Skip to content

2

“I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.” When I was younger I had a great deal of difficulty understanding that statement. I grew up in a Christian family, and started going to church before I was born. I am thankful for that, but there are some challenges to it too. Because I went to the same church from as far back as I can remember until after I was married, most of my formative Biblical teaching came from that one place. So, when I read the above sentence in I Corinthians 9:22, I thought that can’t be the right thing to do. Certainly God doesn’t want us to compromise our standards, does He? After all, people have been martyred for sticking up for what they believe. What does Paul mean by becoming all things to all people? Is he being wishy-washy? Is he bowing to peer pressure?

As always, context is essential, and I believe that context comes into play in two ways when we seek to understand the passage of I Corinthians 9:19-22: Biblical context, and today’s context. To understand the Biblical context, we should start back at I Corinthians 8. Paul was talking to the Corinthians about not eating food sacrificed to idols. To Jesus, the most important thing is what is in your heart, not what you put in your stomach. (Mark 7:17-23, I Samuel 16:7) So what you eat is not an important issue, but if by eating it you cause someone else to be confused about what is right, or to be turned away from God, then what you eat certainly does matter. So Paul chose not to eat meat in order to avoid causing someone else to sin. The Biblical context continues in I Corinthians 9:1-18. Here Paul is declaring that as a minister of the gospel he does have the right to financial support from the Corinthians, so that he can focus his time and energy of sharing God’s word. But Paul gives up that right, not because he isn’t entitled to it, but so that he is under no obligation to anyone but Christ. For this reason he can bring the message to both Jews and Gentiles. He uses his own life experiences to make connections with both groups. He does not compromise the message of salvation, but he does put it in a context that can be understood by his audience.

That brings us to today’s context. If only we could learn from Paul. Very often, the people who go to church today are there because they’ve always gone to church. They focus on the programs, the type of music used in the service, and how to pay the bills. Meanwhile, outside of the church is a big wide world that doesn’t understand its purpose. They don’t see the point of going to church because they don’t know Jesus, and we as a church are not introducing them to Him, because we are too busy focusing on less significant details or on building bonds of friendship with those who already believe the same things we do. There is nothing wrong with building relationships inside the church, but if we do not associate with people who believe differently, how will we ever show them the truth of the gospel? Unfortunately, many of the people who do engage with others are passing judgement on them, telling them that they are wrong and we are right. The truth is that for many issues we cannot fully know what is right. We are all just flawed humans, and only God is God, and only He knows everything. We can, however, meet people in the context of their culture and share what is truly important: God’s love.

2

September 11. Yes, I remember. I remember the shock, the disbelief, the thought that this looked like a clip from a disaster movie. And yes, I remember where I was, though I have no idea why that is important to people. I remember the vision of the avalanche of ash flooding through the streets. I remember the people running and screaming to try to stay ahead of it. I remember people jumping from the towers to their death, because the alternatives were worse. I remember the tears and anguish of people searching for their loved ones, hoping against hope that they had survived. But I don't want to remember those things.

Though I can't begin to imagine the loss from so great a tragedy, I understand what it is like to lose a loved one. Eleven years is far too soon to forget. But I do not wish to remember an act of hatred. It frustrates me that the people who did this have had such a lasting place in our thoughts, that these images were ever put into our thoughts to begin with. I would much rather focus on love.

The members of the emergency response departments, including volunteers from across the USA and Canada, demonstrated the ultimate courage and love as they faced this monstrous disaster head on. Their acts of bravery saved many lives, and sometimes cost them their own. But even though that was love in action—love of country and love for others—I am saddened at that memory too.

The kind of love I want to focus on, is the kind that will prevent this sort of thing from happening again. Can you even begin to imagine what this world would be like if we followed the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave to his followers? Love God. Love others. (Matthew 22:37-39) We would show consideration and respect for God’s creation—the world around us and each other. We would do what we could to help each other out. We would work together, instead of in competition. Imagine what we could accomplish. Yes, we might lose our temper from time to time and do something we regret, but acts of hatred would not be premeditated. I know that this ideal world that I’ve imagined is not fully possible on this side of heaven, but if we each did our best to live this way, we could get a little closer to it. I think it is worth the effort to try. In honour of those who gave their lives on September 11, 2001, will you try with me?

In last week’s post I talked about the greatest love that one person can have for another, and that we are commanded to have that kind of love. Love can be commanded because it is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, but an act of the will. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be easier with the warm, fuzzy feelings, but we are nevertheless commanded to love. How can we do it if we don’t feel it?

The answer is found in verses that precede last week’s passage, John 15:4-5. It is simple and complex all at the same time: abide. That is the word used in many translations. Many others, including the NET Bible (the version you see when you scroll over a reference in this blog) use the word remain. Remain is used 12 times within verses 4-16. (John 15:1-17) Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4) We cannot bear fruit unless we remain in Him. That does not mean that we are completely helpless. There are a lot of people in this world who do not acknowledge Jesus at all, but who still manage to function. Some are quite successful. But nothing we do will have lasting spiritual value, eternal value, if we do not abide in Him.

How do we abide, remain, in Jesus? John 15:7 gives us the clue: if His words remain in us. The best way for us to remain in Jesus is through scripture reading and prayer, prayer that includes taking time to listen and allowing the Lord to speak to our hearts. Any strong relationship requires time and attention, not just a quick hello (or call for help) now and then. It is by building this close connection that we will bear much fruit--accomplish deeds of eternal spiritual value--and bring honour to our Heavenly Father. (John 15:8)

2

It has been five days since the senseless shooting of theatre goers in Aurora, Colorado. Usually after a terrifying incident like this one, you hear stories about the heroic acts of people helping others, so I was surprised to read the story of a young man who set his crying infant son on the floor, and ran out of the theatre, leaving behind not only his son, but his girlfriend and a four year old daughter as well. He then fled the theatre, got in his car and drove away. His girlfriend borrowed a phone, presumably well after the chaos had settled, and called him. They were later reunited at the hospital where he proposed, and she accepted. (I don’t pretend to know any of them or the situation well enough to understand their motivations, but based on the facts I have, I would not have said yes.)

Thankfully, this young man seemed to be the exception; there were in fact heroes there too. According to the reports, a complete stranger protected that abandoned fiancée and her daughter. Several other young men gave up their lives to protect their girlfriends from the flying bullets. The girlfriends all survived. The comments that I have heard, all suggest that protecting loved ones is what real men do. There are probably many men who have told their sweethearts that they would take a bullet for them, but I don’t know how many thought that they might really have to do it one day.

Jesus said that there is no greater love than to give up your life for a friend. (John 15:13) He knew when He said it that He would be giving up his life within a day. His purpose for coming to this earth in human form was to give up His life so that we wouldn’t have to give up ours. Yes, we will one day all give up our earthly bodies, but they are only the wrapping of our souls. We can live eternally, because Jesus was willing to die in our place. He commanded us to love others in the same way that He loves us. Just so that there is no ambiguity, that instruction is repeated several times in John 15:9-17:

  • We are told to remain in His love, (John 15:9) and we will do that by obeying His commandments. (John 15:10)
  • Then He clarifies that His commandment is to love others just as He has loved us. (John 15:12)
  • We demonstrate that we are His friends by following His commands, (John 15:14) and once again He repeats that His command for us is to love other people. (John 15:17)

We won’t all be required to demonstrate our love for someone by dying in their place, but we can still make other people a priority ahead of ourselves. We can lay down our lives in service to others while we're living.

Today's post was written by Robert Driskell.
---------
Christians are often accused of wanting to force their beliefs on others, of wanting to make America a theocracy. A theocracy is defined by Webster as the, "government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided".

Many Christians are rightly accused of trying to get the laws of the Old Testament installed as the law in America. These Christians recognize that the world would be a much better place if everyone lived according to the standards that God has given us. After all, He designed and created the universe; shouldn't He know best how it should work?

The problem is that there are many who think they know better than God how things should go. These people reject God and His plan for humanity. Nevertheless, there are some Christians who seek to force these non-believers to live according to God's plan, even if it's against their will. This is where the conflict reveals itself.

While living in a theocratic nation would make things appear better outwardly, it would only be a façade, an alteration of public behavior. Man's inner self would still be the same rebellious, sinful entity it ever was; it would just be better hidden. It is not merely the outward behavior of a person that needs to be changed, but the inward condition of the heart. When people are forced to obey laws, there exists within them an underlying spirit of rebellion just waiting for the opportunity to manifest itself. Ravi Zacharias writes that:
"All the rules in the world cannot change a heart or make a person righteous. Only as the spirit is touched by the Spirit of God does the soul rise in worship and true goodness flow." (Deliver Us From Evil, Ravi Zacharias, Thomas Nelson, 1997, p. 208)

We have also been provided a clear biblical example of the ineffectiveness of theocratic rule. The Old Testament record is full of instances of God's rule being spurned by His people. These same people who had received God's protection, deliverance, and presence turned to their own ways on several occasions.

The Bible makes clear that salvation does not come by observing rules and regulations (Romans 3:20-31; Galatians; etc). God's laws were given to mankind to show that His standards are too pure for us to consistently live by. They were to show us that we can't be good enough for God. They were given so that we would eventually come to the end of ourselves and acknowledge our desperate need for His grace. The ultimate example of His love and grace came in the person of Jesus Christ.
"Jesus gets to the heart--not to a set of rules that can be observed while the heart still rebels." (Deliver Us From Evil, Ravi Zacharias, Thomas Nelson, 1997, p. 208)

The Christian wants to spread the love, forgiveness, and fulfillment that can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. They desire to see others moved by the love of God and, out of gratitude for what He's done for us, willingly seek to honor and obey Him.

When a person's heart is healed, their actions reflect that healing. This is how a society changes in the hearts of its people.

We should not want to force our beliefs on anyone. Love can't be forced.

Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. (Isaiah 55:6 NASB)

1

Some people in this world (like my mom) are sweet, kind, generous and helpful. They are friendly and polite to everyone. Other people (probably best not to give examples here) are mean, rude, intrusive, confrontational or just plain selfish. It’s really easy to love people in the first category, but those in the second group tend to bring out the worst in our own character. We often want to treat them the same way that they treated us. This of course, besides being contrary to God’s will, really doesn’t help to improve matters at all.

Romans 12:19 instructs us not to avenge ourselves, not to plot ways to get back at our abusers for what they have done to us. That is not to say that we shouldn’t find appropriate ways to end the abuse if it is ongoing. The most appropriate way to deal with these hurtful situations is to trust God with the outcome. If we try to do God’s job for Him, we aren’t allowing Him to defend us. If we allow Him to, He will help us to get through it, and He will decide what punishment the offenders deserve. We may not necessarily see that punishment, and it may not happen in the timing we would have chosen, but we have to trust God to know what He’s doing. This requires having enough faith to believe that God is in control and that He loves us and wants the best for us.

Romans 12:20 tells us what we should do instead. If our enemy is hungry we should feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Whatever he needs we should help to provide it. If we do this, we will heap burning coals on his head. I have heard and read various explanations of what is meant by the heaping of burning coals. Most commentaries agree that this expression represents the pangs of conscience our good deeds and acts of love will create in the offender. They will have feelings of shame and remorse because we have treated them so much better than they have treated us. Others explain that people in that era needed to keep their fires burning constantly to provide warmth and a source of heat for cooking. If their fire went out they would have to get burning coals from a neighbour to restart their fire. They would carry these coals home in a container on their heads. Therefore heaping burning coals on a person’s head was a great kindness. Still others say that it refers to an old Egyptian ritual in which people carried pans of burning coal on their head to show their repentance.

I don’t know which of those explanations is correct, but whichever it is, it is clear that we are required to be the people that God calls us to be, and not to stoop to treating others badly even if that is the way that they have treated us. We are not to hate, even when others are hateful. Our job in this world is to love. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love others. (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31) Love leaves no room for anger or vengeance or hatred. (I Corinthians 13:4-7) This is the way that we will represent Christ’s love to others. (John 13:35) As usual, this may not be an easy thing to do, but it is the right thing.

1

Some of you don’t like confrontation. Rather than stand up to someone and tell them that you disagree with them, or that they are overstepping their boundaries, you allow other people to have their way, and sometimes to step all over you. I know because I’ve been there too. There is a delicate balance here. How do you maintain reasonable boundaries, or stand up for what you believe in without becoming argumentative or stirring up unnecessary discord?

The Apostle Paul was an example of someone who stood up for what he believed and was willing to speak his mind. And he encouraged others to do the same, including through correspondence to his young friend Timothy, part of which is found in II Timothy 1. Timothy was timid and quite possibly discouraged by all the opposition that both he and Paul were facing, but if he was going to assist Paul in sharing the gospel he would need to learn to speak up with confidence. That doesn’t mean that he needed to be loud and obnoxious and to shout down anyone who disagreed with him as, sadly, some today are in the habit of doing. He needed not only to set aside his spirit of fear, but also to take on the spirit of love and a sound mind—self-control. (II Timothy 1:7) We are all called to love our neighbour, (Galatians 5:14, Mark 12:31, Matthew 19:19) and to be ambassadors of Christ’s love, (II Corinthians 5:19-20) even with people that we find unpleasant, or wrong.

God has a unique purpose for each of us, but all of us have the responsibility to glorify God in everything that we do, and to share His love and gift of salvation with others. There will undoubtedly be times when we will encounter people who will disagree with us, sometimes vehemently. When this happens, I suggest to you as Paul did to Timothy, (II Timothy 1:6) to rekindle the gifts given to you through the Spirit. You can do this through prayer, Bible reading and study, and by finding some mentors who are strong in their faith to encourage you. Don’t be wishy-washy about what you believe in, but make sure that God’s love is evident in you when you share it.

3

During a recent discussion on reasons for leaving the church, the subject of judging came up. Some think that people in the church are too judgemental, and others think that we need to stand up for our convictions. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to show a brother his fault? Then again, it also says, “Judge not”. (Matthew 7:1-2) How can we do both?

Matthew 18:15-17 says that if your brother sins, go and show him his fault when you are alone. Don’t make a public spectacle of the problem. If you can’t resolve it between the two of you, follow the steps in the rest of the passage, which may in fact end in separation. Let me be clear, this passage refers to relationships with fellow Christians, people who profess to believe essentially the same things that we do.

What about those who, in our view, are living a life of sin? We need to be very careful here, not to become too self-righteous. (Romans 12:3) We are all sinners (Romans 3:23) somewhere on the road between lost and being saved by grace. (Romans 3:24) This is where the passage in Matthew 7:1-2 comes in. Judge not, so that you won’t be judged. The measure of grace, or lack of it, that you use in judging others, will determine how others, and God, will judge you. The word translated as judge in this passage means to be critical and condemning; this is what we are to avoid. We are certainly called to be discerning, as the following verses indicate. Matthew 7:3-5 teaches that we need to examine ourselves first. Once we become aware of our own faults and have corrected them, we are in a place to be able to graciously help our brother, our fellow believer.

How then can we help non-believers to see the light? Not by criticism, but by love. John 13:34-35 indicates that they will know we are Christians by our love. I Peter 3:15-16 tells us to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have. Both those passages indicate to me that we need to build relationships with people who don’t believe the same things we do, so that we can share what we believe with people who are willing to listen to us, so that they too might share the hope that we have. If they reject our views, or our help, or us altogether, we need to leave them alone. Matthew 7:6 tells us not to throw our pearls before swine. Don’t give what is holy to someone who doesn’t know what to do with it and will only condemn it and then attack you. That would be a very good occasion to shake the dust off your feet. (Matthew 10:14)

What is our reason for pointing out others’ faults? Is it to make ourselves feel better about our own sins, because we haven’t done anything as bad as they have? Is it to lead them to the path of life, because we are sure from their actions that they aren’t on it? Only God truly knows a person’s heart, but even if they are on the wrong path, condemnation and criticism are not the right way to approach them. Whatever we do, we need to be very careful of our own actions and motives before we say that we are obeying what the Bible teaches.

6

I just had a visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (You know if you’re nice to them once, they keep coming back, but if they talk to me they have to listen to me too.) Today’s topic of conversation was The Marks of a True Christian. What makes someone a true Christian, and how can we know it? I don’t think that we can really know for sure, because the state of a person’s soul is between that person and God, but I do think that there should definitely be some evidence to make us suspect. By evidence I don’t mean where they go to church, whether they wear a cross around their neck, how they dress or how they cut their hair. Anyone could profess to be a Christian if these were the only requirements.

Romans 10:9 makes it clear that you will be saved if you believe in your heart and declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. John 3:16 says that whoever believes in Jesus will have everlasting life. So that’s what makes you a Christian. But how does the rest of the world know that you are one?

In John 13:34, Jesus told His disciples that He was giving them a new commandment—to love one another. Now the commandment to love was not new. It had been around since the days of Moses. (Leviticus 19:18) But the old commandment was to love your neighbour as yourself. Now Jesus was telling the disciples to love each other as He loved them. These were the disciples that argued about who was greatest, (Mark 9:33-37, Luke 9:46-48, Luke 22:24-27) and who would sit at Christ’s side in heaven. (Mark 10:35-40) They didn’t really have the servant attitude that Christ demonstrated. Shortly before Jesus said this, He had washed His disciples feet, and told them He wanted them to do the same. (John 13:3-17, John 13:14-15) Shortly afterward He gave up His life for them and for us. (John 19:30) That’s quite an example to follow, but if we do, others will know we are Christians by our love. (John 13:35)

Can you be saved and not be loving? Can you be loving and not be saved? Yes, and yes. But if we have a personal relationship with Jesus, we are encouraged and commanded to love one another. And if we love each other the way that Christ loved, people are going to notice, and wonder why. Does that mean being nice to the Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come to the door so that they can see the love of Jesus too? For me it does.

1

I walked into the grocery store yesterday morning, but unlike the many people looking at the large variety of flower arrangements just inside the door, I was there to buy food. When I got to the check-out, there were two lanes open—the express lane and a lane dedicated to flower sales only. Yes, it was Valentine’s Day, the one day a year set aside to celebrate love with hearts and flowers, red and pink. Now as much as I think that you should show your love every day of the year, I don’t have a problem with setting aside one day in particular to make a point of showing it. I think mothers should be celebrated every day of the year too, but if it weren’t for Mother’s Day, we might not ever get around to saying thank you.

My problem with Valentine’s Day is more about people's perceptions of what love is. Real love is not all about hearts and flowers. It’s not always pretty. Love is about commitment and sacrifice. When you make a vow to love someone until death separates you, that is going to take some work. For all those who made or accepted proposals of marriage yesterday, you need to realize that a time will come when those warm fuzzy feelings will wear off, and you will have to face reality. I hope that you never have to face devastating things together, but you might, and you will certainly have to face daily routine—jobs, laundry, bill paying, choosing between one person’s wishes and the other’s. Are you willing to put someone else’s needs and desires above your own? Are you willing to risk your life for them?

John 15:13 tells us that there is no greater love than laying down your life for someone else. This is what Christ did for us. God loved us so much that He sent His son (John 3:16) to pay the penalty for our sin, to be our substitute so that we would not have to face the punishment that was intended for us. (Romans 5:8, I John 2:2, I John 4:10) It is hard to imagine that kind of love, but that is what Jesus commands in John 15:12. Love others as I have loved you. There is no greater love than laying down your life for your friends. You are my friends if you love each other this way. (John 15:12-14 LC paraphrase) Do you think that you are ready to show that kind of love? Peter thought he was too, (Mark 14:31), but after the rooster crowed in the morning he realized the truth. (Mark 14:66-72) Loving as Jesus loved is a lot to live up to, but this is what true love means.