Living a Life of Love

In James 2.1-13, James is showing the need for total obedience. We must speak and act and keep speaking and keep acting as those that are under God’s law, God’s standards for life. Because this is God’s law, it brings a wonderful liberty, like a train that runs better when on it’s tracks, your life will be better if you run on the tracks God has set before you which here is not showing partiality and keeping the law.

Total obedience is the key.

If we ever want to grow in faith, complete and consistent obedience is needed.

What a heavy burden.

Can you imagine if this was it? 

Would this message preach in a synagogue? I think it would.

Do this, don’t do that. Keep the law. Nothing distinctly Christian about that, is there.

The only way to keep the law is to keep the law, every last iota of it, every last t crossed and i dotted. Every single thing, every single time.

This is crushingly bad news, isn’t it. Can you feel the weight and hopelessness of this? That you must keep the entire law and not ever love anyone less than anyone else even though it is so natural and fleshly to love some more than others, to esteem some more highly than others, to discriminate both positively and negatively. 

It would be easy to read this passage in James and feel more burdened wouldn’t it; you need to be so careful to love each and every person equally because if you don’t you are sending yourself to hell. 

Wow, that’s heavy. Can you do that?

Can you honestly say that you can look at any person, from any place, in any condition, and love them? That you can guarantee that whoever walks in the church door, in whatever condition, you are going to unconditionally love them without any thought of oh no, no thanks?

If we could do this, we would do this, but we don’t, do we. 

It’s so easy to read texts like this and put ourselves in the wrong position, isn’t it. So we read this and we think well, yes, people discriminate against me, I am the victim here, come Lord Jesus and vindicate me!

Or, we go all the way to the other end of the scale and think oh yes, I am fair and equitable in my love, I freely give of myself to any and all that ask me without hesitation or discrimination.

But, in truth, in this text, we are those showing discrimination, we are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors, we are those whose actions are leading us away from God and not towards Him. We are those who are committing the sin of partiality. That’s bad news, isn’t it. 

But do you know what? There was One who loved like this. Who looks at the heart and not the outer appearance. There was One who loved without partiality. 

There was One who loved, and loves, Jew, Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, rich, poor, male, female, old, young, you, and me.

There was One who kept every last iota of the law and fulfilled it.

One who wants to transfer this earned righteousness to you simply by His grace through faith.

Of course we’re talking about Jesus. 

Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light, because He has carried it. 

The law of liberty that we are under is still a law to be obeyed, but because He has saved you and you are full of love for Him, you are under the law of liberty, you put yourself under that law, and you seek to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and you seek to love your neighbour as yourself. 

You know He has fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law, you know that He has given you the righteousness He earned and when God looks at you He sees the righteousness of Christ, so you take this truth, you internalise it, you take the amazing, saving, life changing, life giving grace and you put that to work.

You don’t work to love people to be saved,

you work to love people because you are saved.

You cannot keep the law to earn your way to God, and as we work through James we must must remember this; we cannot and must not try to do all of these things through compulsion as those under law.

He already did this. 

“There was One who loved, and loves, Jew, Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, rich, poor, male, female, old, young, you, and me.”

Follow His example because you love Him.

What Am I?

Today, Job asks why he is getting so much attention from God.

What is man, that you make so much of him,
and that you set your heart on him,
visit him every morning
and test him every moment?
How long will you not look away from me,
nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit?

Job 7.17-19

Job is questioning why God is so intent on pursuing him, why God is constantly concerned over him, why God is even bothered that Job exists (vv.17-18). He wants to know why he hasn’t even a second to himself (v.19). 

There is comfort to be taken from knowing that God is intently and intensely interested in you, that there is nowhere you can go or no situation you can be in that escapes His sight and attention. Here, Job seems to be coming from a negative place (…nor leave me alone…), but the very presence which Job is lamenting here will later be seen for the wonderful, loving, enveloping, protecting, reassuring, providential presence it truly is (42.1-6).

Today, if you feel that you are forgotten, if you are wondering why God would be interested in you, think on the truths of God’s Word.

You are known, you are loved, you are intently and intensely pursued by a God who wants what is best for you, and who gave everything He could to prove this to you.

If you are asking yourself ‘what am I?“, you are the object of God’s tremendous love and there is nothing He won’t do to show you that. 

 

Why Is This Happening?

As we continue working through Job, we come to a question that everyone will have asked at some point in their life – why is this happening?

Perhaps the circumstances that led you to ask this question were simply the worst you could have faced, and if that is you I’m sorry you had to endure such a time. Maybe it was an accumulation of small things that got you down, maybe it was just something that happened that was so utterly confusing that you asked yourself why is this happening? In Job 2 we see this question being asked,

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 2.9-10

Job has received horrible news (1.13-19), responded in mourning and worship (1.20), expressed a wisdom and maturity that seems beyond most of us (1.21), and not blamed God for anything (1.22). From here, the Accuser is certain that if his health fails, Job will turn against the Lord (2.1-6). Job is afflicted with loathsome sores that are so bad he needs to scrape himself with broken pottery for relief (2.8). 

Then, the question. Job’s wife clearly doesn’t understand her husband’s resolute faith and dedication to the Lord (perhaps the hardest thing for Job to deal with), and tells him to curse God and die

When faced with life-changing circumstances, tragedies, heartache, loss, pain, distress, or tribulations, we would do well to answer the question of why is this happening with the words of Job here,

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?

Job is not saying that God has afflicted him with evil, but that as the great and good things in our lives are gifts from God sent for our ultimate good, so too the circumstances that may seem to be for our ruin are actually contributing to this ultimate good (Romans 8.26-30). I like how this is phrased, 

[When] adversity comes to us…we are wise to see that even in adversity, there may be a “gift” that we should accept.

This is not easy, this is not pleasant, and nobody seeks these situations out. Friends, they will come. Some things we will never know this side of eternity, and that is so hard for us, isn’t it. When they come, and when we ask why is this happening, let us turn to the Lord in faith and trust that there is Omniscient wisdom behind what is happening, there is a greater good, and even if we don’t know why until we see Him face to face, that what is happening in your life right now is showing God’s great love for you. 

Bad Decisions – Esther 1

Esther is the last of the historical books in the Bible, the next book is Job and with that comes the section commonly known as the wisdom literature. At the time these events took place, the Persian Empire was the biggest empire that the world had ever seen, and archaeology has found remnants of the palace in which many of these dramatic moments happened ¹.

We join the story around 30 years after Ezra had returned to Jerusalem, and around 40 years before Nehemiah would join the returned and endeavour to rebuild the walls of the city. King Ahasuerus, commonly known as Xerxes, consistently comes across as a prideful and arrogant person, and in Esther 1 he is seen to be giving feats for all his officials and servants…while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendour and pomp of his greatness. These feasts, then, seem to be for no other reason than to show off how great he thinks he is.

The king then makes the first of many terrible decisions, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he decides to up the ante of his prideful boasting and parade his wife in front of his friends those gathered. Here is our first lesson; drunk decisions are bad decisions. Paul writes pretty clearly about this,

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit…

Ephesians 5.18

He wants to show the peoples and the princes her beauty, for she was lovely to look at. Different sources will give different interpretations of what was means by show the peoples; some think it meant to dance, some think she was to be paraded in naked, but, either way, Vashti refused and chose instead to keep her modesty and dignity in tact (v.12). However, refusing the king had terrible consequences, and Xerxes was enraged and his anger burned within him

The king then makes another terrible decision when he listens to the bad counsel of Memucan and decrees that Vashti is never to again come before King Ahasuerus. The goal is somewhat noble, that all women will give honour to their husbands, high and low alike, but the method of seeing it through (the deposition of Vashti) was heavy-handed, to say the least.

How thankful we are that to be loved by a God who has the highest of standards for our character, our homes, our marriages, our lives, but never seeks to impart them on us by any other method than love and personal demonstration.

Rather than commanding us to do this and that and hoping we don’t rebel against the harsh and heavy yoke imposed on us, the God of the Bible, God Most High, loves us to the point of death – and resurrection – and would rather demonstrate His love for us than command and decree that we must live as simple robots with flesh and blood, as Xerxes wanted to have Vashti be.

How thankful we are to serve a God who asks us to do nothing more than He did Himself in the person of Jesus, who, though being equal with God, made the decision to [humble] himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2.8). 


 

If you have never read Esther 1, you can do so here;

https://www.esv.org/Esther+1/

2 Timothy 1.6-7 – Fan Into Full Flame

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Paul begins by saying for this reason, so we know we need to look back a few words. So, because of the faith that was in Timothy (v.5), Paul encouraged him to cooperate and communicate with the Lord and for this reason…fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands…It seems that Paul had prayed over Timothy, laid hands on him, and conferred and confirmed the Lord’s gifting in Timothy.

Paul then goes on to say that the reason Timothy should do this, the reason he should take the faith that lives in him and boldly fan into full flame the gifts God has given him is because God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control

David Guzik writes on this,

In 1 and 2 Timothy there are no less than 25 different places where Paul encouraged Timothy to be bold, to not shy away from confrontation, to stand up where he needs to stand up and be strong. Because of who Timothy was and the responsibilities he had to bear, this was what Timothy needed to hear.

The chain of connection is clear; faith > gifts > boldness > power-love-self-control.

The Word of God speaks clearly about the fact that we are all gifted by the Lord (Ephesians 4.10-16). This gifting is to be used boldly because God has given us a spirit of power and love and self-control.

The giftings of God are not to be hidden away – we have been given a spirit of power.

The giftings of God are not to be used to control others – we have been given a spirit of love.

The giftings of God are not to be abused and misused – we have been given a spirit of self-control.

Pause and think – what has God gifted you to do?

What are you good at? How do you best serve people?

I would encourage you today to think on this, then with the faith that dwells in you fan it into full flame with the spirit of power and love and self-control that God has given us. 

A Prophetic Christmas

What are you planning to give people this Christmas?

Did you buy them the latest or greatest — ?

Maybe you’re a person that thinks of gift ideas so easily that this time of year is no problem for you.

Maybe you have no idea what you can give people, and so Christmas is a time where you worry about over/under gifting.

How about a word of prophecy?

Perhaps you hear this word and think of the Old Testament guys and gals who predicted (accurately and without fail) future events concerning God’s people and God’s coming Messiah (Micah 4.8, 5.2, Isaiah9.2-7 for example). Let’s be clear: that is not what we are talking about. That ministry is no more.

However, we do read in 1 Corinthians 14.3 that those who speak a word of prophecy speak to someone for their upbuilding, their encouragement, or they consolation.

On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.

In contrast (on the other hand) to the gift of tongues which is personal and private (1 Corinthians 14.2, 5b, 6, 9, 19), prophecy is for others, prophecy is using your words in accordance with God’s Word to build people up, encourage people, and to console people.

So, this Christmas season, many people are so concerned with many things. Be a person who gives a word of prophecy, a word of upbuilding, a word of encouragement, a word of consolation. Second only to the unmatchable gift of God’s expressed love to you in the person of Jesus, I’m not sure there is anything more we can give people than love, upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation. 

Eggs; the inner egg and the outer shell

In Romans 8.2 we read that the law of the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. We are no longer bound by meticulous religious rules covering everything from our dietary intake to our haircut (good news for some…).

This freedom is liberating, we are now bound only to live the life of the Spirit, in the Spirit, for Christ. If we want to mix milk and meat in a meal, that’s fine. If we want to cut our hair short on the sides and round off the corners of our beards, that’s fine. If you want a tattoo, or to pierce your ears, fine too. If the ladies don’t want to wear a head covering in church, that’s fine too. We are no longer under the law as a heavy yoke, which invariably we would break, which leads to sin, which leads to death. Bad. Now we are living under the Spirit of life. Good.

This means, in a strange sort of way, we are like an egg.

We are free to associate with whoever we want, go wherever we want, eat and drink whatever we want, watch anything we want on the tellybox, be friends with anyone we want. Jesus was not concerned with His outer shell or its appearance, was He? He hung out with some pretty down and dirty people during His incarnational ministry (His time on earth living as fully God and fully man, incarnation literally means ‘in the flesh’).

Like a toddler at meal times, Jesus’ outer egg shell was covered with all sorts of things that people thought it should not be; don’t talk to her, don’t touch them, don’t stay at his house…

Jesus trashed His outer shell, ultimately breaking it for us, but never compromised His inner self.

Therein lies the lesson for us; we are free from the law as a heavy yoke and now have a wonderful liberty as Christians. But, as Jesus ultimately broke His body for our benefit, we need to use our liberty for love, for the benefit of others, not to simply have a good time. 

So yes, we are free to eat, drink, watch whatever we want, but the bigger Christian principles still apply; who is being glorified through what you are doing? Things too, like Philippians 4.8,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

So, yes, we can dirty up our outer shell, but we must never compromise our inner egg. And, if we are dirtying up our outer shell, let us make sure that it is for the benefit of others, using our liberty for love, not lusts.