Tag Archives: Issue 2

The First Commandment

“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; This is the first commandment”-Mark 12:28-30.

For some time Jesus’ enemies had sought to entrap through trick questions, and had tried every devious means to bring him into disrepute. But now something quite different enters the scene. The respectable young man approaches Christ as a sincere seeker after the truth. His is not a trick question, nor is his motive evil. Jesus had so wisely answered his enemies that this young man instinctively recognized the fact that Jesus possessed wisdom far above the average, and so a straightforward question is put to the Lord.

At this time the Jews were divided into numerous sects and parties, each distinguished by some particular point of doctrine. For the most part they were mere quibblers. They searched the law with a fine toothed comb to find, what they believed, were the important laws; then they would emphasize these laws to the exclusion of all other laws. God never gave a law that was not necessary to be obeyed. David’s statement, “All thy commandments are righteousness” [Psalms 119:172] needed to be heeded then as it is now. No one can tamper with God’s laws without grave danger to his soul. No group of men have authority from the Lord to act as a court to pass upon the constitutionality of God’s laws. No law was ever given by the Lord but what it requires sincere obedience if we are to obtain the Lord’s favor. Obedience to Christ must not be predicated on our own judgment as to the importance or non-importance of his laws. He has given no command that can be ignored with safety. While we may not understand the reason of certain laws, the extreme limitation of our own wisdom should not cause us to question the wisdom of God. The highest wisdom we can manifest is to render complete, unquestioned obedience to all that God commands.

But in one sense there are two laws that stand above all others, and these are the first and second commandments. The first command requires unlimited love of our heavenly Father. The second requires that we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. Elsewhere (Matthew 22:40) Jesus taught that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” This can be explained by stating that all of man’s duties have either a God-ward or a man-ward bearing. All the laws of God center around our duty to God and to our fellowmen. If we love God supremely, that love will naturally lead us to obey all of his commands; and if we love our neighbor as we do ourselves, we naturally will do our full duty to him. Thus we see there is one com- mand that is above all others—to love God with all the heart.

Loving God supremely! What a rare person it is who puts God first in his life! Yet love is the greatest thing in the world (I Corinthians 13:13). It is even greater than faith and hope, yet how very rare it is! Professed Christians are to be found everywhere, but a soul completely surrendered to God is harder to find than diamonds. The outward forms of Christianity are to be found by thousands, but souls truly in love with God are so rare as to be almost unknown. How easy it is to practice the outward forms of religion, without practicing that which alone will make religion of any worth.

The church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-4) possessed every good quality religiously in practice, yet they had forgotten the one thing that would make them acceptable to Christ. They were so busy in getting their doctrine straight that they all but forgot Him from whom all good doctrine comes. They had left their first love, and in so doing they had endangered their souls. The church at Laodicea made itself greater than Christ, and gave only a lukewarm service to him. This, Christ would not accept (Revelation 3:14-17), and so they were threatened with outright rejection unless they changed their ways.

These examples reveal to us the solemn fact that God will have all of our affection or else he will not take any. We cannot give a divided service to him and expect him to accept it. It is all or none! There is no real Christianity except in a deep, personal love for Christ. If we foolishly separate Christ’s person from his doctrines, those doctrines become as worthless as salt that has lost its savor. Christianity is more than a code of laws, or a set of doctrines. Real Christianity is personal love for Christ, and unless we vitally connect Christ with his doctrines, we will fail in life’s greatest undertaking.

Just here we meet with a difficulty. Many seem to be utterly unable to love Christ. They realize the hollowness of their professed faith in him, and recognize that their religion does not give them the exhilaration of soul, the peace of mind that makes religions satisfying. No religion can be a real part of a person, unless that religion is centered in the heart, in the affections. The core of the trouble is this: They have no personal acquaintance with Christ. We cannot love anyone unless we know him. It is only through acquaintance with a person that we can learn to love him. To the vast majority of professed Christians, Jesus Christ is merely a historical character who lived and died two thousand years ago. We need to learn that Christ is not a dead hero, for he is saying, “I am he that liveth, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and have the keys of hell and of death”-Revelation 1:18.

An acquaintance with Christ requires spiritual and mental contact with him. He can be just as close to you as your right hand. Did he not say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me.” [Revelation 3:20] He also said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him”-John 14:23. That is real Christianity! A personal walk with Christ, having him in our homes and in our lives. If we have a friend whom we love dearly, we enjoy conversation with such a friend. We listen to him talk and talk with him. Christianity needs to be put on such a sensible basis. Christ can talk to us daily through the instrumentality of his word; and we can talk to him through the instrumentality of prayer. Prayer should be something more than stilted, ritualistic words, barren of real spirituality. It is talking to Christ and the Father just as easily and confidentially as talking to friends. This is perhaps modern Christianity’s greatest failure. We have made Christianity but a mental acceptance of an historical Christ, rather than an act of opening of our hearts that he may dwell therein. How well I remember the old childhood song, “And so we walk together, my precious Lord and I.”

While on earth, Jesus’ personality was such that people instinctively flocked to him by the thousands. No one can be around Jesus without being profoundly impressed by his personality. That same personality lives and glows on the printed pages of his word. The burdened sisters, Martha and Mary, knew that Jesus was the only friend to whom they could turn in their sorrow. The sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with the tears of her penitence, and wiped them with her hair, knew that in Christ her sinful soul could be regenerated into something fine and beautiful. Christ can be the safe to all needful souls today if they only understood the facts about him. We need to dwell in his spiritual presence, and by so doing we will learn to love him. Get acquainted with the real Christ and the stream of love will flow with refreshing abundance from your heart. Even though Christ is personally in heaven, there is not a day nor an hour but what we may approach him before the throne of grace, and find “help in the time of need.” [Hebrews 4:16]

Here we are reminded of the fact that there is much confusion as to whether we truly love Christ. Some people through their religious teaching are beset with gloomy doubts and fears, and dolorously sing, “‘Tis a point I long to know. Oft it causes anxious thought. Do I love the Lord or no. Am I his or am I not.”

As long as there exists doubts in our minds as to our real relationship with Christ, we can find no real happiness in our religion. The husband or wife who doubts each other’s love will never find in their marriage that which they expected. We need the “full assurance of faith.”

Others will say with a great show of emotion, “I know I love Jesus because of the wonderful feelings in my heart.” Well now, love is not all emotion. Love is based on something more substantial than passing feelings. The emotions of the morning hour may seem but a passing fancy in the evening, or a lovely dream that has no reality nor substance. Love is something that is constant and steadfast, and can be as real as the body of flesh in which we dwell. But there is a real test which we can make that will ascertain once and for all time whether we truly love Christ. Jesus said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me”-John 14:21; and again “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” [John 14:23] A plain, simple, infallible test! That test is obedience. The king of heaven and the Lord of the earth has a right to require obedience from his subjects; and his subjects have a divine obligation to yield themselves to his laws. Those laws are for their own good, and not chains of bondage placed upon us by a cruel despot. “This is the love of God that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous”- I John 5:4. Commandments based on holy love cannot be a galling yoke of servitude.

The anxious, worried mother who lays down the law to her small son that he must not play in the street, does not give such a law just to assert her authority as a parent. She lays those restrictions on the child for its safety. Even so, Christ has given us laws and restrictions because he knows far better than we do the constant dangers to which we are exposed. To obey Christ’s laws shows proper respect for his authority, and is an acknowledgement of his wisdom and love. He who will talk loudly and with gushy emotion of his love for Christ, while at the same time refusing obedience to Christ’s word, knows not the meaning of love. Jesus said, “He that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings”-John 14:24.

A recognition of Christ’s exalted place in the universe reveals why he is entitled to our full and complete obedience in all matters of religion. Jesus once asked, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Only through hearing and obedience can we build on the rock of eternal safety—Matthew 7:24-27. Christ is the author of eternal salvation only to those who obey him—Hebrews 5:9.

Now we come to a very important question, and that is: Why should we love Christ? The apostle John has given us the great motive of love: “We love him because he first loved us”—I John 4:19. The love which Christ has shown toward the world is beyond all human expression. It is that which “passeth all understanding.” “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich” -II Corinthians 8:9. Lets get it clear-Jesus did not have to die! Jesus was not compelled to come to the earth. He did not have to endure poverty and the trials of this life. No earthly power accomplished his death upon the cruel cross of Calvary. He could have avoided it all had he chosen to do so. All that he sacrificed and suffered was done gladly and willingly. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he revealed to his disciples that he could call the legions of angels to his aid, who would have scattered his enemies like chaff before the wind: but he did not call for them. On the contrary he chose to die-to die the most horrible death human hands could inflict simply because that was the only way by which he could save the sinful souls of men. “The wages of sin is death,” and inasmuch as “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” the entire human race was doomed! But Christ loved man, and could not endure the thought of man’s destruction, and so he in love decided to pay our debt to God. We sometimes sing:

“On the cross he sealed my pardon, Paid my debt and set me free.”

God permitted him to carry the burden of our sins to Calvary, and there he died “the just for the unjust, that he might reconcile us to God.” “For when we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die; but God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” -Romans 5:6-8. No wonder John exclaimed “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we might be called the sons of God!” [I John 3:1] Surely such a love as that of Christ’s should strike a responsive cord in our hearts, and break down our stubborn wills. Knowing the depths, the heights and the breadth of his love, a heart is callous and hard indeed that will not respond to the story of the cross. That is why the first com- mandment is greater than all others. All service to God is predicated on the motive of love; and as his children it should be the highest privilege of our lives to show our gratitude for his infinite grace.

A wealthy, childless woman sought to obtain a child of her own by adoption; and so she went to an orphanage to select one of the little, motherless girls there. In looking them over, she became interested in a very lovely little girl some five years of age, and took her to a room where they could converse by themselves. She told the child of her wealth, of the beautiful home in which she lived, of how she could educate the child, and buy her everything her heart could desire. The child was much impressed, and then with a child’s frankness, asked: “What do I have to do to get all of that?” The lady burst into tears, and drawing the child to her heart, said, “All you have to do is love me, and be my child.” Surely this would not be a burdensome task for the child; but that is exactly what God is saying to us. Heaven with its eternal and never fading glories, awaits us. The celestial city with its walls of jasper, its gates of pearls, and its streets of gold is offered to you on the one simple and wonderful condition that you love God and be his child. Who can rightly call God a stern and dictatorial ruler? His “rod of iron” is the iron of infinite love. No metal can equal it for endurance and strength. It rises to the highest heights, reaches down to the lowest depths, and forgives the greatest of sins. Why not yield your heart in full and complete submission to his will?

What was the Sin of Moses?

In Numbers 20, we read about the story of Moses bringing water from the rock and committing a sin that was so egregious that it kept him from entering the promised land. There seems to be a different explanation of this sin for every commentary ever written, so perhaps we can’t all agree on the specificity of the sin, but surely we can learn some valuable lessons from the discussion.

There were actually two events that occurred where God commanded Moses to take water out of the rock. The event in Numbers 20 happens near the end of the 40 year wandering whereas the first event happens near the beginning in Exodus 17.  It appears that Moses did not sin during the first event, so let’s analyze his actions here before we go on to the matter at hand.

In Exodus 17:5-6 we read that it seems this particular event was more of a private ceremony between Moses, God and the elders of Israel. God said that He would stand on the rock and Moses was to take the rod that he used to turn the Nile into blood and strike the rock and the water would spring forth. Verse 6 says only, “And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” This simple statement speaks volumes about the character of Moses. Time and time again in the face of trials, adversity and constant complaining from the people he was leading, Moses suppressed any selfish feelings and simply followed the commands of God. In Numbers 12:3 we read, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.”

In spite of his humility, we find out that Moses is a human being in Numbers 20. Up until verse 8, the story is very similar to the Exodus account. Moses was still supposed to take the rod, but God asks Moses to do everything else differently. This time the entire assembly (not just the elders) would be brought before the rock to witness God’s greatness. “And before their eyes,” you are to SPEAK unto the rock so that it will give up its water.

Verse 9 says, “And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.” Unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing he did correctly here. What was the sin of Moses? Here are your choices. First of all, without any command to do so, in his anger, he presumed to speak on God’s behalf to rebuke the people. Next he says, must “we” bring water from this rock. I believe by “we” Moses is referring to himself and Aaron; but even if it is assumed that Moses is referring to himself and God, he is still missing the opportunity “in the eyes of the people” to show that all glory belongs to God. Instead of speaking to the rock as clearly commanded by God this time, he smites the rock as he no doubt remembers he was commanded last time. But even then, he takes it upon himself to beat the rock one more time for good measure. So what was the sin of Moses? It appears that it is a culmination of all of these things as God makes it clear in several passages. In the 12th verse we have, “And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Deuteronomy 32:51 says, “because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.” Psalm 106:32-33 says, “They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.”

From these passages we see that Moses “believed not” or had a moment of weakness in his faith and failed to sanctify God. Sanctify means to “set apart.”  God required the whole assembly to be present to demonstrate to them that He should be sanctified as their powerful and gracious God. Notice that despite Moses, He accomplished this goal as we read in the 13th verse, “This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.” This is why the water still sprang forth even though Moses did not heed the Lord’s command. Although Moses failed to sanctify God in the eyes of the people, God was still sanctified. As we read in Romans 8, nothing, not even flawed leadership can separate us from the love of God.

As a side note, the question might be asked, “Why did God tell Moses to bring the rod if he wasn’t supposed to use it to smite the rock?” I believe the answer to this is found three chapters earlier in Numbers 17 and also gives us some insight into the words Moses used in rebuking the people. The 17th chapter tells the story about God selecting Aaron’s rod by having it blossom. It was to be kept by the ark of the covenant as a sign to remind the people of their rebelliousness. Compare what Moses presumes to say on God’s behalf in 20:10 with what the Lord says here in 17:10. “And the LORD said unto Moses, bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.”

Sun Tzu, in his book the Art of War, wrote to always attack where they least suspect it. Sometimes that could mean where the enemy thinks they have strength so they are not as vigilant. Satan caused Job to sin through his impatience, Peter to sin through his failed courage, and unfortunately Moses to sin on his least humble day. How much easier would it be for Satan to attack us in this same way? “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).  It’s easy for us to focus on the sin of Moses. Stains look so much worse the whiter the robe of righteousness. We shouldn’t forget that Hebrews 11:38 says the world was not worthy of men like Moses. Although this one sin didn’t block his entry into the spiritual Promised Land, it did stop him from entering the physical one.

~ Marc Hermon

Two Sons and a Loving Father

Finding fault in others, while missing or overlooking our own faults, is a characteristic that humans have perfected.  Jesus observed this human failure and addressed it though his wise teaching many times.  In the story of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32), Christ provides an example that is easy to miss, but one Christians should take quite seriously.  The message of the older son in this story is often overlooked because the focus seems to be on the wayward son, the rebel.  But Jesus told this story to share two types of error into which children of God can fall.

The younger son had little respect for the father and the stable life that he had provided.  He selfishly asked for his inheritance so that he could go off and focus on himself.  He leaves, wastes everything, hits bottom and then humbly returns to ask forgiveness. Just being accepted back by his father would be good enough.  But before this son can say anything, the father sees him in the distance and runs to hug him as an expression of his love.  The father then throws a big party to rejoice because of the return of his lost son.  Sometimes we think that this is where the story ends, but in reality, the story is just beginning.

The older brother had been out working in the field, and when he returns, he is surprised that there is a party.  When he finds out the reason for the party, he does not react well.  This older son shows just as much disrespect for the father as the younger son had shown, by selfishly questioning why his brother deserved the attention.  It wasn’t an innocent question asked in love because the story goes on to explain that he was so angry that he didn’t even go inside the house.

It may have seemed that the older brother did everything right because he didn’t appear to be rebellious. The reality is that he was tempted to believe that his obedience trumped the mercy of the father.  He showed no more respect for the father than his younger brother did.  Too often we can be tempted in this same way.  We attend church every Sunday.  We let people around us know that we are Christians.  We take pride in our obedience.  Each of these are good things to do but not things that by themselves provide salvation.

In the end, the father tells the older son that “all I have is yours.”  One might think that this statement was about the money and land the father had and that the younger brother would get nothing.  The story doesn’t work that way though.  The father had much more to give than money and land, as the younger brother has already learned.

The story Jesus told addresses our need for the Father and his loving care for us.  The Father desires our service, but he desires service that is grounded in our humble devotion.  He wants all to be saved:  2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” We become like the older brother when we think that we can, through works and obedience, earn salvation by ourselves; when we act like the Father loves us more because we do good things.  We must recognize the depth of the Father’s love, the value of being His servant and the inheritance that awaits and live in faithful obedience as a result.

Jesus told the story of the loving Father to teach that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that we are all loved like children by a Father that loved us so much that he gave His only son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Whether we rebel outwardly or inwardly, he still rejoices when we repent.

~ Craig Hensley

The Coming of the Canon

Since the 2003 publication of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, a great deal of misinformation has been circulating concerning the New Testament’s origins, namely, how its books were collected, when, and by whom.  Despite the book’s opening disclaimer that it is a work of fiction, its fabricated history has come to be believed by many as true, and is now frequently cited as grounds for distrusting the New Testament’s witness concerning Christ and the early church.  It is not within the scope of this article to expose all the errors—many, egregious, and obvious—that undergird the The Da Vinci Code’s storyline, but rather to answer with facts the very important question the novel has raised: “How did the New Testament come to be?”

Before getting into the meat of the answer, it may do us well to take a moment to familiarize ourselves with a frequently used term related to this subject — “canon.”  This word comes to us from Hebrew (qaneh) via Greek (kanon), and originally had the basic meaning of “reed” (our word “cane” is derived from it).  Since a reed was sometimes used as a measuring rod, kanon came to refer to a “standard” or a “rule.”  And since a measuring rod might be marked in units of length (like a modern ruler), kanon came to mean a series of such marks, and hence, finally acquired the general sense of a “series” or “list.”  And so, when we speak of the “canon” of Scripture (as many do), we are speaking of the “list” of writings that is regarded as inspired, and therefore, the “rule” or “standard” for our lives.

Contrary to the thinking of some, authority precedes canonicity.  That is to say, the writings of the apostles and New Testament prophets did not come to possess authority because they were included in the canon, but were included in the canon because they possessed authority.  Simple, but very important.  And the recognition of their inspired authority did not take hundreds of years to develop.  Rather, the writings of the apostles and prophets were both presented and received as authoritative at the time of their composition.  Consider the following:

    Paul claimed that his writings contained “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthains 14:37), and said that Christ spoke through him (2 Corinthians 13:13).  Peter acknowledged these claims, referring to “all [Paul’s] epistles” (his accumulated body of work) as part of “the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15, 16).

    Peter wrote that “scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3).  Jude acknowledged Peter’s inspiration, citing this very prophecy, exhorting his readers to remember it (Jude 17, 18).

    Luke recorded Jesus saying, “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7).  Paul quoted this statement, introducing it with the phrase, “For the Scripture says” (1 Timothy 5:18), leaving no question where he stood concerning Luke’s gospel.

Paul acknowledged Luke.  Peter acknowledged Paul.  Jude acknowledged Peter.  And other similar examples could be cited.  It was known very early on that a new covenant canon was in the making and whose writings God was using to make it.

And uninspired history offers further testimony to this.  The earliest Christian document we have outside of the New Testament is 1 Clement, a letter sent from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth around A.D. 95 while the apostle John was still walking the earth.  Its antiquity is evidenced by its reference to Corinth’s plurality of elders and its interchangeable use of the terms bishop and presbyter.  The second century false doctrine of distinguishing between the two had not yet taken hold.  In the letter, the Romans exhort the Corinthians to turn from their divisive behavior, and refer—either through citation or allusion—to 12 different books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter.  Clearly, it was known among these churches that these books were inspired (i.e. “canonical”).  Why else would they have been appealed to?  And, furthermore, the letter would not be expected to contain quotations from every book they knew to be inspired, just as lessons and articles, today, do not contain quotations from every book we trust.  These 12 were only a portion of their recognized canon.

All this is telling testimony.  Brethren in the first century didn’t need an “official” “Church council” to tell them which books were from God.  They knew by other and better means.  They could “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  They could test those who claimed to be apostles (Revelation 2:2; 2 Corinthians 12:12) and those who claimed to be prophets (Deuteronomy18:21-22; 13:1-3).  They could “test the spirits, whether they [were] from God” (1 John 4:2).  Like the Bereans, they could weigh the unproven against the proven “to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  They could even inquire of an actual apostle if needed.  And who knows what role spiritual gifts may have played in this work? (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:8, 10)

Still, did it take time for all churches in all places to be certain about all the books?  Yes.  In a world where geographic isolation was a profound reality, where no message could travel faster than a horse, where a man like Apollos could still have not heard about baptism into Christ even though it had been taught 20+ years before, where the limitations of scrolls and codices may not have allowed all the books to be gathered into one volume…where a government would seize and burn your Scriptures…yes, in a world like that, it took time for knowledge of the complete New Testament canon to become universal.

But it did happen.  By A.D. 170, every book of the New Testament had been acknowledged as inspired by multiple voices.  And two centuries years from that time, every book would be acknowledged by all.  Later Catholic councils did not determine the parameters of the canon, but only acknowledged the canon that was already in existence, the same canon of 27 books we trust today.

~ John Morris

Dying on the Road to Baptism

What happens if a person dies before being baptized? Specifically, what if that person made it known that he wants to be baptized and was preparing, then died before his baptism? Such questions are usually asked during a discussion or debate about faith and works. Where do faith and works meet? Can faith justify purely in the moment of acceptance?  “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Or does it always require works? “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).

The Holy Spirit used Abraham as an example for both sides of faith, faith accepted and faith fulfilled. Here was a man who accepted God’s promises.

“And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis15:4-6). 

Abraham accepted God’s promises. This is declared an attribute of righteousness. Our faith must begin with believing God’s promises. The Holy Spirit also reveals that beginnings are not enough. Faith must be fulfilled with works.

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23).

The Holy Spirit credits Abraham’s offering Isaac as the fulfillment of the scripture’s testimony – Abraham’s belief that he and Sarah would have a child in their old age, and his belief that this child would be the progenitor of a vast multitude.

Abraham accepted these promises approximately fifteen years before Isaac was born. Abraham and Sarah’s response was to have Hagar as a surrogate for Sarah. He was eighty-six when Ishmael was born (cf. Genesis 16:16).  It took some time for Abraham’s faith to get sorted out.

Let us return to the hypothetical question; What about the person who wants to be baptized and dies before reaching the water? The answer is found in Abraham offering up Isaac.

“And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:10-12).

Did Abraham succeed in materially killing Isaac? Though he was called to do this, obviously, he did not. The same could be said about the one who dies before reaching the water. Though he prepared to be baptized, he was stopped. However, the sacrifice of Abraham was fulfilled because the Lord said, “you have not withheld your son.”  It plainly says; “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac” (Hebrews 11:17). The Lord counted Abraham’s commitment and engagement as sufficient. Could we say that God would not treat in the same manner the soul who was committed and engaged to be baptized, yet was cut off before the baptism was carried out? In such case, the comfort of hope abides.

The moment of receiving God’s promises entails commitment and engagement (works). To commit is to prepare our life for doing whatever needs to be done. This is the beginning of works. It is the work of the mind and heart. It is spiritual in nature. To engage is to move the body in conformity with God’s will. This is where the commitment is proven. It is coming forward to express one’s desire. It is getting a towel. It is going to the location of water. It is waiting for the moment when another lays your body under the water. It is not a free pass to neglect the commandments of God. Otherwise, commitment and engagement would not be real.

Acceptance of an idea, as per agreeing with an argument, has no virtue unless there is commitment and engagement. One might say; “I have heard the command to be baptized, therefore I have no need of being baptized. I already have faith.” It would be like Abraham saying; “I have heard the command to sacrifice, therefore I have no need to sacrifice my only son. I already have faith.” Such a thing would make void the commandment of God. Again, one might say; “My commitment to God is sufficient, therefore I will be baptized because I am saved.” That would be like Abraham saying to God; “I will sacrifice Isaac, because I have already been proven.”  Both examples display the attitude of self-vindication, watering down commitment and the need to act. Faith toward God demands that we commit and engage. Our life depends upon it.

What about the responsibility of those who do the baptizing? Typically, a soul makes it known to the church that he or she wants to be baptized. Or an individual might be asked, like Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. How irresponsible it is to forestall the baptizing in favor of a more convenient time. Things like this have been said: “Let’s wait until all the family can be here.” Is the sentiment of the occasion more important than facilitating a soul’s commitment? How many other inconveniences can we produce? “The water is too cold.” Many of our ancestors chopped through ice to get to the water. What would they have to say about such an excuse? You who are reading can imagine other excuses for convenience. What messages do we give to those who are being baptized and to those who have not yet made ready? We dare not give the message that salvation is subject to our convenience, our fancy, our softness. There will always be a window of time between accepting responsibility and fulfilling it. But we play with salvation when we expand that window to suit ourselves. It is up to us to judge the appropriate time. Let us not be lax with it. Our responsibility is to serve that soul who has made ready. All other things should be set aside in favor of salvation, no matter how inconvenient it may be. It is the grit of serving God.

~ Louis Garbi

Be Sober

Our society has a specific use for the term sober.  Upon hearing the word sober I would guess that for most of you your first thought would go to substance abuse.  Sober is used to describe a person who is free from alcohol or drugs.  This is certainly an appropriate use of the term.  A sober mind is one that is unimpeded by outside influence.  In the context of our society’s normal use of the word, sober is used to describe someone whose mind is unimpeded by alcohol or drugs.

The word sober is found several times in New Testament scripture.  One example, Titus 2:11-12, says the following:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age…

When Paul was inspired to write these words, it is unlikely he was thinking only of substance abuse (if he was thinking of substance abuse at all).  While it would certainly apply, I think Paul was speaking much more broadly than this.  There are a lot of different things that can cloud our minds, that can get in the way of making good rational decisions.  It could be sin, or temptation.  More specifically, it can be selfishness, prejudice, or pride.  It could be any number of emotions:  fear, anger, jealousy or even love.  Emotions can cloud the mind and wreak havoc on being able to think clearly.

That is where this term sober comes in.  How it is used here in Titus, and in several other passages, is to describe people whose minds are unclouded. Sane and moderate minds. People who are circumspect:  they are aware of their surroundings, not necessarily in a physical sense but they perceive what is happening and consider the impact of their actions.  They perceive temptation and view it for what it is. They can identify and look past their own selfishness, their pride, or jealousy or envy.  They are calm, dispassionate and not inappropriately swayed by their emotions. They are self-controlled, curbing their own desires and impulses.  They battle the outside influences of the world, the weakness of their flesh and the fragility of their mind to make good godly decisions.

The language Paul uses in Titus 2:12 indicates that sobriety should be an active part of our Christian lifestyle:  that “we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age.”  It is not simply an action but a lifestyle.  Just look at the words that follow sobriety:  righteously, godly.  Those are words we tend to more closely associate with a Christian.  Those are lifestyles as well.  Righteousness and godliness are not established in one single act on a given day.  To live righteously is to devote yourself to doing what is right in the eyes of God.  To be godly, we must be committed to living how God has commanded.  They require our continual attention and our continual effort.  Sobriety is the same.  It is a way of life that demands our continual attention and effort.  It requires that we are mindful of what we think, what we do, what we say, and how we react.

However, the world around us does not encourage sober behavior.  In contrast, we are continually encouraged to follow our heart and give ourselves to sin.  Temptation is our constant companion goading us to not stop and consider the consequences of our actions or our words.  Even the way man, and presumably Satan as the source, has constructed the world encourages impulsive behavior: ads pointing us to things we do not need exposure to or social media inspiring absent-minded, reactionary quips, just to name a couple of an endless number of examples.

Combating these temptations requires us to engage our mind.  In 1 Peter 1:13, we are told to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober…”  The idiom Peter uses here is like the more common idiom of today, “lace up your boots.”  He is instructing us to put our mind at work and be sober.  As Christians, we cannot afford to speak or act brashly or have our minds clouded by emotion and temptation.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  Brash thoughts, actions and words will invite sin into our lives and put us in a place to be devoured by Satan.

In practicality, this means we need to be self-reflective before we act.   What external or internal influences are impacting my decisions?  Are the words I am about to speak or write out of anger, fear or jealousy, or are they truly out of genuine love?  What will be the consequences of my actions?  At what cost does this moment of fleeting worldly satisfaction come?  While these may not be the exact questions to ask for any given scenario our aim should always be the same:  to live soberly.

~ Blake Stanley

Thinking Christians

A Pharisee who was a teacher of the Law asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments(Matthew 22:36-40).

Jesus’ citation of the greatest commandment in the Old Testament states, in part, that God’s purpose is for people to love him “with all your mind.” God wants people to think about him, and to love him with recognized purpose and understanding. God wants us to think! God never has sought for people to follow him in ignorance or without thought or information. Love for God, and faith in God, call for the engagement of the human mind, for thought and consideration, for seeking knowledge and understanding.

When Moses gave his final speech to the children of Israel before his death, he said:

“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).

Moses was telling his people that God’s word and therefore his will were something they could know and understand. The word of God, his commandments and promises, were things people could know, could talk about, could think about, and could put into action. God has spoken so that mankind can hear, know, and obey him. Again, this calls for using the mind God gave us, thinking about what God has said, having his word in our conversations and in our hearts (see also Isaiah 45:18-19).  God has communicated clearly, to be understood.

When the church comes together, especially on the first day of the week, Paul the apostle stressed in 1 Corinthians 14 how important it is that what is done publicly be intelligible and orderly, that there be understandable, sensible words in the teaching, praying, and singing. Repeatedly, Paul wrote that what is done in the gathering of the church must be clear and coherent, and have helpful content for building up (edifying) all who participate and all who hear.

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15. See also verses 9 and19).

In the Bible, ignorance, lack of understanding, and futile or misdirected thoughts are shown to be things that separate people from God. Conversely, Christians are encouraged to pursue understanding, knowledge, and right thinking as fundamental to knowing God and living as he commands. Ignorance and an unwillingness to think, examine, and learn have no place in the life Christians have been called to. Rather, it is the worldly, the ungodly, who engage in futile thinking, choosing ignorance and rejecting the truth we all ought to investigate and embrace.

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts (Ephesians 4:17-18.  See also Isaiah 44:12-20, a dramatic and ironic description of futile thinking, of really not thinking, of idolatry, especially verses18-20).

The Lord wants his people to think about good things, things that are pure, excellent and praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8). What we think about matters, and being thoughtful is vitally important. God wants us to use our minds to love him, to be thankful, to know the truth, to give him praise and glory. And, again, as in 1 Corinthians 14 the Lord wants his people to think about how to build each other up in faith, encouraging love and good deeds. Christians are to “consider how” to make each other stronger, better, and especially to think about how to do this in the fellowship of the gathered church. Church meetings call for thinking!

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

It is important, it is vital, it is commanded by the Lord, that the believer’s mind be engaged in loving God, worshiping God, teaching and encouraging other believers, recognizing truth and rejecting falsehood, learning and growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. God wants his people to use the minds he has given us in his service. He wants us to think, to reason, to learn, and to appreciate the wisdom he has made available to us.

Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding (Proverbs 23:23).

~ Charles Fry

The Gospels: Answering Objections

That the gospel texts have come down to us in reliable form has been amply demonstrated over the years. The quality and quantity of ancient manuscripts confirming the modern text’s integrity stands unequalled by that of any ten ancient documents combined. But some question not the integrity of the texts, but their believability. They argue that even if what we’re reading today is actually what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John originally wrote, the gospels are still not worthy of our trust, because they are ridden with contradictions, discrepancies, and unrealistic claims. At first glance, some of the evidence cited by these detractors can seem compelling. On further investigation, however, the gospels’ supposed problems are really found to be no problem at all.

The Ring of Realism

To begin with, the gospels have the ring of realism. For example, they are not full of unlifelike, one dimensional heroes that can do no wrong (as we find in other religious texts), but rather, show the “holy apostles” in all their humanity—in moments of great faith, but also in moments of embarrassing conceit and doubt. On at least three different occasions, we read of the apostles jockeying for position, arguing about who will be the greatest in the Savior’s coming kingdom (Mark 9:33-34, 10:35-37; Luke 22:24-27). We read of Peter having the audacity to rebuke Jesus, and hearing in response: “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:22-23). We read of most of the apostles abandoning Jesus when the going got tough the night of his arrest (Mark 14:50), of Peter lying to save his own skin, saying he didn’t even know Jesus (Luke 22:56-60), of Thomas and the other apostles—in spite of testimony from trusted friends—doubting that Jesus had really resurrected, prompting Jesus to rebuke them for their hardness of heart (Mark 16:14). Several other examples could be cited. These are not the sort of things included by authors interested in painting an idyllic view of their spiritual leaders. They are what we’d expect from honest historians.

Contradictions

“But the gospels contain contradictions,” some say. But do they? It is true that variations in language appear within the gospel accounts. In fact, this is by far the most common type of difference among parallel accounts of the same event. For example, if we carefully compare the parallel accounts of God’s pronouncement at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22), we will notice minor differences in pronoun usage. In Matthew, we read “This is My Beloved Son,” while in Mark and Luke’s accounts, it reads “You are My Beloved Son.” The second half of God’s statement reveals similar variations. In Matthew and Mark, we read “in whom I am well pleased,” while in Luke it reads “in You I am well pleased.” To a modern reader accustomed to verbatim quotation (made possible only with the advent of recording technology), this sort of thing can be very disturbing, and raises concerns about accuracy.

But the Bible is not a modern document. It’s an accurate document, but not a modern document. The gospel writers wrote their histories faithfully, but they looked at past events through different lenses than we do. Neither Hebrew nor Greek, for example, had symbols for quotation marks. Language is a reflection of how a culture thinks, and these ancient cultures did not think in terms of word-for-word precision when it came to “quoting” someone. Faithfulness to the speaker’s meaning was expected, but paraphrasing was not considered problematic at all. To judge these ancient, eastern documents by modern, western standards is misguided and uninformed, and only leads to mistaken conclusions.

Chronological Discrepancies

But what about the alleged chronological discrepancies that exist within the gospel accounts? This is one of the major reasons some critics question the gospels’ historical reliability. This is an understandable question, but it arises out of a false assumption, namely, that the gospels are biographies. The gospels are not biographies. This is evidenced by the fact that none of them tell us anything at all about the overwhelming majority of Jesus’ life! Taken together, the gospels mention only events surrounding Jesus’ birth, one event during his toddler years, one more when he when was 12, and then they skip to the beginning of his ministry when he about 30. Most of his life is never discussed, or even referenced. Why?

Because the gospels are not biographies.

It is evident that the gospel writers were not seeking to supply a detailed itinerary of Jesus’ life, nor even of his ministry. Each of them included or omitted events as they served to advance the goal of his particular work. An account can be accurate without being exhaustive. Some of the accounts are directed towards different audiences (e.g. Matthew to the Jews, Luke to the Gentiles), and some are for different purposes (e.g. Matthew to prove that Jesus was the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament, John to prove Jesus’ deity). We even see that events appear to sometimes be organized thematically. In Matthew 8-9, for example, there is a concentration of healing stories. In Luke 14-16, a concentration of parables. In Matthew 13, a succession of seven parables concerning the kingdom of heaven. This is not an approach taken by biographers trying to nail down chronology. It is an approach that highlights content and character rather than sequence. The gospel writers succeeded marvelously in what they were trying to accomplish.

But What about the Miracles?

One of the reasons some reject the historical reliability of the gospel accounts is their inclusion of miracles. The rationale for this opinion seems to be that since they have not seen evidence of miracles in our modern era, this must mean that miracles have never occurred, and hence the gospels are fake history. But this rationale is flawed. It assumes, without evidence, that things have always been the way they are. This is a philosophical objection, not a scientific one. Science draws conclusions based on observation, and we cannot observe the distant past. The only thing we can do is use the evidence at our disposal to draw conclusions about the past that are beyond reasonable doubt (as is done in a court of law).

Does such evidence exist for the gospels’ historical accuracy? Yes. It is beyond the scope of this article to detail that evidence, but the secular-historical components of the gospel accounts have been repeatedly confirmed archaeologically (ruins and artifacts), bibliographically (written materials), geographically (locations), etc. The gospels have shown themselves to be eminently trustworthy in secular areas…time and again. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were good historians in non-religious, natural matters. In light of that, the honest skeptic will be open to the possibility that they might have been good historians in religious, supernatural matters, as well. If not, why not? Because of the evidence? Or because of bias?

It should be observed, also, that miracles make perfect sense if theism is true—that is, if there is a God who is interested in communicating with his creation. Only if deism or atheism is true do miracles become a logical problem. If Jesus was, in fact, who he claimed to be, his miracles (kind, selfless, merciful acts every one) are not only possible, but probable. Expected, even. God is not a slave to physics, and empowering Jesus to perform acts contrary to their laws would have been a sure way to convince first century hearers (and us, for that matter) that Jesus really was from God.

Conclusion

So much more could be said, and has been by others. A brief bibliography of sources devoted to defending the gospels’ claims for Jesus follows. More than once, intelligent, educated people have approached the gospels with their skepticism fully intact only to walk away with it fully dismantled (Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William M. Ramsay to name a few). There are reasons for that.

Let us invite our skeptic friends to put the gospels to the test and see what they find. The truth has nothing to fear. They have nothing to lose…and everything to gain.

Bibliography
Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (J. Warner Wallace)
The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Lee Strobel)
The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Gary R. Habermas)
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Craig L. Blomberg)

~ John Morris

Creator, Redeemer, and Judge

In the Bible God has revealed himself to humanity in numerous ways, including three distinct roles that belong uniquely to him, defining God, each one a position of power and authority, each one meriting gratitude, obedience, respect, honor and praise. One of several places we find these three great attributes and works of God described in sequence is Isaiah 45:18-25, where the Lord identifies himself through the prophet as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.

In Isaiah 45:18, and in the Bible as a whole, God reveals himself first of all as Creator, “For this is what the Lord says — he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it…” (Isaiah 45:18-20). Because God is creator, mankind owes him, our maker, obedience, gratitude and honor. Instead though, humanity persistently chooses to honor and serve the products of human thought and imagination, and refuses to obey and honor the Creator (see also Romans 1:18-25).

Almost from the beginning, rather than happily serving the Creator, mankind willfully has parted company with God, refusing to be thankful or to obey him. Because of this rebellion and its terrible consequences, God presents himself to man as Redeemer or savior, communicating the message of how to be saved and providing salvation. From Isaiah 45:

… Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. ‘Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other (Isaiah 45:21-22).

God, the rejected Creator, nevertheless presents himself as Redeemer, savior to all who will accept his invitation and turn to him to be saved. Both as Creator and as Redeemer God deserves praise and gratitude, worship and obedience, and gladly rewards those who turn to him to be saved.

Third and finally, truly finally, God shows himself to man as Judge, and all men must face him in this final way. Continuing in Isaiah, the Lord says in 45:23-25:

By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.

The Lord thus spoke of everyone coming before himself in judgment, every knee bowing, every tongue confessing who God is, what he has done, and then everyone getting what they deserve, whether the shame of rebellion, or the exultation of being one of God’s people, one of the redeemed. (See also Philippians 2:9-11 where Paul applies these statements to Jesus Christ, exalted to the highest place, and honored in judgment by every knee bowing, every tongue confessing). God should be thanked as Creator, and obeyed as Redeemer, and definitely will be honored as Judge.

The triune description of God found in Isaiah 45:18-25 is found repeatedly in stories and teachings throughout the Bible. In Genesis, we have God the Creator making everything good (chapters 1-2), and then mankind’s rebellion and increasing wickedness (chapters 3-5), followed by the Redeemer saving Noah and his family with the ark (Genesis 6). Once the redeemed were safe in the ark, God the Judge destroyed the world and its inhabitants in righteous judgment in the tumult of the great flood (Genesis 7-9). Later, when God gave the 10 Commandments to Israel at Mt. Sinai, the order shifted for emphasis, but God reminded his people again that he was their Creator (Exodus 20:8-11), and their Redeemer (Exodus 20:2) and their Judge (Exodus 20:4-7).

In the New Testament, when the apostle Peter briefly used the events of Noah’s time as an illustration of the coming divine judgment of the world, he also highlighted that God created everything (2 Peter 3:5) and then executed judgment on the ungodly in the flood (2 Peter 3:6), and so the Creator who sustains the cosmos will also bring judgment by fire on the world at the time of his choosing. Yet for now, before God acts as Judge for the final time, condemning the ungodly and saving the redeemed (2 Peter 3:10-13), he will fulfill his own times and purposes as Redeemer, biding his time to save as many as possible, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:7-9).

When John wrote his testimony of Jesus, the Lamb of God, he emphasized that Jesus is the Son of God who became a man in the flesh, and that Jesus too must be understood and honored as Creator (John 1:1-3), Redeemer (John 3:14-21) and Judge (John 5:22-27).

In Isaiah 45:18ff, when God described himself through the prophet as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge, he emphasized the idea that he had revealed himself in these ways for a purpose, that he had spoken and provided evidence that his words were trustworthy and true so that mankind might turn to him and be saved. Having this divine testimony, the very words of God about himself, if humans will not obey their awesome Creator or surrender to the loving Redeemer, they will still necessarily answer to the righteous Judge. One way or another, sooner or later, men will deal with God, and acknowledge him as God. He forestalls judgment when he can, as long as he can, not wanting any to perish, willing to give men generous opportunities to be saved, but finally, God will deal with man as Judge, to the shame and dismay of many who have rebelled against him.

~ Charles Fry

Choosing Kindness

Aesop told a story of a lion startled by a mouse. The lion slapped a paw over the mouse and was about to lick it up when the mouse pleaded for her life, promising that someday she would repay the kindness. The lion was amused by the idea of the little mouse ever helping him but decided to be generous and let the mouse go on its way. Sometime later the lion was caught in a hunter’s net and all his strength and fury only resulted in the net drawing about him more tightly. The mouse heard the lion’s roars and came to see what had happened. Quickly she began to chew through the rope securing the lion, and soon the lion was free of the net. The mouse said to the freed lion, “You laughed when I said I would repay you, but now you see that even a lion may be helped by a mouse.” Aesop’s concluding moral, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Solomon observed, “A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth. A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself” (Proverbs 11:16-17). Does kindness truly pay? Yes, there are “gains” and “benefits” that come from being unselfish and kind, even in everyday experiences. Reputation, personal satisfaction, better relationships, and potentially favors received for favors bestowed certainly come from choosing to be kind.

Even so, there are stronger reasons and greater incentives for kindness. Jesus said:

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).

God shows kindness to all (see Acts 14:14-18, Matthew 5:43-48). Kindness to the undeserving is described as an exercise in mercy and a binding example for the children of God. God’s children must be kind to others, even when kindness is an act of mercy.

Someone has said, “Treat everyone with politeness. Even those who are rude to you. Not because they are nice, but because you are.” Paul wrote that he practiced this principle when treated badly. “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly” (1 Corinthians 4:12b-13a). Like Paul, every Christian should practice blessing, kindness, and congenial manners in all our dealings, and especially with one another! “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Tommy Lee Jones has said, “Kindness and politeness are not over rated at all. They are under used.” And again we are reminded in scripture that kindness and not being rude are characteristics of the love God’s people must practice.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

One everyday way to exercise love is to show kindness by being polite, even if others are not, while one of the most common ways to be unloving is to be unkind by being rude. Good manners, courtesy, calmness, patience and forgiveness are all companions of kindness, and commanded by God. Love is kind… it is not rude.

If it is sometimes hard to practice kindness in what we say and do, we know that we can learn, grow, and improve in our everyday practice of thoughtfulness. This calls for us to “take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of” (Jim Rohn). Blaming others, or blaming circumstances which we cannot control when we behave badly, is the surrender of our ability to change, and denial that we can in fact obey God who has commanded these things. Time and circumstance will not make us better people, but practicing the commands of Jesus will. Remember, God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” This is a commandment, not an inborn personality trait. Treat people as you would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12), not because you like them, and no matter what you expect of them in return.

The Greek philosopher Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” To recognize that others also have their struggles facilitates everyday kindness. In fact everyone really is struggling and needs the blessing of being treated with kindness and its companion virtues, as Paul wrote:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

It may become easy in reviewing such instructions in scripture to slide past the injunctions to be kind, humble, gentle and patient, but these are dynamic instructions! These chosen behaviors need to be so consistently practiced that it is like wearing clothes, something you just do. Not without thought, but certainly without question or hesitation. Kindness or its synonyms, and its companion attitudes, turn up over and over again in the various lists of Christian virtues in the New Testament (see Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Peter 1:5-8).

We know that the Lord has commanded kindness, and that kindness is regularly demonstrated in simple good manners toward others. We should take it for granted that the people we know and strangers we encounter need kindness, and that we need to be kind to them. Kindness, with its associated manners of speech and action, is part of everyday life with the Spirit of God, and a persistent need for growth and fellowship in the body of Christ, the church.

~ Charles Fry