no truth apart from love

The wise in heart are called discerning,
and gracious words promote instruction.

Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:21,24

Some people seem to think that truth is telling it like it is, no holds barred. But truth in God’s world is always joined with love; you can’t separate them. Love is not love apart from truth; truth is not truth apart from love.

This should be an important baseline on how I judge my own speech and the speech of others. How well I receive a sermon, message or as it’s often called nowadays a conversation around and in God’s word. Is it imbued with grace and truth? If not, it will be lacking.

None of us has it altogether. And we might tend more either toward grace, or truth. People who are known to be blunt are often admired as “telling it like it is,” or “being real.” And others who can never say anything that might be displeasing to others will likely not be taken seriously, or will be seen as flatterers.

What we need is a combination of grace and truth. We speak truth, but we do so gently, with love. In fact we would want to consider and ponder how to make truth as attractive as possible, rather than quite the opposite. What will help us a long way in that direction is humility, the realization of how much we ourselves are in need of grace. That should help us put a curb on our harshness, and hopefully find in time that it no longer characterizes us.

When we understand our own great need for God’s mercy and grace, we won’t look down on others. But instead will want to help them with the help God gives us. In and through Jesus.

Jesus was not always “nice”

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”

One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Luke 11:43-46, 52-54; 12:1-7

The entire passage of the above link, Luke 11:29-12:12 is worth a good slow read. Jesus’s sayings are not only hard, but at spots seemingly impossible (verses 47-51). We don’t necessarily understand, but maybe in the latter case we could surmise that given the light from the past that those of Jesus’s day had, they should have learned and done better. Jesus’s words are often blunt, not coated with the spiritual flourish we often spin in our words and explanations, or more like simply being largely mute on the subject, saying little or nothing.

Of course these hard sayings of Jesus have to be put in the context of the whole. Jesus was welcoming to everyone. At the same time, Jesus never spared anyone. Think of Peter and the other disciples. If you want someone nice who will bless everything you do, and thinks you are fine just the way you are, then don’t look to Jesus. As to how we’re created as humans in God’s image, each and everyone of us, that Jesus would fully affirm. It’s our sin that he won’t. And that’s for our good. Just like children, we shouldn’t suppose that whatever we think and do is somehow okay, or that self-actualization according to our whims or fancy is good.

We have to receive this for ourselves, and I think it also translates over to how we’re to try to help others. We do no one any good at all by simply accepting all they do as alright. It’s not like we should be critiquing those who don’t care. After all, Jesus said not to throw your pearls to pigs. But we do believe anyone can turn and choose to listen so that the light can shine in the darkness so that by God’s grace there can be change, indeed a changed life.

But we must emphasize this for ourselves. And be slow and light to ever put it on someone else. Anyone who is willing to receive such from the Lord or from one of his disciples is indeed truly blessed.

This is all for our good; we need it. We need to receive it for our own benefit, and as an example to others. That they too might learn to receive it for themselves. In and through Jesus.

the deeper life mystique and mistake

There is something plaguing Christianity and actually causing the shipwreck of the faith for many.* But before I get there, I want to acknowledge the importance of growing deeper in our faith, and the need for a deeper life in God. That possibility is right in scripture (Ephesians 3:14-21, one example). I have frankly thought, reflecting on myself, and what I’ve seen, that our faith can be 20 miles wide, and an inch deep. By faith we need to grow outward, inward, and through and through. And be taken into places that require God’s work of excavating what is in the way, and will only hinder what God wants to do, as well as to grow in our own walk and experience in the faith. Yes, there is indeed a depth into which God wants us to step into by faith, and begin to sink into. This kind of life has been pursued in Christianity for centuries without leaving the gospel behind, or altering it in the process, actually a maturing in the faith.

But there is either a perversion, or something that is off track and at least unhelpful that is all too common in too many Christian circles. And before you begin to think I’m referring to some specific group or movement, one must remember that there are differences and that not all teaching that might be put in this category is without some balance from scripture, so that there may be nothing at all essentially wrong with it.

But to the problem, I am referring to teaching which falls into the category of what in theological circles is called overrealized eschatology. That is a big term which means what God has promised to be fulfilled in the life to come is more or less expected now. There have been some grave errors which can be seen in the New Testament, one example: when Paul refers to those who said that the resurrection had already passed, possibly meaning that these Christians had thought they had arrived, overcoming death already.

Some examples today are those who insist on a second or third work of grace which distinguishes them from other Christians. For example those who refer to themselves as “Spirit-filled” or “Spirit-filled” churches. While an emphasis on the Spirit and the Spirit’s working might help Christians to be more open to God’s work in that way, all too often the result is anything but helpful, and far from scriptural.

A telling indication that something is wrong is when one sees their faith as better than others, or their church as better than other churches. Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is not only freedom, but humility. Humility to understand our own ongoing need, with the realization that none of us are any better than the other.

Beware of a Christianity that emphasizes experience, oftentimes unusual experiences, and sees itself as a cut above the rest. “By their fruit you will know them.” If there’s not the humility of Christ to understand that we are in process, and always in great need individually and together, then we need to reconsider the teaching we’re receiving. And the Spirit binds us together in Christ and promotes our unity in Christ. We need to beware like the plague any teaching or church not in line with that.

At the same time, by grace we can begin to experience and grow into the fullness of God in Christ together by the Spirit in the word and the church. That is the real thing. The other is more or less phony, and needs to be rejected. But God’s grace in Jesus is present to whatever extent possible in any group. We simply have to be aware, and wary of what takes us beyond the clear teaching in scripture and the gospel. Be forewarned and avoid and help others avoid this plague. That instead we might grow up together into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

*From what I’ve seen, which admittedly is limited, but I am convinced myself is a pattern which at least infects our faith with something foreign to Christ and the gospel, and even results in people becoming disillusioned, and leaving the faith.

 

Jesus, or Moses?

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1:17

Law and grace is a theological theme from scripture. It is interesting how both John in John’s gospel account, and Paul handle this theme (see Paul’s treatment in Romans 7 for one example of his teaching on it).

The Law/Torah ends up being preparatory for the grace that would follow in Jesus. Essentially the Law is both directive, put in place for a new nation, Israel, certainly for individuals as well as the nation as a whole, and the Law was the means of convicting the people of their sin, that they are sinners, and thus the preparation needed for people to receive the needed salvation in Jesus. So the Law is important in its function and place. Another example from Paul, the Law a temporary guardian/disciplinarian to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), and see the entire book of Galatians.

We may think this is not an issue for us today. After all, aren’t we Christians, and not Jews? How could we be followers of Moses rather than Christ? Inadvertently so, I’m afraid. It’s our tendency to think that the answer is to know more and do more, and that’s essentially the effect of the Law front and center. And again, it’s needed in its place to convict us as sinners (Romans 3:20).

This is a big subject, a glimpse of it here, hopefully. Christ brings the grace and truth which Moses evidently didn’t and indeed couldn’t. Truth follows grace, which I think is a hint that what we’re talking about is more than truth as knowledge, but truth in life, ultimately found in Jesus himself (John 14:6) and yes, in his death. By his death we die as well, so that our salvation not only from, but to and for is begun only in and through Jesus.

hanging in there with each other

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good,to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15

Weak and strong have to do with the changes that were taking place with the coming of the new covenant in which many rules, even the schema of the old covenant, was being put aside since the fulfillment of it in Christ and through his death, had already come. It was not an easy time, a time of change. It was not like Christians at that time had to put all the old practices aside. But they had to accept the new reality that other Christians were not going to practice them, and would still be completely accepted by God, so that they too would need to accept them. They were the majority at first, but in a matter of a relatively short time would become the minority as more and more Gentiles would come to the faith.

We can apply this passage in a looser sense with strong and weak perhaps signifying scruples and religious practices. What might be out of bounds for some, might not be any problem for others. Of course I’m not talking about out and out sin, but rather things that might lead some, the “weak” into sin. What might not be a problem for me might be an occasion of stumbling for them, so that I won’t be acting in love if I flaunt my freedom in their presence.

Also I need to be careful not to judge others on things which in themselves are not sin, covered by God’s grace. I might possibly be termed as “weak” in those situations. God looks at the heart. Some practice might be better than others, and maybe it doesn’t matter. But oftentimes what we know is best for us, or what we’re accustomed to, we impose on others, and judge them according to those standards. Which might in fact not be helpful to them, even if they might possibly learn something from our own practice.

We must accept one another fully, even as Christ has fully accepted us, that we together might bring glory to God. A big part of that is simply learning to get along well with our differences, some of that contrast perhaps being uncomfortable to us like the sound of chalk on a blackboard. For this to happen, we need to pray, and be open to the work of the Spirit in drawing us together in harmony, so that in that, we might bring praise together to God. Getting along with each other is a high priority to God. And the essence of what it means to be “in Christ.” Of course as those who are seeking to live in the grace and truth of our Lord. In and through Jesus.

avoiding gossip

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts.

Proverbs 26

Gossiping is one of the themes covered in the book of Proverbs. It carries the idea of talking about others behind their back in disparaging ways, usually in a way that highlights their supposed character defects, or whatever perceived weaknesses they have. It often refers to something that has happened, or is going on. It ends up being a moral sickness for those who practice it, and for others who participate in that practice by merely listening. Listening and taking it in, as the passage quoted above indicates, is just as much to participate in it, as the actual gossiper, at least in how it affects the one who listens. By listening, one is affirming what the gossiper is doing.

It becomes more tricky when one just throws in some kind of slant about someone in the midst of what otherwise is normal talk. That is when one should be on guard in their heart not to be taken in, maybe ask a question, or say something which puts into question what is said, and perhaps exonerates the one who has been belittled.

To be a gossip means to have a moral sickness of heart. It is rampant in our society, it seems. Instead of talking about issues, we impugn the character of those we disagree with. And everyone more or less ends up doing that, so that it becomes a vicious cycle. And this affects those who don’t, so that they have to work at not doing the same, even while under their breath perhaps doing so.

We have to learn to hate this kind of practice, and a large part of that is to love the truth, and honesty. And graciousness of thought and speech is essential for this, as well. We should think the best of others, and when we see them fail, hope for better. We need the same grace ourselves from others.

Honesty and truth telling, and above all, being gracious in both thinking and seeking the best for others is essential. If we have a problem with someone, we should go to that person and talk to them, oftentimes clearing up a misunderstanding in the process. And when an offensive behavior persists, we should be slow to go to anyone else, of course depending on what the issue is, and what kind of help that person might need.

And we need to watch ourselves. Especially our hearts to avoid the damage which can be inflicted on others through our tongues. Instead we need to speak the truth in love and as it is in Jesus, and keep looking to Jesus and God’s good news in him, as we look at everything else. Seeing all through that, with the hope that brings for us all.

loving rebuke

I often think  that only God can deliver the correction we occasionally (at least) need. After all, it is God who is love. We are not, but are a mixed bag of good and bad, and left to ourselves, we’re at the center of our existence, or something less than the actual God is, often some combination of that.

And yet Jesus tells us that if our brother or sister sins against us to rebuke them. We have to watch out, because they may not be sinning against us. Only God knows the heart. It is hard to receive and probably even harder to give any kind of rebuke. We need to be on each other’s side, and any possible correcting words may put a wedge between us. That said, somehow by grace, we ought to be open to this practice, as long as it’s not commonplace, I say. Dallas Willard doubted that such can be done today, since people always take it personally and feel condemned. I wonder what it is in our age which makes this so, but it does seem to be the case in my own experience.

Probably giving a rebuke is not without sin when we do so out of our own personal pain, or aggrievement. Certainly prayer ought to accompany it, and preferably much prayer. And if much prayer, than it would seem wise only to offer a word of loving correction after one has at least slept on it. In other words, don’t rush in to correct.

If we do offer that word soon after the incident, we need to be concerned lest the relationship is hurt. We want a growing relationship through God’s love in Jesus by the Spirit. God’s grace in and through Jesus is the sphere in which we live. So we should be open to offer a word of apology and the asking for forgiveness for giving the rebuke in the first place. But probably we shouldn’t be hasty in doing that, either, unless we were clearly out of bounds in our attitide and action. While we likely were not without sin in offering the rebuke, there is also likely some truth in what we offered. If we ask for forgiveness out of our own feeling of fear and condemnation, that in itself isn’t right, either. We need to have enough clarity in the light and love of the Spirit to be able to proceed that direction. It may be wisdom to simply pray. Love does cover over a multitude of sins, so it may end up being something apt to address later, or completely let go. Yet in never mentioning it, it still remains. Maybe that in and of itself is an impetus to continue to pray, which may be needed.

Friendship nowadays seems to be about buddy, buddy times, in which there is no accountability. Maybe a better way to apply any needed rebuke is by example in love, and letting go of the perceived wrong done against us. After all, that is to be our heart attitude. And too often rebukes are done harshly. It might be best to approach someone with questions, and listen, trying to put the best construction on their answer. That could leave the window open to help them understand how their actions or words might have come across to us, or someone else.

We certainly do need to trust God in all of this. What wisdom might any reader like to offer on this? 

truth versus love

Truth and love are joined together in scripture and realized and fulfilled in Jesus. But I wouldn’t guess that sometimes, given what I have seen and heard from Christians, not that I have not been a part of that at times, and probably to some extent, all the time, at least in some degree.

Why do so many love or appreciate the Dalai Lama? (By the way, from what I pick up of him, I like him myself.) That includes Christian friends of mine. I don’t think it is necessarily at all his Buddhism, or a penchant for something “new age.” There is something about him which ought to be seen in more of us as Christians and followers of Jesus. Something in his makeup and message that should remind us of Jesus, I think.

But when I’ve mentioned this, it is simply brushed off and ignored, not duly considered. And we go on our merry way discussing doctrine, as rich as that discussion might be. But I think we’d do better to stop and consider just what we might learn in this. Just what might be beneficial to us for others, in the way of Jesus.

If there’s one thing people should notice when they see us followers of Jesus, it should be our love: for each other, for our neighbor, even for our enemies, for the world. Instead people gravitate to the Dalai Lama to find unconditional love. We in Jesus are meant in him to live in the realm of grace and truth, which Jesus it is written was full of. It is not that for the Dalai Lama it is only love, love, love. To be fair he talks something about what that means. Nor are we to be in competition against the Dalai Lama, trying to outdo him in his good points. That is not the point.

The point I am trying to make here is that there should be no competition between truth and love. In Jesus they are indeed bound together, so that we must be faithful to the witness of Jesus, but we must do so with a love that loves others to the end, even as Jesus did. And loves them sacrificially to the point of giving our lives away for them, the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. That is what the Christian life is, and anything short of that falls short of the Christian life, indeed of Christ himself.

When will the world know us, not for being “right,” but for our love? Then, and only then will they begin to take note and listen. And from that hopefully come to understand that our faith, hope and love are grounded in Jesus himself. He is the one we want to emulate and follow. With a love that is boundless, and knows no end. Let us join together in this that the world might see and believe.

tone

Tone is important when we converse, or say something, even write something. It is not just what we say, but how we say it. Are we listening well? Are we putting a good construction on the other person’s words. If we think they have a serious problem or issue which needs addressed, are we asking questions? Instead of assuming, and seeking to give correction based on that assumption.

What was the tone of Jesus? Did he simply diss and dismiss others? No. Even to those whose agenda was self-serving, he reached out in love and truth. We in Jesus are to do the same with others, and not the least–with each other.

Aren’t we Christians in the United States are often tone deaf? We may not realize the tone we’re giving. And we don’t hear the tone of others. That is part of how we must follow Jesus, in sharing him in his love and truth to the world.

The tone of Jesus must mark us. In our thoughts, acts and words. We must live as those who know his voice, that tone, and seek not only to follow, but to let that tone change us. That others might pick up the same from us. In and through Jesus for the world.

 

forgiving each other

In any relationship, likely sooner than later, forgiveness will need to be extended on both sides. Along the way we have to overlook some faults, maybe even many faults. Love indeed covers over a multitude of sins. But there are times when we need to lovingly confront. Hard. And difficult, because in the confrontation we ourselves are vulnerable. In any give and take there is often sin on both sides. There is no easy way to do this. Jesus tells us that if a brother or sister sins, presumably against us, but I think this would include any serious matter, we first go to them and show them their fault. And then hopefully they repent. If they don’t, then we take someone along and again lovingly confront them. But if that doesn’t work, we take it to the church. If the second step does not include an elder or the pastor, the last step most certainly will. If they still don’t repent when confronted by the church, then they are no longer considered a part of the fellowship, and are then treated as one who needs to start over, and respond in repentance and faith to the gospel.

If we would follow this process that Jesus taught us, I think much good could be done along the way. I’m sure churches are afraid of lawsuits, but surely there could be some way to legally protect a church with a rule a new member would have to agree to, which would subject them to such a procedure, when necessary.

We don’t take sin seriously enough* in our own lives, or in the life of the Body of Christ. That results in untold damage and indeed mars our witness to the world. The church is never perfect in this life, but is to be in the process of being perfected, or growing up into full maturity in Christ. This is a maturity in which truth and love are joined, permeated with grace in and through Jesus.

If we have a break of fellowship with another believer, we not only do well to seek to clear that up, but we are simply being obedient when we seek full reconciliation with them. Maybe at a certain point we don’t like them, but our unity is in Jesus, and as we seek to live and grow together in that unity, we will begin to find more and more common ground, as well as differences in each other that are good. More than that there is a communion in which we’re all to live in Jesus. That communion is not just an individual one between God and I. But it includes all who are in Jesus.

I struggle to take Holy Communion when I know that there is a break in my fellowship with another in Jesus which is not fully restored. Of course perfect fellowship is likely impossible in this life. I don’t mean we can’t experience snatches of it here and there. I mean that we carry all our weakness and sin into all of life. We just haven’t arrived. A big part of growing more and more into full maturity in Christ, is to realize more and more the unity that is ours in Christ by the Spirit. To live in that unity.

We do all of this not just for ourselves so that all is well with us. But for the world. The world will see Jesus in us only when we are living in communion together with him. When that is disrupted, our witness is at best, hurt.

Let’s take sin seriously first in our own lives, and then in the lives of those we know. Wanting to simply cover over faults along the way. But willing to prayerfully, lovingly and gently confront as a friend and brother or sister in Jesus, when need be. So hard, and yet if we’re to follow Jesus together, so necessary. As we seek together to live as those in Jesus for the world.

*Thanks to our Pastor Jack Brown who pointed that out, yesterday.