Monday, April 6, 2020

Patience and Kindness

"Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud" (1 Corinthians 13:4)

The fourth fruit of the Spirit, or the fourth aspect of the Spirit’s one fruit, is patience. Christians should not be impatient people, and if the Spirit is active in their lives, they will become more and more patient. We have all seen impatient people who cannot seem to wait for anything, and want everything to happen now. In ordinary life, however, patience is not usually a difficult virtue to manifest.

In the face of suffering, however, patience becomes hard. When Job suffered, the temptation offered by his wife was “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Job was tempted to commit suicide, so to speak, and thereby end his torment. When we hurt we are impatient for healing, and we need the special blessing of the Spirit to persevere despite the pain.

Probably Galatians 5:22 has reference to patience with other people. Here again, it is when other people cause us to suffer, especially by slander, that we become impatient. We rightly desire vindication, and we are tempted to vindicate ourselves. Unless other people are suffering because of the slander, it is better to remain quiet and let God vindicate us, because He can do it much better and more thoroughly (Romans 12:17–20).

Notice how much easier it is to be patient with people who have money or power. If we want to keep someone’s favor, the favor of someone powerful, we are very patient and long-suffering with their foibles and idiocies. But let someone who is inferior to us get out of line, and we quickly lose our patience. True patience, however, is patient with inferiors, just as Jesus was. He put up with all kinds of slander and nonsense from people, yet showed great patience with them.

Spiritual fruit is also characterized by kindness. How would you like to be known as a kind person, a person who gives others the benefit of the doubt, a person who tries to look on the better side of people’s foibles? Sadly, we often find a sort of pettiness in the church that is opposed to kindness. Since we are picky, we end up magnifying the faults of other people. We are quick to correct the grammar or theology frequently to their embarrassment. We need the fruit of kindness, so that others will see God’s Spirit at work in us.

Consider today’s lesson as a test. As you review it, evaluate yourself in terms of patience and kindness. Are you patient with those who are inferior to you, like your children? Are you as kind and sensitive to other people as you should be? Do you need to claim God’s patience and kindness by faith?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

What is Absolutely Essential?

Recent weeks have forced us to define what is essential. What are essential grocery items? What is the “non-essential” travel and contact with others we have to avoid? Much of socio-economic life has coasted to a halt in response to the definition of essential. Countries, communities and individuals may all have different definitions of essential. “Recent events clearly demonstrate that the process of designating ‘essential services’ is as much about culture as any legal-political reality about what is necessary to keep society functioning,” said Christopher McKnight Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University. Some of the readjustment may indeed make us reassess lifestyle and consumption. These microscopic organisms against which we have neither prevention nor cure are paring back a great deal of our culture to the very essentials. But take a step backward and consider the widest possible perspective. What in this world is truly and absolutely essential? It’s easy to miss it.

There are many essential things for maintaining life and preserving our safety and health. We do not want in any way to minimise the practical emphasis given to these aspects of loving our neighbour as our moral duty. Yet the thing that is absolutely essential above all things is studiously ignored by so many, including most of our leaders. Other things are merely temporary and will leave people at some time or other. But this one thing and this only, will stay with them forever if they have it.

This is why there is only one thing absolutely essential and necessary. Jesus Christ has identified this one supremely essential thing (Luke 10:42). Clearly it is related to the eternal good of our souls in relation to God. James Durham (1622-1658) explains further what it is. He speaks of peace with God through Christ and Godward living. This is living in fellowship with God, glorifying and enjoying Him.

1. WHAT CANNOT BE ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL

(a) No created or temporary thing can be absolutely essential.

It must be something which cannot be taken away from us, something spiritual, eternal and entirely satisfying.

(b) No mere form of religion can be absolutely essential.

We can be sure that this mere outward profession can and will be taken from us (Luke 19:26; Matthew 7:21).

(c) No particular aspect of religion can be absolutely essential in itself.

Happiness is not promised to only one aspect but to uninhibited godliness and obedience to God’s will in general. Mary sat at Christ’s feet and heard His word (Luke 10:42). She was justly commended by Christ on that account. Yet it is not for that in itself but as it evidenced her love to the Saviour, her respect to godliness and her eager and earnest desire to get her soul saved by Christ.

2. WHAT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL

It can be summarized in the following way: Peace with God through the Lord Jesus with a view to the salvation of our souls. The sincere practice of true godliness, communion, and fellowship with the Father and His Son.

This is not the mere hearing of the Word (though it is our indispensable duty). Rather  it is using the Word as a means of our daily progress in holiness and godliness, and of our peace and reconciliation with God. And therefore this one thing can be nothing else except the life, power and practice of godliness. It is all one and the same thing, whether we call this one necessary thing Christ, religion, or the salvation of the soul. The eternal salvation of our souls is the goal of godliness. Our union and communion with Christ is the means of attaining this. It is always inseparably connected with the practice of sincere piety (1 Timothy 4:8). This one thing then is godliness in its spirit, power, and substance.

This is what the psalmist desired (Psalm 27:4). Not to attend God’s outward appointed worship only but to be lively in religion, to have communion with God in His sacred institutions, and to have the amiable and desirable hope of enjoying God in heaven. This is the one thing, which comprehends many other things, the making of our peace with God, through Jesus our peace-maker and Mediator, and the study of the power and practice of godliness, that our spirits may be saved in the day of the Lord.

3. WHY IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL

This one absolutely necessary thing does not encompass every kind of necessity. Food, drink, clothes, health, strength, and other things are also necessary in their own way. But there is nothing absolutely necessary except this one thing. The believer may lack other things, but cannot be without this.

(a) God commands it

We may please God and have His approval even though we are not rich in worldly goods, or in reputation, or do not have health and strength. We are not commanded to be rich, but we are commanded to be godly, to be at peace with God, to be sincere in fulfilling every commanded duty.

(b) It makes us truly happy

True religion is the one thing necessary to make us happy here and hereafter. There is only one thing absolutely necessary inseparably connected with our welfare and happiness. It is not the many things some are troubled and anxious to obtain. It is this one thing, the practice of godliness and our peace with God, which can make us happy.

The meaning of Luke 10:42 is as though Christ had said, “Martha, your mind is taken up with many things and you are troubled with them. That is all the benefit you get from them. Trouble yourself as you will, to get all things right, they will not be governed by you nor can they satisfy you. But there is one thing necessary for the saving of your soul—namely, the practice of godliness and peace with God. This is absolutely necessary for your blessedness; but the other things you are anxious about, are not.”

There is nothing absolutely necessary for the happiness of men and women, but godliness and peace with God. This is  making sure of our own salvation and holy calling through Christ Jesus.

A person may have all other things but if they lack godliness they cannot be happy. A person may lack all other things but if they are godly and have peace with God, they cannot be miserable. No other thing can mar his happiness. If then the possession of other things cannot make people happy, and the lack of them cannot make them miserable, then surely no other thing is absolutely necessary to promote our welfare but true religion.

It must be spiritual. That which concerns someone’s happiness must be spiritual,  incorruptible and immortal. The soul of man is spiritual and it must have a spiritual source of happiness.

It must be perfect. No imperfect thing can make anyone happy.

It must be eternal and unchangeable. One cannot be happy today and miserable tomorrow. If it is a thing that is subject to change, it cannot make us happy.

All the idols in the world put together have none of these three things. They are not spiritual, and cannot satisfy the soul; they are not perfect, but have some defect. They are merely temporal and not eternal: a man may be taken from them or they from him. 

(c) It ensures our spiritual welfare

Without godliness, a soul will never be well. Godliness is not only commanded, but useful and profitable for all things, and so absolutely necessary. This may commend godliness to you above all other things: it our happiness consists in it, and this cannot be said of any other thing in this world.
The godly man has the most contented and cheerful life and the most joyful and comfortable death (2 Corinthians 6:10; Philippians 4:11-13). Godliness brings God’s favour, friendship and peace. His promise and covenant is that they can lack no good thing or happiness, though they lack the things of the world. All those who are blessed in heaven have perfect happiness without the things of this world.  

CONCLUSION

It would be a great blessing if we were in these times to return to what is absolutely essential; glorifying and enjoying God. This is the essence of true godliness. Perhaps some other things (although perhaps necessary in their own way) have been distracting us from this. Or perhaps we have been content with an outward appearance of godliness while in practice denying its real spiritual power (2 Timothy 3:5). We now have the opportunity to ensure that our primary focus is what is most glorifying to God and for our own true spiritual happiness. Let us not lose it.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Real Joy and True Peace

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peacce and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17)

Because the Bible says that Christians are to be joyful, and because joy is a positive, upbeat thing, many Christians nowadays have fallen into the trap of projecting a superficial kind of “happy-face” that is really rather offensive to serious human beings. It seems insincere. Biblical joy is not superficial but is grounded in a deep and profound reality. It is the joy and celebration of the Bridegroom and the bride. It arises from the happiness of the wedding. It is the celebration of the victory of Christ. Thus, in terms of the order in Galatians 5:22, joy grows from love. The more we love Christ the more we rejoice as His bride. This is a joy that can exist even in the midst of pain and sorrow.

Peace has several meanings in the Bible. In its first sense, peace means peace with God. It means we are no longer at war with God, and He is no longer at war with us. This kind of peace is the same thing as salvation and is the foundation of all our blessings. It is not what Paul is referring to here in Galatians 5:22, however, because peace is something that grows and develops in the lives of those who already have peace with God.

Peace as a fruit of the Spirit refers to living peacefully and harmoniously with others. The more agape love we come to know, and the more joy we experience, the more tension and conflict will leave our lives. We will be more at peace with ourselves, and more at peace with others.

In the fullest sense, peace means we enjoy fellowship with God, the same kind of peace-filled fellowship that the Father enjoys with the Son and the Spirit in eternity. Because we have a fellowship of peace with the three persons of God, we also have it with our brothers and sisters, and as much as possible with our unbelieving neighbors as well.

At the same time, there is a counterfeit peace we must beware of. The false prophets proclaimed, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace. We can know, objectively, that we have peace when we are living righteously with God. It is not possible for us to be at peace with all men, because many men are at war with God. We strive for peace, but we must never compromise the truth to get it.

If you are a Christian, the Spirit has been poured into your heart, which means joy and peace have been poured into you. If you don’t feel much joy in Christ or peace with others right now, stop and seek these fruit by faith. The Spirit causes us to love Christ and to joy in Him and to have peace with His people.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Love versus Death

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6)

In his magnificent work Charity and Its Fruits, the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote these words: “What a watch and guard should Christians keep against envy and malice and every kind of bitterness of spirit toward their neighbors, for these are the very reverse of the real essence of Christianity.” This does not mean that a Christian does not struggle against resentment and bitterness. The New Testament repeatedly calls us to lay such things aside, showing that they are indeed problems for believers. The work of the Spirit in our hearts, however, is to overcome all such destructive tendencies.

“All those who hate Me love death,” says the wisdom of God in Proverbs 8:36. God is life and love, and when men hate God, they plunge into death and hatred. They are self-destructive and they are destructive of others. The Christian, because he is imperfectly sanctified in this life, finds to his horror that such death wishes are still powerful in his own life.

How often we Christians find a root of bitterness in our own lives. “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with [bitter against] them,” wrote Paul in Colossians 3:19. It seems that the major thing husbands need to watch out for is bitterness against their wives. When the root of bitterness begins, too often we feed and nurture it, finding fault with everything, stewing in black thoughts. Such horrors are found in the hearts of Christians. It is only with the love graciously shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit of God that we can defeat them.

It is the people we are closest to that often hurt us the most. We expect more from them (though not from ourselves), and we are with them constantly, so that we have many opportunities to collect injustices. This is how conflict builds up in homes and in close-knit churches. We tend to interpret the actions of other people in the worst possible light. They do some little thing that hurts us, and instead of assuming that they did not mean to do it, we assume that they did it with premeditated malice. But when we hurt someone else and they tell us about it, we cast ourselves in the best possible light and say, “I didn’t mean it.”

When someone hurts or offends us, our reaction is usually to assume the worst possible motive in that person. But one application of the law of love is that we should give others the benefit of the doubt. How have you been doing in your relationships? Strive to assume the best possible motive in others.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Well-Spring of Love

"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us" (Romans 5:5)

As we begin a consideration of the fruit of the Spirit, we must start with love. Galatians 5:22 lists love as the first and preeminent fruit of the Spirit, while 1 Corinthians 13:13 magnifies love over faith and hope, and far above all spiritual gifts. God sometimes gives spiritual gifts to those who are not truly His, as we see in the case of Balaam’s prophecies in Numbers 22–24. Unless the gifts and talents are accompanied by the love of God and love for God, they are ultimately worthless.

Love, in the sense spoken of by Paul, is uniquely Christian. The Greek word for it is agape (pronounced “ah-GAH-pay”). Ordinary affection between people is called phileo (“phih-LEH-oh”). In the New Testament, agape love is regarded as a gift, as the accompaniment of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is part and parcel of regeneration, and so every Christian has agape love. Indeed, Romans 5:5 says that agape love has been poured into our hearts. By way of contrast, the unbeliever has not been regenerated by the Spirit, and so does not have any agape love at all.

Agape love is not so much an emotional thing as a theological thing. We accept by faith that God has poured agape love into our hearts. We also accept by faith that the Spirit causes us to love. We can, of course, quench and grieve the Spirit, and thus we can fail to manifest the fullness of agape love. When we repent and claim the gift of love by faith, we can be assured that God is working a true loving spirit in us.

The wellspring of love is the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son, and causes us to do so. One sign that we are growing in love is that we spend more time in adoration of God. The Spirit also loves the images of God—human beings—and so another sign that we are growing in agape love is that we are kind and servant-hearted toward others.

Another mark of agape love is respect for God’s Word. If we love God and trust Him, we will love and trust the Bible. When we see people criticizing the Bible and saying that it is merely a record of human religious responses, we must sadly say that they do not give evidence of having agape love.

Sin, ultimately is a failure to love ordinately. Either we fail to love enough, as when we mistreat others, or we love too much, as when we elevate love of God’s gifts above love of God. Seek always to give love to that which love is due, and in due proportion.