Do all men speak well of you?

Image result for reputation

I want people to like me.  Do you want people to like you?  There are some out there, I am sure, who revel in causing discord and tensions on various topics, but even in polarizing people because of their beliefs or convictions I would argue that such people find comfort in groups of like minded peers.  It is normal interpersonal relation skills to find matters of common interest upon meeting a new person, and we feel good about ourselves when other people praise us and agree with us.

The Bible has some interesting things to say about the topic, however.  Firstly, it does say that our responsibility as believers is to live at peace with all men – so much as it depends on us.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

– Rom 12.18

We are instructed to suffer the offense, turn the other cheek and go out of our way to make sure that no one has any offense against us and that we do everything in our power to be at peace with everyone.

The Bible also says that it is a good thing to have a good reputation:

“A good name is to be more desired than great wealth,
Favor is better than silver and gold.”

– Prov 22.1

“A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.”

– Ecc 7.1

Not only is it good to have a good reputation, Scripture commands us to keep our actions pure so that we earn a good reputation – even among non believers – and it is a requirement to serve in the Church:

“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

– 1 Peter 2.12

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach…And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

– 1 Tim 3.2, 7

But yet, even amidst all of these commandments and teachings, Jesus throws in this extremely difficult and convicting statement:

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.”

– Luke 6.26

Woe to you when all men speak well of you.  Is this not the exact opposite of everything else we just examined?  That we should strive to have good reputations, that we should keep our behavior excellent, that we must have a good reputation in order to serve in the Church?  But yet it is a pitiable and condemnable offense when all men speak well of us?

This condemnation was thrown in the midst of a list of woes such as being rich, being well fed, being without care in the world.  And thus we can understand by context what Jesus means.  There is a way to be respected and spoken well of that is God-honoring and there is a way to be respected and spoken well of that is not.  The former is by living our lives in complete submission to the plans and commandments of God in such a way that non-believers are confused and drawn to ask us about our hope (1 Peter 3.15).  The latter is to live in such a way that we are fundamentally chameleons, we are nice and palatable to everyone and ruffle no feathers but do good deeds of which everyone approves.  In short, the former makes his home in eternity with God and the latter makes his home here on the Earth.  He is fat, happy and comfortable and does enough humanitarian good that people think he’s a really great guy.

This is a pitiable position in which to be!  So much so that Jesus bemoans such a one and says that this is the best it will ever be for such a one.

Where is your home?  On what foundation are you establishing your reputation?  Do all men speak well of you because you are helping to feed the starving children and helping all men to feel good about themselves?  Or do all men speak well of you because they can find in you no deceit and you are living for another world?  Are you treasures here on this Earth and are you giving to (or personally running) charities that help the under privileged and save the planet and animals?  Or are your treasures in Heaven and you are living sacrificially to live above reproach and make sure that the Gospel is boldly proclaimed in all lands?

If all men can speak well of us apart from our position on the Gospel, we are in league with the false prophets who lead people astray from God and into eternal destruction with the Devil.  Let us strive to be more than just do-gooders who make no eternal impact, but let us store up our treasures in Heaven and live in such a way that people can find in us no fault, but yet are confused about our convictions and passions to such an extent that they ask us about the source of our hope.  If we hope in finding world peace, if we hope in financial security and generosity, if we hope in those things which would make all benevolent and well intentioned people feel good about themselves, then our end game is too small.  Yes, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked are applaudable goals.  But unless we seek their eternal security in Christ, we have done them no good.

Let’s be like Jesus.  Let’s have a good, but non-understandable reputation, such that all men cannot simply speak good about us, but such that all men would be drawn to Christ.

When Should I Turn The Other Cheek?

Jesus rocked the Jewish world (and the world of every reader for the last two thousand years) in His unsettling commandments about loving and serving our enemies.  God Himself is just and His written Law originally stated “An eye for an eye” which is still the current objective of modern judicial systems (Ex 21.24).  Jesus, however, came to pay the punishment for our sins and thus introduced the before unheard of notion of unmerited grace.  God was always merciful and forgiving, but it was through Jesus that we could be forgiven without retribution or sacrifices of atonement looking forward to His redemption.

Because God offers us such complete forgiveness and grace, He expects us to turn around and offer the same to others.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.32

In the same measure we have been forgiven we should forgive others.  That means every single offense, every single time we are asked, no matter the gravity.  Jesus goes so far to say, in fact, that if we do not forgive in that manner we prove ourselves to not be forgiven by God.  It is by receiving God’s grace through forgiveness that we are completely changed and cannot help but love and forgive one another in the same way.  If we cannot forgive someone, it is because we have not yet been forgiven.  These words of Jesus are poignant and convicting:

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

– Matt 6.14-15

And if this expectation of forgiveness weren’t enough, Jesus sets the bar even higher!  We are commanded to love and pray for our enemies (Matt 5.44), bless those who persecute us (Rom 12.14), to offer the other cheek when the first has been hit (Matt 5.39), give more to the person who steals from you (Matt 5.40), and if someone forces you into slavery of any sort, we are supposed to serve them and even do more than they demand of us (Matt 5.41)!

Jesus, of course, gave us the highest example of all of this by submitting Himself to the will of God by going to the cross.  He never argued against His accusers, He never fought back when He was beaten, He never even tried to defend Himself but rather healed one of the men who sought his life when Peter cut off his ear (Luke 22.50-51).

Does all of this mean that Christians should be pacifist door mats who let people trample them and take advantage of them?  Should we ever stand up for ourselves?

I would argue no, Jesus is not teaching blanket pacifism, and that each situation depends primarily on obedience to Scripture, guidance of the Spirit and wisdom.

What do I mean?  Consider Jesus.  On at least one occasion (many scholars believe twice), Jesus became angry against the sin of sales within the temple, threw over the tables, made a whip and chased the vendors out of the temple – to defend the house of God and righteousness.  He had holy anger that was exemplified through authority and aggression.

Jesus also was hated and pursued many times throughout His earthly ministry by people seeking to kill Him, and instead of allowing them to kill, harm or harass Him, Jesus “slipped away”, often noting the fact that His “hour had not yet come” (John 7.30).  Only once, in fact, did Jesus submit Himself to the wickedness and abuse of man – which ultimately led to His death.

The Apostle Paul also regularly and consistently was chased out of town by people who hated His teachings.  Paul did suffer much persecution, including beatings, stonings and other tribulations, but he regularly fled town when he could no longer continue the work of the Gospel.  It was only when the Spirit directed him to go Jerusalem and prepared him that he would suffer intense persecution and death there that Paul gave that ultimate pacifistic response.  Even so, Paul defended himself in court for the purpose of preaching the Gospel all the more!

Ok, so what does all of this mean?  The key is understanding the heart and intention of the commands of Jesus.  Why do we turn the other cheek?

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

– Matt 5.39

The implication is that we will all encounter evil people – people who will hit us, who will use their authority to take advantage of us, people who will steal from us.  And we should not resist them – we should never return evil for evil, but always return good for evil.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

– Rom 12.21

It is a godly response to feel anger towards sin and unrighteousness.  God Himself is angry at unpunished sin, and this is why Jesus was not only justified but right to respond to the desecration of the temple vocally and even by chasing the vendors out.  Jesus, therefore, also rightly responded to those who sought to trick, tempt and deceive Him with seemingly harsh words calling them names like “brood of vipers” and stating that they were of the devil (Matt 12.34, John 8.44).

It is also imperative that we remember it is God’s place alone to exact vengeance, and He will.   All sin is primarily against Him and He alone is fully righteous.  He, therefore, will exact perfect and right vengeance and we would only dishonor it by trying.  It is by remembering this promise that we can endure wickedness.

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

– Rom 12.19

If our goal, therefore, is to overcome evil with good and to do so by loving our enemies, we can make better decisions in the moment of suffering.  If someone is persecuting, hating or offending us, can we impact the kingdom by loving them with the response of turning the other cheek?  By going the extra mile?  Or by knowingly letting ourselves be taken advantage of?  Or will we more rightly overcome evil with good by exiting the situation, like Jesus and Paul did so often?

Unfortunately there is no cut and dry, “always do this” answer, because that is not how life works.  Even if we look at the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount, we cannot apply the instructions as exclusive and normative.  For example, we do not always pray when we are alone in our closet (Matt 6.6).  We are instructed to pray when we gather corporately, and the elders are commanded to pray over a sick person for his healing (Matt 18.19-20, James 5.14-15).

Therefore, as in all decision making, we should stop and pray.  We should seek first the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom.  God promises always to give wisdom to those who ask (James 1.5).  We should seek godly council and weigh our response against Scripture.  If our choice is in line with Scripture and by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then we can always act confidently – whether that be to give more money to someone who has stolen from you, or to escape the situation, or to demand that someone work in order to earn his wages and food (2 Thess 3.10).

When you do sin…

shame

Christians are those holy people who live perfect lives and never do anything wrong.  Right?  Either that or they are a bunch of hypocrites who live just like the world and yet claim to have God “on their side”, or in support of whatever whacked-out thing they choose to do.  We tend to not really make room for a middle ground, recognizing the simple fact that Christians are people who should be interacting with God on a regular basis and dying to sin, yet still bound to their flesh and making mistakes and giving in to temptation from time to time.

Because of this fact – even within the Christian community – we tend to put up walls and be minimally vulnerable with one another.  Christ has given us the most beautiful community in which we should depend on one another for accountability and Spiritual sharpening, but yet we think that those around us are not falling into sin and we are too afraid of damaging our reputation to confess our struggles to one another.

But there is hope!

As long as we are in our earthly bodies, we will wrestle with our own personal sin, temptation and failure.  There are times that we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

Notice here that the flesh and the Spirit are directly opposed to one another, and by giving in to one you are suffocating the things that the other desires.  When we submit to and follow the Spirit, we are not doing the things that we would please in our flesh.  When we submit to the flesh, we are not doing the things that we would please in our Spirit.

We might be tempted to blame the enemy or Satan when we sin, but the simple reality is that our flesh wants things that are sinful, and sometimes we give in.  Yes, there may be times that we are lured by an outside force, but by-in-large we lead ourselves into those situations.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.13-15

The simple reality is that sin looks attractive.  It feels good, at least for the moment.  And often times it starts small and snowballs or grows over time as we become immune to the conviction of the Spirit.  And sometimes we have been so inoculated by the world and our culture that we neglect to evaluate an action, word or deed against Scripture to even determine if it is sinful, and we sin unintentionally.

But it is all sin, it must all be confessed and we must repent from it as the Spirit leads and convicts.

So where is the hope?

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

The book of 1 John is a gut wrencher and convictor.  It makes statements that sound extremely black and white, cut and dry, such as:

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

– 1 John 2.3-6

John even goes so far as to say that if you hate someone you are not saved (v 2.9).  Have you ever struggled to forgive someone?  Do you have any grudges in your life?  Or are you living perfectly at peace with everyone in your world?  The risk of that is our very salvation.

But yet John gives us this beautiful hope that when we do sin we have an advocate.  There is a heavenly court room in which the enemy approaches God to accuse us of our sin.  When we have confessed our sins and repented of them, however, Jesus stands as the defense lawyer to simply say, “Punishment paid”.  Jesus intercedes for us continually before the Father, taking the penalty of our sin upon Himself and presenting us as washed clean in His blood.

“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”

– Rom 8.33-34

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

– Heb 7.25

Jesus has already paid the punishment and appeased the wrath of God for our sins.  When we confess them and lay them at His feet, he covers them in His blood and deems us clean before God.  We will continue to sin, as long as we are in our bodies, and He will continue to wash us clean and empower us to die to that sin throughout the Christian life.

He has also given us community to help and push us on to holiness.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another, to pray over one another, and to push one another on to holiness:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

Repenting is two fold:  turning away from sin and turning to God.  When you are convicted or when you give in to sin, confess it to God and turn away from it in His strength.  He continues to forgive us and sanctify us.  He forgave David for rape and murder.  Salvation was offered to those who murdered Jesus Himself.  There is nothing too great for Him.  Turn to Him, find your peace and comfort in Him, confess your sins to those who will push you on to righteousness, and rely on His mercy and grace.  You will sin, let’s be prepared for how to respond.

Distinguishing Root and Fruit.

fruit

We all know the golden rule:  do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Most of us know that this comes straight from the Bible:

“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”

– Luke 6.31

If you have spent much time in the church or if you have read much of Jesus’ teaching, you will also know that He was cornered by some pious men and asked which of God’s commandments was the greatest.  Without blinking, Jesus responded:

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

– Matt 22.35-40

The greatest commandment of God, that on which the entire Bible is established is the commandment to love God with everything we have – and let that love overflow in such a way that we love everyone around us in the same way that we love ourselves.  The commandment to love is a strange one, however.  What exactly is love?  We talk about our different love languages – the ways that we express and receive love.  We talk about different cultures and how they perceive, feel and express love.  We talk about how people should treat one another when they love each other…but it is quite difficult to nail down what exactly love is.  Webster’s defines love as:

  1. a (1) :  strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) :  attraction based on sexual desire :  affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3):  affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates>
    b :  an assurance of affection <give her my love>

  2. warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>

  3. a :  the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love>
    b (1) :  a beloved person :  darling —often used as a term of endearment (2) British —used as an informal term of address

  4. a :  unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) :  the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) :  brotherly concern for others
    b :  a person’s adoration of God

In summary of these points, it is primarily an affection that results in putting someone else before one’s self.  Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek term used for love (ἀγαπάω, agapaōas:

 – To be full of good will and exhibit the same;
– with acc. of the person, To have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of

As we enter into marriage and as we evaluate the prevalent flippancy of our culture, we regularly discuss the commitment involved and the choice to love even when our emotions fail, but we all must and do recognize the simple fact that there is and must be at some level an emotional side to love.  Miserable is the marriage that goes through the motions of matrimony without any care or affection.  Sad is the child who receives dutiful care from a mother but no emotional engagement or nurture.  Yes, there are times that we choose to do those “duties” that our love requires when our emotions are not there, but in general we recognize, expect and hope for the emotional side of love to accompany the dutiful.

Unfortunately, emotions are not quantifiable and we turn to actions hoping to gauge the presence and proof of that love.  This is not only a good thing to do, but a Biblical guideline:

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him’.”

– John 14.23

Jesus Himself stated that anyone who loves Him will obey Him.  He said it multiple times and in a variety of ways in this one discourse (John 14.15, 21, 23, 24).  We also see in other passages that the fruit of the spirit is love for one another and the keeping of Jesus’ commandments:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

– Gal 5.22-24

If we love God, then we will love one another and exemplify joy, peace, patience, and all of the other fruit of the Spirit.  If we love God, the Holy Spirit will abide within us and empower us to obey Jesus’ commandments and His fruit will pour out from our lives.  Our obedience, our changed personalities and dispositions are the fruit – the outpouring, the result of our love.  Yes, we can force some of them for a little while, but we will not be transformed and it will not be the outpouring of who we are unless we love God, abide in Him and draw our strength and life from Him.

The root is love.  The fruit is obedience.

Jesus talks about abiding in Him, remaining in Him, being grafted into Him as a branch is to a tree.  These analogies are all painting the same picture:  we love Him and that love is emotional, real, and causes in us a longing for Him.  As we come to Him, spend time with Him, reflect on His teaching and study the things He said, we are in return deriving strength from Him.  By coming to Him, we are becoming one with Him – drawing life-giving sap and nutrients from the core of the tree, being empowered by the new Spirit that has taken up residence in our lives, and being transformed into new creatures.

What does all of this mean?  First of all, it means that we do have a tangible way by which we can evaluate ourselves.  If we are not walking in obedience and exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit, then we know that we do not love Jesus and we are not walking in Him – therefore we are most likely not saved.  Yes, there are times that we will struggle with sin and there are times that we will make peace with sin and the Spirit will take time to work those things out.  But we should be very concerned about ourselves and one another if we are not seeing obedience and the fruit of the Spirit portrayed.

Secondly, we have a means of accountability with one another.  Everyone who loves Jesus will obey His commandments and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit.  We must and should keep each other in mind and in heart – part of loving our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves – making sure that they are not making peace with sin either.

Unfortunately, while it is true that everyone who loves Jesus will obey Him and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit, not everyone who keeps a moral lifestyle or attends church loves Jesus.  If we are not deeply invested in one another’s lives, then moral people will be able to self-placate and believe themselves safe from damnation within our churches, small groups and communities.  They can fool themselves and they can fool others, for a while.  There will come a time when true colors come out, however, and this is another reason we need accountability and deep investment.

Thirdly, this reality gives us great hope.  Our salvation and unity with Christ are not contingent on our perfect obedience or fruit, it is based on our love and remaining in Him.  Men naturally hate the light.  If you have an affection for or longing for Jesus, that is supernatural and it is a gift.

“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

 – John 3.20-21

In fact, Paul tells us that the very word of the Bible is foolishness to those who are not saved:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

 – 1 Cor 1.18

Therefore we can take great hope in the simple fact that we love Jesus, long for Him and enjoy spending time with Him and in His word.  If you do not, this is the starting point – not cleaning up your life.  Ask Jesus to open the eyes of your heart, to draw you to Himself, to give you a new Spirit and a new life.  You cannot long for these things on your own.  Yes, you can long to be saved from Hell, but you cannot desire intimacy with Jesus unless He draws you and gives you faith.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 – Eph 2.8-9

Lastly, it simply means that obedience will be an outpouring of love.  Yes, there will be times that it will be hard.  But by-in-large, when we know and love Jesus, when we are being transformed to look more like Him, we will start to act like Him.  We will “obey” Him, because we want to emulate Him, because we want to please Him, because we want to enjoy Him.  The fruit will come out of us naturally, we will not have to force its growth and we will not be out picking fruit off other branches and taping to our own.  The root is love, and it supplies us with the life-giving sap that produces the fruit.

For Whom Should a Christian Vote?

2016 election

The election of 2016 has proven to be a circus of extreme personalities and worldviews thus far.  For months, much of the western world considered Donald Trump’s run for the republican nomination to be a joke and we all waited with semi-bated breath to see how the proverbial chips would fall.  Suddenly, we are left with two primary nominees that much of the United States would prefer to not endorse, and Christians are entering the fray to seek and offer advice on “the right” or “the Christian” thing to do.  Up until now most conservatives have suggested writing in a candidate and seeking some moral high ground that would absolve them from responsibility when Trump or Hillary is elected but yet still fulfill their privilege and right as an American to vote.  Over the weekend, however, one of the most respected theologians amongst reformed and conservative evangelicals, Wayne Grudem, wrote a polarizing article with his explanation for why voting for Trump is the morally right thing to do.  People are writing open response letters, evangelicals are taking a hit, more conservatives are coming out of the Trump-supportive closet, and Millennials are promising to leave the church.

In short, we have a mess.

Here’s the deal, folks.  There is not now, nor has there ever been a perfect candidate for the office of President of the United States.  Democracy is not God’s form of government, and even though we live in a privileged nation with a unique opportunity to be a part of the decision making process, your vote (or lack thereof) is one hundred percent between you and God.

God’s form of government.

Americans like to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, and that we are God’s country and chosen people.  We are not, in fact, God’s chosen people.  Israel was the only nation to hold that unique and precious title, and when God set up their government and nation in the way He deemed best, He established Himself as the King.  They had a theocracy.  This simply means there was no human king, president or leader, only priests and judges who had the Law of God and communicated His will and rulings to the people.  When the Israelites desired a king, it was only because they saw what the pagan nations around them had, and God sternly rebuked them for sinning against Him.  Not only that, He promised that it would be their downfall and after only three kings the nation was divided, and ultimately fell and the people were exiled.

“But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’  And Samuel prayed to the Lord.  The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.'”

 – 1 Sam 8.6-7

Is democracy a good form of government?  Yes.  We have been blessed to have a system in place which maintains some semblance of order and balance whereby one person or group cannot rule sovereignly over another.  It is the best system?  No.  God’s system of Theocracy is best, and all others are man-made.  We could – and many have – spent hours debating the best forms of government, social systems, and politics, but there is currently no existing system that is determined by and governed by God and Scripture.  Therefore we cannot claim God’s authority in determining our self-government, and we are constrained to apply God’s moral and ethical principles within a broken and worldly system.

Our Hope in a Broken System

Because we are seeking to honor God in a broken system, we must always remember that God is in sovereign control.  He alone establishes kings, governments and systems and the person who is elected next to the office of President of the United States will be stationed there by God and God alone (Dan 2.21).  He works out those plans in mysterious ways, and we would be wise to remember that there are times when He works the miraculous completely outside of our input and there are times that He utilizes our efforts towards His ends.

When the Philistines were attacking Israel and Goliath challenged any single warrior to a duel, David stood up to him.  After David defeated Goliath, the Philistines were “thrown into a confusion” and they killed themselves (1 Sam 14.20).  There are other examples of kings uniting to fight together against Israel, and God sent them into a confusion whereby they killed each other and Israel never even entered the battle (2 Chro 20).

God did not always keep the Hebrew people from battle, however.  We also see that God gave David success in numerous battles and wars, as long as he followed the direction and leadership of God.  There was never a time when the battle plan was the same and God provided success to Moses, Joshua, Saul, David and all other leaders who followed His lead.

God is unpredictable and He uses people in very different ways to accomplish His ends.  Sometimes, in fact, He tells different people different things in order to fulfill His plan.  Paul was the first and arguably most successful missionary to reach out to the Gentiles and the known world.  He made it his goal to take the Gospel everywhere.  Towards the end of his ministry the Holy Spirit began to lead Paul and tell him to go to Jerusalem:

“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.  But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”

 – Acts 20.22-24

However, the Holy Spirit instructed other believers to tell Paul to not go to Jerusalem:

“After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”

 – Acts 21.4

Not only that, God sent a prophet to warn Paul of what would happen if and when he went to Jerusalem:

“As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”‘  When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.”

 – Acts 21.10-12

All in all, it was the plan of God for Paul to go to Jerusalem.  God was indeed telling Paul to go, and it was His plan for Paul to suffer there, and part of the preparation God utilized for Paul’s heart was the warning of other believers.  By the time Agabus  prophesied about his imprisonment and torture, Paul knew that he was ready and willing to die for the Gospel.

Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”

 – Acts 21.13-14

We also see clearly that God used Judas as an integral and prophesied part of Jesus’ very own death.  It was foretold hundreds of years before hand that Jesus would be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11.12-13, Matt 26.15, Matt 27.3-5), and that by a friend (Ps 41.9).  Not only was Judas’ specific role predestined and foretold, the entirety of the crucifixion of Jesus was God’s plan from the beginning of time (Gen 3.15, Rev 13.8, 1 Peter 1.20).

Sometimes God’s plans do not make sense to us.  Sometimes God tells different people different things in order to bring about His end.  Sometimes God even utilizes sin to accomplish His goals – such as the murder of Jesus.

We Must Act Under Conviction

Because of these realities, we can only weigh our decisions against Scripture and against the personal direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Our conscience will bear witness against us if we disobey the direct commands of Scripture or His personal instruction, and the Holy Spirit will never instruct believers to do something contrary to Scripture.  It is His specific and clear purpose to teach and direct believers in righteousness:

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

– John 16.8

God is working in and through us to develop Spiritual maturity and growth.  He is working out our salvation, and helping us die to flesh and to sin.  He has given us the Spirit to convict us of sin – to remind us of what Jesus has taught us and what God defines as sin throughout Scripture, and to push us on to righteousness.  He will therefore never contradict God or His ordinances in Scripture.

There are times and circumstances, however, that are morally neutral and require personal and direct leadership from the Spirit.  This is where the Spirit can and may tell two different people two different things – like Paul and the disciples.  For us, then, we are bound to follow the conviction of the Spirit we have personally:

We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

– 1 John 3.19-22

Our conscience will bear witness against us or for us on these issues.  It is under this reality where we find beliefs on drinking alcohol (not unto drunkenness of course), politics, professions, hobbies, etc.  These are extremely sensitive topics because very real sin issues can and do enter into the conversation as defined by Scripture, but not always.

As this relates directly to the election, we will find a variety of consciences and convictions.  There are some issues that are discussed in the election which are directly sinful or weighable against Scripture.  When these issues single handedly remove a candidate from our list of possibilities we call them “Single Issue Dispositive” issues.  For most Christians, abortion is a single-issue dispositive.  Most Christians will not vote for or endorse any candidate that would murder an unborn baby.  The opposite would be “Single Issue Sufficient” whereby a candidate’s stance on any one issue would outweigh any other position he would take.  Does Trump’s pro-life position justify every other position he holds?  To some it might, to some it might not.

The big conversation, however, is about character.  Some would argue that since the Christian community by-in-large called for Bill Clinton’s resignation after having an affair, that it would be hypocritical to vote for Trump because he has been married three times and divorced two.  Some would argue that his affiliation with playboy and the corporate success ladder, his explosive personality, and his racist disposition would all be enough to make his character wicked enough to make him non-viable as a candidate.  Unfortunately, as Albert Mohler stated so eloquently:

“We have always voted in a fallen world for fallen candidates in a fallen political construct and done the best we could.”

When evaluating character as means by which to judge a candidate, we will all have different requirements and varying opinions.  Both candidates verbally affirm a Christian faith, neither are perfect in character and neither uphold fully Biblical values.  Hillary is comfortable with abortion, Trump is racist.

Some have responded that it is better to not vote at all or to write in another option, citing the Scripture:

“…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

– Rom 1.32

It is true that we will give an account to God for every decision we make, including giving approval to wicked men.  It is also true that we are not appointing a man (or woman) to spiritual leadership when choosing a president and choosing a candidate who we believe is better suited for the job may not necessarily be someone with whom we align on all moral or Biblical issues.

In short, if you cannot vote for one candidate or another by your conscience, then for you it is sin to vote against your conscience.  If you cannot vote at all because of your conscience, then by all means do not vote because for you it is sin.  If you can vote for one candidate over the other, by the direction of the Holy Spirit and in light of Biblical truths, then by all means vote for that candidate.  The Holy Spirit might be telling you one thing and another person another thing in order to achieve His end of the next president (whom He has already chosen and appointed, by the way).  What is critical is that you have examined the facts, laid the issue before God and Scripture, and are acting under the guidance of the Spirit.

In all of this, let us not sin.

We must be keenly aware of the conversations and difficulties that arise when discussing politics.  Some people are highly educated and skilled in the art of political science and social reform.  Some people are not.  Within the moral grey-realm of Biblical application, some people might be convicted strongly on one side of an argument while others are convicted strongly on the other side.  For instance, does the dignity of human life require that we welcome all would-be refugees into our country?  Even though my conscience may not allow me to turn away someone who is suffering and looking for hope, I cannot condemn someone else’s conscience who would seek the safety of the nation and his family first and refuse that person.  This is not a moral absolute, and we must all turn to and submit to the direction of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives.  With that understanding, we must also recognize God’s authority and direction in other believer’s lives and never condemn them by our own conscience alone.  They must be condemned or justified by their own conscience and walk with God.

And this, friends, is the beauty of the democracy:  we are free to do just that.

So no, I will no tell you who is the morally right or “Christian” choice.  Because God might be up to something way bigger than anything we can imagine.  He might also be convicting your conscience differently than He is convicting mine – and it is all to same end.  If we trust God, His sovereignty and His plan, then we will never judge one another and we will never sin against one another for having a different opinion than our own, but will encourage one another to contemplate the Scriptures, to seek out the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and act (vote) in a way that falls in line with our beliefs and walk with God.

 

You will do greater works than Jesus.

street preacher

Sometimes Jesus said things that just rock my world.  If we are honest with ourselves, we probably tend to live with a semi-comfortable understanding of His teaching, going about our day-to-day and turning to Him when we feel as though we need Him – occasionally feeling challenged by those more dynamic or radical statements.  We justify ourselves – Jesus didn’t really mean that we are supposed to love our enemies, make disciples of all nations, and hate our mothers/fathers for His sake, right?  We can be functional pacifists and turn the other cheek and talk about our faith when someone else brings up the topic.  Surely that’s good enough.

But then Jesus makes crazy statements that throw us for a loop when we read them.  Like this:

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?  The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.  Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.  Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

– John 14.10-14

Everyone who believes in Jesus will do the same works as Jesus
and greater works as well.  

Wait, what?!  This is not written only about the apostles.  This is not written in the abstract.  This is not written about just those super-Christians who become pastors, missionaries and the extra-spiritual.  Jesus says everyone who believes in Him will do greater works than Him.

What, however, are those works about which Jesus is speaking?  Up until this point in the book of John Jesus has turned water into wine, healed a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years, walked on water, given sight to a man who was born blind, and even raised Lazarus after being dead for four days – just to name a few.  Is Jesus saying that everyone who believes in Him will do these kinds of miracles?  Because if so, probably none of us believes in Him.  I’ve never raised a dead man or walked on water.

It is extremely important to remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture.  Jesus will never contradict Himself, God, or other Biblical writers.  And we see very clearly in the book of 1 Corinthians that not everyone will be given the gift of healing and miracles:

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.  All are not apostles, are they?  All are not prophets, are they?  All are not teachers, are they?  All are not workers of miracles, are they?  All do not have gifts of healings, do they?  All do not speak with tongues, do they?  All do not interpret, do they?

– 1 Cor 12.28-30

So not everyone will be an apostle, not everyone will be a teacher, not everyone will preform miracles and not everyone will have the gift of healing, let alone helps or administration!  Jesus perfectly and fully did all of those things.  What, then, are the works about which Jesus is speaking?

The verses leading up to this unfathomable statement help give us a little clarity.  Jesus claims that the words He speaks and the things He does are actually the Father working in and through Him – and they are all done/said to the end that people would believe.  “Otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (John 10.11).  The works are those things that are leading people to faith in Jesus – giving them grounds on which to believe in Him.

So if we cannot define the works of Jesus – the type of which we will do “greater” – we know at least it is those things that lead people to faith in Jesus.  How, then, can the words we say and the things we do be greater in leading people to faith in Jesus than what He Himself said and did?  We get a clue in the second half of the sentence:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”

Jesus was the transition point of history.  From the fall of mankind with Adam and Eve in the Garden, humanity was enslaved in sin and looking forward to a savior who would free humanity from sin, break the curse and crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3.15).  The entire Old Testament and Old Covenant between God and Israel was built upon a sacrifice system that looked forward to one final and perfect sacrifice:  Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus’ ministry was extremely unique, thus, because He was the embodiment of that transition and was teaching truth that would applied in the New Covenant, the new era and the new relationship of God to His people but yet He was still living under the Law.  It was His death and resurrection that caused the transition from one to the other.  This is why Jesus said that everyone who believes in Him will do greater works because He is going to the Father.  Once Jesus’ work was completed on the Earth, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to empower every single believer to do the work of the ministry based on the new hope that we have of purification from sins.  Up until this point, people were awaiting the purification from their sins, but with His return to the Father we can now be pardoned while still in our flesh.  We are not yet perfect, and we are continually confessing our sins and repenting, but we have been justified and can therefore enter into God’s presence personally.

We are not preforming greater works than Jesus because of any merit of our own.  We are not preforming greater works than Jesus because His works were lacking.  In fact, most of the works and deeds He preformed far outweigh any that we will preform in magnitude, in the miraculous or in dependence on God, but they will be greater by nature of having the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in them to bring about new birth and eternal life.  Jesus was not giving people new birth because He had not yet died to pay the punishment for their sins, and thus people were not yet offered eternal life through confession and repentance.  They were still exemplifying faith by looking forward to salvation.

None of us is greater than Jesus.  In fact, it is by His power alone that we can do these works of which He spoke.  But we have been given the unique gift of proclaiming the Gospel – of preaching the forgiveness of sins by the work of Jesus – which brings about new life through faith.  Any work preformed and any word proclaimed that leads to faith and new life is the greatest work possible, and distinct from even the ministry that Jesus had.

Let us not take for granted this blessing and honor.  Let us get busy about living lives that proclaim the Gospel and lead people to faith in Jesus.  That is the reason He has left us here on the Earth, and that is all that will matter in eternity.

Let not your hearts be troubled.

comfort

Does your heart ever grow troubled?  What types of things lead to those troubles?  The future?  Decisions?  Children?  Security?  Jesus spoke on fear, anxiety and discouragement quite frequently.  His basic logic was:  God is sovereign and in control, so do not worry.  It sounds so simple, yet the vast majority of us still get worried (or concerned) when we find ourselves in transition or need (or want).

Perhaps the most dynamic command to not fear or worry is this command and promise:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.”

– John 14.1-4

Fighting sin always begins in the mind.  We have to understand what God defines as sin and submit to His Truth.  Once we recognize what sin is and see it in our lives, we have to confess our sin and begin the process of repenting from it – by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we are tempted or long to engage in whatever sin is before us, we can and must make a conscious decision to not sin.  Our emotions will be torn, but our minds are our strength.  After we successfully refuse the sin or temptation a few times, our emotions will catch up to the decision that we are making.  Thus we always begin by the “renewing of our minds” (Rom 12.1-2).

It is good discipline to intentionally claim promises of Scripture and to replace sin with a God-honoring activity when we are feeling tempted.  This keeps us from dwelling on the pleasures of sin or the immediate gratification we might seek.  Jesus regularly offered promises and hope along with His instruction to help us along this path.  For instance, “Do not let your heart be troubled” – don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t be anxious.  Instead, remember that we have an eternal home in God’s house and Jesus has prepared the way for us to get there.  He is, indeed, the way.  He utilized the same tactic when confronting fears and anxieties about our daily needs:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?  You of little faith!”

– Matt 6.25-30

Jesus uses logic to confront fear and anxiety.  Have you ever been concerned about what you will eat?  Or not having clothing?  And I don’t mean having that dream where you are giving a speech naked.  We truly want for very little, but Jesus promises that God – who feeds the birds and clothes the fields with flowers will feed and clothe us as well.  He loves us and will provide for us in the ways He deems best.

 

What is so interesting about the first command and promise, however, is the fact that Jesus gave this command to not fear during the last supper.  He had already washed the disciples’ feet, He has already sent Judas out to betray Him, He has already predicted Peter’s betrayal and yet while explaining His death and departure He seeks to comfort the disciples.  This command/promise is actually a continual flow of thought from Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s betrayal:

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me?  Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.  Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me…”

There is no break here.  Jesus is saying, I’m getting ready to die.  Peter says, I want to go wherever you go – I would die for you, and Jesus responds, you won’t even make it through tonight without denying me.  But don’t worry about it, I’ve got your eternity secure with God, just keep believing in God and in Me.

Jesus is just hours away from betrayal and the cross.  In fact, twenty four hours from this very conversation Jesus will be dead – and He knows it – and He is busy comforting the disciples about what is to come.  We see earlier in the chapter that Jesus’ heart was already troubled and in distress because of the coming events, not that He was stressed or worried in the way we get worried, but because He was dreading what was to come (John 13.21).  We can walk in faith and not desire to have to walk through what we are experiencing, as long as we claim the promises and obey throughout the trial.  Jesus obeyed and submitted to the plan of the cross even though He did not want to die on the cross and be separated from God.  He Himself claimed the promises and looked to the end goal when His heart was tempted and hurting.

We must do the same.  Look to the promises.  Are you worrying about the future or eternity?  Jesus has prepared the way for us to spend eternity with God through His death and resurrection.  He has prepared a place for us to live in eternity with God.  Are you worrying about what you will eat or wear?  God knows our needs and will provide for us, in the manner He deems best.  This may mean that we go hungry at times, or that we do not get designer clothing, but it will all work out to our best and to God’s glory (Rom 8.28).  But let us fight those fleshly worries in our minds, and let us also follow the example of Jesus who, even though His own heart was troubled, comforted those around Him.

Here is a great fighter verse for those moments when you are afraid, worried or hurting.  Use this, along with any others you already have to continually transform your mind while you walk in obedience and give our hearts time to catch up.

“When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust;
I shall not be afraid.
What can mere man do to me?”

– Ps 56.3-4