Thursday, February 23, 2012

Beloved, Let Us Love One Another

It seems like a lot of the time as Christians we put most of our spiritual energy into fighting what we consider to be the "big" enemies.  This can be seen in what we ask prayer for and what we relate in our testimony meetings.  It many times is to be delivered from health or financial needs and if we are in a particularly spiritual mood we will also ask that God will help us to be a faithful witness through such trials.  Many times we are trying to witness to someone or maintain a testimony with them and these requests and needs are good and proper.  And they are important battles that we face.  But what I don't seem to see as much energy being put into is learning to love one another.  It almost appears that this is not always seen as important as our financial and physical needs or other spiritual battles we face against sin.  But I believe our ability to love one another should be one of our primary concerns.

As a pastor I am keenly aware of the importance of Christians loving each other as we have been loved by Christ.  In my years of pastoral ministry I have spent many hours trying to get people to get along and not just get along but but to love each other genuinely.  I have always been surprised at how miserable we are sometimes willing to live because we refuse to love and forgive one another as we have been loved and forgiven by Christ.  This in and of itself should be a powerful incentive to be willing to humble ourselves and seek reconciliation with each other.  There are few things in life more miserable than ill feelings towards each other; at least this is how I look at it.  To have to walk into church and face people in which things are not right between the two of you or to live with someone in which communication and love is not where it should be has to be one of the worst situations possible.

And I think a case can be made that when we are unable to get along in the church in some way we quench the Spirit and the whole church suffers because of it.  Yes, maintaining a healthy relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ is about as important as anything we can do this side of glory but I am not sure how many would agree with that or at least live like they agree.

The Bible gives us some reasons why this is important and I want to mention three of them.  John in his first epistle over and over again makes the point that a demonstrable love for the brethren is a must to be sure you are even saved to begin with.  By demonstrable I mean a real love that can be seen, not some hypocritical ability not to constantly be at each other's throat.  It is one in which we genuinely are concerned for each other and attempt to show it as much as possible.  Here are a couple of verses where John makes this point, 1Jn 2:9  Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 1Jn 4:7  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 1Jn 4:8  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  So one reason why loving each other is important is because if we are truly saved this is who we are by nature.  If we struggle to love God's people then we must examine ourselves as to our own conversion; it is one way to  have assurance.

The next two reasons are found in John 13:34-35,  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  One here is obviously the most important one, that the Lord would be properly honored.  "By this all people will know that you are MY disciples"  We are left here to glorify God in our lives in all that we do.  Again, I am amazed at how little this plays a part in our thinking process.  If honoring the Lord is the most important thing to us then we ought to have a sense of urgency when it is clear that we are caught up in something that is dishonoring him.  Like I was saying earlier, it seems that more times than not we are willing to harbor bad feelings and attitudes towards each other for years in many cases as if what the Lord thinks is not nearly as important as that I can have my way and certainly I will not humble myself before anyone else.

The final one looks horizontally, not vertically; it is evangelistic in nature.  It suggests that we are responsible for how we live in front of the lost as well as each other.  It is good for us as people who understand the sovereignty of God to consider this from time to time.  While we know that only the elect will be saved and that equally true all the elect will be saved, yet we cannot dismiss our responsibility to live in such a way before them that proves our profession.  John brings this out again in Joh 17:21  that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  We have a responsibility to live before the world in such a way to prove that the Bible is true and they in some way are responsible for what they see in the way we live.

I don't believe this means if they see we are still sinful no one will believe what we preach.  If our ability to live perfectly consistent before the lost was necessary for their conversion no one would be saved.  But it certainly puts a lot of importance on how we interact with each other and makes it especially sinful when we place so little importance on it.  I think one thing being taught here is that lives of Christian love prove to those who see us that the power of God is real.  It is a powerful statement that there is a divine power at work because such love is not a natural love.  So when they stand before the Lord at the Judgment they will have no excuse as to why they did not look into these things when it was clear that the power of God was at work.  Their rebellion against God will be made apparent.

As Christians let us take the command to love one another and to do so genuinely in the seriousness that it was given.  It is not acceptable to fight and murmur and hold grudges and be cold to each other and especially to make no attempt to resolve it as quick as possible.  This flies in the face of everything we profess ourselves to be.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Glory of Christ

As I have started preaching through the book of Hebrews two things about Jesus Christ have caught my attention this week in chapter one.  The first one is in vs. 9, "You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness."  I am not sure there is another verse that captures the essence of godliness and righteousness like this one.  God's purpose in redeeming us is not to make us perfect in the sense of having no sin or even to merely forgive us our sins; something more is needed.

Adam was created upright; he had no sin in him but clearly the Lord had more in mind.  He wanted Adam to love him totally and hate everything that God hated.  In Adam this would be worked out not just in good deeds but in a perfect love for God that led to him fully obey.  Of course, Jesus the God Man was the only one who could do this in an acceptable way and it is this "active" righteousness that is imputed to us.  This is a righteousness that goes way beyond just obeying some set of laws.  What honors the Lord is when such deeds are done with a heart of love towards God.  So Jesus didn't just go around and keep law or do good deeds but he loved serving the Father in this way with all his heart.  He didn't obey because he had to he did so because he loved to serve the Father.

And this is a good lesson for those who desire to be conformed to his image and to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  Holiness is not just our ability to obey the Lord, it is to do so because we wouldn't have it any other way; it is from the heart and only this pleases the Lord.  Vs. 9 is telling us that there was a substitute that actually lived in the way God intended humans to live and it is that righteousness that we need along with the cancelling of the debt of sin held against us.

The second thing I thought was wonderful to see in this chapter is one of the primary things this opening chapter wants us to see; Christ is not only better than the angels but more than just a man as well.  There are allusions to this in this chapter instead of outright statements since the author is primarily comparing him to the angels, not to man.  One such allusion is in vs. 13,  "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"?  Actually you have to go back to Ps. 110:1 to see this since he only quotes part of the verse.  David is prophesying that Yahweh said to his Lord to sit on his right hand....  Jesus picks up on this in Matt. 22.  The Pharisees had been trying to catch him is some error in order to discredit him and it hadn't been going too well for them.

All of the sudden Jesus decides to ask them a question.  It was "whose Son was the Messiah supposed to be?" and they rightly answered David.  Then Jesus gives them a riddle of sorts.  If the Messiah is a descendant of David what did he mean when he called him his Lord in Ps. 110?  The teaching we must take away from that is obvious.  The Messiah is going to be a man born from David's line but he clearly has to be more than just a man.

Now the verse that even more plainly teaches this that I came across this week is Rev. 22:16,  "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."  Do you see it?  Jesus claims to be both the root and the descendant of David.  The root precedes the plant and the fruit.  He is the One who gave life to David as his creator and obviously he existed before David, yet he descended from David as well.  How can it be more clear?