selflessness

The Sin of Self

6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. – Titus 2:6-8 ESV

Paul has demanded that elder candidates be self-controlledsōphrōn (1:8).

He has told Titus to teach older men in the church to exercise self-controlledsōphrōn (2:2).

Titus was to instruct the older women to model for the younger women what it means to live self-controlled lives – sōphronizō (2:5).

Now, for the fourth time, Paul urges Titus to “urge the younger men to be self-controlled” – sōphroneō (2:6). Obviously, this was a crucial issue for Paul. His repetitive use of this word in a variety of its forms and tenses lets us know that Paul put a high priority on the issue of self-control. And, as was pointed out earlier, this is not actually about Christians attempting to master or control themselves, but about their willing submission to the Spirit’s direction over their lives and their total dependence upon His power to live in a way that honors and pleases God.

When a believer lives under the controlling influence of the Spirit of God, he or she receives the capacity to curb their normal sinful passions. Paul points that out in Galatians 5:16:

…let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. (NLT)

And he follows it up with the important reminder that “the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). This is not just about controlling our sexual urges or immoral desires. The idea of self-control carries with it a sense of sober-mindedness or the ability to manage our thought processes. A sober-minded individual, who is living under the Spirit’s control, will experience a marked decrease in self-centered thought patterns. He won’t be self-possessed or think too highly of himself. Paul pointed this out to the believers in Rome.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment (sōphroneō), each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. – Romans 12:3 ESV

Paul was not the only apostle who put a high priority on self-control. Peter shared his concern and wrote, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded (sōphroneō) …” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). 

So, Paul’s seeming obsession with self-control is well-founded. It is to be a non-negotiable characteristic of the Christian life and an indispensable mark of godly leadership. People without this vital Christ-like character quality tend to live out of control, exhibiting selfish and self-centered traits that reveal that they are actually living under the influence of their sinful flesh and not the Spirit of God.

Failure to control the self is at the heart of all sin. Sin is nothing more than an attempt to satisfy self at the expense of others. You argue because you want to prove yourself right. You covet because you desire for your self what belongs to someone else.  You commit sexual sin to satisfy self

After providing his long and infamous list of the deeds of the flesh to the Galatian believers, Paul wrote:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:25-26 ESV

Notice his emphasis on conceit or love of self. When the self rules, it’s like a wild, uncontrollable animal that has escaped its cage and is allowed to wreak havoc on all those around it. Self out of control is not only self-destructive, it is a menace to the body of Christ. It has no place within the context of the church. 

And Paul urges Titus that young men are to be self-controlled “in all respects.” The awkward break between verses 6 and 7 should not be there. They convey one thought, and it is that young men are to practice self-control in every area of their lives. And Titus was to be a role model. Which is why Paul tells him, “you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind” (Titus 2:7 NLT). This is the same counsel Paul gave Timothy, his other young protégé.

Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. – 1 Timothy 4:11-12 NLT

Paul went on to challenge Titus, “Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching” (Titus 2:7 NLT). In other words, Titus was live out what he taught. The sad reality is that many Christian teachers tend to convey the idea, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Their words and their actions don’t line up. The beliefs they express and the behavior they exhibit don’t seem to match. There is a visible disconnect. But that should not be the case.

Titus’ life was to be a model of integrity and sincerity. He was to live up to the very things he taught. His life was to be a model of submission to the will of God as expressed in the Word of God. And Paul knew the best lesson for the younger men in the church was going to be the life of his young friend, Titus. And Paul warned him to “Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized” (Titus 2:8 NLT). Titus was to stick to the facts of the gospel, not adding to or adulterating it with his own opinions. He was not to play fast and loose with the truth of God’s Word as revealed through the teachings of Jesus Christ or His apostles.

Again, the key issue is that of self-control. If Titus was not careful, he could easily find self in control. When attached by unbelievers or false teachers, Titus could go into self-defense mode. When criticized by his older brothers and sisters in the church, Titus could struggle with self-doubt. When seeking out and appointing elders for the churches on Crete, Titus might be tempted to think too highly of self. In Paul’s absence, Titus had the privilege and responsibility of acting as the sole apostolic authority on the tiny island, a role which could have easily fed his sense of self-importance.  So, Paul reminds his young friend to stick to teaching the truth. He encourages him to live a life that models self-control. Why? So that “those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:8 NLT).

Love of self is antithetical to the Christ-like life. We are called to live selfless lives, focused on the cause of Christ and the needs of others. It is never to be about us. We are never to allow ourselves to become the center of attention or the focus of our thoughts. We are called to die to self. We are commanded to crucify self. We are encouraged to control self, and we have been given the indwelling power of the Spirit of God to make it possible. And we should be able to say, along with Paul, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Think Like Christ

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 ESV

So, how are the Philippians believers to live in unity, “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind”? How will they prevent self-ambition and conceit from destroying their relationships and their corporate witness? Where will they find the motivation to live humbly, considering others as more important than themselves?

Paul doesn’t leave them on their own to figure out the answers to these pressing questions. He provides them with a succinct and simple answer:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… – Philippians 2:5 ESV

He points them to Christ and, in doing so, he is reminding them that Christ was the key to their salvation and He will be the key to their ongoing sanctification – as individuals and as a congregation. They are to have the mind of Christ. The Greek word Paul used is phroneō and it is actually in its verb form, making it an action. The original word can be translated as “to think.” In a sense, Paul is telling them that they are to think as Christ did.  They are to be of the same mind as Christ, considering their circumstances and responding to them as He would. And notice the environment in which the mind of Christ is to be put to use: Among yourselves. The task of thinking and reacting like Christ is to be applied within the body of Christ.

Christ-likeness that is only concerned about self is not Christ-likeness at all. To claim to have the mind of Christ, but to think only of one’s own self-interest, would be a lie. And to prove that point, Paul makes sure that the Philippian believers understand what he means by sharing the mindset and behavior of Christ. And don’t miss the very important point that Paul makes: This mindset is already available to them because of their relationship with Christ Jesus. It is not something they have to seek or produce on their own. It became theirs at the point of their salvation. But we don’t always live with the mind of Christ. Too often, we see things from our sinful and self-centered perspective, making even our relationship with Christ all about us. And in doing so, we forget that Christ redeemed us from a life of selfishness and self-centeredness. We have been placed within the body of Christ in order that we might express the character of Christ among our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul expressed to the Ephesian believers his strong desire that they fully comprehend the amazing love of Christ. And that love will be best experienced within the context of the body of Christ. As we selflessly love one another, as an expression of our grateful love for God, we will experience Christ’s remarkable love for us.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. – Ephesians 3:16-19 NLT

And just how much did Christ love us? Enough to die for us. But before Christ went to the cross, He had to come to earth. And Paul makes sure his audience understands that, as horrific as the cross was, Christ’s incarnation was even more humiliating.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being. – Philippians 2:6-7 NLT

Christ left the glory of heaven and His place of honor at the right hand of God and willingly came to earth. But He didn’t come in His glorious, heavenly form. He became a human being. He was born as a baby. He became Immanuel, God with us. But no one would have recognized Him as God. He no longer exhibited the trappings of deity. Rather than a royal robe, He was wrapped in a swaddling cloth. Instead of angels and cherubim surrounding His throne exclaiming His glory, sheep and cattle stood around His manger in disinterest. Rather than appearing as the all-powerful Son of God, Jesus Christ came in the form of a helpless baby.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the very image of God, became in appearance as a man, even a slave. He humbled Himself. But why? So, that He might give His life as a ransom for the sins of mankind. What He did, He did for the good of others. And Jesus Himself made that point very clear.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45 NLT

And the truly amazing thing is that Jesus gave up all His heavenly prerogatives so that He might live on this earth as a human being. This does not mean that Jesus became any less God during His time on earth. He remained fully God during the entirety of His incarnation. But He willingly relinquished the independent use of His divine attributes. He became fully dependent upon God the Father during His earthly ministry. He still retained His divine power and all of the characteristics of His deity. But He submitted them fully to the will of God, only using them under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Stop and think about that. The entire time Jesus walked this earth, He had the power of God residing in Him and the full ability to access that power at any moment. But He refused to do so. Which is Paul’s point. He emphasizes that Jesus “humbled himself in obedience to God” (Philippians 2:8 NLT). He did what the Father wanted. And His obedience to the Father’s will was so perfect that it took Him all the way to the cross, where he “died a criminal’s death.” 

This is the attitude that Paul is encouraging the Philippian believers to have. They were to share the same way of thinking as Jesus Christ. He didn’t consider Himself too good to do the will of God. He didn’t think of Himself as too important to sacrifice His life for the good of others. The prospect of humiliation was not off limits to Jesus. The thought of dying on behalf of those who actually deserved to die was not off-putting to Jesus. He did it willingly and in love. All that Jesus did was an expression of His love.

And we are to share that same way of thinking. We are to exhibit that same mindset when it comes to those around us – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we are all prone to seek our own self-exaltation. We are driven by pride and ego. Our sin natures tend to make everything all about us. And, even as believers, we can begin to think that we are somehow better than others because we are in Christ. We are redeemed. We are children of God. We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV). And before we know it, we begin to drown in our own perceived self-importance. But as Paul told the believers in Rome, “Don't think you are better than you really are” (Romans 12:3 NLT).

Paul would have us consider Christ. If anyone deserved to be exalted, it was Him. After all, He was God. But Jesus humbled Himself. He even allowed Himself to be humiliated by the very ones He created. He suffered death at the hands of sinful men. But Paul reminds us that God exalted Him.

God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names… – Philippians 2:9 NLT

But the exaltation of Jesus came after His humiliation. His resurrection followed His crucifixion. His ascension could not have happened without His death and burial in a borrowed grave.

We can waste all our time seeking to be exalted in this life, or we can share the thinking of Christ and pursue a life of selflessness and service. We can humble ourselves as He did, enduring potential humiliation and the seeming loss of our status as God’s children, or we can make ourselves the center of attention. We can pursue self-exaltation or humbly serve and love one another, allowing God to exalt us according to His timing. The words of Peter are appropriate here.

…all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:5-6 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Serve Like It.

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV

Once again, Peter gives his readers, and us, some advice about our behavior as believers in Jesus Christ. He tells us to be “self-controlled and sober-minded.” But the odd thing about this statement is the two reasons he gives for living this way: Because the end of all things is at hand and for the sake of our prayers. What is he talking about? What is he referring to by “the end of all things”? Peter, like all the other apostles, lived with a constant sense that the coming of the Lord was eminent. They lived with a short-term, temporary mindset when it came to their time on this earth. Jesus had said He would come again for them, and they lived as if that promise would be fulfilled sooner, rather than later. Here are just a few of their statements regarding the end of the age:

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. – James 5:8 ESV

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. – Romans 13:11 ESV

…so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:28 ESV

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. – 1 John 2:18 ESV

By living with the end in mind, these men were able to keep their focus, even while surrounded by the cares and concerns of this life. They gained a different perspective about suffering and persecution keeping their eyes focused on the goal. That’s why Paul could say, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT).  The author of the letter to the Hebrews provides us with these powerful words that encourage us to keep our attention focused on the temporary nature of our existence here:

You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. – Hebrews 3:13-14 NLT

So, Peter warns us. He reminds us to be self-controlled and sober-minded, because the days are short. Was he lying? Was he misinformed? Obviously, he was wrong. Here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, and the end has not yet come. Jesus has not returned. Was Peter overly optimistic or just driven by wishful thinking? No, he lived with a sense of eager anticipation. He longed for the return of His Savior. He had no idea when it would happen, but he lived as if it could be any day, and it could be. Concerning His own second coming Jesus said, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 NLT). Jesus went on to tell His disciples, Peter being one of them, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 NLT). And He qualified this statement by adding, “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Matthew 24:44 NLT). So, you can see why Peter lived with this optimistic, it-could-happen-any-day-now attitude, and he wanted us to live the same way. 

But what about his statement regarding prayer? What does he mean when he says that we are to be “self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”? If prayer is the means by which we communicate with the Father, then it is important that we do so on a regular basis It’s likely that Peter had a special heart for prayer because of the words spoken to him by Jesus that night in the garden, just hours before Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Jesus had gone off to pray and had asked the disciples to keep watch.

Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:40-41 NLT

Peter, like the other disciples, had fallen asleep. He lacked diligence. He had allowed himself to fall asleep on the job. And just a few hours later, Peter would be the one to deny Jesus three times. That night would have stuck with him for years. And it radically changed his view regarding prayer. He knew that communication with God, the ability to share with the Father his innermost thoughts, and hear words of comfort and encouragement in return, were critical to living his life on this planet. And he wants us to know the very same truth. Prayer is not optional, it is vitally necessary.

Next, Peter highlights the necessity of love. It is another non-negotiable in the life of a believer. We are to love as we have been loved by Christ. And that love is to be ektenēs, a Greek word that means “stretched out” and conveys the idea of earnestness or ceaselessness. It is the kind of love by which the Father loves us. Over in Psalm 136, the phrase, “for his steadfast love endures forever” appears 26 times. God loves us tirelessly and unwaveringly. And we are to do the same. When we do, our love “covers a multitude of sins.” When we love it diminishes our capacity to hate. It keeps us from seeking revenge. It prevents us from suffering from jealousy and envy. Love keeps us from sinning against one another and allows us to react to those who persecute us in ways that “cover over” their sins against us. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us these sobering words that reflect life in His Kingdom:

44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. – Matthew 4:44-48 NLT

Peter adds hospitality to the list, encouraging us to open our hearts and our homes to others. And, we are to do it without complaining. Not only that, we are to use our God-given, Spirit-empowered gifts to serve one another. As children of God, chosen by Him and placed within His family, we are to live selflessly and sacrificially, treating others as more important than ourselves. Jesus came to serve, not be served, and we are to have that same mindset.

The use of our spiritual gifts is to build up the body of Christ, not our own reputation. We use our gifts to serve, not to impress others or to gain recognition for our superior spirituality. When we use our gifts properly, they bring glory to God. In fact, Peter tells us our gifts are given by God for good of the body of Christ, and they must be used properly so that “God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV). Paul told the believers in Corinth:

4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 NLT

Our goal in life is to bring glory to God. That’s why Peter wraps up this short section with the words: “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” He is the one who called us. He is the one who provided His own Son as the payment for our sins. He is the one who raised Jesus back to life. He is the one who provided the Spirit for us and placed Him within us. He is the one who instructed the Spirit to give us gifts so that we might build up one another. And He is the one who has loved us unceasingly and undeservedly. So, why would we not do the same for those around us? We are to serve like Christ. He served us by sacrificing His life. And He is the one who said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unloved, But Undeterred.

I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps? – 2 Corinthians 12:11-18 ESV

Paul confesses that he feels like a fool. All this self-promotion is out of character for him, but he tells the Corinthians that their silence forced him to do it. They are the ones who should have been commending him. They had been the recipients of his ministry and message. They had enjoyed the benefits of his self-sacrifice and loving commitment to share the gospel with them. And as far as Paul was concerned, he had no reason to take a back seat to the “super-apostles” who were setting themselves up as his spiritual superiors. He had come to them as an apostle of Jesus Christ, armed with the gospel and backed by the power of God as revealed in the signs and wonders he had performed while among them. This had been Paul’s modus operandi everywhere he went.

Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum. – Romans 15:18-19 NLT

Paul had not short-changed the Corinthians. He had treated them the same way he had every other Gentile city he had visited. The only difference was that he had not burdened them with providing for his needs while he had ministered among them. Others had funded his ministry, and before that, he had paid his way by working as a tent maker. And yet, there were those who were accusing him of deception and craftiness, claiming that he acted as if he was sacrificing on their behalf, while hiding the fact that he was receiving outside aid. There were others who were saying that Paul had simply gotten money from them by sending his surrogates to collect it, under the guise that it was going to be used for the saints in Jerusalem. In other words, they were accusing Paul of sending Titus and others to take up a collection, all the while using that money for himself. It seems that, in the eyes of the Corinthians, Paul could do nothing right. His actions were constantly under attack and his motives were always suspect.

But Paul pledges to keep on loving and giving whether they return the favor or not. It is his sincere desire to return to Corinth for a third time and he intends to act in the same way he always had. He will love them like a father loves his children. And while he would greatly desire that love to be reciprocal, he wasn’t going to let their lack of love prevent him from doing the will of God. He tells them, “I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me” (2 Corinthians 12:15 NLT). Everything Paul had done for them, he had done out of love. He had sacrificed greatly in order that they might received the gospel. He had already written two other letters intending the encourage them in their faith and to provide them with wise counsel regarding real-life scenarios taking place in their midst. He was like a loving father, gladly providing for the needs of his children, willingly sacrificing his own needs on their behalf. And while he would have longed for them to return his love, he would not let their distrust and disloyalty sway his actions, because all his efforts were motivated by his desire to please his heavenly Father. When all was said and done, Paul was out to please God, not men. He was looking for the praise of God, not the praise of men.

Paul’s only regret was that he was having to waste time defending himself before the Corinthians. There were other pressing needs he would have preferred to address. Instead of wasting time “boasting” about his qualifications and defending his actions, he would have liked to have been helping them grow in their faith. Paul was a teacher, yet he having to spend all his time playing defense attorney. He could have given up. He could have decided enough was enough and written the Corinthians off as too stubborn and hard-headed to waste any more of his valuable time on them. But Paul was committed to their spiritual well-being. He was not content to see them languish in their faith and settle for the status quo. He was going to allow their complacency to deter his commitment to the call of Christ on his life. He was out to make disciples, and nothing was going to stand in his way, including the false accusations of false apostles, the lack of love from those to whom he had shared the gospel, or the constant demand that he defend his actions. His attitude remained, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”

Blessed To Bless.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9-15 ESV

Paul makes it clear that his call for the Corinthians to give to the needs of the Judean Christians was not a command. “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine” (2 Corinthians 8:8 ESV). He knew that if he commanded that they give, their doing so would be out of a sense of legalism, not love. Their giving would be grudgingly, not willingly. It would be accompanied by regret, not rejoicing. It was Paul’s sincere desire that their giving be based on their understanding of and appreciation for all that Jesus Christ had done for them.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9 NLT

Jesus sacrificed all that He had in order to pay for the sins of mankind. He gave His own life in order to redeem lost men and women, trapped in the debt they owed due to sin, and condemned to eternal separation from God. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul elaborates on the remarkable grace of Jesus and how it should motivate the believer’s life.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
     that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
     and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:3-11 NLT

The same attitude that Christ had. That is what Paul is calling the Corinthians to have. Humble. Selfless. Sacrificial. Obedient. Loving. And willing to finish what He started, to complete what He had been called to do – out of obedience to His heavenly Father and love for those He came to save.

Paul calls on the Corinthians to follow Christ’s lead and to finish what they began. A year earlier they had begun the process of giving toward the needs of the saints in Judea, but had evidently failed to finish the job. So Paul gives them a little friendly advice or counsel.

Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. – 2 Corinthians 8:10-11 NLT

Paul was not asking them to “give until it hurts” or to give what they did not have. This was not about the redistribution of wealth or some form of socialistic economic equality. It was simply the love of Christ lived out in everyday life, as the body of Christ ministered to itself, one group sharing what it had with those who had nothing. The blessed being a blessing. As Paul had told the Philippian believers, the mutual care and concern of Christians for one another was to be nothing more than an extension of their relationship with Christ.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. – Philippians 2:1-2 NLT

While reciprocity or payback should not motivate our giving, Paul points out that the day may come when the tables are turned. We may find ourselves on the receiving end of someone else’s generous and loving aid. When there are needs to be met, we are to give out of what we have – no more, no less. We are to give selflessly, even sacrificially, because we share a common bond in Christ. And in giving, we should be encouraged to know that, should we ever find ourselves in need, our brothers and sisters in Christ will be there for us as well. We are a family. We share the love of God. We have a common bond in Christ.

The principle at play here is the sovereign blessing of God on His people. Paul uses the Old Testament story of the Exodus as an illustration. When the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, God had met their needs, including providing them with food to eat. In the evening, God provided them with quail. In the mornings, they found manna. And each day, the people would go out and gather the manna, provided to them by God. They were commanded by Moses:

“Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.” And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. – Exodus 16:16-18 ESV

God had provided and no one had need. And there was no need for anyone to hoard. In fact, if they attempted to keep more than they needed for their own personal needs, it rotted. God did not want them depending on the manna for their needs. He wanted them to trust in Him. He gave them what they needed and no one had any need. No one went hungry. That same principle applied to the people of Corinth. God was meeting their needs. They had all they required to exist. There was no need to hoard or selfishly withhold the blessings of God for a rainy day. Whatever the Corinthians enjoyed by way of abundance had been made possible by God. And their excess was not intended for their own security, but for the needs of others. Just as our spiritual gifts are intended for the body and not for our own benefit, so our financial blessings are intended for the good of all. God blesses us so that we might be a blessing to others.

 

 

Follow the Servant-Leader.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV

If we didn’t know much about Paul, this simple statement could come across as little more than prideful arrogance. It sounds a lot like someone with an over-inflated sense of spiritual self-worth. But this is the same Paul who said, “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – and I am the worst of them all” (1 Timothy 1:15 NLT). He knew he was far from perfect and had a flawed past. “I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church” (1 Corinthians 15:9 NLT). At one point, he even referred to himself as “the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8 ESV). So Paul was far from a braggart. He wasn’t one to boast of his spiritual superiority or set himself up as some kind of icon of virtue. He was honest about his short-comings and always transparent about his life being a work in process.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:12-14 NLT

So how could Paul have the audacity to say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”? How could he set himself up as an example to follow? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for him to simply say, “Imitate Christ”? Shouldn’t He be our focus, and not Paul? But it is essential that we not take this verse out of its context. For three chapters Paul has been dealing with an issue within the body of Christ in Corinth involving the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Most of what he has addressed has had to do with the legitimate rights of believers and their freedom in Christ. But his point of emphasis has been that their rights were never to trump their obligation to live compassionately and sacrificially among their fellow believers, as well as the lost. First and foremost, their goal should be the glory of God and the spiritual good of those around them. In order for the gospel to be lived out and spread about, it will require that they die to themselves. Their rights will have to take a back seat to the will of God and the spiritual well-being of others. And Paul has used himself as an example of that very lifestyle. “Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33 NLT). Then he follows up this statement with his call, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT).

Unlike the original 12 disciples, we don’t have the benefit of having seen Christ with our own two eyes. We have not been privileged to watch Him work, hear Him teach or witness His selfless lifestyle firsthand. On the very night He would be betrayed, He washed the feet of the disciples, then said to them: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:12-15 ESV). This was not about washing feet, but about servant leadership. Jesus was their teacher and Lord, and yet He was willing to set aside His rights and privileges to serve them. He willingly stooped down and washed their filthy feet, rather than rightfully demanding that they wash His. Jesus went on to tell them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16 ESV). He was telling His disciples that they, His servants and messengers, were not to view themselves as somehow better than Him, unwilling to serve like He served and sacrifice as He sacrificed. They were to follow His example and serve those to whom He would send them.

It was the apostle John who wrote, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:5-6 ESV). So in a sense, we are to emulate or imitate Christ. We are to walk as He walked. But at the same time, if that is the way we live our lives, we should be able to call others to follow our example. In doing so, we are not claiming to have arrived at Christ-like perfection, but that we are faithfully attempting to live our lives in keeping with the example of Christ. Paul knew that his rights were never to stand in the way of the gospel, because He knew that Jesus had never let His will get in the way of His Father’s divine plan for His life and for mankind’s redemption. On the night of His betrayal and arrest, as Jesus prayed in the garden, He pleaded with His Father, “if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT). In His humanity, Jesus dreaded the pain and suffering He was about to face. His human nature was no more a fan of pain than your would be. But His divinity knew that He must accomplish the will of His Father, even though it meant that He must give His life. And Paul reminds us that, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).

Paul was willing to follow the example of Christ. He was willing to die if necessary for the sake of the gospel. And even if God did not require his life, Paul was willing to give up his rights and privileges to see that others came to know Christ. He was willing to sacrifice anything and everything to see that believers in Christ grew in their knowledge of Him and in their likeness to Him. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. So when we imitate Christ, we honor Him. And when we invite others to imitate our lives, we are taking a huge risk. We are telling them that they can do as we do and say as we say, because we are simply following the example of Christ Himself. And it all begins with sacrificial service and selfless love, putting the needs of others ahead of our own.

Follow the Servant-Leader.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV

If we didn’t know much about Paul, this simple statement could come across as little more than prideful arrogance. It sounds a lot like someone with an over-inflated sense of spiritual self-worth. But this is the same Paul who said, “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – and I am the worst of them all” (1 Timothy 1:15 NLT). He knew he was far from perfect and had a flawed past. “I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church” (1 Corinthians 15:9 NLT). At one point, he even referred to himself as “the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8 ESV). So Paul was far from a braggart. He wasn’t one to boast of his spiritual superiority or set himself up as some kind of icon of virtue. He was honest about his short-comings and always transparent about his life being a work in process.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:12-14 NLT

So how could Paul have the audacity to say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”? How could he set himself up as an example to follow? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for him to simply say, “Imitate Christ”? Shouldn’t He be our focus, and not Paul? But it is essential that we not take this verse out of its context. For three chapters Paul has been dealing with an issue within the body of Christ in Corinth involving the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Most of what he has addressed has had to do with the legitimate rights of believers and their freedom in Christ. But his point of emphasis has been that their rights were never to trump their obligation to live compassionately and sacrificially among their fellow believers, as well as the lost. First and foremost, their goal should be the glory of God and the spiritual good of those around them. In order for the gospel to be lived out and spread about, it will require that they die to themselves. Their rights will have to take a back seat to the will of God and the spiritual well-being of others. And Paul has used himself as an example of that very lifestyle. “Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33 NLT). Then he follows up this statement with his call, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT).

Unlike the original 12 disciples, we don’t have the benefit of having seen Christ with our own two eyes. We have not been privileged to watch Him work, hear Him teach or witness His selfless lifestyle firsthand. On the very night He would be betrayed, He washed the feet of the disciples, then said to them: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:12-15 ESV). This was not about washing feet, but about servant leadership. Jesus was their teacher and Lord, and yet He was willing to set aside His rights and privileges to serve them. He willingly stooped down and washed their filthy feet, rather than rightfully demanding that they wash His. Jesus went on to tell them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16 ESV). He was telling His disciples that they, His servants and messengers, were not to view themselves as somehow better than Him, unwilling to serve like He served and sacrifice as He sacrificed. They were to follow His example and serve those to whom He would send them.

It was the apostle John who wrote, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:5-6 ESV). So in a sense, we are to emulate or imitate Christ. We are to walk as He walked. But at the same time, if that is the way we live our lives, we should be able to call others to follow our example. In doing so, we are not claiming to have arrived at Christ-like perfection, but that we are faithfully attempting to live our lives in keeping with the example of Christ. Paul knew that his rights were never to stand in the way of the gospel, because He knew that Jesus had never let His will get in the way of His Father’s divine plan for His life and for mankind’s redemption. On the night of His betrayal and arrest, as Jesus prayed in the garden, He pleaded with His Father, “if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT). In His humanity, Jesus dreaded the pain and suffering He was about to face. His human nature was no more a fan of pain than your would be. But His divinity knew that He must accomplish the will of His Father, even though it meant that He must give His life. And Paul reminds us that, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).

Paul was willing to follow the example of Christ. He was willing to die if necessary for the sake of the gospel. And even if God did not require his life, Paul was willing to give up his rights and privileges to see that others came to know Christ. He was willing to sacrifice anything and everything to see that believers in Christ grew in their knowledge of Him and in their likeness to Him. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. So when we imitate Christ, we honor Him. And when we invite others to imitate our lives, we are taking a huge risk. We are telling them that they can do as we do and say as we say, because we are simply following the example of Christ Himself. And it all begins with sacrificial service and selfless love, putting the needs of others ahead of our own.

Right, Not Wrong.

But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. – 1 Corinthians 13:7-9 ESV

Paul was the consummate pastor. He had a pastor's heart and cared deeply for the people under his care, whether they were part of church he helped start or members of a fellowship he had never had the pleasure of meeting. And as a result of his pastor's heart, Paul prayed pastoral prayers. At one point, Paul had urged the elders of the church in Ephesus, “So guard yourselves and God's people. Feed and shepherd God's flock--his church, purchased with his own blood--over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). He wanted the elders to share his heart for the people of God. In Paul's mind, the members of the local fellowship were far more important than he was. They took precedence over his own well-being, safety and reputation. Paul wasn't in it for the glory or the gain. He didn't do what he did for recognition or reward. He was a servant of God, serving the people of God – selflessly and sacrificially. And the great desire of his heart was that they do might do what was right. He wanted them to live godly lives in Christ Jesus. He wanted them to understand the full scope and benefit of the gospel message. It was that message that was the heart and soul of his ministry, and he would never have done anything to harm or alter that message in any way. Paul was willing to suffer persecution, misunderstanding, rejection, physical abuse, verbal threats, false accusations and assaults on his character – all in order that the people of God might live godly lives. If he had to appear weak in order for those whom he discipled to become strong, so be it. Paul knew that his calling by Christ was to a life of service and humility. So he put himself last and the people he served, first.

And as usual, Paul turned to God for help. He prayed. He prayed regularly and fervently. He prayed expectantly and hopefully. He asked His loving Father to provide the strength, wisdom, and guidance needed so that the flock might live according to His will. It is God's desire that we do right, not wrong. When we pray for spiritual growth and godliness in the lives of others we can pray with assurance, because we are praying within God's will. “God's will is for you to be holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). God's greatest desire for His children is their continual transformation into the likeness of His Son. And so that is what Paul prayed for. That is what he longed for and expected God to bring about, because he knew that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). Ultimately, Paul's prayer was for the perfection. He was longing for the day when they would be fully completed in Christ. He knew that God was in the process of perfecting them, sanctifying them, step by step, from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). Christ-likeness is the objective. Godliness is the goal. And in the meantime, it should be our prayer that each believer live their lives, empowered by God's Spirit, and doing that which is pleasing to God – that which is right, not wrong. Only God can give us new hearts. Only God can transform our behavior. But we can pray to that end – regularly, expectantly, passionately and thankfully.

Spiritual Siblings.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been fathered by God, and everyone who loves the father loves the child fathered by him. By this we know that we love the children of God: whenever we love God and obey his commandments. – 1 John 5:1-2 NET

1 John 5:1-7

John has made it painfully and perfectly clear that, as believers, we are to love one another. He brings it up again here in chapter five. But as we learned in 1 John 4:7-21, we don't get to determine the definition or standard of that love. We are to love one another with a godly love – a love that cares deeply about our spiritual well-being. It is not that we are to ignore or overlook one another's physical, financial, or emotional needs, but I love you the most when I desire for you God's best. God sent His Son to die on the cross so that we might have new life, eternal life. He sacrificed His own Son so that we might be redeemed, not just get slightly improved. God's love for us desired His best for us. And it always does.

So I am to love my spiritual siblings with that kind of love. Which means I am to care deeply about their spiritual well being. So I am no longer free to simply address surface issues and ignore the heart issues that lie hidden underneath. I am not free to watch my brothers and sisters wallow in spiritual mediocrity and complacency. As their brother in Christ, I have a God-given obligation to love them as I have been loved. And I should be willing to sacrifice everything to see that they grow in Christ-likeness, mature in their faith, and increase in their knowledge of God. Paul told the believers in Galatia: “Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I'm going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives” (Galatians 4:19 NLT). He encouraged the believers in Ephesus, “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:15-16 NLT). As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to help one another grow. Christianity is not a solo-sport, it is a group effort. We are to grow together. The pastors and teachers are “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church … until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13 NLT). The pastor's job is to equip the people to do God's work, which is to build up the church – the body of Christ. And we are not supposed to stop that work until we are all mature in the Lord and fully like Him. And as far as I can tell from Scripture, that will not take place until God calls us home or the Lord returns for His Church. So we have work to do. We have job security. Our task of loving one another will not end until we are all like Christ. And even then, our love will not cease. But rather than being geared toward mutual transformation, it will become much more focused on mutual adoration – love for one another and for God. Paul tells us, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT). Love is eternal, because God is eternal. God is love.

On this earth, our love for one another is put to the test because sin can make each of us unlovely and unlovable. But we are to love as we have been loved by God. Our goal is not reciprocal love, where we demand something in return. It is to be selfless and sacrificial, desiring God's best for the other person. My love for my brothers and sisters in Christ is to be based on God's love for them, His desire for them. I should want for them what He would want for them. God's will is their holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:3). That should be my will for them as well. John tells us the proof of our love for God is that we keep His commandments. And Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love God and others as ourselves. And John says, “his commandments do not weigh us down” (1 John 5:3 NET). We don't find them burdensome or hard to bear. In fact, we should enjoy loving one another, because we see fruit, we witness spiritual transformation, we watch as God transforms those we love into the likeness of His Son. We love one another most when we desire for one another God's BEST.

Abide In God (Love)

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. – 1 John 4:16 ESV

In the verse above, John makes the statement that “God is love.” It is His essence, not just a characteristic of who He is. For John and the other apostles, to have experienced the love of God was to have experienced God Himself. Why? Because God expressed His love for mankind by sending His own Son to die on their behalf and in their place, in order to satisfy the judgment of God against their sins. So when they accepted that gift by believing in His Son, they experienced a love like nothing they had ever known before. They became the recipients of an other-worldly kind of love, the love of God, and through Jesus, came to know God better than they had ever known Him before. They discovered what true love really looks like and they found out what it feels like to abide in that love. And their strong belief was that, to abide in God was to abide in His love. And vice versa, to abide in His love was to abide in Him. Remember, John has said, “No one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12 ESV). But those of us who are in Christ have experienced and known His love. And when we love one another in the same way that He and His Son have loved us, we abide in that same love. We experience the love of God all over again. The love that we are commanded to share with one another is the same love we have received. But we must be careful to ensure that we do not redefine love to fit our temporal, human sentiments.

One of the dangers we face is when we wrongly conclude that if God is love, then love must be God. Notice that John did not say, “Love is God.” When we flip this around we end up with love as the supreme good, not God. And because we are human, we tend to make love all about us. We end up putting ourselves at the center of that love. And that love is best expressed in terms we define and dictate. In other words, we conclude, “I feel most love when __________________.” You fill in the blank. In other words, we make a list of things we believe will make us feel loved. If God gives me a good job that pays me good money and makes me feel fulfilled, then He loves me. If God heals my disease and gives me a long life, then I will know that He loves me. If God gives me someone to marry who is highly attractive and fun to be with, then I will feel loved by Him. But what's the problem with all of this? The natural conclusion is that if we don't get what we want, we feel unloved by God. We have defined love on our terms and if God doesn't love us the way we want to be loved, then He is unloving. Frederick Buechner wrote, “To say that love is God is romantic idealism. To say that God is love is either the last straw or the ultimate truth.” Sometimes the love of God will come across as hate to us. We will not feel loved. Because God's deepest concern for us is not for our happiness, but our holiness. There will be times when God does not give us what we desire. Because He does not love us? No, because He DOES love us, and He alone knows what is BEST for us. Paul prayed repeatedly that God would remove “the thorn in my flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). But God did not answer those prayers. At least not in the terms Paul was expecting. But what was Paul's conclusion? “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). Each time Paul had prayed for what he believed he needed, God had lovingly told him, “‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). God had something far greater He wanted to do in Paul's life. His love is always redemptive and restorative, but with an emphasis on the future. God did not promise us our best life now. His love has an eschatological or future aspect to it. These bodies are impermanent. They will not last and were not designed to do so. He has something far better in store for us. Ultimately, God's love is focused on who we are in Him and what we will be when His Son returns.

So what if we loved one another the way God loves us, the way Christ loved us? What if our greatest expression of love for one another was focused on God's desire to sanctify those that are His and redeem those who are not? I am NOT suggesting that we do not meet physical or emotional needs. John has made it clear that love must be practical and tangible. But as children of God, our love must have a greater, deeper focus than the alleviation of temporal suffering. To love as God has loved us is to care deeply about one another's spiritual well-being. It is to sacrifice all that you have in order to see another human being reconciled, made right with God. Paul reminds us, “Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV). Our love for others must ultimately be about their reconciliation to God. God's love is always redemptive, restorative, and regenerative in nature. It is about far more than our happiness or temporal well-being. And we must remain in, abide in that kind of love – embracing it, sharing it, displaying it, and spreading it to all those around us.

The Mind of Christ.

Philippians 1:27-2:11

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

Paul starts out this section with a reminder to "live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ" (Philippians 1:27 NLT). But because this statement could be taken in a thousand different ways, Paul clarifies what he means. For one thing, it entails "standing together with one spirit and one purpose fighting together for the faith" (Philippians 1:27b NLT). Living as a citizen of heaven involves living in unity as part of a community and sharing a common cause. There is to be a mutual care for and dependence upon one another as together we do battle against those forces that would oppose the Good News of Jesus Christ. And because we are in a war for the faith, Paul tells us not to allow ourselves to be intimidated by our enemies. They are real, but so is our God, who will stand beside us, fight for us, and ultimately save us. The battle in which we find ourselves is proof that our faith is real. Jesus Himself told us that we would suffer in this life. He also told us that the world would hate us. The battle is part of the cost and the privilege of following Christ. But we are to do it together, not alone.

Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions designed to accentuate the value of our relationship with Christ. "Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?" (Philippians 2:1 NLT). The obvious answer to each of these questions is, "Yes!" But we experience the encouragement, love, fellowship, and tender compassion in the midst of community. That is how God has chosen for this to work. The body of Christ is the context in which the love of Christ is lived out. It is the environment in which we are to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News. And Paul gives us a very vivid description of just what that should look like. It is to be characterized by a single-minded, unified expression of love, focus and purpose. While the local church is a unique blend of different individuals from diverse backgrounds, with a variety of gifts, talents, and personality types, it is to reflect a Spirit-enabled unity that is not of this world. To conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News is to live together in such a way that our actions and attitudes toward one another reflect the change that has taken place within us. Our new lives are to be characterized by selflessness rather than selfishness, humility rather than pride, a senses of mutual care rather than individual concern. The attitude or mindset that we are to have is the same one Jesus Himself displayed when He walked this earth. And Paul carefully and eloquently describes just what that mind of Christ was like.

Jesus, though God, willingly demoted Himself to the position of a man by taking on human flesh. He did not become any less God, but He left His place at the right hand of the Father and allowed Himself to be born as a human baby, the most helpless, dependent, weak and non-influential form He could have taken. Not only that, when Jesus was born, His whole intent was to become a slave to all men, to serve all men by giving His life as payment for their sins. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45 NLT). He came in order to take "the humble position of a slave." And in His human form, His life was characterized by complete and total obedience to the will of His Father. "For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will" (John 6:38 NLT). "My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work" (John 4:34 NLT). And the obedience of Jesus was so complete that it resulted in His death on the cross as a substitute payment for the sins of men. That was God's plan and Jesus fulfilled it willingly and completely. Humility, selflessness, obedience. Those attributes represent the mindset that Jesus had and are to present in the lives of those who call themselves His followers. Paul tells us we are to have the same attitude or mindset. We are to reflect His character, and the most logical place for this to show up is within the body of Christ, the church. We are to live as citizens of heaven, which is where we will all spend eternity together. But we are to live that way here and now, conducting ourselves in a way that is in keeping with the life-changing, heart-altering power of the Gospel. We have been saved by Christ in order that we might live like Christ. Our greatest testimony is not just what He has done for us, but what He is doing through us as we live out our salvation in mutual love, selflessness, sacrifice, humility and unity. We truly are the hands, feet, heart, and voice of Christ on this earth. May we live as He did. May we love as He did. May we impact lives as He did. Together.

Father, give us the mind of Christ. May we learn to live our lives in such a way that they reflect His presence within us. Oh, that we would allow His Spirit to empower and direct us, causing us to live increasingly more selflessly, instead of selfishly. Show us how to live as citizens of heaven, where we will one day spend eternity together. Bring these verses alive in our daily lives in a real and tangible way. Amen.

What Difference Does It Make?

Romans 12:1-16

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 NLT

Paul launches this next section of his letter with the words, "And so…." Some translations use the word, "Therefore…." Which reminds me of an old adage that says, when you see the word, therefore, in Scripture, always ask what it's there for. What is the writer trying to tell you? It is almost always used as a transition from one train of thought to another. It is used to tie when section to another, and so it is here as Paul makes his transition from the end of chapter 11 to the beginning of chapter 12. Up until this point in his letter Paul has been stressing the sin of man and the grace of God. He has stressed the universality of man's sinful state and his inability to save Himself. He has spoken of God's gracious gift of salvation made possible through His Son's death on the cross. He has contrasted faith and works. He has reminded his readers of the freedom found in Christ – freedom from having to try and keep the Law in order to have a right relationship with God. He has written of God's mercy, love and faithfulness – illustrated in His plan to fulfill every single promise He has made to the people of Israel – despite their constant unfaithfulness to Him.

And then Paul says, "And so…." With all of that in mind, here is what we are to do. This is where Paul moves from the theological to the practical. As a result of all that he has told us about God, man, sin, salvation, the Spirit, freedom, grace, mercy, eternity, and love, here is how we should respond. Paul pleads with us to give our bodies to God as living and holy sacrifices. Why? Because of all He has done for us. Paul is going to begin with what our reaction should be to God. That is the most important relationship any man can have. All of our other earthly relationships with human beings are insignificant and immaterial if we do not have a right relationship with God. So Paul begs us to respond to God's mercy, grace, goodness, sovereignty and love with an attitude of willing submission. We are to offer ourselves to Him for His use. In doing so we are acknowledging that we belong to Him and Him alone. Elsewhere Paul wrote, "You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT). But it is interesting to notice that Paul's emphasis is on the group, not the individual in his letter to the Romans. He pleads with them to give "your bodies" as a living sacrifice. It is to be a group effort, not an individual one. Paul is going to stress what it looks like to live as a holy sacrifice to God and it is going to involve our interactions with one another as believers and our relationships with non-believing world in which we live.

Paul exhorts them to NOT copy the behaviors and customs of this world. As a group, they are to live lives that are set apart and distinct from the world around them. Part of living as a sacrifice to God is allowing Him to do with us as He wishes. And part of God's desire for us is to transform the way we think. He wants to renew our minds and transform us into the likeness of His Son. And there's no better way to see that transformation take place than in our relationships with one another. Paul makes it painfully practical. "Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us" (Romans 12:3b NLT). When God starts changing the way we think, we will see ourselves and others differently. Rather than living lives marked by pride and self-centeredness, we will begin to display humility toward others and develop a healthy assessment of who we are in Christ. We will understand that God has placed us in the body of Christ, given us gifts for the good of the body, and challenged us to live with and love one another. And we are not to live hypocritically or insincerely. Our love must be real, involving self-sacrifice and eager enthusiasm. As God transforms our way of thinking, we will begin to even bless those who persecute us. In other words, we'll develop the capacity to love the unloving and unlovely. We'll learn to love in ALL of our relationships and in all circumstances, developing a harmony and unity that is not of this world.

That kind of living is holy, sacrificial living. It is pleasing and honoring to God, because it reveals the very power of God in our lives. No one can live and love that way unless God makes it possible. It takes the saving work of Jesus Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to bring about that kind of radical transformation. But we must choose to offer ourselves as sacrifices to God, for Him to do with as He wishes. It all begins there – with a willing submission to the will of God. We must constantly give in to Him so that He can impart into us. In the end, this kind of life is the greatest form of worship to God.

Father, continue to show me how to live out this passage. It is so easy to talk about being living sacrifices, but it is another thing to live it out in real life. I keep wanting to crawl down off the altar. But I really do want to see You continue to change the way I think and transform my behavior. And I realize that the greatest illustration of those things taking place will be in how I react to and relate with others. That includes not only my fellow believers, but the lost world around me. Amen.

The Lasting Legacy of Love.

1 Corinthians 13

Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

This section of Paul's letter has come to be known as the famous "love chapter." It is a staple at most weddings and has come to be the consummate statement from the Scriptures on the topic of love. And while what it has to say about love is completely applicable to the context of a marriage relationship, it is essential that we not lose sight of the situation going on in Corinth that caused Paul to write these words to begin with.

There was a great deal of disunity and division going on among the believers in Corinth. A spirit of selfishness and self-centeredness had crept into their fellowship and was causing all kinds of strife and animosity. They were even taking one another to court. There was a certain sense of spiritual pride among them, that was causing them to treat one another with disrespect. An attitude of spiritual aloofness and arrogance was evident because of the way they treated one another. There was a marked lack of love. Personal rights and freedoms ran rough shod over love for others. It seems that they were even using the spiritual gifts as a barometer of self-worth and a badge of honor. Certain gifts were seen as more important and, as a result, were more eagerly coveted among them. These more "significant" gifts had become a source of bragging rights for some within the fellowship. But Paul brings them back down to earth and provides them with a sobering reminder of what is really important among the people of God. There is one essential ingredient that they have ignored and which, if absent, invalidates all their efforts at spirituality and so-called godly living.

What was missing was love. They had salvation. They had all the spiritual gifts among them. They had their new-found freedom in Christ. But they lacked love. And Paul let them know that it really didn't matter whether they could work miracles, predict the future, or speak in foreign languages – without love, all of their efforts were worthless. Love is to permeate and motivate all that we do as Christians. The spiritual gifts performed without the spirit of love are a waste to breath, time, energy and effort. The outward evidence of spirituality among the Corinthian believers was little more than hypocrisy without the inner reality of love. And the kind of love Paul was speaking of was not some kind of sappy, sentimental emotion. It was a rubber-meets-the-road kind of attitude that expressed itself in action and showed up in the worst of circumstances and expressed itself to the least lovable and most undeserving. This kind of love showed up in the form of patience, kindness, humility rather than pride, selflessness, forgiveness, trust, hope, perseverance, and truth. In other words, this kind of love is the very essence of the gospel and a snap shot of the way in which Jesus Christ loved us.

Love is eternal. It lasts. It has staying power. So much of what we seek and what we place our hope in in this world is temporal and short-lived. It doesn't last. Our acts of service fail to make a lasting impression because so often they are done without love. Our words of wisdom seem to fall on deaf ears because what we say, while possibly profound, is lacking in love. All our efforts on behalf of God – done without love – are a waste of our time and a lousy measurement of our spirituality. Long after words of knowledge, tongues, prophecy, healing and the other spiritual gifts are gone, love will remain. Because God is love. It is not what He does, it is part of who He is. Love is His nature, His essence. And as His children, we share in that divine nature. Our love for one another – in spite of one another – is the greatest proof of our spiritual heritage and validates our claim to be sons and daughters of God. Love is our divine DNA. It has been passed down from the Father to His children. It is the very essence of who we are and it is to the motivating factor behind all that we do.

Father, like the Corinthians, we find love too often missing from our midst. We have allowed selfishness and self-centeredness to replace the sacrificial, selfless love that we have been called to express to one another and to this lost and dying world. Bring us back to the heart of love. May our love not only be visible, but practical. May the world truly know we are disciples of Jesus Christ because of our love. Amen.

The Intimacy of Honesty.

Proverbs 24

"An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” – Proverbs 24:26 NIV

Honesty is in short supply these days. We live in a world mired in half-truths and deception. Oh, we have plenty of people who claim to "tell it like it is." But this is usually just another way of saying that they have an opinion and aren't afraid to share it – no matter how many people they hurt along the way. Honesty in the Hebrew scriptures is about much more than bluntness or frankness of speech. It's not just speaking your mind or getting something off your chest. It has to do with saying the right or equitable thing. There is an aspect of appropriateness and timeliness to honesty. It entails a certain degree of sensitivity and intimacy. Thus, the comparison in the passage to a kiss on the lips. In Solomon's day, a kiss on the lips carried a lot of meaning. It was not something done lightly or flippantly. It signified love, devotion, sincerity, and commitment. It was a visible expression of what was in the heart. To kiss someone insincerely would have been unacceptable. To kiss someone on the lips would have given them the impression that you cared for them and that your relationship with them was close. But to do so insincerely, but without meaning it, would have been as unacceptable as lying to them.

When we are honest with someone, it is an expression of love. It shows that we care for them. But it is NOT just a willingness to be blunt with them, telling them whatever is on our heart without any regard for their feelings. Honesty involves intimacy. Honesty requires love. We lovingly express what is on our heart because we care and desire the best for them. We think about how best to say what is on our heart, so that those with whom we sharing will receive it well. Our motivation is love. Our desire is that they will benefit from our honesty, not be devastated by it. Sometimes we can attempt to be honest, but our motivation is to hurt, not help. We can say what is on our mind, simply out of anger or in an attempt to teach the other person a lesson. But the honesty Solomon is talking about is always for the good of the other. It has the other person's best interest at heart, because it comes from the heart. It is honesty that aims at building the other person up, not tearing them down. It is honesty that is selfless, not selfish. We share what we share because we wish to make the other person better, not because we're out to prove a point or voice our opinion. An honest answer is a loving answer. It is saying what needs to be said because you care for someone deeply.

Father, give us the capacity to be honest with one another because we truly care for one another. Teach us to share intimately and honestly out of love. Reveal to us any selfishness or self-centeredness that may be getting in the way. Help us to see when we our attempts at honesty are nothing more than poorly veiled efforts to hurt the other person. May our honesty always be motivated by love and focused on the well-being of the other person. Amen.