Tuesday, April 30, 2013

To Love Your Brother is to Love Christ

John gives us another test of salvation:
1st John 4:20 – “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”

That’s some pretty strong language. We modern preachers wouldn’t be able to say such things to our congregation, and stay employed. Calling someone a liar for being a hypocrite? That just wouldn’t do.

Yet, that is exactly what John is doing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And he does it because it is true. There are a lot of liars when it comes to spiritual things.

And the sad part is, we most often lie to ourselves. “Oh, I just love God so much,” someone says, but do they really? Who knows what they really love. Maybe they just love singing worship songs and the good feeling it gives them. Maybe they love the potlucks and the fellowship of Christians. We are nice folks. Maybe they love the image of a kindly Santa Claus in heaven who doles out goodies.

But do they really love God? To love God is to love him for who He is, for who He has revealed himself to be. If many in the church really realized the radical commitment Jesus demanded, they would disappear just like the crowds did in John 6:66 which says, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”

People don’t want to hear Jesus say, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” They want that warm, fuzzy Jesus spooned out as pabulum from so many churches. But real love for Jesus loves Him as He really is, not as we wish He would be. Loving some false image of Him isn’t real love, nor is not responding back in love by loving the brethren.

So, 1st John 4:20 is the 7th time John says,” If someone says,” then shows them to be a liar because they claim to be a Christian without any evidence. Because this is so prevalent in our day of “easy believism,” we need to be reminded - loving one another isn’t optional, it’s a command. 1st John 4:21 makes it quite clear, “And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” “Must” is a pretty strong word.

This is how our love for God finds perfection – when we love the our brothers. As John twice said - in verse 17 and again in verse 18, loving God is perfected when we express that love by loving others. There’s no excuse allowed. John already made that clear in verse 20: “For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”

John wouldn’t have said it if people didn’t feel that way. “Sure I can love God. He’s a loveable old man sitting on His cloud up in heaven. Who wouldn’t love a cosmic Santa Claus? But man, you don’t know my cantankerous neighbor. Who could love someone like that?” Sorry, you can’t separate the two.

And what makes you think loving God is all that easy? Even loving Jesus wasn’t all that easy. After all, John 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”

James Montgomery Boice writes this:
“Our natural inclination is to think that it is easier to love God simply because He is worthy of our love and that it is different to love man because they are not loveable or lovely. Yet, this passage says exactly the opposite, implying, no doubt, that unless we are really loving our Christian brothers and sisters on the horizontal level, we are deluding ourselves in regard to what we consider to be our love for god on the vertical.”

Hmm, perhaps it’s through learning to love man that we learn to love God. After all, you can’t see God, or touch Him, but you can your neighbor. And your neighbor was created in the image of God, wasn’t he? Yes, marred, perhaps, but God’s creation none the less. Do you love him?

Look at Matthew 25:31-46. This is the sheep and goat judgment that takes place at Christ’s return as He sorts out who goes in and who stays out of His kingdom, but it sure shows what Jesus considers important:

Matthew 25:31-40
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Then Jesus turns to the goats on His left hand and says pretty much the same thing in reverse:
Matthew 25:41-46
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Do you see? Jesus equates our love for “the least of these” as love for Himself. He identifies with them - He feels for them. To Jesus, for us to love them is the same as loving Him. And our lack of love for them is felt by Him as a lack of love for Him.

After all, Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” And isn’t this the second most important one?

Jesus told us that too in Matthew 22:37-40:
37 Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love God, Love people. That basically sums up the Christian life. Is it your life? If you can’t say, “Yes, I love my brother,” then you can’t really say with honesty that you love Jesus.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Modeling Christ in our Relationships

1st John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Now, just as an aside to show how Scripture affects our everyday life, I want you to see how this applies to our marriage relationships. Think about how your courtship and engagement went. Why is it that the guy asks the girl out on a date? Why is it that he is the one pursuing and wooing in the relationship - bringing the flowers and opening doors? And why is it the man who gets down on one knee and proposes? It’s because Jesus pursued us. And we, as the church, are His bride

Ephesians 5 contains a long passage on marriage. It is a passage that talks about the husband loving his wife as Christ loved the church, and it talks about the wife submitting to her husband as to the Lord. But here’s the key verse to understand this long section: Ephesians 5:32 says: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

Oh, we thought Paul was talking about husbands and wives, but he wasn’t. He was really talking about Christ and the church - Jesus and His bride. Not only is that relationship between Christ and the church our example as husbands and wives, but we actually are supposed to model that relationship before the world. We are to be a living picture that is meant to show how it is in the spiritual realm.
So, if Jesus seeks His bride, the church, and woos her, we men seek our brides, and we woo them. The man is the initiator of the relationship because Jesus first loved the church. The husband is commanded to love his wife, while she is commanded to submit to (or respond), and later respect her husband.

Interestingly, in Titus 2:3-4, we see the older women are to teach the younger women how to love their husbands. They learn to love their husbands in response to the love they are shown by them. Our closest human relationships pattern the divine ones, and Christ initiated love toward us. We simply respond to that great love. “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Transformed by Love

I want to point out to you an interesting verse. It is 1st John 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.” This is such an important verse. Earl Palmer writes: “This one electrifying sentence is a classic one-line summary of the historical basis of Christian ethics.” Amen! It explains why we do what we do. It tells how we get from being enemies of God to being people who love Him. And, as it says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

This isn’t meant to slight your love for God. Many of you truly love God with all your heart. But what this does is show who initiated that love, and it wasn’t us. We didn’t pursue God, He pursued us. He is the initiator of this relationship we have with Him, not us.

Romans 3:11 makes that clear: “There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.” This is precisely why Jesus had to come to “seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).” He was the pursuer, not us.

Remember what we learned in: Romans 5:8-10?
“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.”

Love for God isn’t natural to our fallen, sinful nature. It’s only a response to His great love for us. He pursued and wooed us.

Romans 2:4 teaches:
“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” God showers us with blessings even while we’re rank unbelievers who shake our fists in His face. And He does it to woo us. The purpose is to lead us to repentance. Like Scripture says, “It rains on the just and on the unjust” - God does that on purpose. He wants to show His love to draw people to Himself in repentance.

But once we’ve come to repentance, when we realize all that God has done for us out of love His great love, it breaks our hearts and we respond in overwhelming love and gratitude back. When we realize how we treated God in our rebellion and unbelief, and how much He did to bring us to Himself, we can’t help but be overwhelmed with love for Him in return.

Think about it: Do you realize all that God has saved you from? Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote this:
“The Holy Spirit makes you come to the terrible realization, ‘I must be spiritually dead! I must be lifeless! I must have a heart of stone! There is something wrong with me. I’m in trouble. What can I do?’”

The only answer is to repent. You must turn from your sin and turn to the only one who can save you. You must turn to the one who loved you enough to die for you. Our heart aches in grief over the way we treated Him and despised His law. And we, in turn, feel such a wave of gratitude and love in return. It’s a total transformation, a new birth, we are given a new heart.

Zechariah told of that kind of moment in:
Zechariah 12:10 - “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”

In other words, “we love Him because He first loved us,” and we long for Him with a passion, longing for Him as much as a mother would grieve for the loss of her firstborn.

This is a total transformation. Zacchaeus, that wee little man who climbed up the sycamore tree to see Jesus, had that kind of transformation. His encounter with Jesus radically changed him and made him a new man. He had been a greedy, thieving tax collector, but not any more.

Luke 19:8-10 says of him:
“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’
And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’”

Zacchaeus was just such a lost soul that Jesus came to seek and to save. But so was I, and so are you. When we really realize how much He loves us and how much He did to save us by dying on the cross for us, how can we not respond? How can we not be melted inside by His love? Our hearts of stone will become hearts of flesh.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Love Casts Out Fear

Even though a believer won’t be judged for his sin (We already were, and Jesus paid the penalty for them on the cross), still there is a great fear of judgment since we all must appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. The fear of judgment is real even if the Judgment Seat of Christ is a rewards banquet. After all, we’ve all sat at those thing where others were rewarded and we were left out feeling awfully self-conscious by our empty hands (We want to slide under that table). I certainly don’t want that to happen to me.

Well, if you don’t, then you better check your motives and get to work. God only rewards those who attempt things for Him, not those who sit on their duff. I’ve heard people say, “But I’m afraid to witness, afraid to stand up for the Lord. How will God will be able to reward me?” And they are greatly afraid.

Well, these verses in 1st John tell us we can exchange fear with confidence, and they aren’t the only ones.

Romans 8:15 says,
“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’”

2nd Timothy 1:7 says,
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

But how do we exchange fear for confidence? The answer is in 1st John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” Let me explain how this works:
When I was really little, my folks took us on a camping trip to a lake with a sharp drop-off. I couldn’t swim and soon stepped over the drop-off and couldn’t touch bottom. I screamed and flailed in the deep water. My mother, who saw me, dove in to save me, except she couldn’t swim either. Her love for me overcame her fear of water, and she forgot that she couldn’t swim. My dad got all angry and jumped in clothes and all to save, not me, but my mother. You see, my mother had forgotten: I was wearing a life jacket.

But the moral is, love disregards the obstacles and overlooks the dangers. When we love, we’ll boldly serve God. We won’t be worrying all the time about the consequences and inconveniences. Our love for Him will overrule all that.

And our love for the lost as we consider their desperate condition will compel us. Like my mother, we won’t think about the dangers to ourselves. We will dive in to rescue them, just as Jesus dove into this world from heaven to seek and to save the lost. Love does that – it cast out fear.

David Brainard is a great example. He was a missionary to the American Indians during the 1700s, and this quote comes from David Otis fuller’s book, Valiant for the Truth:
“Wilderness hardships, lack of proper food, overwork, and a consuming passion to win as many as possible in his lifetime drained Brainard’s meager physical resources. He was never a well man, even as a youth, and his dairy is full of pathetic jottings on the subject: ‘I felt my bodily strength fail’. . . or ‘Shattered with a violent fever.’”

This quote is from Brainard’s own diary:
“At night, I lost my way in the wilderness and wandered over mountains, through swamps, and most dangerous places. I was greatly exposed, much pinched with cold, with sickness at my stomach, so that every step was distressing to me. Thus I have frequently lain without the whole night, but God has preserved me. Such hardships serve to wean me from the earth, and will make heaven the sweeter.”

For Brainard, no price was too great for the love of his Lord.

Paul’s example is no different:
Look at 2nd Corinthians 11:23-29:
“Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?”

Paul never gave up. He kept on pushing to the end. Why? It was all for the love of God. As we said, the answer is in 1st John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.”

My friend do you love God? Do you love Him enough to serve Him?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Doing the Right Stuff to Be Rewarded

Believers are not judged for their sin. That has already happened on the Cross, and Jesus paid the full price. Therefore, believers will not stand at the Great White Throne Judgment to be condemned. Oh, but we will be judged. We will all appear at the Judgment Seat of Christ – a special judgment just for believers. In the previous post, we described this judgment as a rewards banquet where our lives will be held up for review and rewards given for faithful service to Christ.

But, who receives the reward? All believers do whose work endures. So that could include you. 1st Corinthians 4:5 says, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” That is what we are looking for - to hear Christ say, “Well done My good and faithful servant.”

There really will be no losers at the Judgment Seat of Christ, at least there need not be. We know that every believer gets at least the crown of eternal life. They wouldn’t be at this ceremony in heaven if they weren’t saved.

But who will be the big winners? The champions? Will it be the ones who have accomplished the most? Who’ve had the best results?

No! Because it’s not the results that are judged but the attitudes. You can see this in 1st Corinthians 4:5 – God will “bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.”

The word, “counsels,” in Greek means the intents, the motives. God is going to look inside us to check out our motives. God will turn our works inside out to look at why we did them. Our rewards will not be based on how many notches are on our witnessing belt, but on our heart of compassion for the lost. Our rewards are not going to be based on how much money we’ve given to the church, but on the cheerfulness of our hearts as we give. It’s not on how eloquently we pray in flowery, King James English, but how we pour out our hearts in intercession on behalf of people.

We’ll be amazed in heaven at folks we didn’t think amounted to much who get reward after reward. I mean, what did they really accomplish? Not much, but it was there heart. And God judges the intents of the heart. God judges our motives, not our results.

In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus makes that clear:
“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. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 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.”

Do you see? If you want your rewards from men, you can get them. But that’s all you’ll ever get. You got what you wanted and what you worked for. But in the process, you forfeited any rewards from God.

Be careful of your motives. Singing a beautiful solo to have people admire our great voice is “hay.” Singing for the glory of God is “silver.” Teaching to be noticed by men and thought important and wise is “straw.” Teaching out of a desire to show the glory of Christ is “gold.” Witnessing out of compulsion is “stubble.” Witnessing out of love for God and compassion for people is “precious stones.” Guard your motives, and you won’t have to worry about the judgment.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

We Must All Be Judged

Hebrews 9:27 tells us, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” That thought terrifies us. But, why? What are the reasons we would fear standing before God in judgment? Either we fear God will punish us because of our sin, or we fear our works are inadequate to please God. Yet, as believers, we can have confidence in both those situations.

What about the first situation? Do we need to fear punishment for sin? For a believer, that’s already happened. Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages of sin is death,” so Christ suffered death for us on the cross. The punishment has already been paid. Hebrews 2:9 says that Christ tasted death for every man. We sinned and deserved death, so Christ died in our place. Isaiah 53:6 says, “And the Lord has laid on Him (on Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” Only those who reject Christ’s substitutionary death still face God’s wrath.

There is nothing to fear for a believer when it comes to punishment over sin. For believers, Romans 8:1 tells us: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” You, as a believer, are in Christ Jesus. There is therefore no condemnation for you.

Also, there’s John 5:24, where Jesus emphasized:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

No believer will stand before God to be judged for his sin – no believer - because that has already happened. We do not need to fear.

Only unbelievers stand before the Great White Throne Judgment at the end of the millennium. Only unbelievers will ever hear Jesus say these words of Matthew 25:41, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

No, sin won’t be an issue for a believer. We have God’s promise on that. Isaiah 43:25 says this: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” When God forgives, he forgets, unlike us.

But, what about the second reason to fear: The adequacy of our works?
Doesn’t Paul tell us this in 2nd Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ?” Shouldn’t we fear that? I mean, if we mess up now, aren’t we going to have to pay the piper later? Like those times we have a golden opportunity to witness and we chicken out; or the times we know someone is in need, and we look the other way? How often do we let other priorities rob us of our time with God? Or rob us of our time serving Him? So those fears are justified for some. And you know who you are who are letting things come between you and God.

So, yes, the Judgment Seat of Christ is for believers. 2nd Corinthians 5:8-11 says, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

In spite of impending judgment, Paul says we should be exhibiting confident anticipation. Once we leave these bodies, we will be in the very presence of the Lord. That thought should bring joy, not fear.
But it should focus us. Knowing we will be with Him should make it our aim to please Him. Isn’t it every child’s desire to please their Father? This isn’t “accepted” as in the KJV says in verse 9. We are “accepted” in Christ, never on our own merit, but only on Christ’s. But we may not all please Him by our actions.

And yes, we will all have to stand and give an account, according to verse 10. This is universal, for all believers, with no escape. We’ll be judged by whether what we’ve done is “good or bad.” But the bad isn’t sinful, not in this case. Our sins have been erased, forgotten. These works judged bad are worthless, inconsequential, not having accomplished anything for eternity. What we do on this earth will be judged. Therefore, terror can be real and justified.

But what happens at the judgment of a believer? 1st Corinthians 3:11-15 explains:
“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

Jesus is the foundation of the church, therefore our foundation is perfect. But we are left to build on that foundation. What will we build?

Now, is there anything wrong with wood? Hay? Straw? No, not at all! But they are flammable. They aren’t sin. they aren’t evil. Jesus judged all that on the cross.
They just don’t have much value by comparison. They have no eternal value. They are worthless in heaven. Plus, since they are flammable, they can’t survive testing by fire.

Which ones abide? The gold, silver, and precious stones do. They aren’t flammable, so they can stand the testing by fire. They have eternal value so they are the ones will be rewarded in heaven. If we have nothing of value to show for our life, we will lose the rewards Jesus planned to give us. It’s the rewards of verse 14 that are lost in verse 15, not a loss of salvation.

Putting this into perspective, the whole purpose of a believer’s judgment is to assign rewards. This was called the judgment seat in the translation of 2nd Corinthians 5:10, but that translation almost makes it seem negative. The Greek word is bema, and it’s not at all negative.

Listen to John MacArthur describe it:
“Outside Corinth was a large Olympic stadium where athletes from all over Greece would assemble periodically to compete in the Greek Olympic Games. In the midst of the stadium there was a raised platform – a platform of prominence, honor, and dignity. This platform was called the bema. The winner of the contest would be led to the bema where he would ascend the steps. When the victor reached the platform, an honored leading citizen would take an oak-leaf cluster, a laurel wreath, or a garland, and place it on him as a symbol of his triumph.”

That’s it, that’s the real flavor of this. The Judgment Seat of Christ is not a place to punish sin - Christ already took the punishment on our behalf - but it’s a place where we’re honored and rewarded.