What is worse than being paralyzed for 38 years?

lame man

There are many people in the world who “believe” in Jesus for the sake of eternity.  He is our safety net and He is in charge of everything after we die.  No one wants to go to Hell and spend an eternity suffering!  So yes!  We are Christians, we believe in Jesus, we have asked Him to save us and when we die He will take us to Heaven.  There are also many people in the world who have a genuine relationship with Jesus.  They know Him, they love Him, they are being transformed by Him, and cannot wait to spend eternity with Him.  To these people, knowing Jesus while alive on Earth is a benefit and getting to spend eternity with Him is the goal – not simply avoiding Hell.

Both of these types of people have a sense of security about the afterlife – some founded, others unfounded.  When addressing the fear of death people regularly say “I am not afraid of what comes after death, but the process”.  My boss’s wife has a fear of bears in the woods.  He one time asked her, “What’s the worst that could happen?” hoping to assuage her fear by comforting her that should she die she would spend eternity with Jesus.  Her witty and honest response was, “the bear could maul me and I could be forced to live my life mangled”.

It’s true, isn’t it.  If our eternity is secure, then most of us fear losing what we have:  our security, our comfort, and/or our health.

Do you remember the story of the man by the pool?  He was paralyzed, “invalid” and lying by the pool of Bethesda waiting for an angel to come and touch the waters of the pool because the first one to enter into the waters after they were stirred would be healed.  Scripture teaches us that there was a multitude of sick, blind, lame and withered people waiting for their chance to be healed (John 5.3).  This man, because he was paralyzed, could never get to the pool fast enough.  Thus he had been waiting for his chance for 38 years.

Thirty-eight years.

We do not know if he was born paralyzed or hurt as a child was was now a middle-aged man, or if he was hurt later in life and was thus an old man having remembered and lost his mobility.  Either way, he had been sitting there, by the pool, amongst a multitude of other hurt and sick people for more than half of the normal life expectancy for a person at the time.

Just waiting, wallowing in his terrible condition.

Jesus approached him and asked him if he wanted to be healed.  It is pretty obvious that the man was seeking to be healed – he was waiting by the pool of miracles for a miracle, and his answer to Jesus was not even a simple yes, but an explanation for why he had missed the opportunity so many times:  he had no one to help him into the pool and he could never be the first one!  Others always beat him in (John 5.7).

What does Jesus do?  He immediately heals the man.  Strangely, however, Jesus disappears into the crowd.  This man had exemplified no faith.  He had not sought out Jesus.  In fact, we learn in the next few verses that the man did not even know who it was that had healed him (John 5.13)!  All he knew was he had been paralyzed for 38 years and suddenly he had been healed.  All is right in the world, right?

Wrong.

Jesus sought the man out later and found him in the temple – a great place to be – and gave him this solemn warning:

“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you’.”

– John 5.14

Wow.  So often our Gospel presentation is full of promises and pleasantries, how often do we consider the threats of Jesus?  Jesus came in power, but His intention in coming to the Earth was not to heal everyone or bring about the New Earth where sin and suffering cease.  No, He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10).  This is why Jesus did not stand and heal everyone at the pool.  There was a multitude of sick and lame people at the pool.  That means a huge crowd.  And Jesus sought out one man to heal physically, but then He warned him:  “do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you”.

What is worse than 38 years of paralysis in a society that does not care for the broken?  Years of waiting for a miracle and begging for food?  The answer is simply, an eternity in Hell.  Jesus came to save sinners from Hell.  When He comes the second time, He will do away with all suffering, pain, sorrow and sin.  But His first entrance onto the scene was to save sinners from their sin.  Thus He commanded this man “do not sin anymore”, and gave a solemn warning that if this man did not repent from his sins, he would go to Hell.

An eternity in Hell is by far the worst thing that could happen to us.

But yet we live our lives as though Hell does not exist.  Scripture and natural law teaches us that everyone will die (Heb 9.27).  We know that we will all die because the punishment for sin is death (Rom 6.23).  But if we confess our sins and repent from them, we can be saved eternally (Rom 10.9, 1 John 1.9).

We also live our lives constantly praying for health, success, pleasure and comfort – and rarely pray for our hearts, attitudes and Spiritual maturity.  But yet Jesus left the multitude in their sicknesses and ailments, with the expressed intention to save the world from their sins.  Not their calamities.

So let us stop and consider our hearts.  Is Jesus your “get out of jail free” card?  Or is He your Lord and Savior?  Is He taking care of everything after death?  Or is He impacting how you live your life every day?  Do you come to Him for help about your health, your job, your money and pleasure?  Or do you come to Him for help dying to your sin and flesh?  There are times that Jesus will bless us and heal us, give us success, and allow our situations to be made more comfortable.  But there are also times when we will get sick and not recover, we will fail, and we will be made uncomfortable – even for the sake of the Gospel!  This is neither His judgment nor because we have too little faith.  This is because we have not yet entered into the New Earth where these things will pass.  But He will always help us confess, repent and move on from our wickedness and sin.  He came to save the lost, not to make our lives more comfortable.  We are still looking forward to that!

What then shall I do with this Jesus?

It has become fairly common to say, “There are two types of people in the world” and follow it up with the group who loves, does, looks like or forbids something.  The other type of people are those who hate, do not, or accepts that same thing.  There are givers and takers.  There are those who love frogs and those who hate frogs.  There are those who read the email messages on their phones and those who do not.

email

We can make the same assessment about faith, and pointedly about Christians:  There are Christians and there are non-Christians.  We all know that there are five major world religions, and countless sects and traditional/tribal belief systems, and the generalization can be made about any belief system.  Muslims would say that you are not headed to paradise unless you confess the prophet, Jews would say that you are damned if you are not a Jew.  Some of the inclusivist or reincarnation-centered religions would not make as black and white a distinction, but would consider some further along in their enlightenment than others.

But we as Christians believe that the sinful nature of humanity has separated us from God and the only way for that relationship to be established is by His grace through the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No man comes unto the Father but through me.”  We believe that Jesus is the way, He is the gate and the final judge who will welcome or refuse people into eternity with God.  Therefore, while we could flippantly say “There are Christians and there are non-Christians”, we recognize the fact that everyone must ultimately answer the single most important question in all of the world, “What do I believe about Jesus?”

When Jesus was on trial, the religious leaders took Him before Pontius Pilate, the governor.  He was a Roman official, and the Jews brought Jesus to him so that Jesus could be put to death.  We see Pilate in all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial, and his efforts to not find Jesus guilty.  In Matthew Pilate washes his hands of Jesus’ blood, in Mark he finds Jesus innocent of plotting against the Roman Empire, in Luke we see him declaring Jesus as innocent for the conspiracy, as well as Herod Antipas, and in John he states, “I find no guilt in Him.”  Pilate did not want to execute Jesus, and his wife had a dream about Jesus and warned him not to harm Jesus.  Seeking to manipulate the crowds, Pilate brought forward Barabbas, a notorious thief, and asked the crowd which man should be released.  By direction of the priests, the crowd chose Barabbas.

When this plan was foiled, he asked the crowd,

“Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

 – Matt 22.27

Here we see the governmental authority asking this most important of questions, the one which we must all answer.  What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?  Pilate’s response was inadequate.  He sought to keep the guilt from himself, the crowd called the condemnation of guilt upon themselves, but Pilate still handed Jesus over to be crucified – even after acknowledging the fact that He had no guilt and after being warned by his wife.

It is tempting to try to take this middle road.  Most of us are not interested in ruffling feathers and causing division or problems.  So we try to say that Jesus was a good man, a great teacher, an example for us all.  But we want to leave all of His claims and instructions at the door.  Was Jesus really God?  Did He really imply that we should love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves?  That is impossible!  Do we really have to put aside all of our sinful pleasures and live unto God?  Do we really have to go into all the world – even the dangerous parts – and make disciples?  Do we really have to love our enemies and forgive people?

It is easy to give Jesus a blanket approval when we do not know what He actually said.  But the moment we start reading His commandments and expectations of people, we realize that we will never be able to do the things that He expects of us without the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  The rich young man had kept all of the laws of the Old Covenant, tithing, caring for his family, giving to the poor, but Jesus knew that he loved money and to test the man’s surrender to God, He commanded him to sell everything he owned, give it to the poor and follow Jesus.  This man could not do it and went away sad.  Jesus wants our everything, and if there is nothing that we cannot surrender for the sake of following Him, then we are not saved.  This is not simply a “good idea” or example, this is a radical teaching.

C. S. Lewis argued the point beautifully:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

The difficulty for us today is, however, that while we often acknowledge Jesus as God and Lord, we easily walk away from Church or Bible study and forget.  If Jesus is supposed to be “lord” of our lives, if He is in charge, has final say, and determines our actions, then we should be consulting him hundreds of times each day about our attitudes, our decisions, our actions… simply:  our everything.  But how often do we go to church and sing our praise songs and walk out to enjoy our hobbies, have lunch with our friends, and keep working towards the American Dream?

We all must answer the question at least once, “What then shall I do with this Jesus”, but once we have come to faith and are seeking to live the Christian life, we must still answer this question every. single. day.

So let us ask ourselves anew.  What will I do with Jesus today?  Will I submit to Him?  Obey His commands?  Die to myself and live unto Him?  Or will I just play the game, longing for Heaven without any effect on my life here and now?

If you do not obey Jesus, You are not a Christian.

People at the Cross

Many people around the world consider the United States to be a “Christian” nation.  Even though many in the public forum push back against this label, if you took a cross section of the average Joe on the street the majority will still claim to be Christian.  Research indicates, in fact, that 77.3% of Americans are professing Christians.  Many consider themselves to be Christians because their families are historically Christian.  Some claim the faith because they go to Church on Christmas and Easter, and some think that they are saved because they “said a prayer” and secured their eternity by one sentence.

Jesus, however, made radical claims and set high expectations for those who would follow Him.  If we want to be Christians or “mini Christs”, then we have to obey Him:

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

– Luke 6.46

In order to be a Christian, in order to follow Christ, Jesus plainly said that we have to do what He said.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

– Matt 7.21

We can call Jesus “Lord”, but in order to enter into Heaven we must do the will of the Father – and that is to obey Jesus.

Jesus gave His life up for us because He loves us (John 15.13).  God Himself is love, and we cannot know love nor can we love unless we know God (1 John 4.7-8).  It is God’s desire that we come to love Him and abide in Him the same way in which Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit abide with one another (John 17.11, 21).  And the natural response to loving Jesus is to want to please Him by obeying Him.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

– Jon 14.15

And we learn this by following the example of Jesus.  He loved God and spent all of His energy and life seeking to obey God and fulfilling His will:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

– John 6.38

Scripture teaches us that when we come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation that He actually writes His law on our hearts (Heb 10.16, 8.10), and He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to obey those laws (1 Cor 3.16).  Thus we see that we are incapable of obeying Jesus in our own strength, but when we become a Christian we are transformed into a new creature in which the Holy Spirit resides (2 Cor 5.17), and it is actually no longer us who are living but Jesus living in and through us:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

– Gal 2.20

So if God is indwelling us and empowering us by the very law that He has written on our hearts, we have the conviction when we disobey, we have the desire to obey, and we look like Jesus.

What exactly, then, did Jesus command us to do?

Many go immediately to the “Great Commandment” to answer this question.

‘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 YOURSELF.’

– Matt 23.7-39

Jesus gave these simple yet impossible commandments.  If you are a Christian, you will be someone who loves God with every inch of your being, and who loves your neighbor in the same way you love yourself.  Do you watch your neighbors to make sure that they have good food, nice clothes, that their cars are functioning and that they have a job?  Do you make sure that they have fun, that they have good exercise habits, that they have community and activities in which to be involved?  Do you splurge on their happiness?

Sometimes we dull down this greatest commandment and think that giving God lip service is enough and sing the mantra, “all we need is love”, and yet we truly and genuinely love no one.  What is love?  It is sacrifice.  Jesus offered His life for us.  For whom would you die?

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

– Matt 10.17-22

Jesus is concerned about our hearts.  This man had kept the law, given preference to others, done everything that God had commanded.  But Jesus wanted him to love his neighbor as he loved himself, and this man was unable to do so.  He could not sell his possessions and give the profit away.  He could not trust God.  Therefore he was not a believer, and he went away saddened.

We must love God with all of our hearts, love our neighbor as ourselves, and die to the deeds of the flesh.  What are the deeds of the flesh?

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

– Gal 5.19-21

If you partake in immorality, impurity (think sexual), sensuality (indulging your senses), witchcraft (think good luck charms along with spells and darkness), enmities (do you have any enemies?), strife (is there someone with whom you cannot get along?), jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes (are you in an argument?), dissensions, factions (have you just written someone off?), envying, drunkenness or carousing?  Often times we think about the big things when we think of obeying Jesus.  And yes, there are some big things listed here like witchcraft.  And while this list is not exhaustive, it reveals the heart of God being concerned with our driving force and our hearts.  If the Holy Spirit is residing within you, you cannot be jealous.  You cannot have strife.  You cannot hold grudges and break yourself away from other believers.

Sure, we will continue to fight with our sin and fail.  And Jesus understands that:

“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

But these things cannot mark us as people.  We might be fighting against these things, and seeking to replace these things with those attributes which honor God:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

Jesus says that we if we love Him we will obey Him.  If you do not obey Him, you prove yourself to not love Him.  And you have not kept the great commandment.  And you are not a believer.

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”

– Matt 7.22-23

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

– 1 John 3.24

Do you want to be a Christian?  Then begin with confessing your sins, asking for forgiveness and asking God to give you the Holy Spirit to enable you to obey Him.  Then begin the joyful life of following Him, loving Him, and you will begin to desire to obey Him and He will empower you to do so.  If you are not fighting sin and looking like Jesus, then you are not a Christian.  You are not a mini-Christ.  Let us all seek to become mini-Christs.

Encouragement that can lead to thankfulness

Today is the day that we as a nation set apart as a day to turn to God and say thank you for all of the blessings He has bestowed upon us.

Some of us are experiencing this holiday in a new way.  Perhaps it is your first year as empty-nesters.  Maybe it is the first time you have to share your children with in-laws.  Perhaps a family member has died or left and there will be an empty chair at your table this year.  Maybe you have a new addition – a new baby, your child has married and this is your year to have the couple at your table.  Maybe you met Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior this year and it is your first time to sit and truly give thanks for salvation!

Life is ever changing, but one thing remains constant for the believer:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

I like to run.  I run for exercise, I run to get my endorphins pumping, I run races with friends and I run for the mental discipline of pushing myself when my body does not want to go.  It’s good for the soul.  I have mentioned before that I was training in the fall to run a half marathon – which I did – and I downloaded an app on my phone called “Map My Run”.  It tracks you while you run so you know your pace,  distance and route.  It is pretty sweet.  Did I mention that I was passed up and beaten in the race by a new mom pushing a stroller?  Anyway, I have continued to use this app even after the race just for curiosity’s sake as to my distance and pace.  While you are running, it speaks over your music whenever you have passed a mile marker, informing you of your splits.  A few weeks ago, the app sold ad rights to a company, and at the end of my split update, there came a voice that said “Great job!”.  The app has never encouraged me before.  And I actually noticed a positive emotional reaction within myself to a computer telling me I had done a great job running that first mile.  I still have not come to expect it to say “Great job”, so every time I hear it, I think “Thank you, I really appreciate that!”  Even though no one knows that I am running or the pace at which I am running.

While that might be a silly story, the point is that a little encouragement goes a long way.  Running the half marathon, I ran with a friend who drank her first caffeinated coffee in months and who is naturally a bubbly personality anyway, and I am pretty sure she bounced the entire race – but she was singing and cheering and encouraging me and everyone else all along the route.  She made the race a joy.  13.1 miles.

“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

Being thankful is not always easy.  At times it is hard to see how God is causing all things to work together for the good of His children.  For me.  And sometimes we just have to walk by faith, being assured of the unseen (Heb 11.1).  And it is in those moments that a little encouragement from our brothers and sisters in Christ can boost us up.  Accountability serves two purposes:  to keep us from sinning, but also to push us on to good deeds and to encourage us when we have been obedient and successful!  So let us consider one another – how to push one another on to good deeds.  And let us encourage one another.  To comfort those around us, to see their progress, to help them in difficult times.  Is someone doing a good job?  Let him know!  Brighten his day!  Give him a boost, a shot of endorphins, encouragement to continue on the race while he may be struggling to give thanks in the difficult times.

God has a wonderful plan for your life.

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’.”

– Jer 29.11

If you are a Christian, if you have ever been around Christians, or if you have ever seen any Christian paraphernalia, chances are high that you have seen, heard or have memorized this verse.  This is a promise of God; a direct quote from His mouth (to the people of Israel, while in captivity to Babylon, but generally applied to God’s goodness and intention for His people).

Yes, it is true.  God has a perfect plan for your life.  He is sovereign, He is in control, and He will work everything out for your good and His glory (Rom 8.28).  However, often times that does not look how we think it will look.  I saw this cartoon online and it was too perfect not to share:

God has a wonderful plan for our life

His will is our sanctification, that we be more like Jesus (1 Thess 4.3).  God wants to prosper our Spirits in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-23).  He does not necessarily want to prosper our bank accounts.  Our good might be the trials of this life that cause us to persevere, and praise God because perseverance produces “proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5.4).

Think on that today.  As our traditional day of giving thanks as a nation rapidly approaches, let us rethink those things for which we give thanks, those things about which we complain, and those things which we overlook.  Because God is working all of those things for His glory and our good.  Our hope, Christian, is Jesus.  Our future is eternity.  Keep your eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12.1-2).

Small Afflictions

Most of our forefathers who dramatically impacted the status quo of Christianity wrestled with their sin, the reality of eternity, a holy God and new birth on intense levels.  John Bunyan is one of those who lived a self-proclaimed “morally reprehensible” life, questioning himself deeply if he had committed the unpardonable sin.  When God revealed his grace to him and saved him, his deep thoughts and meditations overflowed in rarely equaled depth and profundity.

While serving a prison sentence for preaching without a license, Bunyan wrote a book entitled, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”, his autobiography.  In reflecting on his turmoil pre-conversion, he made this statement:

“I saw old people hunting after the things of this life as if they should live here always . . . [and] I found [professing Christians] much distressed and cast down when they met with outward losses, as of husband, wife, child, etc.  Lord, thought I, what ado is there about such little things as these.  What seeking after carnal things by some, and what grief in others for the loss of them.  If they so much labor after and shed so many tears for the things of this present life, how am I to be bemoaned, pitied, and prayed for.  My soul is dying, my soul is damned.  Were my soul but in a good condition, and were I but sure of it, ah, how rich should I esteem myself, though blessed but with bread and water.  I should count those but small afflictions and should bear them as little burdens.”

– John Bunyan

Bunyan was primarily wrestling with the disconnect between Christianity’s claims on eternity and the way Christians live.  Do we not do the same?  Do we store up treasures for ourselves here on Earth where moth and rust destroy?  Do we build barns for ourselves to house our worldly treasures, and die the next day, leaving it for someone else to enjoy?

“And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive.  And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?”  Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.'”  But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?”  So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”'”

– Luke 12.16-21

I was meeting with my mentor recently and we had a conversation about the selfish nature of our grieving the loss of a fellow Christian.  If we truly believed what we say we believe, wouldn’t we rejoice at the passing on of a brother or sister in Christ?

“Oh death, where is your victory?   Oh death, where is your sting?”

 – 1 Cor 15.55

Have you wrestled with eternity?  Have you processed the meaning of life?  Do you live for toys, or pleasures, or achievements, or family?  If you were to die today, would you regret a pleasure or experience here on Earth?  If you had the choice to enter eternity this moment or remain in life, which would you choose?  Are you confident to stand before the creator?

We will not always live here.

“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

 – Matt 24.42

If there is one conversation you need to be ready to have, it is that one that will happen between you and God, face to face, when you enter into eternity.  And when we are ready for that, these momentary afflictions truly do seem small (2 Cor 4.17-18).

Do We Still Have Commandments?

“We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.  Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances.  But examine everything carefully;  hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

– 1 Thess 5.14-22

Yesterday I wrote on the necessity of devotion to prayer, and I quoted one verse from 1 Thessalonians 5, “Pray without ceasing”.  I love this entire chapter as it is so practical and full of exhortations that are simple.  Well, they are simple in their instructive nature; they are extremely difficult to live out regularly and establish deeply in our hearts.  In these few verses there are fifteen commands:

  • Admonish the unruly
  • Encourage the fainthearted
  • Help the weak
  • Be patient with everyone
  • Do not return evil for evil
  • OR LET ANYONE ELSE return evil for evil
  • Seek everyone’s best interest
  • Rejoice always
  • Pray without ceasing
  • Give thanks in everything
  • Do not quench the Spirit
  • Do not despise prophetic utterances
  • Examine everything carefully
  • Hold fast to everything good
  • Abstain from everything evil

Being active, in the sense that I implied yesterday, is to engage in active ministry.  There are admonitions, these fifteen for example, which we are to be purposeful about all of the time.  We do not have to pray about whether or not to engage in sin.  We do not have to seek God’s direction or desire for us to rejoice in all of our circumstances.  We should be intentional and single-minded about returning good for evil and looking out for one another’s best interests.

It is so easy to fall off the wagon in either direction.  We can get so distracted by ministry that we forget prayer and we forget these basic precepts for living in community with one another.  We can also get so paralyzed by fear or needing to hear clear directions from the Lord that we sit and wait and do nothing.  But God has given basic instructions for everyone, everyday – such as this list of tenets.  God will direct our steps, and He will reveal specific callings and ministries for our lives.  But in the day-to-day, in the outliving of your ministry, and in your mundane life, these things are the basics that all Christians should do.  Through love for God.

Let’s not wait for special revelation or a special calling to obey.  God has revealed His intention for how we should live with one another, as we see an example above.  He has revealed His will for the world, that we would make disciples of all nations (Matt 28).  Once we get busy about doing what He has already told us to do, with prayer at the foundation, He will reveal and lead us into more service.  For “he who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16.10).