Monday, June 25, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of June 24, 2012

Is it possible to be right and wrong at the same time?  I think so.  We can be "right" with respect to the content of truth, and yet be "wrong" because of how we apply it.   Paul speaks about this possibility and offers us a principle to consider with respect to it.

(Read I Corinthians 8:1-13)

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

Paul demonstrates with respect to "food sacrificed to idols" that there is knowledge and there is love, and he argues that love should trump knowledge in the application of truth.  This is the principle, and it carries through for lots of things.

In the knowledge portion, Paul is convinced of the truth and believes that understanding the truth enables us to live in freedom before God because of Jesus.  However, he does not concede that our freedom should be freely exercised no matter what, especially when it causes harm to others.  So if in the exercise of our freedom we cause others to sin, then we are "wrong" even though we are "right".

So this means that in applying truth there is no "black and white" because love trumps knowledge.

What do you think?  Do you agree with this principle?  Can you think of instances where the principle should be applied?  Also, is it true that in the application of truth there is no "black and white"?   Let's discuss.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of June 17, 2012

Yesterday we talked about true wisdom; wisdom that comes from heaven.  According to James it is "first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere." (James 3:17)

Take a moment to think about that list and hold it up as a mirror to let God examine your life.  Is that the kind of wisdom you have?  Are these the things people see when they look at you?

Peter talks about some of these things in the second part of I Peter 3.

(Read I Peter 3:8-22)

Now let me say right up front that I am not interested in dealing here with the mysteries found in verses 19-21.  I don't know who the spirits in prison are, and I understand the remarks about Noah to be more focused on baptism as the pledge of salvation whereas Jesus' resurrection (including his life and death) are the source of our salvation.

No what I would like to talk about is the other stuff we often skip over because we are curious to solve mysteries and demonstrate our knowledge.  The Bible says, "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up".
(I Corinthians 8:1)  So I would like to explore the other parts of this chapter so that we can meditate on our common call to love.

In verses 8-9, we see a nice parallel to the things James says in the second part of chapter 3 about wisdom that comes from heaven (see quote above).   

When we hold up God's word as a mirror here, do we see these characteristics evident in us?  Do we live in harmony with one another, are we sympathetic, do we love as brothers, are we compassionate and humble?   Use the mirror.  Hold it up, and let God examine your life.

Similarly, we read the quote from Psalm 34 (I Peter 3:10-12), and we see here more challenges and calls to a greater love.

Do we keep our tongues from evil and our lips from deceitful speech?  Do we turn from evil to do good?  Do we seek peace and pursue it?

According to the psalmist these are some of what defines "righteousness" in God's eyes.  So is that what we see in ourselves?  Is that what others see?

Remember the mirror is to be held up so that we look back at ourselves.  We are not using this standard to judge anyone else.  This is the standard by which we are standing before God as those who now reside in Christ, and asking Him to show us any offensive ways so that we can be lead in the way everlasting.

What do you think?  Is this idea missing in the church today?  What would happen if we were to focus on cultivating our character rather than seeking to demonstrate our knowledge concerning the mysteries of God's word?  Think on what it means that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up", and we will examine that text more next week.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of June 10, 2012

In James 2, we learned that true faith is seen in the things we do, and how we do them.  The deeds which come from faith are first and foremost about the heart that is behind them.  A changed heart is what motivates and directs a change in what we do.  True faith unites us to Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit so that we become more like Jesus by developing the character of Jesus.  So how does this relate to all the areas of our lives?

(Read I Peter 2:13-25)

"For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls." (verse 25)

Peter points to the need for renewal of our souls (a heart change) in order to live well in Christ.  We need Jesus to be "the shepherd and overseer of our souls" through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  And the evidence of God's ongoing work is found in our willingness to submit to authority.

(Read verse 13)

We submit because Jesus submitted.  He was the "example" for us (see verse 21).  We submit because He submitted on our behalf.  "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness." (verse 24)

Notice that this is not just our motivation, but it is the source of our submission.  Jesus died, and when He died we died.  We died to sins and now because of the Holy Spirit at work in us we live for righteousness.  It really is not an option.  It is God's work in us that makes us live for righteousness.

This is the same thing said in the opening Q&A of the Heidelberg Catechism (a tool used to teach the Christian faith in the church with whom I serve).  "Christ by His Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life AND makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him."  The "makes me" is not simply that Christ motivates me, but that the power of the Holy Spirit changes me from the inside out so that I will live for Him.

So what do you think?  What does this passage say to you?  How are you seeing God conform you the image of His Son Jesus so that you become more like Him?  What questions might you have about this process and how it works in the life of a believer?  Let's discuss.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of June 3, 2012

How should we live now that by faith we are united to Jesus Christ?  

This is a huge question, and in a lot of ways it defies strict definition.  What I mean is there is not some new list of rules and laws to keep, rather maturity in Christ is a process shaped by ongoing dialogue between you and God through His word, by His Spirit, and in community with other believers.  

All three of these aspects (God's word, Spirit, and God's community) are all mentioned in the "going deeper" reading for this week.  

(Read I Peter 2:4-12

You see that right away in verse 4 Jesus is mentioned as "the living Stone", and believers are mentioned as "living stones" being built into a "spiritual house" to be "a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."  

So we see God's word coming alive in the person of Jesus, and we see the Holy Spirit building us up to be a "spiritual house" and "a holy priesthood".  And this is where we see the community of believers.   We are all together being built into "a spiritual house" and "a holy priesthood".  

But what does "a holy priesthood" and "a spiritual house" look like today?  

If we go to verses 9-10 we see the "holy (royal) priesthood" restated along with other descriptions of the community of believers: "a chosen people", "a holy nation", "a people belonging to God".  We also see the reason we have been called by God to these roles "... that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."  

But again how do we do that?  

In verses 11-12, Peter offers sound instruction on what it means for us to live "in Christ".  

He begins with what we should avoid, and goes onto what we should do.  

So we should "abstain from sinful desires which war against our soul".  Notice that Peter is not saying merely abstain from sinful actions, but even abstain from sinful desires.  Recall that in James 1:14-15 the process leading to death is described.  It begins with temptation combined with evil desire.  It continues with desire giving birth to sin (action), and sin when it is full grown giving birth to death.  So we can see in light of James, why Peter tells us to abstain from sinful desires because they truly do "war against our souls".  

Now that Peter instructs us what to avoid, he leads us to see what we should do instead.  "Live such good lives among the pagans that, ... they may see your good deeds and glorify God ..."  So not only should we abstain from sinful desires, but we must also live good lives, which produce good, God-honoring deeds.

But again how do we do this?  

Our ability to do what Peter instructs does not come from ourselves, it comes from God.  The Holy Spirit works in us what is pleasing to Him.  The Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Jesus; God's Son.  The Holy Spirit enables us to resist sin (even sinful desires) and empowers us to live good lives that honor God.  

So now I am curious.  What do you think this means for you today?  What desires is God asking you to avoid, and what good, God-honoring deeds is He asking you to do instead?  Let's be courageous and discuss this so we can help one another live according to all of God's truth.