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Rom. 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”
The day has finally come.  You have been anxiously awaiting this moment.  Finally, no more moving from house to house.  No more foster parents.  Finally, a permanent home!  But what will life be like?  How do you suddenly call people who were not previously part of your life family?  How will life change?  So many questions are running through your mind as your adoptive parents come to receive you.  You are happy, but also apprehensive.  At the house, the children there are excited about having another sibling, but now they too have questions.  Does this new child have the same rights and privileges as we do?  Will the new child receive the same attention?  While this example is an earthly example, it can also apply in the kingdom.  How do I fit into the family of God?  What if those in the family of God treat me as different because I come into the family with a different background, and different experiences?
The psalmist wrote “He gives families to the lonely, and releases prisoners from jail, singing with joy! But for rebels there is famine and distress.” (Psa. 68:6 TLB) God takes those who are lonely and sets them in a family; but does that mean that the tendency to be lonely immediately disappears?  Not at all!  There is a proverb that warns us what happens when we demand our own way instead of the new way of life in a family:
Prov. 18:1 He who separates himself indulges his desires and shows contempt for sound advice of any kind. (CJB)
In other words, just because we are adopted into a family, doesn’t mean we receive the adoption in our minds and in our hearts.  In fact, in the passage in Romans, the word “received” could easily be translated “to lay hold of” or “to seize.”  These are much more aggressive terms than to receive.  Here is how the Lord Jesus described it:
Matt. 11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of the heavens is taken by violence and the violent seize it. (BLB)
This spirit of adoption must be seized by each child.  This adoption is a bilateral agreement, where both parties must act.  The adoptive family must bring me in, but I must also seize this spirit of adoption.  I must lay hold of this adoptive influence.  How, then, will others know that I am now part of this family?  Through my actions.  I am transitioning from being an independent person to being a dependent child.  This is a challenge for us today, especially when we have been raised to be independent people in the flesh.  Simply put, we cannot do it alone.  We need each other to remind us that God has not abandoned us, and has provided us with an eternal family.  We must provoke one another to shed the baggage of the past independent life and enjoy life in this new family.  We are to remind one another of the rules of the house, which we are expected to obey.  That obedience is proof of our adoption.  Your adoptive family has received you; the question is have you received your adoptive family?

Matt. 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

In one sentence, the Lord Jesus provided one of the most powerful, relevant, contemporary metaphors of the kingdom of heaven.  What is leaven?  Today, we call it yeast.  But whether you call it leaven or yeast, it is a bacteria. How do we define bacteria?  The definition of bacteria from vocabulary.com is:
Bacteria are microscopic living organisms, usually one-celled, that can be found everywhere. They can be dangerous, such as when they cause infection, or beneficial, as in the process of fermentation (such as in wine) and that of decomposition.” What is interesting about bacteria is that you don’t see it working, you see the EFFECTS of it working.  In other words, you don’t see the leaven working in the meal, or dough, you see the EFFECTS of the leaven in the meal.  And this is what happens with the kingdom of God in a person’s life.  You don’t see the kingdom at work in a person, you see the EFFECTS of the kingdom in a person.
But leaven has another quality that makes it like the kingdom of God.  Like all bacteria, leaven is a contagion, meaning it spreads by contact.  Here are two definitions from vocabulary.com for contagion:
“Any disease easily transmitted by contact.”
“The communication of an attitude or emotional state among a number of people.”
Vocabulary.com uses this example to describe the phenomenon of contagion:
“Have you ever noticed how when one person yawns, the people around him tend to do so as well? This phenomenon can be described as a contagion, the spreading of an emotional or mental state (in this case, fatigue).”
So contagions spread by contact.  Even in the example, the people affected by the yawning person were the ones around him, the ones who were close enough to see him.  Others, not close in proximity, may have seen or even heard him from a distance, but were not affected.  What then, does this mean for us today?  It means the gospel is still spread through close contact.  It isn’t spread by being seated in a large gathering or assembly once a week; it is spread in your day to day contact with your co-workers, with your classmates, with your neighbors, and with your friends.  The kingdom within you is supposed to be contagious; those around you don’t see the kingdom in you, they see the EFFECTS of the kingdom in you.  They see the change in you; they see the patience you are exhibiting; they see how you esteem others higher than yourselves.  These are all effects of the kingdom working its way through your life.  Are you contagious?

Yesterday, we had a powerful time of fellowship discussing kingdom economics.  While studying the true purpose of our work here on this earth, we took some time to examine the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.  The rich man had it all, and lived lavishly on this earth all his days, seeing Lazarus as nothing more than a poor, unfortunate soul; perhaps nothing more than a meager servant.  In the story, both Lazarus and the rich man die; but Lazarus is received into Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man is buried in the ground.  It was in the next part of the story that a powerful revelation was made:
Luke 16:24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
Notice, the rich man doesn’t ask Abraham to dip his finger in water to cool the rich man’s tongue, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus, as if Lazarus is nothing more than a meager servant.  In other words, the rich man’s perception of Lazarus did not change!  It was here that a powerful truth was revealed – whatever mindset you have in this life, is the mindset you will have in the life to come.  If you don’t serve Jesus as Lord in this life, you won’t serve Jesus as Lord in the life to come.  If you can’t see the kingdom of God in this life, you won’t see it in the life to come.  This is why the Lord Jesus told us that being born again in this life is a requirement to even seeing the kingdom of God.  This is also why Paul instructed us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds while we exist in this life.  It is that renewed mind that will facilitate our admission into God’s eternal kingdom.
What is your mindset today?  Is it one of obedience, mercy and compassion, or is it merely seeking to satisfy yourself?  The royal law is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  The instruction is to treat others the way we want to be treated; we are to put others ahead of ourselves.  This is how the world will know the kingdom of God exists, and how God will be glorified in the earth.

Matt. 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The Lord Jesus, the very Messiah God promised, uttered these words.  In short, He was saying that loving your neighbor as yourself equates to treating people the way you would want to be treated.  Notice, however, that Christ added no qualifications or stipulations to this Royal Law.  He did not say “treat others the way you would want to be treated only if they treat you that way.”  Neither did Christ say that you should expect others to treat you that way.  In fact, Christ said quite the opposite:
Luke 6:27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Now, this command of loving your neighbor as yourself takes on a whole new meaning.  Now, we are expected to treat people the way we would want to be treated even if they treat us wrongly first. Kingdom citizens do not retaliate in anger or violence; rather, we retaliate in love.
But what else is the Christ telling us in this passage?  He is telling us that if we obey His command of treating people the way we want to be treated, then we have done nothing less than the equivalent of obeying all of the Law of Moses and the Prophets.  Think about the depth of that statement for a moment.  By practicing this one instruction – that is, treating people the way we would want to be treated – we have met the standard of keeping all of the Law of Moses and the Prophets.  What makes this statement even more profound is that it applies to all who submit to the Lord Jesus.  This means that even if I wasn’t raised as one who was Jewish, by obeying this universal command of Christ I have met the equivalent of fulfilling all that God commanded of Israel in the Law and the Prophets.  Tomorrow, we will continue examining this Royal Law in the story of the Good Samaritan.

James 2:If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

We are going to take some time to examine this principle in detail.  Before we can begin to understand the depth of this royal law, we need to first understand what royal means.  The Greek word for royal is basilikos, which has four different Biblical uses: 1) of or belonging to a king, kingly, royal, or regal; 2) subject to a king; 3) befitting or worthy of a king, royal; and 4) metaphorically principal or chief.  First, we see that this instruction pertains to a kingdom, but what kingdom?  Clearly, this is no earthly kingdom.  This royal law can be found only in the kingdom of God – a kingdom, as the Lord Jesus said, that is not of this world.  This means that we will know any true citizen of the kingdom of God by his submission to this royal law.
Next, we have to understand the concept of the word law.  Most people would interpret the word law as used in this passage as one instruction.  Paul, however, gives us a greater understanding of the depth of this instruction:
Rom. 13:The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul is affirming a profound truth.  The instruction “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” is not simply one command, such as obeying the speed limit on a city street.  If I obey the speed limit on a city street, then I have followed one code of all of the codified law in that city.  What Paul is saying, however, is that if I love my neighbor as myself, then I am observing all of the law.  It would be the equivalent of saying that if I obey the speed limit in that city, then I have obeyed all of the other aspects of the codified law of that city.  Put another way, it would be the equivalent of saying that if I am obeying the speed limit while I am driving, then I cannot be cited for littering (even if I do litter) because while I am obeying the speed limit, the city recognizes that I am obeying all of the codes in their law.
What Paul is telling us, the church – those that not only recognize Jesus as Lord, but also obey Him as Lord – is that if we love our neighbor as ourselves, then by obeying that command, we are seen by God as obeying all of the instructions in the law of Moses.  We will study this profound truth in more detail tomorrow.

county-courthouseTHE PURE AND WISE AND EQUAL ADMINISTRATION OF THE LAWS FORMS THE FIRST END AND BLESSING OF SOCIAL UNION

WHAT DOTH THE LORD REQUIRE OF THEE BUT TO DO JUSTLY AND TO LOVE MERCY

EQUAL AND EXACT JUSTICE TO ALL MEN OF WHATEVER STATE OR PERSUASION RELIGIOUS OR POLITICAL

THAT THE COMMONWEALTH MAY HAVE A GOVERNMENT OF LAWS AND NOT OF MEN

These are the words that are engraved in the perimeter walls of our county courthouse.  I had the occasion to read them again last night.  The first time I stopped to read those words, they fascinated me.  This time, they bothered me.  In particular, what bothered me was the word “justice.”  For as I stood reading those words, I had to admit to myself that I don’t know what true justice is.  I can tell you what I believe justice is in my mind, but how do I define true justice?  As I stood outside staring at the engraved words, I was speechless.  I felt as if I was standing before a judge, with all the evidence presented against me, and the judge asked me what I think the verdict should be.  In my heart, and out of pure selfishness, I would blurt out “NOT GUILTY!” Truth, however, which is what I claim to desire, says “I am guilty.”  The verdict, then, is that I am guilty of not knowing what true justice is.  It should be noted here that the etymology of the word “verdict” explains that the word is formed from two roots: ver, meaning true, and dit, from the verb to say. An accurate transliteration of the word verdict would be a true report.

The following parable is an example of true justice.  It is found in the gospel of Matthew, in the 20th chapter.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. And after agreeing with the workers for the standard wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When it was about nine o’clock in the morning, he went out again and saw others standing around in the marketplace without work. He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and I will give you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and three o’clock that afternoon, he did the same thing. And about five o’clock that afternoon he went out and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why are you standing here all day without work?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go and work in the vineyard too.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give the pay starting with the last hired until the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each received a full day’s pay. 10 And when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each one also received the standard wage. 11 When they received it, they began to complain against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last fellows worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us who bore the hardship and burning heat of the day.’ 13 And the landowner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me to work for the standard wage? 14 Take what is yours and go. I want to give to this last man the same as I gave to you. 15 Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

I have read this parable many times, and have received greater understanding since I have heard the gospel of the kingdom of God.  But as I pondered this parable again in light of the words engraved upon the walls of our county courthouse, I was humiliated.  I knew that I would be one of the first to say “Lord, that just isn’t fair!”  For how could it be fair that some workers had toiled all day in the heat of the sun, while others, who stood idle all day, come in at the last hour, do a little work, but earn the same compensation?  Of course, I had to realize that I was viewing this parable from a very jaded, temporal perspective, instead of from a true, eternal perspective.  For if the reward is eternal citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, then the amount of time one spends laboring in the vineyard of this life is of little relevance.  I should be rejoicing that one performed any labor in the landowner’s vineyard, and that we both have equity in this spiritual commonwealth.  Instead, the selfish, corrupt heart of mine prohibits me from seeing the truth, and I want merely my own brand of justice – “pay more to the one who worked more!”

Lord, have mercy upon my tarnished, shallow soul.  Forgive me for petitioning you to exact my own perverted brand of justice.  Forgive me for attempting to know better than you what truth is.  Forgive me for not exhibiting the mercy that you have shown me, when true justice would demand that I receive no mercy at all.

angryEph. 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice; 32 and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

This year, the United States will elect a person to be President.  We are in the midst of a campaign season, and we have ringside seats as we watch the opponents trade punches with each other, hoping to knock each other out in order that one may stand alone victorious in the ring.  We have become so accustomed to this process; indeed, we have become so comfortable with this process, that we give no thought or consideration to the above exhortation.  Today, we are going to carefully examine this passage.  Consider first the phrase “put away.”  The word means to move from its place or to take off or away what is attached to anything.  Now, consider what Paul is telling us.  He is telling us that bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking were attached to us, in our old form.  We are naturally disposed to exhibiting these character traits.  Now, however, Paul is instructing us to intentionally detach these traits from ourselves.

Remember the video of the backwards bike?  Remember how Destin took eight months to learn how to ride the backwards bike, but when he got back on a conventional bike, it took him about 20 minutes to remember how to ride the conventional bike?  Think of putting off these traits like riding that backwards bike.  It will take a great deal of time to successfully put off the above traits, but given the right situation or set of conditions, only a few minutes to remember how to attach those traits to ourselves again.

Next, let us consider the word “malice.”  The word means ill-will, desire to injure, wickedness, or depravity.  The wickedness is further described as a “wickedness that is not ashamed to break laws.”  How do we interpret that in our world today?  We call it boldness.  There is an adage that says “it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”  In our society, we admire people who are risk takers, those who are openly willing to break laws.  Yet, this is the very trait that Paul tells us to detach from ourselves.  We are further instructed to be kind to one another; we are admonished to be tenderhearted and forgiving toward one another.  It is in this way that we are to be light in a dark world.

Now, after reading this, your first inclination may be to reflect back to the beginning of this devotional and think “that is true!  Those candidates need to clean up their act.”  Resist that urge.  Look inward.  Ask yourself “Am I guilty of exhibiting any of these traits?”  If you are, then begin with yourself. Begin today to choose your words wisely.  Guard your heart today that malice does not creep in.  Intentionally be kind toward others today.  Will you be challenged in these areas?  Absolutely.  And this is why we must intentionally walk in our renewed minds, and not according to our old selves.

left hand right handToday, we will conclude this series on the left hand and the right hand by examining what we have learned and applying it to a very important passage in the book of James.  Before we examine the passage, let us remember we learned that in the Bible, the right hand is stronger, or greater than the left, and that the right hand represents mercy, and the left hand judgment.  Now, let us look at a very important passage in James:
James 2:13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James is warning the saints of God that he who judges without mercy will be judged without mercy.  Then, he concludes by saying that mercy triumphs, or is greater than, judgment.  Meditate on that for a moment.  The right hand of mercy is greater than, or triumphs, over the left hand of judgment.  If this is the case, why don’t more Christians display this attribute of mercy?  Perhaps it is because they have never learned this truth.  One will not exhibit what one has not learned.  In other words, if I came to Christ out of fear of judgment, that is the only attribute I have experienced.  If, however, I heard the gospel in love, and experienced mercy, then that is what I will exhibit.  There are many in the body of Christ who have never truly experienced the mercy of God, so they themselves are unable to exhibit this attribute.  And yet, mercy is essential attribute in God’s kingdom.  How do I begin to learn and understand about mercy?  By first hearing and understanding the gospel of the kingdom.  The very fact that God allowed Gentiles to hear the gospel is evidence of his mercy.  And it is this mercy that true saints of God are expected to display in their lives.

left hand right handYesterday, we looked at the symbolic meanings of the left hand and the right hand in the Bible, and we applied them in the teaching of Christ in Matthew 6. Today, we will reconsider the meaning of Jonah 4:11 in light of what we have learned about the left and the right hand.  Let us first review what God told Jonah:
Jonah 4:11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
First, it is important to note that Nineveh was a city of Gentiles.  This means that they were uncircumcised people who did not know God.  Since they did not know God, they also did not know of his attributes.  Nineveh did not know of God’s judgment, neither did they know of his mercy.  Yet God, in his discourse with Jonah, is revealing his mercy, or lovingkindness toward Nineveh.  He is showing mercy to a people that cannot discern between mercy and judgment.  The irony in this account is that Jonah was angry that God did not exhibit judgment on Nineveh.
Does Nineveh represent us today?  Are we a people that, like Nineveh, are unable to discern between the right hand of mercy and the left hand of judgment?  Consider the woman caught in adultery:
John 8:And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
This woman was not simply accused of adultery; she was caught in the very act.  Caught in the act implies that there were witnesses who saw her.  Indeed, according to judgment, she should have been stoned to death.  Instead, the Lord Jesus shows mercy on her life and spares her.  But is that what we would do today?  If we encountered someone in the act of a transgression, would we show judgment, or mercy?  Do we believe that a person should receive the punishment they deserve, while at the same time boasting that God had mercy on our lives?  If God had mercy on our lives, is it not reasonable to believe that he can have mercy on the lives of others?  When we are on display in the world, are we exhibiting the lovingkindess of God, or are we exhibiting what we believe to be the judgment of God?  Perhaps it is time for us to reexamine our own hearts to consider if we have a hardened heart of judgment, or a fleshy heart of mercy.  

left hand right handYesterday, we saw examples in both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the use of the left hand and the right hand.  Today, we examine what the left hand and the right hand symbolize, then apply that symbolism to the passages we previously read.
According to the website https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0017_0_16755.html:
“The biblical usages of “right” and “left” are basically fourfold: right as opposed to left; directions (cardinal points); strength and weakness; merism. As is the case in many cultures, right is favored over left in various contexts.”  Merism is a word that means everywhere, in any direction.  It goes on further to state:
“In rabbinic theology, God’s right hand represents the Attribute of Mercy, his left hand, the Attribute of Judgment.”
What we see, then, are two important principles: 1) the right is favored, or greater than the left; and 2) the right hand represents mercy, and the left hand judgment.  Now, let us reconsider the passages we read yesterday.  In the first passage, Christ Jesus was instructing His disciples:
Matt. 6:3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
When Christ was speaking to His disciples, they understood that the right hand represents mercy, and the left hand judgment.  Christ, then, was implying that when they were giving, they were not to let the left hand of judgment know what the right hand of mercy was doing.  In other words, they were to give mercifully without judgment.  This applies to us as saints of God today.  When we give, we are not to judge those to whom we are giving; rather, we are to give mercifully, in the same way that God indeed had mercy on us when we were estranged from him.  Have you judged those to whom you have given, or those from whom you have withheld giving?  Have you observed someone and thought “they deserve to be where they are,” or “they are too lazy to get out and work,” or any other number of thoughts that may run through your mind as you judge that person based upon what you see?  Our Lord is charging us to give mercifully without judgment.  We are to be just as merciful as Zacchaeus:
Luke 19:And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
This type of merciful giving is the result of a renewed mind, a mind that understands that God had mercy on me, and now I must show mercy toward others.
Tomorrow, we will examine Jonah 4:11 in light of this renewed understanding.