the third distinctive:

Practical Holiness (Matthew 5:13-15; 2nd Timothy 2:19)

Jesus told his disciples that they should let their lives be a beacon to God…lights in a dark world…that others should see their righteous lives, and glorify the Father. He also said that they were to have a practical usefulness in the world… one was to be a light—shedding the light of the truth of God’s Word in practical ways. The other was to be the Salt of the earth…having the effect of preservation… and purification. He says that if salt has lost its primary function, then it is useless on an earthly basis, and MEN will trample it underfoot. God will never forget who you are, but the world will always think, “What have you done for us lately?” So if we lose the primary value we have in the world of setting a good standard, and taking a stand for morality, etc., then, as far as they are concerned, we are useless.

Paul reiterated this principle, saying “…let every one who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Any questions about that? Do you have any doubts what constitutes “iniquity?” Then grab your Bible and start reading. God says to flee temptations, but to resist Satan. It is not OK for us to continue in sin. We are told to knock it off; Period.

Now, let’s talk about that for a moment. Quite frankly, I don’t think I can just “knock it off”.  I am a sinner. Yes, I am saved— I have a new nature— but I still have my old sin nature too. The only way I can see from scripture that I can live the Christian life is if God lives it through me. Galatians 5:16 says “if ye walk in the Spirit, ye will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh”…and as far as I know, that is the only way it can be done.

You see, part of the problem is the fact that some sins are inside. God says our thoughts can be an abomination to him. He says we can look good on the outside, but be full of sin inside. Let’s see what he said to the Pharisees: (We just love the Pharisees! They were so bad, they make us feel good about ourselves! In reality, they were the best of the best at the time—and very proud of it.) Jesus said (Matthew 23:25, 26) “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup, and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” (Really? What does a cupful of extortion look like? Jesus was referring to the people, not their dishes.) In verse 28, he says “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are filled with hypocrisy and iniquity.”

That’s pretty rough talk… harsh judgment! The Pharisees were the “Christian Businessmen” of their day…and the city council, and the church board, and school board, and everything else. They were important guys, and upstanding beyond measure. But Jesus could see what was inside, and knew of the secret dealings. He knew what they were really like. And when he pointed it out, they did not want to repent, and be cleansed—they wanted to kill Jesus.

They obeyed every little command, from a human perspective. Matthew 23:23 says “…you tithe mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not left the other undone.” In other words, the Pharisees had reversed the order of God’s priority, because the outward form of righteousness they thought they could manage on their own (at least well enough to convince themselves and others that they were pretty good.) But the first priority should have been the inward things, so that the outward things would follow as a matter of course.

We can easily fall into the same trap…looking good on the outside, but harboring sin inside. God says the priority is to Love the Lord thy God, and to love they neighbor as thyself…and that was before there was such a thing as a “Christian”. Jesus told his disciples (that includes you and me, by the way) that the greatest commandment was love, and that his NEW commandment was that his disciples were to love one another as He loved them. Laying down their lives for one another, in a practical day-by-day manifestation of God’s love. Setting aside self, in favor of a brother or sister.

If we learn to express that kind of agapé love in our actions, the unity will be easier to maintain, and the outward trappings of righteousness easier to achieve, as well, since usually the roots of disunity and every kind of sin are found in self-will. Agapé love cannot co-exist with self-will.

Conclusion

This message is only a quick look at the three things God has given by which the world is free to judge the Church. On the basis of these three things, how do you think the world ought to feel about the Church, as a whole, today?

What are you personally willing to do to reverse that trend? It all comes down to each Christian asking, “Is it I, Lord?” and going back to 1st John 1:9, confessing our sin, and beginning to walk again.

I want to be the kind of Christian that Jesus wants me to be. I want to love the way he says to love, even when it doesn’t feel good. I want to be one who helps to maintain the real unity created by the Holy Spirit…not looking for ways to break away from fellowship. I want to live in such a way that other humans, believers or unbelievers, can look and see the hand of God in my life, and give glory to Him, not me. My hope is that you want to live this way, too. We’ll discuss these things in more depth in the coming weeks. But for now, let’s meditate on what we have learned regarding our own behavior and choices, and ask the Lord to reveal what needs to change.

Lord Jesus, once again, we ask that you turn our eyes to the mirror of God’s Word and allow us to examine ourselves in the light of what we see there. Bring conviction where it is appropriate, and comfort where it is needed. Re-mold us into your own likeness, and to your glory.

Practical Holiness and Unanswered Prayers

Practical Holiness and Unanswered Prayers

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:1-7

Introduction:

We often wonder why our prayer life seems ineffectual, and either bemoan that “God doesn’t answer,” or cynically declare that “prayer makes no difference, because God will just do whatever His plan was, anyway.” Both ideas are wrong, and the truth is more related to the character of our relationship with God than it is anything else. James begins by backing up and asking a rhetorical question, and then answers it, and begins to build upon the answer.

Human Sin

1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Here, the “you” (plural) to whom James speaks, is the whole human race. There had been no instance (at that time) of literal wars happening between believers, though it has happened more recently. But the history of the human race is absolutely riddled with warfare, raids, murders, enslavement, etc., in every nation, and in virtually every culture, at one time or another. And James recognized the source of the problem: that, far from being just some “force of nature”, or “artifact of human imperfection”, those wars and evil behaviors specifically come from our sinful desires.

Whether the desire is for political ascendancy, more land, more power of any sort, natural resources, or any other thing, the fact is that we, the human race, are willing to commit violence to satisfy our desires. That forces the other party to commit violence in defense: they really have little or no choice. But invariably, they end up wanting revenge, not just defense. So the cycle goes on, and repeats itself. If we want to see the original source, we can read Isaiah 14:12-15. There we see how Lucifer, the “Light-bearer,” through his desire for power and glory, became Satan, the “Adversary.” We have adversarial relationships with one another because of our sinful, selfish desires, and, ultimately, we, as a race, are adversaries of God thereby as well.

Romans 5:10 agrees with this idea, stating that we (believers) were enemies of God (prior to being saved) and that Jesus died for us while we were in that state, not after repentance or because of some “pre-christian” status. (There is no such thing as a “pre-christian,” by the way. We start off as enemies of God, and, if we die in that position, we are eternally lost. If God can bring us to repentance then we make a full transition to being children of God, and are credited with the righteousness of Christ.)

So, this passage tells us why the state of man is so filled with violence. God made a point of this clear back in Genesis 6:12, noting that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence. He also stated, (Genesis 6:5) that every thought of the imagination of man’s heart was only evil continually. “Well (we may protest) that was before the flood. We are all sprung from Noah, today!) So then, after the flood, things should have improved, right? Let’s see what God said: (Genesis 8:21) “…the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” The only people present were Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their respective wives! Eight persons comprised the world’s entire population! And God said they were full of evil!

So…if that is the state of man, what chance do we have for improvement? On our own effort? None at all! That is why Jesus became a human being, lived a perfect life so as to qualify as our redeemer, and willingly became our blood-sacrifice at Calvary. He did this so that we could be born from above…born again, with a new nature, which is capable of living for God. What about that old nature? It is still there, otherwise all the warnings of the New Testament would be pointless, as believers would be incapable of sin!

But the truth is that our old nature is completely incapable of being transformed, healed, or salvaged. It is not only corrupt but it is still actively being corrupted. When we sin, we feed our old nature, and it is strengthened. But our new nature is completely holy, like the One who created it. So we are left with a perpetual fight to maintain a Christian life.

James knew all of this, but rather than go into detail explaining it to fellow-Jewish Christians, he built on their knowledge of the Word, and moved forward. (We Gentiles frequently have to go back and read the Old Testament Scriptures in order to catch up.)

Unanswered Prayer

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When we think of prayer, our opinions may run everywhere from “prayer is a waste of breath, because God is just going to do what He wants to do, anyway” all the way to the idea that God is a “celestial vending machine” who will give us whatever we ask for, if we either ask often enough, or ask with the right formula, or something. Both of those ideas are sadly mistaken, though both have elements of truth.

God does commit Himself to righteousness, and to His own perfect plan, though His plan may seem chaotic to us. We need to realize that what seems rather random and directionless, to us, is actually quite controlled, but so unimaginably complex as to easily evade our understanding. We humans can create machines, computer programs, to produce “random” numbers, but the fact is that they are simply taking whatever micro-millisecond that the computer clock is at, at the moment you give the command, and applying an extremely complex formula to that number, so rapidly that we cannot hope to follow it. Since we have no way to know the exact time we gave the command, and no way to track the math, the resulting number seems completely random to us, but, in reality, it was completely planned: we are just unable to see the plan.

Isn’t it odd that we are willing to entrust our lives and money and health to a computer, designed, built and programmed by humans, who, in turn, were programmed by their own sin, but we are not so willing to trust the God who designed and built us, though He is not contaminated by our sin? Give that some thought!

Prerequisites to Answered Prayer

Over in Hebrews 11:6, it says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” We have to begin with the conviction that God exists, and that He is good, beyond comprehension: that He is the creator and designer of all good, and that even the evil in the world is not “outside” His oversight.

We live, today, in the ruins of what was created a perfect world, but which was devastated by sin: we live with the evidence of that destruction all around us: even in the majesty of the peaks, where we see the layered sediments as mute testimony of the flood, and the broken, ragged ridges; evidence of the continental breakup still in motion today. So, within the wreckage of “life after the Fall of Man” we need to realize that God’s ultimate good is still in control, but there are still the ugly realities to deal with: life in a fallen world; life with fallen humans as our fellow-travelers. When we pray, we need to realize that sometimes the things we want are not in keeping with a greater plan of God.

Therefore, we are admonished over in 1st John that there are some prerequisites to answered prayer:

  1. We, ourselves, have to be in obedience to God, so that we are not already at cross-purposes to His sovereignty. (Yes, it is not only possible to be at cross-purposes to God, it is so common as to be nearly universal. 1st John 3:18-24)
  2. We have to ask in accordance with His revealed will. (1st John 5:14, 15) This takes some study and growth, on our part, to even know, as an over-arching concept, what that will is, let alone His will for any given matter. But God does reserve the right to reply in one of three ways:
    1. Yes,” which is what we always want.
    1. No,” which is what we really mean, when we claim that “God didn’t answer me!” or,
    1. Wait,” which is very commonly perceived as “no;” but we need to be patient and find out whether our petition has been denied for cause, or simply deferred, because a better occasion is coming soon.

So, how does God see our Allegiances with the World?

Finally, here in James, we see that we frequently are turned away because of wrong motives. The wrong motives, whatever the reason, would automatically place us in the category of “not praying according to God’s Will.”

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Remember that we all begin as the enemies of God: Romans 5:8-10 made this clear. So, having been born again, and no longer being citizens of this world, we need to change our allegiances, as well. It is not that we are not to befriend the people of the world…Remember? “God so loved the World….” But we are to sever our allegiance to the world’s system of thought, and its values and morals.

The people in the world, every single one of them, are created in the image of God, and are precious souls for whom Jesus has already shed His blood. And yet, even there, we are encouraged to make friends of God’s friends. King Jehoshaphat, in 2nd Chronicles 19:1-3, was rebuked for having allied himself with King Ahab, an evil man, in a war (previous chapter.) God eliminated Ahab through a “random” arrow, but Jehoshaphat had survived the battle.

On his way back home, a prophet, named Jehu, met him on the road, and delivered God’s rebuke. The alliance was the issue; the military partnership with a nation that was already at odds with God. We are not to make alliances or partnerships with people who are at cross-purposes against God. 2nd Corinthians 6:14-18 spells this out very clearly: we are not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers. (This includes, of course, the partnership of marriage. Believers are not to knowingly marry an unbeliever. Have there been people who were tricked into believing that their intended spouse was a believer, only to discover later that it was a lie? Certainly there have been, and God knows that. He addresses that elsewhere.)

This caution against “Friendship with the World” in no way cancels our “debt” to those around us, to offer the love of God, and the Gospel of Christ. (Romans 1:14-16; 13:8). Most will reject the Gospel, and we know that, but we still have the obligation to make the offer of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins to those around us.

However, if we continue to embrace the World’s way of thinking, then, at least at a functional level, we are still behaving as the enemies of God. This is the practice and mindset that we are to abandon, wholesale, and avoid completely. The attitude and arrogance, and duplicity of the world, along with its constant message of self-importance and self-will, is completely repugnant to God. We need to guard against being drawn back to those values. When we find that we are setting aside known directives and values of God in favor of what seems appropriate from a human perspective, then we have already crossed the line, even if we think we are doing something “good.”

Grieving the Holy Spirit

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

I am given to believe that the “Spirit,” here, is the Holy Spirit (in spite of the lack of capitalization in the KJV), and that the desire the Spirit has, is for us to learn to devote ourselves completely to God. We tend to only see the word “lust” as referencing sexual desire, but it actually means any strong desire, and not necessarily even an evil desire. Our own spirit is never said to “dwell” in us, as it is truly part of who we are (body, soul, and spirit, 1st Thessalonians 5:23.) Since that is the case, then I do not see this as our own human spirit, as the Holy Spirit is said to dwell in us, and as the third member of the Godhead, He certainly has some strong desires where God’s Will is concerned. Over in Galatians 5:17, it says that “the flesh (old sin nature) lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh…” In that context, at least, the spirit in question is definitely the Holy Spirit. I believe it is, here in James 4:5, as well. Even if that is settled, and if I am correct, I still have to decide what the “desire” of the Holy Spirit is, for us:

In the Old Testament, God claims to be a “jealous God,” desiring his people to serve Him alone, and not go after other gods. In fact, he refers to this practice as spiritual adultery. He considered Israel to be wedded to Himself, and, as a husband, He was jealous of her attention to the foreign, false, evil gods of the nations around her.

We, as the Church-age believers, are called the “Bride of Christ.” Is it surprising, then, that the Holy Spirit jealously calls us to separate ourselves from our old ways and walk with Him alone? Specifically, that He calls us to drop our “friendship with the World”, and draw close to the Lord who bought us out of slavery to sin? I think it is perfectly understandable, and right. In Ephesians 4:30, we are cautioned to “…grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” If we are grieving the Holy Spirit by our attitudes, our actions, or our allegiances, then we definitely should not expect that our prayers will be received as we want them to be. The Psalmist (Psalm 66:18) says “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” It does not say that He cannot hear, but that He will not hear us.

How can we overcome this pattern? Humility!

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

This is a hard passage to apply: we never like to admit to ourselves that we are “proud people.” But, when our pride is causing arguments, division, and a stiff-necked disobedience, then we are not in a condition to be blessed by God. Instead, He has to resist us at every turn. The scripture never lists pride as a “positive” trait. It sometimes lists it as an “ordinary” thing, for example, he mentions, in the Old Testament, a strong man glorying in his strength, but even then, he cautions that it is a temporary, fleeting glory. Pride and self-will are in opposition to God, plain and simple: so He has no choice but to oppose us, and resist us, in our pride. If we want to enjoy God’s Grace, then we need to willingly humble ourselves, so that He does not have to do it, teaching us humility the hard way.

The next verse is easy to misunderstand, as well:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

This verse must be taken in its entirety: Satan is not “afraid of believers.” But He cannot stand before God. So, a believer, not only indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but also in submission to Him, and thus able to resist Satan, is not just a helpless sheep, ready to become the prey of the Evil One, but, instead, is a powerful partner of Christ, and is at least dangerous to the plans and programs of Satan. Consider a wild animal…a coyote, perhaps: though he is unafraid of a horse alone, when it sees the same horse with a man in the saddle, he runs for cover. It isn’t the horse that frightens him; it is the man directing the horse that is dangerous. He knows that people are his enemies, and are quite able to kill at a distance.

When we are in submission to God, we are dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. But without that first clause in verse seven, the second clause would be a laughable fallacy. In our own strength, we cannot resist the evil one. We are automatically submitted to him, in fact, when we are not submitted to God.

We only have two natures: Either we will submit ourselves to the Lord Jesus, and see His power working in our lives through our new nature, or we will, by default, submit ourselves to the evil one, and we will increasingly see him damaging our lives, our testimony, and our happiness, as our old sin nature runs wild.

So…Where are you now?

There is no middle ground: when we were unbelievers, we thought that we were “free” from the influence of either God or Satan. Indeed, we counted ourselves the “masters of our fates, and the captains of our souls,” as the poem “Invictus” boasts. But we were actually deceived, and, in fact, we were completely, blindly, under the sway of the Evil one. We had no conscious knowledge of our plight, and so we thought that we were free. Now we have freedom to choose, but there is still no middle ground. We will either serve Jesus, consciously, and willingly, or we will serve Satan, unconsciously, and whether we like it or not.

I frequently think of Samson: Because of his inconsistent, continually “sloppy” walk with God, in spite of the fact that he was a genuine believer, and a man of God, who is even listed in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith, he ended up being physically blinded, and working as a prisoner and a slave, under the Philistines, his mortal enemies. A believer today can end up being spiritually blinded, and working for his great enemy, Satan…and not even know that he has again become a slave to sin.

All I can do is look and see where I am: what does the fruit in my life look like: am I being a blessing to the people around me; and am I a “fragrance of Christ,” or am I a curse and a stumbling-block? Do I pray for them with an honest heart, desiring the best for their lives, or am I mostly praying for them to change, so I will be more comfortable? Do I see the people around me as precious souls for whom Jesus died, or do I see them mostly as an irritation, causing me inconvenience and distress? What are my real motives in life? Are they the same as those Jesus displayed, or are they self-centered, just like those of the World?

These are things we must think about, as we examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word. These are the things we should consider, when we question the “effectiveness” of prayer, and when we wonder where our joy in life has gone.

Please consider carefully, and choose rightly how to respond. If anyone would like to talk more about this, please contact me, and we will take whatever time is needed to find answers in God’s Word.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the Mirror of God’s Word, and James says: let us see where we truly are in our walk with you and let us humble ourselves under your hand, so that you may bless our lives and our service.


Practical Christianity

The Practical Outworking of God’s Word

© C. O. Bishop, 3/1/2020

James 1:21-27

Introduction: Receive the Engrafted Word

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

To receive the Word with meekness, implies obedience. The word translated “meekness” carries the idea of “being yielded”…we need to yield to God’s word. We are to adapt our behavior to match what he says: not the other way around. We need to see ourselves and our lives through the filter of God’s Word, and lay aside the things that render us unclean and unable to serve. God uses clean vessels through which to pour his Grace. We want to be those clean vessels.

God’s Word is the only means by which any of us have been born again. His Word is also the only thing that can salvage the wreckage of our sin-riddled lives and allow us to live for His glory. A few weeks ago, we saw in 1st Peter 1:23 that we have been born again by the Word of God. In Psalm 119:9 we see that His word is the way to cleanse our lives. In 2nd Peter 1:4, we see that through the “exceeding great and precious promises” in His Word, we are to be “made partakers of the Divine Nature.” All of these require actually yielding to Him, and obeying His Word…receiving it with meekness.

We try so hard to “do things for God,” but the fact is, he simply wants freedom to use our lives. Remember, now, as we read this passage, that the epistle is clearly addressed to those who are already saved. The letter is to believers! So, how can he say “…the engrafted word which is able to save your souls? We must remember that, according to the promise of Christ in John 5:24, though each of us has been (past tense) saved from hell (the penalty of Sin) and will never (future tense) be condemned, we are each still needing to “be saved (present tense)” from the power of sin in our lives…today! And the day is coming when we will be saved from the presence of Sin, with God, in eternity!.

Salvation has three tenses:

  1. I have been saved from the penalty of Sin, and have crossed over from death into life.
  2. I am being saved from the power of sin in my life, as I daily walk with God in obedience.
  3. I will be saved from the presence of sin, eternally, when I leave this world.

God says that His Word needs to grow in me as a grafted twig or bud. If it cannot bond with my unbelieving heart, then it will not have the intended effect. It will not cleanse me and “save me” from the power of sin in this dark world. I need to receive the Word and allow it to actually change my desires, and my thoughts, so as to change my behavior. This is not “self-help”…we are incapable of helping ourselves in this arena. God has to do the helping—we have to receive the help and allow it to work in us.

Men and Mirrors

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Much has been made of the fact that the Greek word here, for Man, is not “anthropos”, simply meaning “a human,” but “andros” meaning specifically a man. I don’t want to wax eloquent about men and mirrors, but I will observe that, in my own life, I am frequently unaware of how I look. More than once I have arrived at work, and someone has smiled and said, “You haven’t looked in a mirror today, have you?” And they were right! I had dressed in the dark, hoping not to awaken my wife, and I had hurried off to work. Did it shame me that my hair was in complete disarray (or whatever else had caused the smiles?) Nope. I was simply amused, just as they were. So maybe, at least in my case, the quips about “men and mirrors” are correct.

If there is a mirror, I will quickly take stock, but, just as the scripture suggests I might do, I walk away and forget about it. Apparently this sort of attitude is more common among men than it is among women, and was common in the first century, as well as today.

So, using this object lesson, God says, “Don’t do that!” Do treat His written Word as a mirror: Look into it to see what God wants changed in your life, but then remember those things when you walk away. Don’t forget what you saw there! Incidentally, though it is true that, in the physical world, mirrors are used for everything from periscopes, to microscopes, telescopes and lasers, not to mention inspection mirrors and rear-view mirrors, the primary use for a mirror, worldwide, among ordinary people, is to examine ourselves; to have a look at how others must see us, or to see something from an angle otherwise impossible. (In fact, missionary friends have told me that in the African country where they worked, that was a peculiar problem on the roads, because all the drivers turned the rear-view mirrors so that they could look at themselves, instead of looking at the road behind them. In that particular case, this was the wrong use of the mirror!)

Keep this idea in mind, as you read God’s Word: aim the mirror at yourself! (That is the correct use of this mirror!) Don’t use it to examine or inspect someone else, as a rule. Let them look into the mirror for themselves. We usually have enough problems of our own to deal with, that we shouldn’t try to correct everyone else.

Watch your Mouth!

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

There are lots of times when a Christian would be better off to keep his or her mouth shut. Perhaps this is just regarding things in general that would be better left unsaid, or things that are matters of idle curiosity, but questions that would not be profitable to ask, possibly because to do so would be meddling in someone else’s private matters. Perhaps it is about speaking unkind words that would cause hurt, or engaging in sly humor which would arouse suspicion of evildoing, where, really, none existed. We easily fall into the trap of “shooting off our mouth.”

It seems, however that this verse is specifically in relation to a person who “puts on a good show of piety,” but ruins it all by what he says. The Greek word translated “religious,” is “threskia” and this is the only place it is used. The Greek word translated “religion” is “threskos”and is only used in four places, one of which is translated “worshipping”…and in that context, it refers to the worshipping of angels…not a Godly worship at all. It was strictly a human (and erroneous) practice. The other three places it is translated “religion,” and it is always in reference to human “practice of worship and/or piety:” not necessarily God-ordained in its entirety, though it may have its roots in God’s Word. And, in this passage, it is clear that it is quite possible for one’s “practice of worship and/or piety” to be erroneous, and empty: fruitless…“vain.”

I knew a fellow, at work, twenty years ago, who was very outspoken about his Christian faith: he wore brightly-colored t-shirts, every day, with intensely evangelical (and very good!) messages emblazoned on their front and back. But he shouted constantly, cursed frequently, and he had a violent temper, to boot. I cautiously tried to warn him about his mouth, on one occasion, and he cut me off, saying, “You can’t judge someone by the things they say!”, so I shut my mouth; but I walked away thinking, “Actually, Yes, you can!” Well, the fact is, the whole crew of fellow-workers around him had already recognized the emptiness or “vanity” of his “religion”. Finally, in the darkness before work, one morning, he attempted to force a situation in the parking lot, arguing over a parking space he considered to be “his” space (it was not.) The conflict erupted into a fist-fight, and he was fired: he lost his job completely…and no one missed him!

He had a terrible testimony. He actually may have been a genuine believer; but he had a bad lifestyle, and a bad mouth, which made everyone around him reject his message.

He deceived himself that his outbursts of anger, and his foul mouth were acceptable…and that no one should “judge” him for such things. But according to the book of James, he definitely should have expected them to judge him by his words and behavior; not just by the message on his nice-looking t-shirt. Despite the fact that he probably was a real believer, the outworking of his faith (whatever it really was) turned out to be unprofitable: fruitless…vain. (Not “non-existent;” just empty and fruitless…vain talk.)

So, what kind of behavior befits a real believer? One thing, according to James, is going out of one’s way at one’s own cost, to meet the needs of those who, through no fault of their own, have deep needs. And another is avoiding doing (or even being involved with) the things that would bring shame to God. Here is how James puts it:

27 
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

The result of a genuine relationship with God, then, should play itself out in a changed relationship with those around me. It should result in my meeting the needs of others, and thinking less about my own desires, comfort and convenience. It should also result in my moving away from the World’s way of thinking, and becoming increasingly aligned with God’s way of thinking. The sinful behavior patterns and vices of the world should begin to drop away, if the relationship with God is solid.

(Remember that thing about “the engrafted Word?”) When you graft a rose twig (for example) into a hawthorn rootstock (and yes, that will work) that twig has to take hold and grow with the hawthorn rootstock to survive. But no matter what the rootstock may bear in terms of leaves, fruit or flowers, the rose twig will only bear rose-leaves, rose-blossoms, and rose hips. It can do no other! If the fruit in your life is not in keeping with God’s Word, then His Word is not what is producing the fruit. It is as simple as that! The “engrafted Word” has to produce Godly fruit: the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of a cleansed life. The fruit of other souls being brought to Christ.

Practical Holiness

Notice, too, that all the issues, here, in the Book of James, have to do with practicality: how does my faith work out in my everyday life? What effect is it having on people around me? What evidence is there from a human perspective, that I am even a believer?

I remember seeing a poster, more than forty-five years ago, asking “If Christianity were suddenly made illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” It is an odd way to present the idea, but it is a good question: “What evidence is there in my life, to show other people the reality of Christ?” God knows the truth of my heart-condition, but the question remains, “Is it evident to anyone else?” This is the repeating theme of the Book of James.

Remember that in Genesis 3:7-21 we saw “two axes” of relationships: the horizontal axis, in which it is possible to simply “look good” to other humans, and the vertical axis, in which God sees us as we really are. (Remember, the sewn-together fig leaves (their own works) covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve from a human perspective, but they were still utterly naked before God: He had to clothe them through the blood of a sacrifice which He himself made. There’s a strong parallel with the Gospel, right there! God gave His Son to save us from our Sins!)

But there is another side to that idea: On the vertical axis, I have been (past tense) declared righteous before God on the strength of that blood sacrifice at the Cross. (Romans 5:1) Now He wants that freely-given imputed righteousness to be (continuously) lived out in a practical form of holiness, so as to be a testimony to other humans, on the horizontal axis. The new life in Christ is supposed to change me, from the inside out, and affect those around me in positive ways, as a result.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) That is how the Christian Life is supposed to work.

Lord Jesus, make the engrafted word a living reality in each of our lives, so that you are free to use our lives daily to glorify yourself, and to reconcile lost souls to yourself through the sharing of the Gospel.