Archive for the ‘Encouragements’ Category:

The War Against the Soul

The Bible describes three elements of a living person – body, soul, and spirit.  We can easily recognize the body since it is the physical part of a person.  But the soul and spirit are more difficult to distinguish.  They are the invisible elements of a person and are much alike in their nature and activities.  Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  This passage suggests that it is difficult to distinguish between the soul and spirit but that the word of God is able to divide them or distinguish between them.  The spirit is the life principle that God has given to man.  Genesis 2:7 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  Without a spirit, a person is dead.  James 2:26 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  When a person has a spirit, as given by God, the soul is the resulting life constituted in the individual.  The body is the physical entity that is animated by the soul and the spirit. 

If someone is killed by another individual, the soul continues and is not killed.  Matthew 10:28 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  The soul is the part of you that can do evil and sin.  Romans 2:8-9 “But to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek.”  The soul is either lost or saved.  Matthew 16:26 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”  1 Peter 1:9 “Receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls.”

It is not my intent to give a complete description of the soul, but rather to indicate that your soul is the non-physical part of you that makes you who you are.  It is the part of you that either submits to God, obeys Him and is saved or that follows sin and will be lost.  Therefore, you will want to protect your soul so that your soul is saved and not lost.  Now consider what the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:11-12 “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  Here Peter tells us that there is a war against your very soul. 

It is fleshly lusts that war against your soul.  If you allow these lusts to take control of you, you will lose your soul.  Fleshly lusts are your strong desires for the things of the world.  1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”  Worldly lusts would be the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  Even though pride is not called a lust, I believe that the strong desire to be important or superior to others is pride and it is a lust.

Peter’s plea was that you would abstain from fleshly lusts since they war against your soul.  These lusts are contrary to God’s way and will draw you to the world rather than drawing you closer to God.  Galatians 5:16-17 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” People of the world live their lives following their fleshly lusts and as a result produce the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Those who follow fleshly lusts practice the works of the flesh and do not inherit the kingdom of God; they lose their soul.

My encouragement to you is to abstain from fleshly lusts since they war against your soul.  The wonderful grace of God should teach you to deny your worldly lusts.  Titus 2:11-12 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”  Protect you soul from fleshly lusts by walking in the Spirit and being led by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18).

Trained by Grace

Our God is a gracious, loving God.  John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  God did not have to send His Son or save you, but He chose to do so.    His grace has appeared to all men.  Titus 2:11-14 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” When you see the grace, the unmerited favor that Jesus Christ and God the Father have for you, what does that teach you?  In other words, what should your response be?

First of all, you should see how much God loved you.  He sent His only, beloved Son to be your sin substitute.  Jesus loved you so much that He laid down His life for you.  John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  You weren’t even His friend; because of your sin, you were His enemy.  God’s love for you should generate in you love for Him.  1 John 4:19 “We love Him because He first loved us.”  When you love someone, you want to serve them and please them.  So when you see God’s love for your, you should love Him in return and desire to serve and please Him.

Besides loving you, why did God give you His grace?  He did so to “redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people (Titus 2:14).”  You were lost and sold to evil, sinful, lawless deeds.  Jesus paid the price to purchase or redeem you so that you would now belong to Him.  By being the sin offering and substitute for you, He purified you so that you are no longer polluted by your sin.  Isaiah 1:18 “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’”  Since through God’s grace you are now purified, His grace should teach you to remain pure.  That means you should deny yourself “ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:12).”

Ungodliness is anything that is contrary to the characteristics, thoughts and actions that God desires.  Worldly lusts are your strong desires for the things of the world – strong desires for things such as sensual pleasures, possessions, and pride. (See 1 John 2:15-16).  Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’” God’s grace should teach you to deny yourself ungodliness and worldly lusts.

God’s grace should teach you to live soberly.  This means you should be of sound mind, self-controlled and temperate in your actions.  The opposite of sober might be wild, uncontrolled, or intoxicated.  The world often exhibits wild behavior by wasting money, engaging in wild parties, sexual immorality, pleasure seeking, recreational drugs, and drunkenness.  God’s grace should teach you to live soberly.

God’s grace should teach you to live righteously.  That means you should have right thoughts and actions.  You should keep his commands.  God gave you righteousness because of your faith in Him and Jesus Christ, but you also have a responsibility to practice righteousness.  1 John 3:7 “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”  God’s grace should teach you to live righteously.

God’s grace should teach you to live godly in this present age.  That means you should be God-fearing and devoted to God and His will.  You should be holy – set apart from the world and dedicated to God.  People in the world are typically self-seeking and walk according to the flesh.  In contrast, God’s grace should teach you to live godly.

Not only did He purify you to be one of His own special people, but He also wants you to be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).  Not just pure, but also zealous – exhibiting enthusiasm and strong passion for good works.  Some people seem to be content to attend the church assemblies every week.  While that is good and important, zealous for good works should go far beyond the assembly to a daily life dedicated to serving God and your fellow man, just as Jesus went about doing good.

My encouragement to you is to be trained by the grace and love of God to love God, deny yourself ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age, being zealous for good works as you look for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Hypocrisy

Most of us have seen movies in theaters or on television.  We have seen plays enacted by school children or professionals.  Plays were common even in biblical times.  An actor portrays a character by speaking his words, expressing his emotion, and doing his actions.  A good actor makes us believe that he is that character.  But we know that the actor is not really that character, but merely playing a part.  And such is a hypocrite.  He is an actor who makes us believe that he is a true Christian.  God condemns the hypocrite.  Let us look at some examples in scripture of hypocritical actions.

The first example is in praying.  Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”  These individuals did not genuinely desire to communicate with God.  Since most people see praying as a righteous action, they wanted to be seen as righteous, pious individuals.  They acted the part of a righteous person so that others would respect and praise them as righteous.  But Jesus said in verse 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”  Don’t pray just to receive the praise of men; instead, pray privately to your heavenly Father.  God wants to hear your sincere prayer.

The second example is in fasting.  Matthew 6:16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”  Fasting is to voluntarily deny yourself food when you are hungry.  It is an act of self-discipline and can direct your hunger toward God and draw you closer to God as you deny yourself the needs of the body.  Such fasting is generally seen as a righteous action.  But the hypocrites were fasting, not to draw closer to God, but to be seen as righteous so that others would respect and praise them.  Jesus says in verses 17 and 18 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”  Don’t fast just to receive the praise of men; instead, fast without making it obvious that you are fasting.  God wants you to draw near to Him in fasting.

The third example is in doing charitable deeds.  Matthew 6:1 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  Voluntarily helping someone in need is generally seen as a good, righteous deed.  People will respect and praise you for your generosity.  But the hypocrites were doing their charitable deeds, not because they cared for the one in need, but so that others would respect and praise them.  Jesus continues in verses 3-4 “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”  Don’t do your good deeds to receive the praise of men.  It shouldn’t matter to you if others know what you do or not.  God wants you to help others because you have compassion and love for them.

We have other examples in the scriptures of hypocrisy.  Some came to Jesus and pretended to want to know the truth but in reality they wanted to trap Him and condemn Him in what He said (Mark 12:13-15).  Then there is the case of the speck or plank in the eye (Matthew 7:4-5) where one tries to help someone with a small problem when they themselves have a big problem.  Even the apostle Peter was hypocritical when he freely associated with the Gentiles until fellow Jews came on the scene and then he disassociated himself from the Gentiles to appear to the Jews that he was a righteous Jew (Galatians 2:11-13).

The hypocrite wants to be seen as righteous so that others will respect and praise him.  Matthew 23:5-7 “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.  They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’”  Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.”  Matthew 23:27-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  What a description of hypocrisy!  Outwardly they appeared beautiful but inwardly they were full of rottenness. 

How might you be a hypocrite?  You might follow some of the examples of hypocrites given above.  You might do righteous actions but you do them partly because you want to appear righteous before others.  You might go to the church assembly and appear righteous when you don’t really want to be there to encourage your fellow Christian or worship God.  You might pretend to love others when you don’t really love them.  Romans 12:9 “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”  You might say and do good things when around fellow Christians, but when you are with people of the world, you talk and act just like they do.  You might live a secret sin life.  You criticize others but do the same things yourself.

My encouragement to you is to stop being a hypocrite.  When you find hypocrisy in your life, confess it to God and repent.  Be a genuine follower of Jesus inside and out.  Let your righteous words and deeds come from your heart.

Sacrifices

Under the Old Testament, God chose Aaron and his descendants to be the priests.  These men were set apart to the Lord and were washed with water, anointed with special oil, and wore special priestly garments.  Their responsibility was to serve God and the Israelite people.  One of their duties was to offer up to God the required animal sacrifices to include bulls, rams and goats and the grain offerings.  The first account we have of sacrifices was when Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam, offered sacrifices to the Lord (Genesis 4:3-4).  From the time of Cain and Abel until Aaron, people had offered animal sacrifices to the Lord.  Under the Law given through Moses, many sacrifices were prescribed to be offered to the Lord through the priests.  The priests were the class of people who had been set apart to offer sacrifices to God and be a mediatory agent between God and the people.

In some Christian denominations today, there is a certain class of individuals designated as priests.  These individuals are often expected to make intercession and requests to God for other Christians who are not priests.  But there is no instruction in the New Testament for making an office of a priest or a priestly class of individuals.  All of us as Christians are priests.  1 Peter 2:9-10 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”  Each one of us has the privilege of going directly to God the Father through Jesus Christ as our mediator.  Each one of us can pray to God.  Each one of us can offer spiritual sacrifices to God.  1 Peter 2:5 “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

What is a sacrifice?  It is taking something that you have and that you value and giving it away for a good purpose.  Parents frequently sacrifice for their children; the parents may go without eating so that their children can have food or the parents may go without something they want or need so that their children can have what they want or need. A sacrifice in the Old Testament would be when an Israelite would take an animal from his livestock, give it to the priest who would then slay it, place it on the altar and burn it up as a sacrifice to the Lord.  The purpose for such a sacrifice might be because of some sin committed or to thank the Lord for His blessings or to fulfill a vow.    Today, a person might take something he possesses and values, such as a car, and voluntarily give it for the Lord’s work; that would be a sacrifice. 

The greatest sacrifice given was that of Jesus Christ.  God sent His Son into the world.  Jesus came to the earth, gave us the words of God, and then willing gave Himself to be taken and crucified for the sins of the world.  That is why He is called the Lamb of God.  Just as lambs were offered as sin offerings under the Law given through Moses, Jesus was offered as the sin offering for the New Covenant.  Ephesians 5:2 “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”  Jesus sacrificed Himself as a sin offering to God for you and me.

God is your Lord who watches over you and blesses you.  Sacrificing something to God is a way of worshipping Him.  Since you are a priest to God, what are some of the spiritual sacrifices that you are to offer to Him?  Let us begin in Hebrews 13:15-16 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.  But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”  When you praise and thank God from your heart, that is a sacrifice that you give Him.  When you do good and share with others, that is a sacrifice that pleases God.  Matthew 16:24-25 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’”  When you deny yourself the works of the flesh because you have faith and love for God, you are sacrificing yourself and worshipping God.  The apostle Paul exhorts you in Romans 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”  When you give your whole body to please God as a living sacrifice to Him, this is the way you are to worship God.

You are a priest to God who is meant to offer up acceptable spiritual sacrifices to Him.  Praise and thank God; do the good that He asks you to do; deny yourself; present your body as a living sacrifice to Him.  Worship God with your spiritual sacrifices to Him. W

Older Women

God wants men to be the leaders in the family and the church.  Husbands are to take the responsibility of being the head of the family.  Ephesians 5:22-23 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.”  The leaders of the local church are the elders, also known as bishops, overseers, and pastors, indicating the functions they perform (see Acts 20:28).  In reviewing the qualifications for these individuals, it is obvious that they are to be men (Titus 1:6-9).  While men have the responsibility to be the leaders, women have important functions in both the home and the church.  The apostle Paul taught Titus in Titus 2:3-5 “The older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things — that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”  Let us look at these characteristics of older women in the church.

The older woman should be reverent in behavior.  She should be respectful and others should respect her and see her as a mature, holy woman of God.  She knows her proper place and dresses, speaks and acts appropriately.  She should not be a slanderer.  That means she should not be a false accuser, a gossip, a critical person, tearing other people down with her words.  She should love her fellow Christian even when they are not perfect.  She should not be given to much wine, meaning she is not a drunkard.  She exercises self-control in all her actions.

The older woman is to be a teacher of good things.  She has experienced many things in her life and gone through multiple trials.  She should now impart her wisdom to the younger women.  God has not given the woman the role of teaching in the church assembly.  1 Corinthians 14:34-35 “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.  And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”  The apostle Paul taught the Corinthians that a woman is to keep silent in the churches.  But this teaching was not just to the Corinthians in the first century.  The apostle Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”  A woman is not to teach in the church or have authority over a man.  The roles of man and woman are a result of Adam being formed before Eve and Eve being the one deceived in the Garden of Eden.  But there remains a teaching role for the woman outside of the church.  It should be obvious that it is appropriate for her to teach her children.  As we find from Titus 2:4, the older woman should teach the younger women how they should behave.  The things the older woman should teach the younger women are some of the things she has learned in being a Christian woman.

The older woman is to teach the younger women how to love their husbands.  Unfortunately, not all husbands are easy to love.  Perhaps the husband is the silent type or he is a workaholic or he doesn’t help her as he should or he has other flaws.  The wife is still to love her husband.  By her love and Christian behavior, she has the potential to have great influence over her husband.  1 Peter 3:1-2 “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.”  The older woman can teach the younger women how to love their husbands even if he is not easy to love.

Next, she is to teach the younger women to love their children.  You would think that it is natural for all mothers to love their children.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  Children can be a source of irritation and trouble in the family and some mothers want to be relieved from the responsibility of their children.  The wise, older woman should admonish the younger women in loving, disciplining, and instructing their children.

Next, she is to teach the younger women to be discreet and chaste.  Discreet is to exercise good judgment in conduct and speech.  The younger women need to be taught how to have appropriate speech and action that is becoming of a Christian woman.    Chaste is to be pure.  The younger women need to be sexually pure and spiritually pure from other carnal thoughts and actions.

Next, she is to teach the younger women to be homemakers, good, and obedient to their own husbands.   The bible teaches that the man or husband has a responsibility to provide for his household (1 Timothy 5:8) and the woman or wife has the responsibility to be a homemaker.  Today, in the modern world, these lines of responsibility may be blurred.  While a woman may work outside of the home and a man may do much inside the home, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the older woman is to teach the younger women their responsibility in the home.  The younger women are to be admonished to be good – good in all respects.  They are to be admonished to be obedient to their own husbands.  Previously, I quoted Ephesians 5:22 that women are to submit to their own husbands; this is the role that God has designed.  The older woman can teach the younger women how to be obedient.

My encouragement to the older women and the younger women is to learn how to live appropriately in speech and action so that the word of God may not be blasphemed.

Love Your Enemies

I hope that in your life you are surrounded by those who love you.  But sometime in your life you will encounter someone who may be you enemy.  Who is your enemy?  It is someone who hates you or is hostile towards you, someone who seeks to inflict physical or emotional harm, someone who is opposed to the righteousness that you stand for as a Christian, someone who seeks to take from you what you have, someone who slanders you, or simply someone who is against you.  Jesus taught you how you should deal with your enemies.  Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’   But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?   And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Your natural reaction to your enemies is to focus on the injustices you receive from them.  Your carnal reaction may be to hate them, to be hostile to them and to say hateful things to them.  You naturally want to tell everyone how badly you have been mistreated.  You may want to destroy your enemies.  Didn’t the Israelites of old follow God’s direction and destroy their enemies?  It is natural to think that “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But God never said that.  Now you are commanded to love your enemies. 

Before you were saved, consider what your relationship was with God.  Romans 5:6-10 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”  As a sinner, you were an enemy of God.  But He loved you.  He considered your need for salvation and demonstrated His love toward you by sending Christ to die for you.  God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  He further loves mankind when “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). 

Just as God loved you, even when you were His enemy, you in turn should love your enemies.  You should do good to your enemies just as God does good to both the just and the unjust.  You should want your enemies to be saved just as God wants all to be saved.  You have to separate the sin from the sinner.  You hate the sin, but you love the sinner. Rather than focusing on the injustices (sin) you receive from your enemies, see them as individuals who are hurting and have needs to include their need for salvation. 

So how are you to treat your enemies?  First, you are to bless those who curse you.  That means you give them good words for their bad words.  You wish them well.  It is not that you want them to continue in their evil ways, but rather that you want them to have good things in their life and eventually eternal life.  You pray to God that His blessings may be given to them.  You can only sincerely do this if you really love your enemies.

Second, you are to do good to those who hate you.  You greet them in kindness.  You open the door for them when they enter or exit a building.  You pick up what they have dropped.  You feed them when they are hungry.  You give them a cup of cold water if they are thirsty.  You give them a gift if you see they have a need.  If there is some way you can serve them, you do so.  You can only sincerely do this if you really love your enemies.

Lastly, you are to pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.  This isn’t a prayer that God will exercise his vengeance upon them.  Rather it is a prayer that their hearts will be changed and that they will find God.  Since you love your enemies, you want the best for them.  So you pray that good will come into their lives.  You can only sincerely do this if you really love your enemies.

The Apostle Paul put it a different way in Romans 12:17-21 “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

My encouragement to you is to love your enemies.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Spiritual Maturity

The birth of a baby is a wonderful thing.  If it is a normal child, we wonder at the perfection of a tiny human being – hands, feet, legs, eyes, ears, mouth, ten fingers and ten toes – a beautiful child.  But that baby is completely helpless; he needs his mother and father to take care of him so that he can grow and mature into an adult.  Soon after birth, he is hungry and cries to be fed.  He soon learns to hunger for the milk that fills him up.  He grows rapidly and soon he is crawling and then walking.  He now eats solid food that gives him nourishment.  But such a child cannot make decisions for himself; he needs his parents to teach him and train him.  As he gets older, he learns to make good decisions.  Through the help of his parents and instruction in school, he learns many things about the world and how to live and act among other people.  Over time, he grows to be an adult, and even has children of his own.

We observe and understand the growth and maturation of children.  But there is also a similar process in the spiritual realm.  Jesus taught us that we must be born again.  John 3:5-7 “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’’”  For you to enter the kingdom of God, you must die to you old sinful life and be born again spiritually.  Then you should desire the milk of the word, the Bible, in order to grow spiritually.  1 Peter 2:1-3 “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,  if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”  You must lay aside the old sinful life to include malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and evil speaking.  But that is not enough.  As a spiritual child, you must also desire the milk of the word in the Bible.  There should be a hunger to know God and His righteousness so that you can grow and mature spiritually.  Your motivation to lay aside the old sinful life and to grow spiritually is that you have seen and tasted the grace of the Lord.  He has forgiven you of your sins; He blesses you with all spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3); He has given you eternal life; He has prepared a heavenly home for you.  You should have a strong desire to grow and mature spiritually and please your Father in Heaven.

If you saw a fifteen year old child still living on milk and in diapers, you would think that something was seriously wrong.  In the same way, if you saw a spiritually immature Christian who was not growing or maturing, you would also think that something was wrong.  One of the most obvious signs of an immature Christian is that they still have their carnal or fleshly nature.  1 Corinthians 3:1-3 “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?”  For the Corinthian church, the carnal signs of spiritual immaturity were envy, strive and divisions.  For you, it could be a continual love for the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-16).  Are you looking lustfully at another person; do you have a strong desire for the possessions and pleasures of the world?  Is most of your free time spent on these things?  These are indications of spiritual immaturity.

We have more instruction about spiritual immaturity from the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 5:12-6:3 “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.  Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.  And this we will do if God permits.”  As a mature Christian, you must go beyond the teachings of repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection and eternal judgment.  These are important, but there are other important teachings that you need to understand and follow.  You also must become skilled in righteousness and discern between things that are good and things that are evil.

The Apostle Paul had additional teaching about spiritual maturity in Ephesians 4:14-16 “That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ —  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”  Here the apostle teaches us to be sound in our understanding of Christian doctrine and not be naïve and deceived by false teachings.  One of the duties of the body of Christ, the church, is to help the spiritually immature to grow and mature.

What does a mature Christian look like?  Galatians 4:19 “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.”  When you have Christ formed in you, when you demonstrate His spirit, His love and His actions in your life, then you are spiritually mature.  Seek and set your mind on those things that are above.  Colossians 3:1-2 “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”  My encouragement to you is to be spiritually mature. hading;\ls

Knowing God

When you come to the end of your life and you stand before Christ, you want Him to accept you as one of His.  You do not want him to reject you.  Matt 7:22-23 “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’   And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”  These individuals thought that the Lord knew them.  They thought they had served Him and even had prophesied, cast out demons, and done many wonders in His name.  But the Lord is saying that He never knew these individuals that He is rejecting.  You want to be known by the Lord.  It is also important to know God.  2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  When Jesus returns, He will take vengeance on those who do not obey the gospel, but He will also take vengeance on those who do not know God.  It is important to be known by God and to know God.  This relationship between you and God is of all importance.  If you do not have this relationship, you will be rejected and receive His vengeance.

What does it mean to know God?  What does it mean to know anyone?  There is a difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone.  I know about the President of the United States of America.  I know what he looks like; I know his political party; I know the promises he has made; I know where he stands on some important issues; I know some of the decisions he has made.  I know about the President, but I do not know the President.  I have never met him; I have never spent any time with him.  And he certainly does not know me.  On the other hand, I know my wife.  I have known her for over fifty years.  I know the things that she likes; I know that she is loving and caring; I know that she is a server and a giver; I know pretty much what she will say and do in certain circumstances.  I have spent many years with her.  Given my illustration between my knowing about the President and knowing my wife, my question to you is ‘Do you know God?’  You can go to the church assembly every Sunday and even be very knowledgeable about the Bible and many of the teachings found therein.  You can know about God, but do you really know God?

Jesus knows the Father.  One day Jesus was speaking to the Jews. John 8:54-55 “Jesus answered, ‘If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.  Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word.’”  Another time, He said in Matthew 11:27 “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”  Jesus certainly knows the Father.  He was in the beginning with the Father; together they created the universe; the Father told Jesus what to do and what to say while here on earth; many times, Jesus spent much time in prayer with the Father.  Jesus has revealed the Father to you and me.

Jesus used the illustration of Him being our shepherd.  John 10:1-5 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”  John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”  Sheep know their shepherd.  He has led them to pasture; he has watered them; he has rescued them from danger.  In Psalm 23, David describes how the Lord was his shepherd.  The point is that the shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know the shepherd.  Many flocks of sheep can be mixed together in one place, but when a shepherd calls his sheep, only his sheep follow him because they know him and they know his voice.   This illustrates how we should know our shepherd.

Part of knowing God is keeping His commandments and walking as Jesus walked.  1 John 2:3-6 “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.  He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”  Your works cannot deny your knowledge of God.  Titus 1:15-16 “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”  Having love for one another is one of the important characteristics you must have in knowing God.  1 John 4:7 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

My encouragement to you is to truly know God.  Study the Bible to understand God.  Keep His commandments and walk as Jesus walked.  Spend much time in prayer with your Father.  Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Develop an intimate knowledge of God.

Learn To Take It

As a child, when I suffered some wrong from another, I would sometimes run to my dad to complain about the injustice I had received.  My godly father would tell me: “Learn to take it.”  I didn’t appreciate what he was teaching me.  It seemed right to me that justice needed to be served.  I wanted my father to come to my aid and somehow correct the wrong that I had suffered.  But he had a godly principle to teach me.  Look at what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:38-39 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  The “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was given in the Old Testament in Exodus 21:22-25 “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.  But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

In Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus is teaching differently from the “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  He is teaching us to “take it”.  The evil that another might give to us, we accept and do not respond in kind.  He also demonstrated this principle in His own life.  When He was arrested and brought before the High Priest and the council of elders, they reviled him and accused him, they spit in His face, they beat Him, and they struck Him with their hands saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?” (Matthew 26:67-68).  He could have called for twelve legions of angels to rescue Him (Matthew 26:53); as the Son of God, He could have struck them all dead.  But instead, He took it.  He took all the abuse they gave to Him and did not retaliate.  The apostle Peter teaches us in 1 Peter 2:18-24 “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Jesus did not revile; He did not threaten; He did not strike back.  Instead, He took it and committed Himself to God.  When you and I do good, suffer and take it patiently, this is commendable before God.

I believe there are several important principles here.  First, to suffer while doing good and to take it patiently is to have great faith in God and be in submission to Him.  Faith is to trust that God is in control in all circumstances.  Faith is to trust that all things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28).  In a sense, to fight back would be to also fight against God, since God is allowing the suffering to occur.  To accept it patiently would be to submit to God and accept what He is allowing to happen.  When Jesus suffered without fighting back, He too was accepting what God was allowing to happen.

Second, to give an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth would be to respond to an evil action with a corresponding evil action.  He that does that makes himself a wicked person just like the other one.  Instead of returning evil for evil, Jesus teaches us to return good for evil.  Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  To return good for evil is to be like your Father in heaven.  It is also to be like Jesus.  While Jesus was suffering on the cross, Luke 23:34 “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’”

Third, to give an eye for an eye is to take vengeance.  Romans 12:17-21 “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  Therefore ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  God is the one to take vengeance – not you.

My encouragement to you is to learn to take it.  There are many circumstances in life where you will be doing good but you will suffer from the words or actions of others.  It could be at home, at work, at school, on the highway, at the store or any place where you interface with other people.  It could even be from fellow Christians.  When you do good but suffer for it, accept what God is allowing to happen to you.  Do not repay evil for evil.  Do not take vengeance.  Overcome evil with good.

A New Commandment

Jesus gave a new commandment in John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Jesus obviously loved His disciples in that He fed them, led them and patiently taught them.  Then He gave His life for them.  John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  He commanded us to love one another as He loved us.  Everyone will know that we are His disciples if we love one another as Jesus loved us.

Think of the fellow Christians that you know – especially those in your own congregation.  How much do you love them?  Maybe there are some that you don’t love because they have trespassed against you.  Maybe they have said bad things about you.  Maybe you have had a disagreement.  Or maybe they have a way of just irritating you.  Maybe you see them at the assembly but you don’t really know them.  Do you love all of your fellow Christians?  How special are these individuals?  You share the same God the Father, the same Lord Jesus as your savior, and the same Holy Spirit to live within you and intercede for you.  You share the same salvation and the same eternal home.  You share common believes and practices.  You labor together and together you stand against the evilness of the world and the false doctrines that abound.  Because of what you share together, your fellow Christian should be very special to you.  God loves them and you should love them too. 1 John 4:7-8 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9 “But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”

Your love for your fellow Christian should not be pretend, but pure and genuine.  Romans 12:9-10 “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”  You should have kind affection for your brother.  You should want his success.  You should enjoy sharing time together.  Your love should be pure.  Don’t love him just a little, but have fervent love for him.  1 Peter 1:22 “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” Out of love, you should serve your fellow Christian.  Galatians 5:13 “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

As with all people that we are close to, there will be times when there is conflict.  This is true within our earthly family, between husband and wife, between parents and children, and between children.  This is also true within the church; there is potential of conflict between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Love is especially needed in times of conflict.  Colossians 3:12-14 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”  Christian love will cause you to bear with one another and forgive one another.  It will cause you to be merciful, kind, humble, meek and longsuffering with your brother.  Love will cause your Christian brother to have the same attitudes towards you. 1 Peter 3:8-9 “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”  Regardless of how your Christian brother treats you, you should not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling but instead bless him.  Ephesians 4:1-3 “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Keep Christian unity.  Have fervent love.  1 Peter 4:8 “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’”  By having fervent love towards your brother, you can pass by his faults and forgive his offences, as far as is consistent with the truth.

It is so important to keep the new command from Jesus to love one another.  It is my encouragement to you to determine to increase and abound in your love for your fellow Christian. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”