Belief should impact behavior

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” These are some of the most important and strategic words ever penned in human history. They serve as a halftime address—a coach’s “chalk talk.” Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2 are capable of leading God’s people to victory. But please don’t let your familiarity with these verses lead to passivity. Study them anew and afresh. If you do, God will transform you from the inside out.

 

After devoting eleven chapters to heavy-duty theology, Paul transitions in chapter 12 from doctrine to duty, from creed to conduct, and from belief to behavior. He says, “In light of what God has done, here is how we should live.” To put it another way, the apostle encourages us to turn our theology into “walkology.” In other words, we are to live out our beliefs. Paul uses the imperative thirteen times in the first eleven chapters of Romans; he uses it eleven times in chapter 12 alone! In fact, this chapter has more commands in it than any other chapter of the New Testament. It is a chapter of action! Paul’s thesis is: Beliefs should impact behavior. In 12:1-2 he shares two appropriate responses to the theology of chapters 1-11.

 

  1. Present Your Body (12:1)

This verse is one of the most important in the entire Bible and contains more key theological terms and truths for its size than perhaps any other verse of Scripture. Verse 1 gives the “what” that we are to do in response to God. Paul opens this new unit with the word “Therefore” (oun). This important word begs the question: What is the word “therefore” there for? “Therefore” looks back to all the doctrine that Paul has covered in chapters 1-11. It is a “call to arms,” for the most important part of doctrine is the first two letters. Paul believes that you haven’t really learned the Word until you live the Word. How well have you learned the Word? Have you been applying the truths of Romans? When you study the Bible on your own, do you bring it to bear on your life? Are you just a hearer of the Word or are you a doer of the Word? Only when you become a doer of the Word, have you truly learned the Word.

 

Paul writes, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.” Instead of a command or a demand, Paul urges, or better yet, exhorts his readers (see NET). The verb parakaleo denotes a sense of urgency with a note of authority (cf. 12:8; 15:30; 16:17). This term was used in classical Greek of “exhorting troops who were about to go into battle.” What a great word picture of the Christian life where God is our general and we are enlisted in a spiritual battle. Although parakaleo is a strong word, it is worth noting that the noun form (paraklete) is used to describe the Holy Spirit who comforts, encourages, and exhorts. Paul functions as a Christian coach who challenges and encourages us to reach a particular goal. There is further tenderness in this appeal, for Paul speaks as a Christian brother to other Christian brothers and sisters. This is a family affair!

 

The apostle exhorts us to respond to “the mercies of God.” Although the key word of Romans 9-11 is mercy, Paul’s use of “mercies” refers back to 1:18-11:36. In 1:18-3:20 humankind is described as sinful and condemned. Yet, in 3:21-4:25 God showcases His mercy in the person and work of Christ by offering us salvation as a free gift. In 5:1-8:39 God’s mercy frees us from the law and empowers us to grow up in Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this section we also discover the blessings of full assurance and security in our relationship with God. This leads right into 9:1-11:36 where Paul informs us that God’s love for His people is unconditional. Is God merciful? You better believe it! God chose us, called us, saved us, released us, and will one day take us home to heaven. Indeed, God’s mercies are past finding out (11:33-36)! That is why I’m convinced that the best motivation to live for Christ is a good memory of all of the mercies He has blessed us with.

 

Admittedly, it can be difficult to always be cognizant of God’s mercies. I can often fall back into an unhealthy works-mentality. I can apply this orientation to my personal life, ministry, marriage, and children. When I adopt this faulty motivation, I often see results, but only for a few days. Long-lasting change only occurs when gratitude for God’s mercies is the chief motivation. The Bible’s way of preaching holiness begins by reminding Christians who they are, what they are, and what they have. Who are we? We are the children of God with all of the power of God working on our behalf? Where are we? We are in the kingdom of God and have died to the dominion of sin. What do we have? We have the Holy Spirit, we have Jesus’ intercession working for us, and we have the power of God ready to come to our aid. Hence, the best way to motivate people is to show them what God has done for them and let them rise to the challenge of responding to that love appropriately.

 

In response to God’s mercies, Paul challenges us “to present” (paristemi) our bodies. Although this exhortation is not an imperative, it should be understood as such (cf. 12:2). But please note that Paul does not say “yield” or “surrender” your bodies but “present” them. Yield and surrender are biblical terms, but they imply a measure of reluctance or hesitancy. Present, on the other hand, implies a glad, happy, willing offering of oneself. If I yield or surrender a gift to my wife, she will not be impressed by my efforts. Our presentation of our bodies to God as a sacrifice for His use, just like my presentation of a gift to my wife, is to be a joyous and spontaneous act.

 

God is not asking you to dedicate your gifts, abilities, money, time, ideas, creativity, or any such thing. He is asking you to sacrifice yourself. This is an appeal to those who have been set free by grace to live under grace by presenting all that they are to God. Incidentally, Paul uses the same verb “to present” (paristemi) in 14:10 where it means that one day you will “present” yourself before the judgment seat of Christ. If you faithfully “present” your body to Christ you will experience great reward at the bema. Beliefs should impact behavior.

Paul states that you are to present your body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.” The words “living,” “holy,” and “acceptable” all follow the noun “sacrifice.”

 

There are three qualities of our sacrifice:

(1) Living: In the Old Testament believers were called to “make” a sacrifice from a dead sacrifice. In the New Testament believers are called to “be” a sacrifice from a living sacrifice. The point is: God wants you to live to die. Most believers could take a bullet for Christ in a moment of courage, but every believer struggles to die to self and live for Christ on a daily basis.

(2) Holy: We are to be wholly dedicated, “set apart” from the world and belonging to God. The term speaks of being fully abandoned to God. This means that as individual Christians and as a corporate church, we must do all that we can to ensure that holiness is promoted. That is why we must exercise church discipline. That is why we must speak the truth in love. That is why we must disciple new believers. We are commanded to be holy as God is holy.

 

(3) Acceptable: The term “acceptable” builds on the Old and New Testament concept of the sacrifice as pleasing God. When you present your body as a sacrifice that is living and holy God is pleased.

 

Paul states that when you present your body as a sacrifice you have fulfilled your “spiritual service of worship.” The Greek adjective translated “spiritual” is logikos, from which we derive the English word logical.”  Logikos pertains to reason or the mind, and therefore does not really mean “spiritual.” It is better translated “reasonable” or “rational” (see the NASB marginal note, NET, KJV, NKJV). I think what Paul is saying is: “If you consider all that God has done for you—a sinful being—the only reasonable response is to offer Him your life” (cf. 6:1-3, 15-16). After all, this is the only logical response! Why would freed slaves continue to serve their old master? Presenting your body to serve the interests of your new Master, on the other hand, is completely logical—very much in keeping with good sense. A response of sacrificial worship expresses a heart of gratitude. It puts feet to our faith. Beliefs should impact behavior.

 

Do you know what an Indian Giver is?

Similarly, perhaps you’ve offered your body to Christ. You’ve declared that you will honor God with your body. But then you found yourself in a compromising situation. Your hormones screamed to be satisfied, and you obliged. Maybe you promised God that you would not get involved in one more dead end relationship, but then you became lonely and someone swept you off your feet. Perhaps you assured God that you would honor Him with ethical behavior at work, but then your boss offered you a promotion if you would just compromise yourself a bit. I can assure you that God doesn’t like being “pranked.” He may have a sense of humor, but He’s not laughing when you break promises with your body. Rather, He would say, “You’ve been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

So how can you present your body as a sacrifice?

  • Resolve to make worship a priority. Worship is a Monday through Saturday lifestyle that doesn’t have to end on Sunday afternoon. Throughout the week you should worship the Lord and have your own private worship services. Determine todayto present yourself as a sacrifice. Don’t put off this logical decision. Every morning declare, “Dear God, because of Jesus, I am Yours.”

 

  • Seek out ministry opportunities. Do some chores, run an errand, lend a hand. Take the extra time to make a visit. Pick up the phone and check on someone who is going through a struggle. Volunteer to help on a project that will show God’s grace to someone else. Look for ways to demonstrate your love for the Lord in practical ways. Why? Martin Luther once said, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” The busier you are, the less likely you will be to give into your illegitimate bodily urges.

 

  • Commit yourself to physical exercise. Discipleship demands discipline. If you want to “present” your body, you need to subdue it. Most godly people who I respect are committed to physical exercise (e.g., walking, hiking, weightlifting, athletics). God wants all of you! This shouldn’t scare you because if you let God have your life He can do more with it than you can.

[In 12:1 we have the “what” of the command (“present your body as a sacrifice”), and in 12:2 we have the “how” we are to respond to God.”]

  1. Renew Your Mind (12:2)

Presentable bodies come from changed minds because the mind controls the body. Verse 2 gives the means by which we can carry out the sweeping exhortation of 12:1. There are two commands, one negative one positive. In 12:2a Paul continues his thought from 12:1 by using the word “and”: “And do not be conformed to this world.” The term “conformed” (suschematizo) literally means to be molded or stamped according to a pattern. The verb is passive, implying that if you don’t actively and intentionally resist this age, you will be conformed. As the Phillips translation reads: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” Paul’s use of “world” is not a reference to planet earth, but rather to the world system (lit. aion = “age”). Being conformed to this age refers to having the same type of thinking as this age.

 

The world’s philosophy is pretty simple: If you want something, go get it (partners, possessions, and power). People are important primarily because of what they can do for you. If they can’t do anything for you, don’t waste your time on them. Public opinion defines truth … popularity is more important than holiness. Faith and everyday living are unrelated. Live for the moment and don’t concern yourself with consequences. You are the center of your universe; don’t let anyone push you around! Our world also screams tolerance (religions are the same; accept and affirm same sex marriage) and truth is not absolute (what’s good for you is good for you). You must not be shaped by these influences. You must fight against the tide of sin, self, and Satan.

How much television do you watch in the course of a week?

How many movies do you watch in the course of a year?

What type of music do you listen to?

What magazines, books, and websites do you read?

How much time are you devoting to social networking?

Who are your friends? What type of influence do they have on you?

What are your hobbies? How do you spend your discretionary time?

Even though Paul is writing to the church, we are a group of individuals. These verses are speaking specifically to YOU. Will one diseased fish affect the whole tank? Will one mad cow infect the whole herd? Will one person conformed to the world have an effect on our church? YES! Hence, I dare you to be different. Stand up for Christ. Don’t go with the flow; go against the grain. Rebel against the status quo—become a disciple of Christ. Your life will be an adventure. Beliefs should impact behavior.

Turning from the negative to the positive, Paul goes on to say, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The term “transformed” is the Greek word metamorphoo, which forms the root for the English word “metamorphosis.” When a tadpole is changed into a frog or when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, we speak of it as a metamorphosis. That is what God wants for each of His children. At what stage are you in this Christian transformation? Are you staying in the larva stage? Caterpillar? Baby butterfly? Full-grown butterfly? Where are you on the conformity to Christ growth chart?

 

There are three critical observations related to the verb metamorphoo:

(1) Paul uses the present tense: this is not an “on again, off again” transformation, but a continuous one.

(2) The verb is passive, the implication being that the catalyst in the transformation is God.

(3) The verb is imperative, indicating that we do indeed have a responsibility.

The Spirit “changes” us and enables us to offer ourselves completely to God. This takes place in the mind, which is renewed or changed (lit. “made new again and again”) by the Holy Spirit. Before you were saved, you were so accustomed to sin that you wore a groove into your heart and mind, like a river cutting a gorge through rock. What you now need to do is make some new grooves. That’s why Paul says you must be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

So how can you renew your mind?

  • Saturate yourself in godly thinking. Read God’s Word. But it is really more than just reading. It is a matter of absorbing and interacting with God’s Word. When we read the Bible we must constantly be asking ourselves, “What does this mean for my daily life.” Saturating ourselves in godly thinking also means exposing ourselves to godly writers, teachers, and influences. We need to meet regularly with friends who share our commitment to Christ. We must work to expand our thinking so that we are not just one-dimensional believers.

 

  • Memorize Scripture. But you may object, “Memorization has never come easily for me.” “I’m too old; my mind left me a long time.” For what it’s worth, you can memorize Scripture. The great men and women I know who have been successful at this discipline have merely read various sections of Scripture over and over and the memorization took care of itself. You don’t need a Navigator’s Scripture Memory System. Just read and meditate on Scripture and watch how God hides it in your heart.

 

  • Slow down. It has been said that Americans have three idols: Size, Noise, and Speed! Worship runs in the opposite direction. It reminds us of our littleness. It reminds us to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10ESV). It reminds us that we need to wait upon the Lord. Today would you begin the discipline of renewing your mind by getting away from the hustle, bustle, and distraction of life? Turn off the TV, turn off the radio, turn off your cell phone, shut down your computer, and hear from God.

 

Paul concludes that you are to present your body and renew your mind so that you may “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The key word is “prove” (doximazo). Notice, Paul doesn’t speak of “finding” or “discovering” God’s will. He says that you can “prove” God’s will. However, the apostle is not dealing with questions such as: Should I get married? Where should I go to college? Should I buy a new house? Should I move to Longview or to Gladewater? These questions are important, but they are secondary when it comes to God’s will. The “will of God” here deals with obedience to His general will. As you obey God’s revealed will, He may well unveil His specific will for your life. But if you refuse to obey His explicit moral will, there’s no point praying for God to reveal His specific, individual will for your life. If you obey the clear injunctions of this text, God’s will “finds” you!

 

God wants your body and your mind; He wants all of you. Is there anything or anyone that you are withholding from God? Is your marriage and family yielded to Him? Is your vocation His? What about your finances or hobbies? Will you present yourself to Him today and every day hereafter? If you will, your life will never be the same.

 

It is likely that when you were growing up you used to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. The pledge is a reminder that you are a citizen of the United States. Romans 12:1-2 is the Christian Pledge of Allegiance. It serves as a reminder that you are a citizen of heaven.You belong to heaven. Will you worship the Lord today by pledging your allegiance to Him?

 

 

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Measuring our lives

Death Wish! What a great title for an action movie. (I wish I had come up with it!) Charles Bronson starred in the original Death Wish back in 1974. Bronson played Paul Kersey, a man who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is assaulted. Death Wish was a huge success and generated a movie franchise lasting four sequels, spread over a twenty year period. Bronson starred in Death Wish 1 at age fifty-three, and capped off Death Wish 5 at the ripe, young age of seventy-three. Obviously, this made for a rather unusual action hero. In Death Wish 2, a sixty-year old Bronson has a gun pointed at a criminal and utters this classic one-liner: “Do you believe in Jesus?” The criminal frantically assures Bronson that he does. Bronson then replies, “Well, you’re about to meet Him.” (I won’t tell you what happens next, but I’m sure you can figure it out.) Death Wish became a subject of parody for its over-the-top violence and the advancing age of Bronson. An episode of The Simpsons showed a fictional ad for Death Wish 9 consisting of a bed-ridden Bronson saying, “I wish I was dead.” While this spoof was amusing, it exposes the futility of personal retaliation and vindication.

I think the Death Wish movies epitomize the heart of our society. Our human tendency is to exclaim, “What goes around comes around. If you mess with me; I’m going to mess with you.” If someone takes something or someone away from us, we feel the irresistible urge to take matters into our own hands. After all, we need to avenge and vindicate ourselves. The underlying motive behind this type of thinking is a quest for our own glory. This is in direct contrast to Jesus Christ, who was driven by a desire to turn the other cheek, forgive wicked sinners, and glorify God. Instead of giving in to His own desires, Jesus lived for God’s glory alone.

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus prays, what is likely, the greatest prayer in the Bible. John 17 nicely divides into three sections. In the first section (17:1-5), Jesus prays for Himself. The key word here is “glory.” Jesus requests the Father to glorify Him with the glory they shared from eternity. In the second section (17:6-19), He prays for His disciples. The key word is “kept.” Jesus asks the Father to preserve His disciples. In the third section (17:20-26), Jesus prays for the church. The key word is “one.” Jesus desires for His church to be one with each other. Each section forms a unified whole that reflects Jesus’ desire to glorify God. Nowhere is this clearer than 17:1-5.

In 17:1 John writes, “Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” In the opening line of Jesus’ prayer He looks for glory in the last place people would look for it—the cross. In this verse, the glory of the Son and the glory of the Father are one and the same because Jesus is God. The word “glorify” (doxazo) means “show honor” or “reveal the wonderful character of something or someone.” Jesus “glorified” God in His life and death. He revealed many aspects of God’s character: His power, His holiness, His compassion, His grace, His love, His wisdom—and so on. His life was the ultimate expression of glorifying God. “These things” refers back to all that Jesus has spoken in John 13-16. After sharing His heart with His disciples, Jesus lifts up His eyes to heaven and launches into prayer.

The term “Father” (pater) is used six times in Jesus’ prayer. Jesus spoke Aramaic and the Aramaic term was Abba, which means, “Daddy.” Jesus is intimate with God the Father and you can be too. But perhaps your earthly father has significantly sinned against you, and you now have an inaccurate view of your heavenly Father. God wants you to know that He can bring healing to your wounded heart. Today, will you call out to God as your Father and let Him care for you? This is a prayer that God will always answer. The phrase “the hour has come” shows that Jesus knows the purpose and timing of His ministry. He is not overtaken by unknown circumstances. The cross has been strategically planned from eternity past. The cross itself “glorifies” the Father and the Son. Thus, Jesus’ request is that He may be given the strength to continue to be faithful as He goes to the cross. Jesus is praying that He might die well. He wants to be faithful in the face of suffering and death.

Have you ever contemplated the importance of glorifying God in your death? While it is important to live well; it is also important to die well. Today, whether you are young or old, will you ask God to prepare you to die well? Will you ask Him to be glorified in the way you accept your mortality? Will you begin to pray, “God, use even my memorial service to glorify You and bring many to faith in Christ?” To return to the opening illustration, Charles Bronson (Paul Kersey) lived a long life. Yet, his life was miserable. For him, there were always more sinners that needed be killed. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, lived a relatively short life, yet He died for sinners. Philosopher William James said that the value of life is computed not by its duration but by its donation. Except for the obvious necessity of the cross, Jesus could have continued performing amazing deeds if He had lived longer. But such deeds wouldn’t have enlarged His supreme donation—His life and death, which provided our great salvation. The work that He completed is still bearing fruit by His Spirit. It is important to remember that one’s harvest is not always reaped in this life. God’s work through our lives will continue bearing fruit long after we’re gone. This means it’s not how long you live, but how you live and how you die that matters.

You and I should be primarily concerned about God’s glory. There’s nothing wrong with being concerned about Aunt Gertrude’s hangnail or a sick pet. God cares about every detail of your life. Moreover, every request is small to God because He is a great God. However, God is ultimately most interested in His glory, and He wants you to share this passion. So when you pray for someone, please be sure to include God’s glory in your request. When you pray, “Lord, bless me,” you should quickly add, “so that I may be able to bless You.” This entails a motive check. It’s so easy to be preoccupied with ourselves—our marriage, our family, our work, our ministry.

Spend time searching your heart this week (Ps 139:23-24). Ask the Lord if your life is driven by a yearning for His glory. Ask Him some penetrating questions: “Does my marriage glorify You?” If not, “What would it take to strengthen my marriage so that it glorifies you?” If you are contemplating marriage, ask the Lord, “Will my marriage glorify You?” If not, there’s no ultimate purpose in getting married. Ask the Lord, “Does my family glorify You?” If so, “What can I do to further enhance my family so that You receive more glory?” Ask the Lord, “Does my ministry glorify You?” If so, what can I do to ensure that this next year brings You even more glory? Ask the Lord, “Does my work glorify You?” If not, “What can I do to correct my faulty behavior or attitude?” Every area of your life is meant to exude God’s glory. This is why Paul says in 1 Cor 10:31: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 

In 17:2, Jesus reveals that God’s glory is revealed through the free gift of eternal life. Jesus prays, “[May the Son glorify You] even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.” Jesus affirms that God the Father has given Him “authority over all flesh,” which is an awesome statement by a peasant carpenter. This phrase once again confirms that Jesus is God. But Jesus’ words are specifically targeted to all whom the Father has given Him. Five times in His prayer (17:2, 6 [twice], 9, 24), Jesus refers to believers as those whom the Father has given Him. This is incredibly profound!

The Father gives believers to Jesus, and the Son gives these believers eternal life. Through and through, eternal life is a gift from God through Christ. If you have never received the free gift that Jesus offers, would you do so today? Jesus offers eternal life to anyone who will simply ask Him for it. In one of the clearest passages in the New Testament, John 6:37-40, Jesus says: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” In one of the final verses of the New Testament, Rev 22:17, Jesus says, “Come. And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” Please receive the gift of eternal life today. Trust in God’s Word, not your works; His promise, not your performance. As you do, you will experience the joy and assurance of being in a right relationship with God. There’s no greater confidence in the world.

Jesus now makes a somewhat parenthetical statement and defines “eternal life” in 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Most Christians assume that “eternal life” means to go to heaven when you die. This is certainly true—eternal life is a quantity (i.e., duration) of life. It refers to an unending life with God. But eternal life can also refer to a quality of life. In this context, Jesus is referring to a quality of life that brings about “abundant life” (10:10). He explains that this occurs through an intimate and personal knowledge of God the Father and Christ the Son. The word translated “know” (ginosko) is often used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) and in the Greek New Testament to describe the intimacy associated with a sexual union. Ginosko can carry the idea, “to know by observation and experience—an intimate experiential knowledge.” Why is knowing God a key to experiencing eternal life? Because right thinking precedes right living. We cannot experience true intimacy with God (i.e., eternal life) apart from right living. So how can we know God and experience eternal life?

  • Read through the Bible regularly, focusing especially on Jesus’ life in the Gospels.I encourage you to make a Bible reading commitment for this month. Don’t think about next year just yet. Start with today. After you’ve gained some reading success, make a goal for next year, and be sure to focus on Jesus’ life. I think it’s critical to keep Jesus before us at all times.
  • Obey what you read in the Word.James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Our prayer must always be: “Lord, help us to experience transformation, not just information.” We don’t want to wind up like spiritual blowfish—puffed up with knowledge (1 Cor 8:1). Instead, we want to apply God’s Word every time we read it. This week, would you consider reading less and applying more? I would not be disappointed if you only read one verse as long as you disciplined yourself to apply that verse. Many Christians read several chapters in the morning and forget everything that they’ve read by the time they finish their last sip of coffee. Better to read a verse and apply it.
  • Enjoy God in creation.On a trip to Alaska I was awed by the beauty of God’s creation. I was drawn closer to God because His autograph (creation) was showcased. Admittedly, the Lord also convicted me of the sin of failing to appreciate His beauty in creation. I sensed the Lord saying, “I didn’t place you in Iceland or Timbuktu. I put you in one of the best places in the world—Texas. Yet you don’t always appreciate My beauty.” OUCH! Consequently, I’ve decided to spend more time seeking to know God in creation.
  • Change an attitude.No one likes to experience change, except perhaps the babies in our nursery. Yet, we must always be seeking to grow in our relationship with Christ. This means adjusting our attitudes so they better reflect Christ. Are you jealous of a coworker? Do you resent one of your children or siblings? Are you bitter with your spouse? Today, ask the Lord to change one of your attitudes. Don’t try to change every negative, unhealthy attitude. That would overwhelm you. Just ask the Lord to reveal one sinful attitude at a time. The Holy Spirit will enable you to become more conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29).

Jesus concludes 17:3 by affirming that He was “sent” by God. More than forty times Jesus speaks of the fact that He was sent. He had a mission to accomplish. We, also, have a mission to accomplish. When we are done, God will take us home. Make knowing God and Jesus the passionate pursuit of your life.

In 17:4, Jesus imparts one of the greatest principles in the New Testament. Praying to His Father, He says, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” Jesus now looks back on the entirety of His earthy ministry and declares that He has glorified God by completing the work that God entrusted to Him. Jesus’ work was to reveal the Father, live a perfect life as a man, and redeem humankind. The work that God gave Jesus to do was focused on the cross (e.g., 12:23-24). When Jesus utters His final prayer, the cross still lies ahead, but by faith, He anticipates the successful completion of His mission. Jesus considers it a certainty because He had purposed to do the Father’s will. The verb translated “accomplished” (teleioo) is used earlier in John 4:34 where Jesus said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”

Jesus reveals that God is glorified through the accomplishments of His obedient servants. What has God called you to do? If you’re a high school or college student, He most likely has called you to graduate. If you are married, He’s called you to fulfill your marriage covenant: “for better or worse, till’ death do you part.” If you’re involved in a ministry, He yearns for you to continue to serve Him for the rest of your days. In each of these scenarios, it is easy to become weary, impatient, frustrated, and angry. It is natural to consider giving up. But the Lord wants you to accomplish the work that He has called you to do. He has placed you in an area of ministry that is unique to you. Your relationships are ones that only you can have; He wants you to serve Him faithfully. 

This section closes in 17:5 with Jesus saying, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” In 17:5, Jesus clarifies and elaborates on His request in 17:1. This verse alludes to Jesus’ existence prior to His birth in Bethlehem. Jesus claims that He existed before the world existed. This implies that the material universe is not eternal but was brought into being by God. Before that, nothing material existed. But God existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Again, Jesus demonstrates that He is God. Christ prays that His full glory will be restored, that His divine attributes will be fully displayed as a means of enhancing the Father’s reputation. He would enter into that glory in a new way—as the God-man, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is this glorified God-man we shall see in heaven. Jesus looks beyond His imminent suffering to future glory in the Father’s presence (cf. 17:24).

The reason that Jesus glorified God throughout His life and finished well is because He made prior commitments. Decisions in life must be made in advance. If you are making decisions based upon your emotions, you are not setting a course for your life that will result in the accomplishment of the Father’s will. When did Jesus steel His attitude to be one of total yieldedness to the Father’s will? Prior to the beginning of His public ministry He lingered in Jerusalem in the Temple discussing Scripture with the religious leadership of Israel (Luke 2:41-50). At the outset of His public ministry Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting (Matt 4:1-11). Several times during His public ministry Jesus retreated to be alone in prayer and meditation (Matt 14:13, 23; 17:1; 26:36). From the very beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry, He made sure that He would carry out the Father’s will.

If you wanted to preserve your virginity until marriage, you had to make this decision in an advance before temptation struck. If you want to remain married for the rest of your life, you need to make that determination before you even think about getting married. If you want to honor your parents, you have to make this a core conviction. If you want to stand strong and witness for Christ, you need to come to this conclusion before the world’s hatred hits. It’s very difficult to live for Christ when you’re hoping that things are just going to work themselves out. This rarely happens. The Christian who perseveres and overcomes is the one who makes up his or her mind before trials and temptations come. We are all weak and susceptible. We can all potentially give God a black eye and fail to glorify Him. This is why it is so important to make God’s glory your all-consuming passion.

When I was growing up, I used to enjoy Tombstone pizza commercials. You may recall they coined the slogan: “What do you want on your Tombstone?” Of course, the dilemma was: pepperoni or sausage? But the commercials would have a man being put before a firing squad or facing the death penalty and being asked his final wish, “What do you want on your Tombstone?” Today, on a far more serious note, I would like to pose the same question, “What do you want on your tombstone?” At any time, you could die. Whether you are a police officer, a soldier, a student, or a housewife, there’s no guarantee that you will live a full life. So the question, “What do you want on your tombstone?” is critically important. What I want on my tombstone is one thing: GLORY! I want God’s glory to be the topping of my life. In order to experience this, I strive to live a life sold out to Jesus Christ.

The art of fruit bearing

My wife Karen enjoys gardening. Over the years, she has planted all kinds of fruits and vegetables. As an observer, I can tell you there is a science and an art to what she does. She must cultivate the soil, plant the seeds, and nurture the crops. Yet, no matter how well Karen does, she can lose a crop to spring rains that rot the seed, slugs or bugs that eat new shoots, and birds that devour everything. She may even lose a crop because of a sudden burst of extreme heat. On account of all of these variables, Karen never knows whether her garden will be fruitful or not.

Do you ever feel this way in your daily life? You work hard at your job, yet there’s no guarantee that you will succeed. You may get demoted or even lose your job. You work hard at being a godly spouse, yet your marriage is mediocre or filled with grief. You work hard at raising godly children, yet your children are lukewarm or even rebellious. You work hard at your ministry, yet you may feel discouraged. You work hard with your finances, yet, your portfolio may still plummet or the American dollar may become worthless. You work hard to stay physically fit, yet there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to keep the weight off or avoid cancer or Parkinson’s. These scenarios can all be incredibly discouraging. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a guarantee of success in your life? Wouldn’t it be great to know that there’s at least one area that you can count on?

In John 15:1-11, Jesus states that if you abide in Him you’ll experience spiritual success. It’s guaranteed! So the only pursuit in your life that is guaranteed, the only area that you can truly count on is your relationship with Jesus Christ. Fortunately, there’s no greater measure of success than to succeed where it matters most. In these eleven verses, Jesus teaches His disciples the spiritual art of fruit bearing, which is the purpose of our earthly existence and the definition of spiritual success. The key to fruit bearing is found in the theme of abiding in Jesus. In this context, “abide” means to stay, remain, or continue with Jesus.

Jesus is in the final evening of His life. He has been sharing with His disciples what matters most to Him. Jesus and His disciples are walking by torch light toward the garden of Gethsemane (cf. 14:31). Jesus most likely leads His disciples into a vineyard outside the city walls. There, Jesus pauses and says, “I am the true vine” (15:1a). Notice He doesn’t say, “I am a true vine.” He says, “I am the true vine.” Jesus is saying there is only one true vine. You can’t choose your vintage. It’s not a wine tasting to see which variety you prefer. Jesus often used a grapevine to describe the nation of Israel. The Old Testament writers also used the term “vine” to describe Israel. But it was used to denote her sinfulness, not her fruitfulness. They were sour grapes. Here, Jesus uses the figure of the vine to remind Israel of her past failures and to indicate that He is the one faithful Israelite—the “true vine.” In contrast to Israel, Jesus is saying: I will be the one true source of rich and deep blessing.

In keeping with the viticulture (i.e., grape growing) metaphor, Jesus rightly assumes that no vine will produce good fruit unless someone competent cares for it. So Jesus states, “My Father is the vinedresser” (15:1b). The original disciples, and you and I, have the world’s greatest vinedresser—God the Father. He’s the one who cares for vines that are connected to Jesus. In John’s gospel, Jesus is never portrayed as independent from His Father; rather, the Father and Son are always cooperating with one another in every activity (cf. 5:19-23). If this is true of Jesus, the Son of God, how much more so should this be true of you and me? In the various areas of your life, are you dependent upon God the Father and God the Son? Who is in control of your family relationships, your ministry, your work, your health, and your finances? Who bears the overall responsibility for their success or failure?

In 15:2a Jesus says, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit [i.e., have love for other believers], He takes away.” Jesus’ disciples are branches connected to the “true vine” and cared for by the master “vinedresser.” The phrase “in Me” is used sixteen times in John’s gospel. In each case it refers to a life of fellowship or a unity of purpose. In John’s gospel a person “in Me [Christ]” is always a Christian. This also finds support in the fact that the branches of a vine share the life of the vine. Jesus is speaking of a Christian who is in fellowship with Him who is not yet producing fruit. This may refer to a new convert or an immature or struggling believer. In any case, Jesus says that God “takes away” or “cuts off” (NIV) every branch that doesn’t bear fruit. The Greek word translated “takes away” (airo) can also be translated “lifts up.” Since the focus here is fruit bearing, the rendering “lifts up” is preferred.

It is important to understand that Jesus is teaching His disciples in the spring when vinedressers did what He describes in this verse. Even today, if you go to any vineyard, you’ll find grapes tied to poles or posts called trellises. If the vinedresser doesn’t do this the grapes may be stepped on and smashed into grape juice! A good vinedresser will prop the vines up so that they can receive the maximum amount of sunlight possible. The vinedresser does not “cut away” (contrary to the NIV) a vine because it has no fruit but gently lifts it up to sun so it has an opportunity to bear fruit in the future. In the same way, God’s first step is not judgment but encouragement. God encourages new believers. He answers prayers. He performs miracles. He brings someone or something into their lives to lift them up.

Jesus now mentions another type of branch, one that “bears fruit” (15:2b). Jesus explains that God “prunes” this fruit-bearing branch “so that it may bear more fruit.” It is important to recognize that there are two different types of pruning: the spring pruning, which takes place here, is for cleaning purposes. The fall pruning that takes place after the grapes have been harvested will be discussed in 15:6. They are not synonymous. The word for “pruning” used here is kathairo, from which we get the English word “catharsis.” It means to cleanse. As it relates to viticulture, it describes cleansing the branch of insects, diseases, and parasites. This would have been the ancient equivalent of using insecticides, as is done today. This pruning also includes cleaning or pinching off little “sucker shoots” from the branch—sprigs that draw away resources from the production of big, juicy grapes. Left to itself, the branch will favor more leafy growth over more fruit, so the vinedresser has to prune or clean away unnecessary shoots and extraneous growth to promote even greater fruitfulness.

What does this pruning represent in the life of a believer? I believe the bugs, diseases, and unwanted sprigs represent things like bad habits, wrong thinking, unimportant activities, and lesser priorities—anything that distracts us from being completely fruitful, anything that hinders us from loving others to the fullest, the way Christ loved us. As we abide in the Vine, the Vinedresser removes these things from our lives to promote more fruit. Maybe you’re too busy. In fact, maybe your busyness is veiled selfishness. Maybe you’re packing your schedule with socially acceptable things that make you look good, all the while avoiding the harder work of loving others who are difficult to love, like your spouse or your children, or fellow believers in your church family. Maybe your busyness must be pruned. Maybe you’ve got a secret. Maybe you’ve been nursing a secret sin. Maybe it involves substance abuse, or compulsive spending, or pornography on the internet. Maybe it needs to be removed from your life. Maybe it’s a selfish drive for control in your marriage. Perhaps it’s neglect of leadership or running from conflict. Maybe it’s excessive time spent on things that count for nothing. Maybe it’s laziness or a bad attitude. The Vinedresser may want to prune any number of things from your life.

In 15:3, Jesus reminds His disciples, “You are already clean [katharos, cf. 15:2] because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Jesus is reiterating to His disciples that “the word” He spoke to them in chapters 13-14 cleansed them for fruit bearing. The disciples are spiritual clean, and they are ready to produce fruit. Jesus is optimistically calling them to a task. If you get a new job, you don’t sit down and say, “Ah, I’m so glad that I have a job.” That’s when the work really begins. In the same way you have been made clean to bear fruit.

Jesus continues His emphasis on fruit bearing and shares how to abide in 15:4-5: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” In 15:4-10, the word “abide” (meno) is used ten times in seven verses. Jesus’ first use of the verb “abide” (15:4) is an imperative. He doesn’t assume that His disciples are abiding, so He commands them to abide. The act of abiding is not true of every believer; it’s also not true of every believer all the time. We can earn a living, raise a family, and practice generosity without abiding. It’s possible to pastor a church or serve without abiding. We must recognize that there’s a difference between work and fruit. It’s possible to perform a lot of work for Christ that isn’t necessarily fruitful. It’s also possible to do many things without Christ. It’s possible to do many things for Christ. However, anything of lasting value can only be done through Christ, by abiding in Him. This is why Jesus says we’re not called upon to produce fruit, but simply to bear it. Bearing fruit is a natural outcome of being in Christ and letting Him live His life through us. Notice the progression from “fruit” (15:2) to “more fruit” (15:2) to “much fruit” (15:5).That’s what God wants from us. A detached branch in the physical or spiritual realm can’t live on its own.

Maybe your life is filled with stress. You’re a teenager living in a dysfunctional home and you can’t seem to find a safe haven. Or you may be a mother up to her eyeballs in children. You need a break, but you can’t seem to find one. Perhaps you’re performance driven and all you want to do is work and perform. Maybe you’re independent and it’s hard for you to rely on anyone. Regardless, if you want fruit that will last for all of eternity, you must abide in Christ. What’s the primary reason unbelievers don’t come to Christ for salvation? They don’t recognize their need. What’s the primary reason believers don’t come to Christ for sanctification? Exactly the same reason—we don’t recognize our need. When we read our Bibles without bothering to ask for God’s enlightenment, we don’t recognize our need. When we make plans and decisions without genuinely waiting to hear from God, we don’t recognize our need. Pray that the Lord will help you to abide in Jesus.

In 15:6, Jesus mentions the consequences of not abiding: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” In order to understand what Jesus is getting at here, you have to remember that this entire passage is filled with figures of speech. Jesus has been speaking metaphorically (e.g., vine, branches, fruit), so it’s not necessary to interpret terms like “thrown away,” “fire,” or “burned” as referring to hell. A branch that doesn’t remain attached to the vine withers, and out of necessity, is thrown away.

Grapevines, in contrast to other types of wood, don’t have many uses. Their total value is that they can produce grapes. Vines don’t yield timber from which people can make other things (Ezek 15). They are good for either bearing or burning, but not for building. Similarly, a Christian who loses contact with Christ becomes useless and fruitless. If I offered you a chewed up piece of gum that had been sitting out for several days or weeks, would you chew it? No! If you touched it at all, you would throw it into the nearest wastebasket! It would be dry, hard, and flavorless, not to mention, gross. Jesus is saying the very same thing about believers who don’t abide in Him. Your purpose in life is to bear fruit. It’s not to earn a decent living. It’s not to be a happy. It’s to abide in Christ and bear fruit. As far as God is concerned, there’s no reason for you to live, except to bear fruit. If you’re not fruitful, you are useless to Him. He might as well just take you to heaven right now. But instead of doing that, He brings divine discipline upon useless believers. Fire is a common symbol in the Bible for God’s temporal judgment on His people. God lights a match under us and begins to burn us with fiery trials. His purpose is to draw us back to the vine. He may use depression, loneliness, and financial trouble. We think we’re just unlucky, when in truth, God is the one burning us. God will not let the fire go out until we reattach ourselves to the vine. God takes His relationship with us very seriously, so when we stop abiding or pursuing intimacy with Him, He will do whatever it takes to get our attention, and it could get hot. When I was growing up and I misbehaved, my Dad used to tell me, “I’m going to heat up your backside.” Although it did feel like fire, the point that my father was trying to make was he was going to discipline me.

In addition to temporal judgment, Jesus will judge believers in eternity. John 15:6 and 1 Cor 3:15 both use “fire” in connection with the judgment of believers. Believers who do not abide in Christ or build well on the foundation of Christ will suffer loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ. Thus, it matters in this life and the life to come whether or not you abide in Christ.

In 15:7-11, we’ll discover four benefits of abiding in Jesus.

  • Perfect prayer (15:7).Jesus says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus is not offering a blank check for answered prayer. It is conditioned upon abiding in Him. The verb “ask” is an imperative. Jesus is not encouraging us to pray, He is commanding us to pray. The one who abides in Christ and His words will naturally pray the kind of prayer that is in line with God’s will. The context suggests that the prayers should pertain to fruit bearing and glorifying the Father. If you abide, then you can ask! It’s not the other way around. God gives His answers to those Christians who are abiding!

54% of Christian students surveyed confessed to “neglecting important areas of their life” due to spending too much time on social media sites. Not long ago, young people were glued to their computer screens, checking e-mails and online games. Now e-mail is the new snail-mail, and few teenagers bother with it. It’s all about cell phones, texting, tweeting, and instant messaging. Studies show that the average teenager sends and receives over 2,270 text messages a month. What if we had a relationship like that with our Bibles?  If we stayed in touch with God’s Word as frequently and tenaciously as we text and touch base with our friends, we’d have a much healthier spiritual life and a stronger grasp of the Bible. The best texting is studying the biblical text. Today, will you recommit yourself to studying God’s Word and ensuring that you are abiding in Christ? Will you make Jesus the priority that He yearns to be? If so, you may see Him provide you some of the answers and assistance that you’ve been longing for.

  • Proven discipleship (15:8).Jesus says, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” The phrase translated “so prove to be” is only one word—“become” (ginomai). In producing fruit we’re becoming Christ’s disciples to an even greater degree (8:31-32). To glorify God is to show Him off and make Him look good. The “fruit” in this context refers to our love for our brothers and sisters. This is seen in the phrase “by this” in 13:35 and 15:8. We prove to be Jesus’ disciples when we love each other.

Bearing fruit by loving believers is something that you can do the rest of your life. I have always thought golf and tennis are great sports. What I love about both of these sports is that you can play them all of your life. I’ve also observed that many times older folks can spank the younger generation in these sports. I’ve seen seventy-five year old obese men beat younger men at tennis. I know men in their eighties who are still golfing up a storm. It’s not necessarily about raw skill and athletic ability; it’s experience that counts. God wants you to take your spiritual experience in Christ and depend upon Him for everything. He wants your best years to be future. How will you show love to the body of Christ?

  • Unlimited love (15:9-10).Jesus says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Jesus has provided us a visual aid of what it means to abide—He loved the original disciples, and He loves you and me today. Here we come to the best definition of what it means to abide in the Bible—obey Jesus’ commands! There’s no abiding apart from obedience (cf. 14:15, 21, 23).
  • Full joy (15:11). Jesus concludes with these amazing words,“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” Happiness is the result of happenings; joy is the result of Jesus. Joy is an inner contentment despite one’s outer circumstances. Joy isn’t primarily an emotion, it is a conviction. It is the inner contentment of the soul that is actively responding to Jesus Christ. G.K. Chesterton called this “the gigantic secret of the Christian.” It’s important to see that joy is from Jesus, not something we have to try to drum up ourselves. Someone says, “I can’t find joy.” Jesus says: My joy is available to you, and it will make your joy full. So don’t go looking for joy; look for Jesus. Joy is found in obeying Him and bearing much fruit. If you’ve got “Jesus joy,” notify your face. You may be thinking today: There’s a difference between happiness and joy, so I don’t have to walk around with a happy face. I can just be my miserable self. No, no, no! Jesus joy ought to affect your face and body. Regardless of your circumstances, you can have joy. If Jesus could have joy as He endured the cross (Heb 12:2), you too can have joy in the midst of every circumstance in your life.

Today, Jesus wants you to recommit yourself to abide in Him. He desires a moment by moment relationship with you. Will you submit yourself to Him? Will you say, “Jesus, I’m inadequate, incompetent, inferior, and insufficient for every task. I can’t. You can. Please help!” When you call out to Jesus like this, He shows up in your life in a mighty way.

The Power of Love

I am working on getting my second book published. I did a little research on book titles. Here’s what I discovered: Amazon.com lists 507,878 book titles about heaven, 547,195 about sex, 766,921 about God, and 884,737 about money. Isn’t this astounding? Even more staggering is the fact that one topic beats out all of these—love. There are 922,816 that contain love in their title.

Love is a popular word in our society. Our world is desperately seeking true love. There are all kinds of dating services, escort services, personal classifieds, bars, clubs, and social organizations. There are illicit websites and chat rooms where you can pursue love without leaving your own home. You may also get emails encouraging you to try an affair. All of these opportunities promise “true love” or “real love.” But this is an example of the classic country song by Johnny Lee, “Looking for love in all the wrong places…looking for love in too many faces.” I’ll stop there. The point is: Our world craves love, but they can’t find fulfilling and lasting love.

Love is also a frequent word in the Bible. The Bible uses the root word “love” over 500 times from Genesis through Revelation. Interestingly, for our purposes, the word love is used only twelve times in John 1–12, but in John 13–21 it is used forty–five times! Hence, in the last twenty–four hours of his life, Jesus uses the word love repeatedly. The closer He travels toward the cross, the more love is on His heart and mind. In John 13:31–38, Jesus suggests that the key to impacting the world is for Christians to love each other. So why is the church having so little impact on society? We’re not giving the world what it so desperately craves—love. Yet, the church ought to be Jesus’ solution to the lack of true love in this world. We ought to be able to say, “Look for love in the right place.”

Our passage begins in John 13:31–32 with an important footnote and Jesus’ ultimate prediction of love. The footnote is simply: “Therefore when he [Judas] had gone out” (13:31a). One can almost hear Jesus heave a sigh of relief when Judas closes the door behind him. Once Judas departs, Jesus hunkers down with His believing disciples and articulates the cross and the importance of love. Jesus declares, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately” (13:31b–32). What is the key word in 13:31b–32? It doesn’t take a Greek scholar to discern this. Five times in two verses Jesus uses a form of the verb “glorify” (doxazo). Notice as well the past tense verb “glorified.” The cross is as good as done in Jesus’ mind. For Him death is not a mournful tragedy, but a magnificent triumph. It is glorious not gruesome. At this very moment which seems to spell defeat, dishonor, and disaster for Him, the Son of Man is in reality glorified! Later in the Upper Room discourse, Jesus explains that He glorified His Father by finishing the work the Father gave Him to do (17:4). This is also how we glorify the Father. What has God called you to today? How does He want you to sacrificially express your love to others? Will you finish the work He has given you?

Jesus explains in 13:33 that His purposes for the disciples are not complete. He says, “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” Many people long to go to heaven to escape their present trials and tribulations. Others talk about how they just want to get away from the evils of our world. While I understand this type of thinking, Jesus explains to His disciples, whom He dearly loves, that they cannot come with Him to heaven just yet because their work on earth is not done. It is a wonderful thing to anxiously anticipate Jesus return. This is a critical element of the Christian life. Paul promises the crown of righteousness for all who love Jesus appearing (2 Tim 4:8). Yet, we also need to relish the privilege of fulfilling God’s call upon our lives while we still have breath. His purposes for you are not complete.

One of the clear-cut purposes that God has for Christians is found in 13:34–35. Jesus declares, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (13:34). Jesus issues a command for you and me to love one another. Of course, the primary question that must be answered in this verse is: Why does Jesus call the commandment to love one another “a new commandment?” Love itself is not a new commandment; it is an old commandment found in Lev 19:8 and Deut 6:5. The Greek word translated “new” (kainos) speaks of what is new in the sense of unused or fresh, rather than something recent or different. It is not so much that the commandment hasn’t been given before as that it has a different quality about it, a quality of freshness that differentiates it from any other. To put it simply, this new commandment has a new object and a new measure. The object is now “one another.” In the Old Testament the command was “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). The Jews had watered down the Mosaic teaching so they could love whom they wanted and hate whom they wanted. But Christ changes the object from “neighbor” to “one another.” This leads to the question: Why does Jesus command disciples to love other disciples? Why not exhort disciples to love the world? For Jesus, it is a matter of priorities. Jesus is first concerned about believers that have a unique and special relationship with Him. God loves His kids more than He loves children of the world. Jesus also realizes that we can’t truly love the world until we first love fellow believers. Finally, as we shall see in John 13:35, Jesus knows that when believers love one another as God intends the world will sit up and take notice. This can result in many being drawn to Christ.

The commandment is new because of its object, but also because of its measure. The measure of this love is, “as I have loved you.” Earlier in chapter 13, Jesus gave His disciples a new standard of love. He did this by washing their feet (13:4–17). In doing so, He humbled Himself and served His disciples in an intentional and tangible way. Jesus is calling us to love others as He did. This sacrificial love also reaches out to Judas as he’s about to betray Christ. Jesus wants you and me to sacrificially love other believers to death if necessary. It is a vastly greater love that gives up one’s own life for another, that sacrifices self-interest to promote the interests of another (15:13). The sacrificial work of Christ on the cross is the “new” standard for the Christian’s love for fellow-believers. In 13:34–35, the word Jesus uses for love is the Greek verb agapao and its noun form agape. Of the four words for love in the Greek language, this one is the capstone. 

Essentially, it means to seek the highest good of another. Agape love sacrifices for others. It is an act of the will. It is a decision, a commitment. Love is not about your needs or my needs; it’s about God’s will. When Jesus says “as I have loved you,” He sets Himself up as the standard by which His disciples are to forever measure their love for one another. He is telling them, “I left the splendors and comforts of heaven because I loved you. I called you to be Mine, knowing full well your faults. I taught you, even when you were stubborn and closed-minded. I corrected you when you stepped out of line. I washed your feet on the way to my death. When you denied me and betrayed me, I loved you with an everlasting love. All this was for your highest good. My interest was not in myself, but in you. Like Jesus, we can say: Look for love in the right place.

It is interesting to note the obvious—the command to love other believers is called a “commandment.” This is not an elective class. We understand the difference between required and elective classes. Jesus is making it clear that love is a required 101 class; it is not an elective. Without specifically commanding His disciples to love one another, there existed the very real possibility that this essential activity would be neglected. It seems that we are much better at and much more apt to deal with love as a noun or an abstract concept than as a verb. We prefer talking about love to demonstrating it. When it comes to love, “When all is said and done, there is far more said than done.”

Yet Jesus wants you to love with this kind of supernatural agape love. This means you can love your spouse regardless of how he or she treats you. You may say, “I don’t like my wife.” Well, you don’t have to. There’s a difference between like and love. You are not commanded to like your spouse; you are commanded to love your spouse. There may be some people in our church you can’t stand. That’s okay. However, Jesus is commanding us to love one another.

In 13:35, Jesus declares that when we love each other we will become a magnet to the world. He says, “By this all men [people] will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus is giving the world the right to examine our credibility. The world can see if we’re for real. If you and I love one another everyone will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. The word translated “know” (ginosko) does not refer to a theoretical knowledge but to a knowledge gained by first-hand, rub-of-the-shoulders observation. How can you reveal to the world that you are Jesus’ disciple? By demonstrating love for fellow believers! When people see this kind of uncommon love exemplified in the Church they are naturally curious. They begin to wonder if the gospel could be true. They begin to believe that Christ DOES bring transformation. On the flip side, when we fail to show love we invalidate the message. People don’t believe there is real transformation in Christ. We make the idea of Christian community very unappealing. People ask, “Why would I want more stress and conflict in my life?” I don’t need Christ or His church!

It is important to notice that there is an “if” (ei) involved in 13:35. Believers can violate the love command. Failure to love does not mean I am not a Christian, but it means the world has the right to make the judgment that I am not a Christian.

Therefore, if we expect unbelievers to know that we are Christ’s disciples, we must show the mark. The early church displayed the mark. Tertullian, a church father who wrote a century after the gospel of John was written said that unbelievers saw Christians loving one another and commented, “Behold, how they love one another.” Even today, nothing so astonishes a fractured world as a community in which radical, faithful, genuine love is shared among its members. There are many places you can go and find communities of shared interest. There are many places you can go to find people just like yourself, who live for sports or music or gardening or politics. But true agape love is hard to find. Ultimately, it can only be found in the church. Look for love in the right place. So how can we grow in our love for one another? Here are some practical suggestions.

  • Speak well of the church. Strive to always speak well of your church without using “but language.” “I really like my church, butmy pastor isn’t very friendly.” “I appreciate the worship at my church, but I don’t like a lot of the songs the worship team picks.” “I like the children’s ministries, but the adult ministries don’t meet my needs.” The simple conjunction “but” cancels out everything positive you’ve said. This is also relevant when discussing other churches in your county. Don’t say, “I really appreciate the church on the west side of town, but they are too charismatic.” “I like the pastor of the church on the east side, but the rest of the other staff pastors are jerks.” If you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything at all. The truth is: Every church has its own unique strengths. You and I can always find positive things to say about any evangelical church. So today, commit to only speaking well of the church.
  • Learn to express your love to believers.Speak loving and encouraging words to another believer. Look a fellow believer in the eyes and say, “I love you.” Say to a brother or sister, “I care about you,” or “I believe in you.” Reach out and touch someone through appropriate physical touch. Instead of just a handshake, high-five, or chest bump; touch someone’s shoulder, give a half-hug or a full hug. Do a loving action toward someone who has hurt or offended you. This will help free you from the bondage of bitterness. This is the Jesus factor, choosing to bless instead of blister someone who has wounded you.
  • Strive to serve other believers.Would you pray that God would burden your heart to serve a brother or sister in your life? What does this person need? Could he or she use free babysitting? Does this person need a piece of furniture that you could provide? Perhaps this person needs a skill-set that you can meet (e.g., home repair, automotive care). Today, will you offer to meet this person’s needs? Will you be Christ’s face, hands, and feet?

Chapter 13 concludes with three verses that seem a bit misplaced. In fact, many commentators include these verses with chapter 14. Yet, I see these verses fitting rather nicely with 13:31–35. John’s concern is that you and I don’t assume that we can pull off agape in our own strength. Naturally, John brings up another episode with Peter. Look at 13:36a:“Simon Peter said to Him [Jesus], ‘Lord, where are You going?’” I want you to notice that Jesus spoke some of the most profound words about Christians loving each other, and Peter did not hear a word of it. He asks a question that skips over that whole subject entirely (13:34–35), and he goes back to what Jesus had said about going away for a while (13:31–33). That was what got his attention, and he heard nothing else. You’ve got to love Peter! He’s so much like you and me. “Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later’” (13:36b). In other words, “don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Jesus acknowledges that Peter will eventually go the route of suffering. Church history tells us that Peter was crucified upside down. Regardless, Jesus makes it clear that Peter’s time has not yet come. But Peter responds to Jesus with some audacious words: “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You” (13:37). Peter assures Jesus, “I’m your main man. When everyone else leaves you, I’ll be by your side. I’m not a flaky disciple. You can count on me, Jesus.”

Now before we come down too hard on Peter, we need to remember Peter was an example of faith. He was often a spiritual stud.

  • He was one of the “inner three” with James and John.
  • He was the one who said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man” after the miraculous catch of fish.
  • It was Peter who answered the Lord’s question: “Who do you say I am?” with “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
  • It was of Peter’s confession that the Lord said, “On this rock I will build my church.”
  • It was Peter who stood up to defend Jesus in the Garden.
  • It was Peter who followed Jesus (with John) into the court after His arrest.
  • It was Peter who ran with John to the empty tomb.
  • It was Peter who jumped in the water after the resurrection to swim to shore to see Jesus.

However, in this particular instance, Peter inadvertently expresses his impatience and self-reliance. As a result, Jesus follows up Pete’s claim with some sobering words: “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times” (13:38). This is brutal! Jesus takes a spiritual 2×4 upside Peter’s head. His point is: Peter you can’t be faithful to me in your own strength. You can’t acknowledge Me publicly or live what I have taught you unless you abide in Me.

This word is so relevant for you and me as well. After reading this lesson, you will most likely get into some “intense fellowship” (i.e., a fight) with your spouse. Instead of exhibiting agape, you will pour out your wrath. This evening, your children will push your buttons and you will likely become angry instead of exercising patience. This week, you may learn that someone in your church has been gossiping about you or even slandering you. Your temptation will be to respond in kind and give this individual a piece of your Christian mind. These are all natural fleshly impulses that we all feel. Yet God is calling us to live a supernatural life that is dependent upon His strength. John is informing you and me that we can’t live the Christian life on our own for even an hour. We are weak and susceptible to sin. The only way that we can exude agape love is by constantly abiding in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Today, will you make a commitment of your will that you will obey Jesus’ new commandment and display agape? If you do, you will be able to say to others: “Look for love in the right place. You can look at my marriage, my family, and my church. My passion is to glorify Jesus by showcasing the love that He has instilled in me. Look for love right here, right now…in me.”

Quality Inn & Suites has a large sign with the words, “Free Hot Breakfast.” Now I must tell you, I am a huge breakfast lover. Well, every time our family drives by this Quality Inn, I want to drop in and say, “Yes, I would like a ‘free hot breakfast.’” Unfortunately, I would have to pay between $70–110 a night to enjoy their hot breakfast.

The church should have a proverbial sign that reads “Free Agape.” The difference is—there should be no charge for our services. You don’t have to put money into the offering. You don’t have to promise to serve. You don’t have to be particularly lovable. You just have to be a person created in God’s image with dignity, value, and worth. If the church is to make a difference in its culture, we need to love one another and then extend love to a world that desperately needs Christ. Then, and only then, can we honestly say: Look for love in the right place.

Just Do it! Upper Room Discourse #1

Just Do it! (John 13:1-17)

One day an airline flight was canceled due to bad weather. One solitary agent was trying to rebook all of the travelers whose schedules had gotten messed up. One passenger became impatient and pushed his way to the front and slammed his ticket down on the counter. He said, “I have to be on this flight, and it has to be first class!” The agent politely said, “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll help as soon as I can, but I have to take care of these other people first.” The man became angry and shouted, “Do you have any idea who I am?” Without hesitating, the agent picked up the loud speaker microphone and said to the hundreds of people in the terminal, “May I have your attention, please? We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate.” The man backed off, and the crowd of people burst into applause. Regardless of whom that man was—whether he was rich or famous or a little bit of both—he certainly didn’t have the respect of the people at the terminal that day. It’s hard to respect someone who considers themselves the most important person in the room and who puts his or her needs ahead of everyone else.

Perhaps you think I’m talking about your spouse, your teenager, your neighbor, or your mother-in-law. (I might be.) But maybe I am actually talking about you. Have you ever said, “I’m not going to do that.” “No one’s going to tell me what to do!” “I don’t have to put up with this.” “They don’t realize who I am.” “They don’t appreciate all I do around here!” “I don’t get any respect.” If you have said these things or thought these things, I am talking directly to you…and, I’m afraid, to me as well. If the truth be known, we’ve all thought these things, and most likely, even said these things out loud. Thus, we need to be reminded that there is no job beneath us. In case you question this remark, in John 13:1-17 the apostle John shares an account from Christ’s life that reveals our need to study this passage.

In 13:1-3 John writes, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God.” Before we get too deep into this great episode, it is important to set the context. John asserts that it is the day before the Feast of Passover—a meal that commemorated Israel’s release from Egypt. (Exodus 12) It is Thursday evening, less than twenty-four hours away from Jesus’ death on the cross. What would you be doing if you knew that you had less than twenty-four hours to live? Perhaps, you would be praying to be spared from death. Or maybe you would be doing some last-minute confession of sin. Not Jesus. His mind is set on preparing His disciples for His imminent departure. In fact, all of Jesus’ teaching in John 13-17 takes place on the eve of His death. Thus, this series is entitled, “Focus on Your Family: What Matters Most to Jesus.” Our goal is to discover how to truly be Jesus’ disciples and do church as He desires.

As we begin this account, it is critical to observe that John emphasizes twice what Jesus knows. In 13:1, Jesus knows that He is going to die and return to His Father. In 13:3, Jesus knows that the Father has given all things into His hands, and that He has come forth from God, and is going back to God. These statements reveal that Jesus knows His origin and His destiny. It is my conviction that true humility grows out of our relationship with God the Father. When you know that your needs are met in Christ, when you know who you are, where you came from, and where you’re going, you’ll be able to freely serve others. If you don’t know who you are, where you came from and where you’re going, you’ll not be secure enough to serve. Instead, you’ll be tempted to manipulate people to get your needs met. But as a follower of Jesus you ought to approach relationships out of a sense of fullness. You know who you are and you have nothing to prove. You no longer have to manipulate people or be paranoid about other people’s expectations and opinions. As you meditate on biblical truths that emphasize your security and significance in Christ, you’ll be more prone to serve rather than seek to be served.

Before we move on, it is critical to grasp 13:1b, which may be the key to the Upper Room Discourse. Regardless, this phrase has had a tremendous impact on my pastoral ministry. Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The theme of this section is service founded and grounded in love. Twice John emphasizes Jesus’ great love for His disciples. His life and ministry were characterized by a commitment to “having loved

His own.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus invested all His time, energy, and teaching into His disciples. But John also makes the startling point that Jesus “loved them to the end.” There is a double meaning here: Jesus persisted in faithful love toward His disciples in going to the cross and He persevered in unconditional love for them. Despite their ignorance, unbelief, disobedience, and eventual apostasy, Jesus persevered in His love for His disciples. One of the greatest incentives to serve others is to recognize that Jesus Christ has a vast, unconditional love for you. If you begin to grasp this love, it will motivate you to want to serve others as an expression of gratitude to Jesus. Today, you may struggle loving unlovely and unlovable Christians. We all struggle here. However, there is hope: When you feel you cannot love a brother or sister, immediately call out to God and acknowledge, “I can’t love this person, but I know you can. Will you love this believer through me?” You may have to pray this prayer (silently) several times whenever you see this person. But since this is God’s will for you (cf. 13:34-35), He will give you the supernatural strength to love your brother or sister. This Christ-like love will also take your ministry to the next level.

John has disclosed what Jesus knows about Himself and His future (13:1-3). Now he reveals what Jesus does in response to His knowledge. In 13:4-5, John describes Jesus’ actions in seven slow-motion scenes: “He [Jesus] got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” Don’t miss the fact that according to 13:4 (cf. 13:2) the meal is already underway when Jesus begins washing the disciples’ feet. This may strike you as odd, and rightly so. Foot washing normally occurred before the meal when guests entered a home. Foot washing was needed in every home in Palestine. Not only were the streets dusty and dirty, but they usually contained garbage and the waste from the animals that traveled up and down the same streets. Furthermore, the people didn’t wear socks, much less Nike Air. Instead, they wore open-toed sandals and their feet became very grimy, grungy, sweaty, and smelly. Needless to say filthy, smelly feet could make the meal and the fellowship rather uninviting. Thus, in Jesus’ day, foot washing was mandatory! Typically, a guest normally washed his or her own feet after the host offered a basin of water. You knelt down, removed your sandals, washed your feet, and then dried them with a towel. If a host had servants, they might be delegated to do the job for you. This was a mark of a high achievement in biblical times. A host that could provide this luxury had arrived! But under no circumstances would the host wash the feet of his guests. The master would never stoop so low as to wash the feet of those beneath him. Slaves washed feet. Masters never did.

So why in the world is Jesus, the Master, washing His disciples’ feet? Why hadn’t the disciples washed each other’s feet? Why hadn’t someone washed Jesus’ feet? After all, this was the evening before his crucifixion. If there was any night the disciples should have served Jesus, it was the Last Supper. Why did they start the meal with dirty feet? No doubt the events of the final few days had distracted them. But we get a greater clue from Luke 22:24 (cf. 9:46). On the way to the Last Supper, the ambitious disciples had been quarreling over who should be the greatest and who would have precedence in Christ’s kingdom. They were like Muhammad Ali claiming, “I am the greatest!” When they entered the Upper Room, there was apparently no slave to perform the customary washing of the feet of the guests. The disciples probably took turns when there was no slave, but on this occasion none would condescend to do the menial task. Their minds were full of the subject of their bitter contention, and none was willing to be servant of all. Each feigned unconsciousness of the neglected duty. The disciples were jealous of one another and were competing for the best place. They were all looking out for number one. No wonder they didn’t wash each other’s feet. No wonder it was left to Jesus. “They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel.”

The attitude of the disciples is what makes John’s deliberate slow-motion account all the more powerful. By delaying the foot washing into the meal, Jesus escalated the level of suspense. Have you ever been at a restaurant with some friends, and that awkward moment arrives when the check is placed on the table? The question that likely runs through your mind is: Whose turn is it to pay? Of course you likely assume it is your friends’ turn to pay for the meal. So you wait and wait hoping that they will pick up the bill on the table. Finally, it dawns on you that your friends are not going to pay. So you slowly reach for the bill, hoping that they will beat you to it. It may seem that this is what Jesus is doing. After all, His disciples attended Jesus Christ Biblical Seminary. After three years with the world’s greatest theologian, you would hope that they would be willing to serve Him. But this is not the case.

However, before we are too hard on the disciples, we must understand that Jesus is a detail oriented administrator. It seems that the lack of a servant to wash the disciples’ feet was deliberate. First of all, it was the host’s responsibility to provide this (see Luke 7), and Jesus was the host. Furthermore, throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus very carefully arranging things in advance (e.g., procuring the donkey and its colt, securing a place in which to celebrate Passover). It is unlikely, then, that the omniscient Jesus would forget to provide for the foot washing. Finally, all the things that were necessary for the foot washing were present (i.e., the basin, the water, the towel). Therefore, it is likely that Jesus purposefully arranged for a servant not to be present, so that He could wash the disciples’ feet, knowing (as He did) all that would take place during this meal. Jesus was and is the quintessential servant.

Now, if you are familiar with the Gospels, you are probably anticipating what is about to happen. Peter and Jesus have some legendary dialogue. In 13:6-11, John records Peter’s apprehension over Jesus washing his feet. John writes, “So He [Jesus] came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter’” (13:6-7). Although Peter can be slow of mind and heart, he finally recognizes that his Creator, the very Lord of glory should not be washing his feet. However, Jesus explains that this act will make sense “hereafter.” Jesus is referring to the explanation that he will share with His disciples in 13:12-17. A question remains though: Will Peter truly understand the purpose and intent of Jesus’ words? The answer is: Absolutely yes. After Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter understood fully. It is worth noting that Peter almost certainly had this episode in mind when he commanded his readers in 1 Pet 5:5: “Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The verb translated “clothe yourself” is reminiscent of Jesus putting on the garb of a slave. Eventually Peter did indeed catch the point of Jesus example.

At the moment, however, Peter is fighting Jesus tooth and nail. In 13:8, Peter responds to Jesus’ offer by saying: “Never shall You wash my feet.” The Greek is even more forceful: “You will never wash my feet forever.” In other words, Peter uses eternal language to say: “Jesus you will never, ever wash my feet, not now or anytime in the future.” You’ve got to love Peter here! When he gets it wrong, he gets it spectacularly wrong.

Jesus responds to Peter by saying, “‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me’” (13:8b). Jesus is not threatening Peter with a loss of salvation. This would contradict God’s Word and His very character. Rather, the purpose of foot washing is to illustrate Jesus’ philosophy of ministry, which is servant leadership. For Peter to reject Jesus’ offer to wash his feet is to reject His entire approach to ministry. The implication here is that Jesus wants Peter to tend His sheep (cf. John 21:16-17), but the only way that this can occur is by adopting Christ-like servant leadership. Furthermore, the only way to truly enjoy intimate fellowship with Jesus is to serve Him and keep short accounts. This is the challenge that Jesus issues to Peter.

Of course, Peter is a man of extremes. Good, ole’ Peter. Sometimes the only time he opens his mouth is to change feet! In 13:9, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Peter says, “Jesus, just give me a bath! I’m ready to jump into the tub.” Naturally, he is overcompensating, so Jesus says to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” There’s a great lesson here: We walk in a dirty world every day, and some of the dirt rubs off on us. We need to let Jesus get close enough to us so He can keep our lives clean. Again, the issue is intimate fellowship with Jesus. This is subsequent to salvation and is explained in 1 John 1:9. Yet, in the midst of a discussion of intimate fellowship, Jesus also brings up the topic of salvation, knowing full well that Judas is an unbeliever. His point is: Peter needs to have his feet washed, while Judas needs to be immersed in a tub! What a great picture of the distinction between salvation and fellowship.

Again, Jesus Christ, not only died on the cross for the sins of the world, He lived a life of servanthood. During this last supper, Jesus washed all the feet of his disciples, including Judas, the one who would betray him in a matter of hours. To visualize this it is important to remember that Jesus and His disciples are not sitting in chairs around a dining room table. Rather, they are reclining on their left elbows, eating with their right hand, and have their feet behind them. The stench from their feet must have been horrendous. How could they really have enjoyed their meal? Nevertheless, Jesus went from disciple to disciple and washed their feet. In His love, He was able to endure the ingrown nails, corns, calluses, cracked heels, and fungi. What a great, sacrificial love!

In 13:12-17, John’s account becomes rather pointed. “So when He [Jesus] had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?” (13:12) Jesus, the master teacher, poses a question because He knows His disciples are slow of mind and heart. He wants to make sure that they have really caught this truth. He then follows up His question with a powerful declaration: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.’ If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (13:13-14). Twice in these verses, Jesus calls Himself “Teacher and Lord.” It is worth noticing that no disciple ever addressed Jesus casually. No one ever called Him “Jesus” and they certainly never used expressions like “Sweet Jesus” or “Dear Jesus.” They called Him “Master” or “Lord.”

Often, I think we make a mistake in being too familiar with the Lord Jesus Christ. We envision Him as a cosmic Santa Claus or a Mr. Rogers with a nice zip-up polyester sweater. We rarely ponder the fact that He came as the Lamb of God but is now the Lion of God. If we had a holy sense of awe at the power and sovereignty of Jesus and recognized that He willingly served humankind, we would not hesitate to do so as well. It is when we have a great view of Jesus and a small view of ourselves that we get things done.

It is worth noting that some Christians understand 13:14b to proscribe foot washing as the third ordinance, along with baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, most Christian groups have said that this is not the case because, (1) there is never a record of it being done by any church in Acts; (2) it is never advocated in the New Testament letters; and (3) it is never specifically said to be an ongoing ordinance as are baptism (cf. Matt 28:19) and the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). This is not meant to imply that this might not be an important worship event. But it is more appropriate to look for other creative ways to wash people’s feet.

John’s account concludes in 13:1517 with a powerful punch line: “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” The command is: Do as I have done. Apparently, Nike copied Jesus when they trademarked the slogan, “Just do it!” Jesus is simply saying, “See what needs to be done and do it.” Therefore, if I could boil down this lesson into one statement, it would be: Actions speak louder than words. If Jesus asked the disciples (even on the road to the upper room), “Do you love Me?” they would have responded, “We love You with all our hearts.” If He had asked them, “Do you love one another?” His disciples would have replied, “We love each other and all of God’s children.” Jesus’ disciples knew the right things, but they did not do the right things. Yet, James, the half-brother of Jesus said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). Actions speak louder than words.

Many cathedrals in Europe suffered damage as a result of bombing raids during World War II. The explosion of a bomb in one great cathedral blew the hands off a statue of Christ. Though the cathedral was repaired, the statue of Christ stands there today with His hands missing. An inscription on the pedestal reads, “Christ hath no hands but yours.” Today will you be Jesus’ hands and feet?

Today, will you pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to you a single person He wants you to serve? Don’t think about a list of twenty, just one single person that the Lord will lay upon your heart. Ask Him for the grace to love this person unconditionally and to serve him or her with your whole being. This is a prayer that God will answer. Remember, actions speak louder than words. May you and I follow in the sandals of Jesus and become foot washers.

Being salt and light

Being Salt and Light
Small group, MBC, February 15, 2015
Have you ever failed to recognize something valuable? As Stan Caffy prepared for married life, he cleaned out his garage and donated many of his possessions to the Goodwill. One of the items he donated was a tattered copy of the Declaration of Independence that had been hanging in his garage for a decade. Stan’s trash turned out to be another man’s treasure. This particular version of the Declaration of Independence was a rare copy made in 1823. A man named Michael Sparks spotted it, and he purchased the document for $2.48. Sparks later auctioned it for almost a half–a–million. Not a bad profit.
Just like this tattered copy of the Declaration of Independence, you and I are worth more than we think. Today, however, you may not feel like you are valuable. Perhaps you feel like you have failed God in your marriage or family. Maybe you are still suffering the consequences from a divorce or two. Maybe you failed to spend time with your kids and now that they are older they don’t have time for you. You wonder because of your mistakes if God truly loves you. Maybe you’ve never served in the church and you feel like there’s no way you could start now after so many years of inactivity. Due to your lack of spiritual commitment, you wonder how God can truly care about you. Perhaps you have wasted away your schooling or career. You had so much potential but you never lived up to it. Now it seems like you are just aimlessly going through the motions. You wonder how God could ever use you. I’m here to tell you that regardless of how you feel today, God considers you incredibly valuable. He loves you and longs for you to live out who you are. So give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is. In Matt 5:13–16, Jesus issues two exhortations to motivate us to fulfill this calling.

1. Season the earth (5:13). In 5:13, Jesus tells us that as disciples we play a valuable role in our culture. He begins by declaring, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” To discover the meaning of the salt metaphor, we need to understand the function of salt as it would be understood by Jesus’ original first–century audience. There’s only one problem: Scholars have identified no less than eleven different functions of salt in the ancient world. Salt had so many uses that it was highly valued. In fact, salt was so valuable that the Romans sometimes paid their soldiers with it. If a soldier did not carry out his duties, others would say, “He is not worth his salt.” That’s where we get the expression, “worth his salt.” Even today when we wish to say that someone embodies genuine quality and goodness, we say, “He [or she] is the salt of the earth.” So, we can safely say that the salt metaphor carries a general idea of value. Disciples, therefore, add value to the world in a broad sense. But we are still left to figure out specifically which of the valuable functions of salt Jesus had in mind.

The fate of Lot’s wife, being turned to a pillar of salt, is found in Genesis 19:26. The story may have originated as an explanation for the salt pillar on Mount Sodom, which is often called “Lot’s Wife”. It is common for locals to give names to some of the human-like shapes, including legends of the shapes’ origins.
Leviticus 2:13 and Ezekiel 43:24 illustrate the requirement of salt as part of ancient Hebrew religious sacrifices. Levicitus 2:13 reads: “And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.”
Salt was cast on the burnt offering (Ezekiel 43:24) and was part of the incense (Exodus 30:35). Part of the temple offering included salt (Ezra 6:9).
Salt was widely and variably used as a symbol and sacred sign in ancient Palestine. Numbers 18:19 and 2 Chronicles 13:5 illustrate salt as a covenant of friendship. In cultures throughout the region, the eating of salt is a sign of friendship. Salt land is a metaphorical name for a desolate no man’s land, as attested in Psalms 107:34, Job 39:6, and Jeremiah 17:6. The land of defeated cities was salted to consecrate them to a god and curse their re-population, as illustrated in Judges 9:45.
Bishop K.C. Pillai, from India, testifies that the salt covenant is much more than a covenant of friendship. It is an irrevocable pledge and promise of fidelity. Those who have taken salt together would rather die before they would break their covenant. He further states that the penalty for violating such a covenant is death.
Newborn babies were rubbed with salt. A reference to this practice is in Ezekiel 16:4: “As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.”
The significance of rubbing a newborn with salt is to indicate that the child would be raised to have integrity, to always be truthful.

Salt can be a preservative, an antiseptic, a fire catalyst, and a fertilizer. Honestly, I can make a reasonably convincing case for several interpretations; however, it seems to me that the most likely usage of salt in this context is as a seasoning agent.9 Jesus’ mention of the taste of salt supports this interpretation. Salt imparts flavor and improves the taste of bland food. If this is the function of salt Jesus has in mind, then how are disciples to be salty? Contextually, being salty is to live out the eight beatitudes previously listed in 5:3–12. If we live out these beatitudes we will make Christ attractive. Thus, to be “salty” is to be like Christ and live out His life. As we do so, we help those around us develop a taste for Jesus.

A young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale; and, as he talked with his sales manager, he lamented, “I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The manager replied, “Son, take my advice: Your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.” Are you making anyone in your life thirsty to know more about Christ? Is there anyone who is curious about your life because you showcase the life of Christ? Your lifestyle should exude such a flavor that it creates in others a hunger and thirst for the gospel.
Some people put salt on tomatoes and watermelon. Yet, I have never heard such a person say, “Oh, that is great salt!” Now I’ve heard plenty of folks say, “That is a great tomato or great watermelon.” Why? Because the job of salt is not to make you think how great salt is, but how great the salted food is. We need to sprinkle salt all over our society. Tragically, we have been so withdrawn from culture that we have turned our society over to the unrighteous to rule. When Christians pulled out of public education, politics, and the media, righteous decisions left with them. We have been called to penetrate society. How are your neighborhood, your town, and your kids’ schools different because you are around? You and I are supposed to be the “spice of life!” We need to live out who we are. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.

Before I leave this discussion on the purpose of salt, it is worth mentioning that salt is also an antiseptic. Perhaps you’ve discovered this function of salt when you’ve waded into the ocean with an open cut. Salt is indeed a potent disinfectant. But whenever it is used for this purpose, it can be painful. Likewise, in the spiritual realm we need to remember that people will many times not understand or applaud our salty nature. They may plead for us to be more tolerant and understanding, or they may accuse us of being judgmental. But we are called to disinfect a dying world, and this means we cannot compromise on sin. We must love people enough to be honest with them, even if it hurts them…and us. Remember, Jesus calls His disciples “the salt of the earth” and not “the sugar of the earth.” Some Christians prefer to sugarcoat the Bible and the claims of Christ. This makes life a whole lot easier. No one will object if we quote passages like “Do not judge” or “Love your neighbor.” Yet, you and I are called to be “the salt of the earth.” And sometimes, no matter how gracious and sensitive you attempt to be, you will offend. After all, salt has a bite to it. But the tang of salt also brings healing from the infection of sin.

After explaining the value and purpose of salt, Jesus continues in 5:13 with a word of warning: “…but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?” Jesus’ words appear to present a problem for those who are scientifically astute. The question is frequently posed: How can salt lose its saltiness? Salt that loses its saltiness is a contradiction in terms like water that loses its wetness. If it is not salty, it is not salt. Strictly speaking, salt cannot lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. But the salt in Jesus’ day was seldom pure sodium chloride. The “salt” collected around the Dead Sea contained a mixture of other minerals, allowing the pure salt to be potentially washed out, leaving a useless residue that lacked the salty taste. While in the first–century it was possible for salt to lose its saltiness, in the spiritual realm this should be considered unthinkable! As God’s people we are the salt of the earth. We are not told to become salty; we are challenged to stay salty! Interestingly, the literal meaning of the word translated “tasteless” (moraino) is “to become foolish.” It is likely that Jesus is using a pun to suggest that if His disciples lose their saltiness, they are making fools of themselves.

Tragically, many Christians are like salt–free potato chips—their lives are a walking contradiction. Instead of flavoring the culture, they are polluting the culture.
In the final phrase of 5:13, Jesus states that tasteless salt “is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” In the first–century, when salt became tasteless it was thrown on the ground where people wanted a hard path because salt had a hardening effect on the soil. People would then walk right on top of the salt and trample it into the ground. This metaphor does not mean that tasteless disciples lose their salvation. Instead, they are cast aside in the ministry of Christ. Tasteless disciples are not fulfilling the purpose for which Jesus called them. Because they are useless, they lose their testimony and influence. The consequences of such failure involve the loss of present usefulness and future rewards (cf. John 15:1–8).
The warning of 5:13 is also relevant to local churches as well. Since Jesus is talking to the disciples as a group (“you” plural) and they are later called the “foundation” of the church (Eph 2:20), this is applicable to every local church. As a corporate church, if we become tasteless and anemic we will be snuffed out of existence. We see testimony of this in church history. The seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation are no more. The churches of Corinth and Ephesus are all but nonexistent. We look in vain for the church of North Africa where the great Augustine (354–430) ministered. This can happen to our church as well. Even if we seem to be flourishing today, we may become tasteless tomorrow. The church of today has a tendency to brag about the size of our salt shakers (our church buildings) or the amount of salt we can put into our shakers (our worship attendance), rather than truly salting down our communities with the good news and good works of Jesus Christ. The whole point of salt is to leave the shaker and hit the meat. We must impact our world with the life of Christ. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.
[As disciples we are called to season the earth. This requires us to recognize our value and fulfill our calling. In the next three verses, Jesus says…]
2. Light your world (5:14–16). In this section, Jesus declares that we are called to shine the light of Christ. He begins by stating: “You are the light of the world.” People often get very disturbed because the world is dark. That’s because the world is not light. What else can a sinful place be but dark? The world is lost and without any direction because the world is not light. Jesus is the Light, and we are to reflect Him. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, it is not enough to have private personal holiness; we must also have public exposure.

If we were to go into a building on a pitch–dark night, turn out all the lights, and even cover up all the windows, it would be so dark we would have a hard time moving around. There would be chaos as we ran into chairs, walls, and each other trying to get out of that building. But if in the middle of all that confusion, I stood on a platform, pulled out a huge flashlight, and turned it on, guess what? I now run the show. Whoever has the light calls the shots when it’s dark. That dark building describes this dark world pretty well. People are crashing into everything, trying to find a way out of the darkness. We Christians are the light. The tragedy is that we are not using the flashlight God has given us to give the world some light. Turn your flashlight on, Christian, so people in darkness can see. And after you turn it on hold it high so everyone can see it.

Christianity is not a covert operation. We don’t go slinking around in the dark to get our work done. There is no room for “secret–agent” Christians. We are not the spiritual CIA. We’re “the light of the world.” What we need is a group of people who are unapologetically Christian. Don’t apologize for being a Christian. No one else is apologizing. Homosexuals aren’t. Racists aren’t. If they can go public, so can we.

After making this general assertion, Jesus shares two parables in 5:14–15. First, He says, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” In Jesus’ day, cities were often set on a hill for a number of reasons. It was cooler on a hill. In that arid, middle–eastern land, the only air conditioning they had was a breeze. Cities were also situated on hilltops for protection against attack. A city set on a hill was easier to defend. It is much more difficult to storm a walled city running uphill, and defenders have always known that victory must be claimed by capturing and holding the high ground. Jesus’ point, however, is not a city’s defense, but its visibility because of its elevated position. Most cities in Jesus’ day were constructed largely of white limestone and placed on a hilltop to reflect the bright sun rays, allowing visibility from miles away. At night the white marble mirrored both the moonlight and burning lamps, acting as a beacon for directing travelers toward the city.34 Similarly, as disciples our light ought to make it easier for people to find their way to God. We are a city set on a hill that should be elevated and easily visible. We should give hope and direction for weary pilgrims in this dangerous and futile world. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.

In His second parable in 5:15, Jesus zooms in from the glow of a city to the glow of a household. He says, “Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” In Jesus’ day, homes were lit by small clay lamps which could be held in the palm of the hand. These clay lamps were sometimes covered with a hole in the top in which to pour the oil, and a hole at one side for the wick. Since most Jewish homes were modest one–room structures, placing a lamp on a lampstand could give light to everyone in the house. Jesus contrasts elevating a lamp on a lampstand to covering a lamp with a basket. People don’t light a lamp to hide its light under a basket, Jesus says. That’s silly! Rather, people light a lamp in order to shed light to everyone in the house. It is not that people should not hide their lights in their baskets, but that they do not do this. Lamps were essential for finding one’s way in enclosed areas during the night and were placed under a basket only to extinguish the light. Yet, many of us extinguish our lamp when we go to work, school, or into our neighborhood or community. We assume we need to blend in rather than bring a little heat. But in these two parables, Jesus says heat it up and lift it up. Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.

Jesus concludes this passage with a powerful statement: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Fathe who is in heaven.” This verse is a command, not a suggestion. Jesus says, “Since you are light, SHINE!” We are not here to get used to the dark but to shine as lights. The light of Christ is to shine in and through us “before men.” In other words, this is a public exhibition of light. It is important to notice that the “light” is not equated with good works. Rather, the light illumines the good works in such a way that men notice them and glorify God. What is it that lights up our works to the glory of God? I believe it is our verbal testimony to Jesus Christ. Good works by themselves are not light; they must be illuminated by words that direct attention and tribute to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes Christians place a false dichotomy between words and deeds. They will say, “I testify to my faith in God by the way I live.” Others will say defiantly, “I don’t have to say anything.” The idea that we shouldn’t feel compelled to bring up the name of Jesus Christ as the explanation for our Christian character is born from either unbelievable arrogance or incredible naïveté. Our lives are not an adequate witness apart from our words. If you have your most spiritual day and your good works are clearly evident, your coworkers and classmates may just assume that you are a good Mormon. But if you name the name of Christ, people will know whose you are and where your works stem from.

Jesus expects good works and good words. Both are necessary to glorify God. The word “glorify” (doxazo) means to show off. That’s right—we’re supposed to show God off. Unfortunately, sometimes it is tempting to dazzle others with our good works so that we are glorified, not God. Yet, light functions best when it is least visible. If you are blinded by a lamp, you are not able to read. Jesus makes it clear that our good works should not direct attention back to us but to the Father in heaven. The purpose of shining our light is to point others to the God who is working in us. When people see the full moon on a clear summer night, they are not going to say, “It’s wonderful that the moon is such a powerhouse of light energy for us.” The moon has no light. It merely reflects the light of the sun. That’s how it works with Christians, too. The world sees our works, but glorifies not us but the One who is the true source of the goodness that we exhibit in our behavior. You could say we are like stained-glass windows. We sparkle and shine when the sun is out. But in the darkness, beauty is seen only if there is a light within.
Yet, you may still be thinking, “I’m just not very impressive. I don’t have a lot of gifts or talents. I’m not educated. I’m not rich. I’m not outgoing. I’m not even good looking. How can God use me?” Remember that Jesus’ disciples were the little people of the world. Jesus Himself was a carpenter/preacher who was not much older than thirty. His disciples were the same age. They were not political leaders. They weren’t well educated. Some spoke with country accents. They didn’t come from wealthy or aristocratic families. They came from what we would call today small business and “blue–collar jobs.” So if Jesus could call His disciples “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” He can say the same to you today. So give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is.
In our master bedroom there is a rocking chair. Next to the glider is a standing lamp. I often like to sit in this chair and read, before going to bed. Every night, I turn on the lamp so that I can see to read. What happens when the light bulb burns out? Naturally, I instinctually turn on the lamp, but to no avail. I have the light bulb; I just need to use it.
Maybe this story describes your spiritual life. You are “the light of the world,” but you’re not lighting up your world. Your life doesn’t shed light, it casts shadows. Someone once phrased the issue this way: “If you were being tried for being for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” For many of us, this is a very sobering question. This week you may see your next–door neighbor, your mail delivery person, your children’s friends and parents and teachers, your coworkers, your server in the local restaurant, and on and on. Jesus says, “Shine your light!” Give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is. Let those around you know that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Show Him off to those in your life.

Becoming an encourager

Becoming an Encourager
Small group, March 23, 2014, MBC

Thought for the week: Are you an encourager or a discourager?

Well, nobody likes for someone to rain on their parade! That’s why we need to learn to encourage, rather than discourage each other.

How many of you remember the song, “Home on the range”? “…where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.” Wouldn’t it be great to live a life like that? Well, we can’t do much about the discouraging words that come to us, any more than we can do something about cloudy days. But we can work toward having a Christian community where words of encouragement are more frequent than the words of discouragement from the world.

discouraging sayings in our culture. Can you list some?
Nice guys finish last. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The only one who likes change is a baby with a dirty diaper. You can’t fight city hall.

Fortunately, there ARE plenty of encouraging words to us in Scripture:

READ Matthew 5:5 – Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
READ Matthew 28:20 – surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
READ Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
READ 2 Timothy 1:6-2:3 – focal passages.

To really make a difference in this world we need to take the encouraging words of Scripture and fight off the plague of discouragement. Discouragement is like a disease. HOW DO YOU FIGHT OFF A DISEASE? Inoculate yourself! Take precautions!

Who needs to be an encourager? EVERYBODY!

What professions need to be encouragers?” Coaches, Teachers, Political leaders, etc.

Alan Loy McGinnis, in Bringing Out the Best in People, writes:
A proven motivator will make it to the top before a proven genius. When Andrew Carnegie hired Charles Schwab to administer his far-flung steel empire, Schwab became the first man in history to earn a million dollars a year while in someone else’s employ. Schwab was once asked what equipped him to earn $3,000 a day. Was it his knowledge of steel manufacturing? “Nonsense,” snorted Schwab. “I have lots of men working for me who know more about steel than I do.” Schwab was paid such a handsome amount largely because of his ability to inspire other people. “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among the men the greatest asset I possess,” he said, and any leader who can do that can go almost anywhere and name almost any price.

Well, it should not come as a surprise that then that church leaders also need this skill. But what about us in the pew? Do we encourage our staff? When one of our staff has a new idea, how do we respond? Do we say, “Oh, that will never work!” or “That’s great, how can I help?”

The need to encourage others in the church is nothing new. Paul needed encouragement while he was imprisoned for two years in a Roman jail. (By the way, do you think Paul would have written all those letters if he WASN’T in jail?) The encouragement he gave to Timothy is a good example of what he gave to others.
There are two kinds of encouragement:
1. helping others see that the challenge ahead is not so overwhelming as they think
2. helping the person see more clearly the power of the resources available to them

Let’s look at that first one.
What was the most intimidating challenge faced by the first century church?
PERSECUTION. Persecution had put Paul into prison. It had also almost got him killed.

READ 2 Corinthians 11:24-26

Paul could speak authoritatively about persecution. But did Paul whine about persecution? NO!!!!!!

READ 2 Timothy 1:8, 12

If other people threaten you with death, so what? Jesus Christ has “destroyed death” by taking away its power. That is why Paul could encourage Timothy and us to “endure hardship with us like a good soldier…”.(2:3) We should look for ways to encourage each other especially during the hard times.

Robert Schuller tells a story about a banker who always tossed a coin in the cup of a legless beggar who sat on the street outside the bank. But, unlike most people, the banker would always insist on getting one of the pencils the man had beside him. “You are a merchant,” the banker would say, “and I always expect to receive good value from merchants I do business with.” One day the legless man was not on the sidewalk. Time passed and the banker forgot about him, until he walked into a public building and there in the concessions stand sat the former beggar. He was obviously the owner of his own small business now. “I have always hoped you might come by someday,” the man said. “You are largely responsible for me being here. You kept telling me that I was a ‘merchant’. I started thinking of myself that way, instead of a beggar receiving gifts. I started selling pencils — lots of them. You gave me self-respect, caused me to look at myself differently.”

We should also remember that we have an abundance of resources to face the challenges ahead of us.
two kinds of resources. Simply, they are internal and external. Our internal resources are the gifts of God within us. Paul likened the presence of the Holy Spirit in Timothy to a fire – a fire that was already smoldering, but which could be fanned into flame. That flame could quench the spirit of fear often found in people who are discouraged.

As Paul told Timothy, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and self discipline. God has given us triple power to overcome fear!

Secondly, we have access to external resources. One of these resources is the support of Christian friends.
DO YOU HAVE SOMEONE IN YOUR LIFE WHO REGULARLY ENCOURAGES YOU? Paul did.
His name was Onesiphorus. He not only encouraged Paul, but he set the example for us, too.

Suffering comes to all of us, and no one can suffer for us. Even so, we can be supported in those difficult times by the prayers and understanding of loved ones and friends. It’s when we are too proud to admit our need to others that we are in the greatest danger.
The Sequoia trees of California tower as much as 300 feet above the ground. Strangely, these giants have unusually shallow root systems that reach out in all directions to capture the greatest amount of surface moisture. Seldom will you see a redwood standing alone because high winds would quickly uproot it. That’s why they grow in clusters. Their intertwining roots provide support for one another against the storms.
Support is what Jesus wanted from Peter, James, and John in Gethsemane as he faced Calvary. On the cross as the world’s sin-bearer He would experience His Father’s wrath and abandonment. That was the awful cup He prayed would be taken from Him. In that dark hour, He looked to His disciples for prayerful alertness and compassion. But oh, how they disappointed Him! Somehow the sight of His sleeping disciples must have made the isolation of Gethesemane that much more painful.
If Jesus looked to human support in His crisis hour, how much more do Christians need one another when they suffer! Let’s be willing to ask someone to pray for us and with us. And let’s be alert for opportunities to lend our support to others who are suffering.

Seeing where we are now is the first step to change. But it isn’t the only step. Once we see who we are, we can decide, “Is this how I want to be”?

Have you been raining on someone else’s parade?

Do people come to you for encouragement or run from you lest they be discouraged?
If you’re willing to become an encourager, let me suggest three steps to get there:

1. Tell each person in your family of one quality you see in him or her that gives you hope for that person’s future. That is the first step (Page 76). What needs to be fanned into flame in their life?

2. Pause long enough to choose a positive reaction when people tell you their plans or dreams. This may be a long breath for some, but practice making it a habit. See the good in the plan before you determine why it won’t work.

3. Find one person each week who seems discouraged and encourage them. Be an Onesiphorous!