Habits for Every Christian: Walk in Love

“Walk in love…” (Ephesians 5.2)

How, Paul? What does that mean, to walk in love? Does it mean I should have gushy feelings for everyone as I plod through my day? Should I attempt to warmly hug everyone I meet? I’m a tad uncomfortable with that thought.

The whole verse says:

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5.2b)

So JESUS is our standard of love! On the one hand, He had compassion for individuals, touched lepers from time to time, took little girls by the hand, reclined at the table with His disciples in close sharing. On the other hand, He overturned table in the Temple, seared the Pharisees and Lawyers with condemnation and judgment, and preached in such a way that many of His followers deserted Him. He’s our picture of love.

We’re not talking about FEELING love. We’re talking about GIVING love. This kind of love (ἀγάπη agape in the Greek) concerns a selfless giving of yourself to others. It’s doing for others what you’d like them to do for you, loving them like you’d love yourself, doing what is best for them, regardless of how you actually feel about them at the time.

Imagine Jesus on the cross, experiencing some of the most excruciating pain a human can endure and having been deserted by all His disciples. Lonely. Shamed. Being murdered by lawless men. Can you imagine the human feelings He must have experienced? Surely He was not wishing He could hug those at the foot of the cross. He was holding back His awesome power in order not to annihilate them all! He spoke words of forgiveness. He cared for one of the thieves beside Him and for His mother below Him.

Now imagine your family. It’s late, everyone’s tired, and you’re trying to cobble together a quick supper before bedtime. Children complain. Your spouse grumpily pokes around, getting in the way more than helping. What words slip your tongue at times like this? What thoughts run through your head? What complaints of your own do you mumble to yourself?

Are you truly thinking about your family, how you can bless and serve them? Do you pray for God to forgive your children for their complaining…”for they don’t know what they’re saying”? Do you speak kindly and gently to your spouse even when the words coming your way are less than gentle? A soft answer…a soft answer…

Brothers and sisters, “we who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15.1). “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” How, exactly, has Christ welcomed you? Would Jesus say, “You need to learn to speak more respectfully before I love you.” Or “You got yourself into this mess; you can get yourself out”? Or “I’ll only help you when you start to help yourself”?

Or did Jesus die for us WHILE WE WERE STILL WEAK (Romans 5.6), WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS (Romans 5.8), and WHILE WE WERE HIS ENEMIES (Romans 5.10)? And does He continue to put up with us despite our severe weaknesses and stark flaws?

God expects you to walk in love and has shown you how to do it. May God give you opportunities today to show the love of Christ to your child and to your neighbor and to your boss and to your waitress. Keep the cross forever in mind–the absolute love Jesus showed for you–and let Him be your motivation.

God, teach us to walk in love!

The Historical Jesus – Part 2

Yesterday we discussed Josephus and Tacitus, two men who were not Christians but who wrote about Jesus. Today, I’ll introduce the testimonies of Pliny the Younger and Lucian of Samosata.

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the YoungerPliny is called “the younger” because he is Pliny Junior, son of Pliny the Elder. He wrote many letters which have been preserved for posterity, among which is one addressed to Emperor Trajan circa A.D. 112 concerning his dealings with Christians in his area. Following is his letter and the emperor’s reply.

This does not assert that Christ really lived, but it does show the early existence of the Christians and their incredible faith until death.

Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny the Younger

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

While these letters do not directly deal with the historicity of Jesus, they do show a large number a men and women who were so convinced of His reality they were willing to die for Him. And this was a mere 80 years after Jesus’ death.

 

Lucian of SamosataLucian of Samosata

Lucian was a satirist around A.D. 170. He showed himself hostile against Christians, which makes his testimony in Passing of Peregrinus concerning them quite believable. Lucian’s protagonist Perigrinus was a philosopher who decided to take advantage of some gullible Christians (in his satirical story):
 

11.    “It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine.   And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

….

13.   “Indeed, people came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians at their common expense, to succour and defend and encourage the hero. They show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in no time they lavish their all.  So it was then in the case of Peregrinus; much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it. The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan and trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.

Lucian’s testimony is over 100 years after Christ’s death, but he exposes the believes of the Christians, at least, of his time, which was that the man Christ actually lived. He calls Jesus “the man who was crucified in Palestine” and “their first lawgiver” and “that crucified sophist himself.”

Is Seeing Really Believing?

Shocked EyesThe apostle John wrote his gospel in order to produce faith in his readers (John 20.30-31). How is that faith born? In the book the crowds and even Jesus’ disciples ask Him to SHOW them something so they can believe. Don’t we sometimes declare, “Seeing is believing”?

The crowds, attempting to goad Jesus into giving them more bread asked, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” (John 6.30)

Faltering Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (John 14.8)

Those Who SAW

After Jesus began to work miracles,”many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” However “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2.23-25). Although they believed when they saw, it seems their believe was not really in Jesus as the Son of God. It wasn’t a belief unto salvation, a persevering faith.

Skeptical

Jesus chided the people, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4.48).

Jesus fed the 5000, and “when the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!'” (John 6.14). That sounds like faith, but just wait until  the end of the chapter: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (6.66).

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (John 11.45-46).

Those Who HEARD

More than SEEING, faith comes by HEARING, as Paul writes in Romans 10.17. John’s gospel illustrates and illuminates this truth: faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.

When Jesus told Nathanael, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” He based that connection solely on the words of Jesus (John 1.47-51).

ListenThe very fact that Jesus is the embodiment of the Word shows the prominence and weight of hearing His word (John 1.1, 14)

Following Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, He spent the rest of the day teaching the whole town, who had come out to meet Him. “Many [of the Samaritans] believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.'” (John 4.41-42)

What Jesus Is Looking For

In the very heart of the gospel, the pivotal chapter, John 12, we read this indictment against the Jews: “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him” (John 12.37). And here’s the main point, as Jesus continues:

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12.44-50)

This is why Jesus told Thomas at the end, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20.29)

Faith is not built on sight but on sound. It’s not in the seeing but the hearing that truth faith is born. True faith comes from believing the word of God, embodied in His holy Son.

Two different but inseparable questions: Do you believe in Him? Do you believe Him?

Galatians: How Is the Promise Fulfilled?

PonderingTo Review…

Thesis: We are not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2.15-16)

Proof #1: You received the Holy Spirit not by works of the law but by hearing with faith (Gal. 3.1-9)

Proof #2: All who rely on works of the law are under a curse (Gal. 3.10-14)

To Continue…

Proof #3: The Promise was not fulfilled through the law (Gal. 3.15-20)

God promised that He would bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. Despite what the Jews were thinking, the special covenant Moses ratified between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai did not fulfill that promise God made to Abraham.

CancelledDid the covenant with Israel cancel out the promise? Paul says absolutely not! The law given through Moses did not change a bit of what God had promised.

Paul makes a great deal out of the phrase “to his offspring,” showing how offspring is singular and means one man, namely Christ. The promises God gave Abraham were to be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ–not through Moses and the Law. Abraham lived 430 years before the Law was ever written, so God was faithfully working out His promises long before the Law came, and the Law did not change the direction of that work. When you read the Old Testament, it’s often good to think of the BIG STORY in which God works out the Seed of Abraham in such a way as to bring Jesus onto the earth “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4.4).

Therefore the Law must have served some other purpose(s), since it did not accomplish the fulfillment of God’s promise. This is why Paul begs the question, “Why then the law?” (Gal. 3.19)

  1. It was added because of transgression (3.19)
  2. It was a bi-lateral covenant between God and Israel (3.19-20)
  3. It imprisoned everyone under sin (3.22) / held people captive (3.23)
  4. It served as a guardian / tutor / schoolmaster (3.24)

How long did God intend for the Law given through Moses to endure?

  • “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (3.19)
  • “until the coming faith would be revealed” (3.23)
  • “until Christ came” (3.24)

Rapt AttentionGalatians 3.21 is extremely important for us to hear and understand:

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

The little “if” can change your worldview! Paul plainly teaches NO LAW in existence can give life. Law inherently cannot redeem, save, justify, etc. Just the opposite, law condemns and binds us under judgment and wrath. Law has no mercy. In order for us to receive mercy, forgiveness, and grace, we must receive it from someone who loves us and has the ability to give it to us.

It’s not as if God’s law to Israel was imperfect–it is the most perfect law which has ever been given to mankind! If any law could save, that would be the one.

Neither did God abandon the Law of Moses simply to replace it with a better law, the Law of Christ, by which we are now saved. The Bible never reads like that anywhere. Christ didn’t come to save us via a better law; He came to save us from the condemnation of the law. That’s important, and we must not miss it, because the Galatian brethren missed this point and were cursed because of it.

Why then the law? The law pushes us on to Christ! It displays the absolute holiness of God and exposes our own lack of holiness. But the law doesn’t save; for that we need Christ! “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3.29).

Why Did Jesus Feed the 5000?

Jesus Teaching
by www.LumoProject.com

Herod, the Bible says, “sought to see” Jesus (Luke 9.9), but it seems he didn’t seek very hard, for in the immediately-following verses a huge crowd went out into a desolate place outside Bethsaida to find Jesus. Surely Herod could have gone out, too, had he really wanted.

But the 5000 enjoyed the words and the powerful healing Jesus brought; all day they listened until the day began to wane. The disciples suggested that Jesus send the crowd into the surrounding villages so they could get something to eat, but Jesus surprised them with a challenge: “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9.14)!

“We have no more than five loaves and two fish,” they answered, not for a moment considering a boy’s lunch (John 6.9) ample provision for such a great multitude. I would have been right with those disciples, I’m afraid. (I sometimes stare into my fridge thinking, “There’s nothing to eat,” when really there is plenty…)

Listen, Jesus was not obligated to feed this multitude. It wasn’t His job, and no one expected Him to provide a meal. He must have had a purpose to this miracle, don’t you think?

So why did He do it? Let me suggest two reasons.

1. To increase the faith of the disciples.

11_Jesus_5000_1024After His disciples basically said they couldn’t feed the multitude, Jesus didn’t just say, “Okay, fine, if you won’t do it I’ll do it Myself.” No, He performed the miracle of multiplying the bread and fish, and He “gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd” (Luke 9.16). In other words, the disciples ended up giving the crowd something to eat, just as Jesus had instructed! Jesus does not command anything for which He doesn’t also equip. Remember that.

Jesus had told these disciples He would make them fishers of men (Luke 5.9-10). These twelve (Luke 6.13) would be the seeds which started a world-wide planting operation. How in the world would they accomplish such a monumental–dare we say, impossible–task? By faith these men would come to understand all they had to do was obey–God handles the multiplication!

God can take an oil jug with just a bit of left-over oil in the bottom and make it outlast a famine (1 Kings 17.8-16). God can feed and water a couple million people in the desert for forty years. Man’s road blocks and impossibilities are nothing to God.

2. To identify Himself.

15_Jesus_5000_1024Continuing the previous thought, Jesus identified Himself with Moses in the wilderness. John accounts the feeding of the 5000 in John 6, and do you remember what conversation the event precipitated? The next day, the Jews tried to provoke Jesus into feeding them again: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6.31). They did well to connect Jesus’ power with the feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness, and Jesus continued the thought, identifying Himself as the true bread from heaven.

Not only did He identify Himself as the bread of life, but this even also identified Him strongly with Moses–Moses being a type of Christ. How could Jesus do such awesome things unless He was truly sent by God? And if He was truly sent by God, His words rang with prophetic power. Moses had prophesied in Deuteronomy 18.15, “YAHWEH your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear…”

The feeding of the 5000 proved that God had raised up The Prophet, and He was standing before His brethren!

Are You Confident in Your Salvation? Why?

Trust ExpertsWhat thing or person completes the following for you: “In ______________ do I trust for my salvation”?

Careful, now. Answer honestly.

“Why are you confident in your salvation?”

If you answer, “I am not confident in my salvation,” please shoot me a response e-mail, because that needs to be remedied! God wants you to be confident. Read 1 John 1.1-4, and see that God wants your joy to be full. You should “know that [you] know Him” (2.3), and you should “know that [you] are in Him” (2.5).

But allow me to address the rest of you who are confident in you salvation. Why are you confident?

Are you confident because of your church or your minister?

“I am sure of my salvation because I’m a member of the right church and my preacher preaches the right doctrine.”

Let us immediately dismiss this, for no person or body of men can ever save a soul.

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:

“As I live, says the LORD,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Rom. 14.10-12)

Trust DadAre you confident because you follow God’s laws?

Does your assurance come from having been baptized (in the correct way and for the right reasons)? Does your confidence swell each first day of the week as you assemble with the saints and correctly partake of the Supper of the Lord? “I do lots of good works. I’m obedient.”

The recurring sermon of every Bible preacher under both Old and New Covenants has been and continues to be, “Repent, and bear fruits worthy of repentance.” So the fruit of a changed heart surely should be seen in us, giving us a level of confidence as to our position with the Lord. However, the fruit is merely a sign of the salvation and not the very thing itself. The good works we do may reveal that we have been saved, but the works themselves don’t save!

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…” (Titus 3.5)

Are you confident because of your inward repentance and faith?

“I know my heart is right.”

Please don’t depend upon some attitude of your heart, some inherent internal goodness. Can you be saved without faith and repentance? Not hardly! But these, again, simply expose the fact that you are saved!

If we are completely honest with ourselves, each of us knows he is not worthy because the intents of his heart continue to hold traces of evil motives and weaknesses to temptation. When is faith ever good enough? When is repentance ever absolute? We might believe our latest repentance came from a complete and utter brokenness, but then in a few more days our weaknesses resurface again! O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Reaching UpSo From Where Does True Confidence Come?

Our confidence, ultimately, comes from Jesus Christ, the One whose word never falls to the ground, whose promises are never broken. He exists, He lives, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Our confidence should never be in our seeking but in the One Whom we seek! Christ is our Yes and our Amen.

“For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Cor. 1.20-22)

Brother and Sister, rest confidently in this, that God saves in Christ, not because of any works we accomplish but because of THE WORK Christ has done and the work the Holy Spirit continues to do in us.

In Christ do I trust. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2.20).

Who Is Jesus?

Jesus intentionally and consistently challenged His audience with the question: “Who am I?” Was He only a righteous man, a good teacher, a charismatic leader? Did He die a martyr to His cause? Was He more than a good teacher? Perhaps He was the Prophet or the Messiah of prophecy but Israel murdered their hope?

Or was He actually the Son of God?

Jesus TeachingWho is Jesus?

In Matthew 16.13-20 Jesus interrogated His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” A variety of responses were then listed: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. In other words, there were many ideas floating around as to who this mighty miracle worker could have been. Only one truth existed as to His identity, but what was it?

Jesus then asked, “Who do  you say that I am?” Peter stepped up with, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus blessed Peter for that statement, insisting, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Peter’s confession was revelation from the Father! According to Christ, Peter’s statement rang completely true.

If Jesus was the Christ, He was the Messiah of prophecy (“Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew “Messiah”)–the anointed one–identifying Him as a leader and king. Rather, THE leader and king. But the “Son of the living God” goes much farther than what “Messiah” implies! Peter showed great insight and faith in his confession, and Jesus completely agreed with his statement that He Himself was the Son of the living God.

Son of GodThe Transfiguration

After six days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain where He was transfigured before their eyes, and they beheld Moses and Elijah sitting and talking with Jesus. Peter wanted to build a tabernacle for each of them, but suddenly they were struck to the ground by a voice from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matt. 17.5). Looking up, the three apostles saw no one but Jesus. Now they had received verification from heaven as to His identity! Moses and Elijah were, perhaps, the two most revered prophets of Israelite history, but they were not the Son of God.

Paying the Temple Tax

Later in Capernaum (Matt. 17.24-27), someone inquired of Peter as to why his Teacher did not pay the temple tax. Peter defended Jesus, but, when he went into the house, Jesus brought up the subject:

JESUS: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”

PETER: “From strangers.”

JESUS: “Then the sons are free.”

Bible ReadingWhat does that mean? Jesus was explaining to Peter that, as the Son of God, He really should have been considered exempt from paying taxes to Himself! The temple was His Father’s house…literally. Why should He pay taxes to it, since He owned the house?

So…Who is Jesus?

Clearly Jesus considered Himself to be the Son of God. It’s important you answer the question for yourself–but realize only one right answer exists; either He is the Son or He isn’t. You may choose to believe He’s not the Son of God, but reality doesn’t shift based on your belief, does it? What will you believe?

I agree with Jesus: the knowledge (that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God) comes from heaven! My prayer is that you will believe Him and accept Him for who He actually is.

The Transfiguration (Craig Roberts)

Craig Roberts taught a morning class on January 10 concerning the Transfiguration (Matthew 17). It’s insightful and helpful.

In the evening of the same day, our church had a discussion extending the thoughts from the morning: