Some believe there is a reason that in this account of the first great missionary move of the church there is both the presence of a false convert and a true believer. Perhaps one of the lessons here is that this is a reality of ministry. (Matthew 13:24-30)
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. (Acts 8:5) After hearing and seeing the miracles, Simon, the Sorcerer, having in the same city proclaimed to be great and having been given heed as the same, believed and was baptized proclaiming Christ. (Acts 8:9-13) Simon the Sorcerer, after witnessing a new miracle, the laying on of hands by the apostles that the believers might receive the Holy Spirit, desired this power for himself and offered to pay the disciples to procure it. (Acts 8:18-19) The Apostles exposed him as false and rebuked him. (Acts 8:20-23)
Here we see the intention of Simon’s heart. Apparently he was not interested in God because solely because he loved God in the true sense of the word, that is; loving someone for what you can do for them, but instead, for a selfish, lustful desire, that is; “loving someone” for what they can do for you. He seemingly was not interested in God except that he might procure the power of God. Except that he might then use this power for himself and sow to the flesh more and more. (Galatians 6:7-8) In this case, Simon the Sorcerer seemed interested in the power of God to fuel his prideful quest of being great among the people. It was found out that is was really all about him and not God.
Perhaps some good questions to reflect on and return to:
Do we love God for what we can do for Him (serve Him) or are we more interested in what He can do for us? Are we more interested in God or His stuff (blessing, etc.)? In your heart (your deepest and most subtle desires); Are you for God or is God for you? ‘For’ here being in the useful sense of the word.
Do we love others for what we can do for them or what they can do for us?
Painting: Rembrandt, The Baptism of the Eunuch, 1626
During Paul’s time in Israel, the law was that capital punishment was reserved for the Roman government, except for one condition. The Jewish religious leaders could execute a prisoner if the prisoner desecrated the Temple. Now Paul did not do anything to desecrate the Temple but since this was the only way to kill him they manufactured an accusation that he did.
Even though it was not the law that inviting a gentile into the temple was a capital punishment crime, their accusation that Paul had done this was a way to extended the requirements for capital punishment to Paul by association. That is, he brought a gentile into the Temple and the Gentile desecrated it so, therefore, Paul caused the Temple to be desecrated and so we can kill him. To put it simply they were out to take Paul’s life.
This is a tough situation to be in, yet Paul’s heart focused on the mob and desired to see them saved. To this end, he delivered His testimony.
And from this account we find a playbook for how he gave his testimony:
He accepted the situation was from God.
He created an opportunity to give his testimony. 21v37 & 40
He did what he could to create common ground and win his audience. 22v1-5 &12
He exalted the LORD so that if the people rejected, they were rejecting God, not him. He made it all about God, not him. 22v6-11
He avoided suffering. (this was a particularly interesting point. 22v25 (The sermon below talks about how Paul didn’t have what the pastor called a ‘martyr complex’)
Love governed his attitude. Throughout he was focused on what he could do for the mob.
Have you ever seen a W.W.J.D. bracelet? If you’re wondering, it stands for ‘what would Jesus do?’ When I was growing up my friends and I all wore them. We had them in all different colors. We wore them inside out and upside down. We were all about our W.W.J.D. bracelets.
I always thought W.W.J.D. was a great reminder to do the right thing. Growing up there are so many choices that we are faced with. Finding the right answer was not always easy but this bracelet seemed to at least start us looking in the right direction.
As a Christian grows up they hope to mature in Christ. They hope to have the right answers and make the right choices more than they did when they were young. This is what happens when a Christian matures. Scripture is clear that Christ followers will grow (2Peter 3:18, 1Peter 2:2, 1Timothy 4:15, Ephesians 4:15, 1Corinthians 13:11, Colossians 2:6-7, 2Corinthians 3:18) From our reading today, Philippians 1:9-11 reveals to us the 5 essentials for Christian growth. That is, the 5 ways the Spirit works in us as we follow Christ.
We love because He first loved us. (1John 4:19) It is no surprise that the first essential to Christian growth is love. After all, love is the greatest attribute of a follower of Christ. (John 13:35) In a world that tosses around this word seeking to destroy its meaning, it is always a good idea to return to the truth to test our definition of this defining characteristic of our faith in Jesus.
Agape is the word here translated as love. It is a self-sacrificing love. Later in Philippians 2:1-8, Paul gives one of the fullest descriptions of agape love in the Bible. One statement from this scripture stood out to me, “…but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” What would our lives look like if everyone’s interest were always placed above our own?
Love is not blind. Quite the opposite love is very perceptive, very discerning. True love produces obedience that requires knowledge of the truth. (John 14:15, John 14:21, John 14:23, John 15:10, 1John 3:24) Here is a list of 1236 commands from the New Testament.
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
Verse 10a begins, ‘that ye’ or ‘so that’ in the ESV, indicating that the first point is foundational to the second. The word here ‘approve’ is ‘dokimazo’, meaning to allow, examine, prove, and discern. The love of God, with its foundation in the Word (commands), not only helps us discern right from wrong but helps us discern what is best from what is only good. God’s will is not good, it is perfect. (Romans 12:2) Love and the Word help us find what is excellent.
When John Wesley went away to Oxford his mother wrote the following in a letter to him: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the delight for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin.”
That ye may approve things that are excellent;
Verse 10b also begins with ‘that ye’ or ‘in order to be’ in the ESV, again making clear the continued progression of the text. The word ‘sincere’ is ‘eilikrines’ and carries with it ideas of cohesiveness, oneness and unity. What would our lives look like if everything touched everything else and ‘gelled’ as it were with no offences? Does Christ touch every part of your life? Is there any part of your life that you are keeping for you?
that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.
Verse 11a begins with ‘being’ or ‘having been filled’ in the ESV, a perfect passive participle in the Greek indicating something that happened in the past and is continuing here and now. It is essential that we understand the progression of this Scripture. The fruit’s appeal is instant gratification but trying to skip ahead or jump right to the fruit is a lie. The fruit itself is not something to strive for in a direct sense. The fruit is the byproduct of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) Forced fruit without the leaven of love is legalism.
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ
Glory of God
Verse 11b begins with ‘unto’ or ‘to’ in the ESV, this is the purpose clause, it answers the question ‘why?’. The most important essential is the glory of God. Indeed it is the reason for the others.
For a time I thought of reversing this list so that it would begin with God’s glory and end with love. Though I decided against it, the reason was that it all actually starts here, with the end in mind.
Our heart attitude is what sets all growth in motion, through the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Glory to God. Glory to God is on the believer’s heart. If God’s glory is our focus the Spirit will be at work in us, helping love abound in us, producing in us spiritual excellence, personal integrity, and genuine good works all to God’s glory.
As I made my way through this study I realised that there was one simple answer to that question ‘What would Jesus do?’ Jesus brings glory to the Father.
unto the glory and praise of God.
In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. – 1John 3:10
The NIV starts verse 10 out this way, ‘This is how we know’.All throughout Scripture, obedience and love are the hallmarks of a true believer. 1 John 3:10 answers the question every believer should test themselves on: how do I know that I am saved?
God assures believers of their salvation through the Spirit. (1John 3:24) A believer’s renewed heart compels them to obey the will of the Father in obedience to His word and to love God and others in deed and truth. The presence of Christ in a believer is unmistakable to them over time.
And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. – 1John 3:24
Obedience and love. Like all of Scripture, 1 John chapter 3 continues to return to these two hallmarks of a believer. As you read through today’s Scripture: 1 John 3 and Psalm 41, be on the lookout for these. As you enjoy the fellowship of Christ today, feel the Spirit leading you to obedience and love.
If you have not committed your life to Christ, placed your trust in Him alone and repented from trusting in all other promises, imagine for a moment what your day would be like if you had. Your whole life made new. Ever going with a Companion who will reign in your heart and will never leave you. A companion who is Master over all, King of Kings, who leads you beside still waters in righteousness, who makes you to lie down in green pastures.
Ephesians 5 is rich with advice on relationships. At the center of all relationships are the marriage and the family. God established them in the beginning for good reason and in good and perfect design. I have heard them referred to as ‘just another place to walk your Christian faith’ and in the same breath ‘thee most important and challenging place to do so,’ which gives them the familiar simple but challenging label. Praise God for His Word that reveals the truth and guides us! Here is the simple recipe for a blessed family:
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. – Ephesians 5:18-21
So that is it, a simple four point checklist. There is a lot out there written on how to have a successful marriage and family. Let us quite all the noise for a moment and remember God’s recipe. Here’s a four point checklist that we use in our family. It is labeled the real issues to remind us that God’s word is the authority in our lives and our relationships. These are instructions on what each family member has in Christ.
The real issues of blessed family:
Spirit filled; under the obedience of God’s Word
Singing hearts of joy; speaking in psalms/spiritual songs to one another
Saying thanks; ever thankful, ever grateful
Submitting our will to the others’; going last, putting others first
The image I used for this post is a heart that Jamie made to remind us of these real issues of a blessed family. It is placed on our fridge right next to handle, a little in the way but never out of place.
I have heard it said that the Church of Christ needs to be known not by what it approves or disapproves of, but by the grace and salvation of Jesus. Yet, the scripture cries out to us to put certain things off and certain things on. What is the Church to do?
It is my understanding that all the prophets came to indict the culture; that Jesus did the same thing, helping the Israelites see the error of their ways, helping the humble realize their need for a Savior; that the Spirit came to give perfect remembrance to Jesus’s followers of His words and so these convictions continue to help us see the error of our ways and grow in Him. It seems clear to me that God judges perfectly, but what is the difference between God and His church?
The ESV gives Romans chapter 14 the heading Do Not Pass Judgment on One Another. It speaks to matters of conviction in food and special observance of certain days. Some felt all days were equal and others felt some special. Some felt certain foods unclean. Others felt all food clean unto itself. What then should we do? Should we eat or not, observe or not? Paul’s conclusion: Yes, let us live by faith.
If you are convicted that a certain food is unclean, do not eat it (Romans 14:14, Romans 14:23). If not, eat it. Unless by eating you may cause grief to him who thinks it unclean, then do not eat, or else you may cause them to stumble (Romans 14:15). Give way to their conviction and keep your conviction to yourself (Romans 14:22). Do not judge (Romans 14:13). Do not let food get in the way of the work of God (Romans 14:20). We are not fit to judge and for those who have struggled with feeling they need to come to the rescue of their neighbor by helping them remove the speck from their eye, Paul gives us the assurance that our LORD is their Savior, He will help them stand on that day (Romans 14:4).
If my job is not to judge or to save, what is it? Am I doing my job in the church?
Love has been written about many times on this blog. If you missed it, check out David LaFrance’s post Law of Love from yesterday.
When on a team not everyone does everything. Members have roles, different jobs. To understand the role of the Holy Spirit and how you can work with Him in your role I highly encourage you to listen to The Holy Spirit: God’s Prosecutor by John MacArthur. It starts this way…
This is a portion of Scripture that every preacher must understand: every preacher must understand, every pastor must understand, every parishioner, every Christian must understand. The text before us foundational to our mission. It is foundational to our cause in the world. It is the foundation of all gospel preaching and all gospel witness… Like many passages, however, in the Bible, it has a ring of familiarity to us, and people somehow think they know what it means, and they don’t really dig down to see the truth that is here. I want to be able to help you to understand it, perhaps, in a way you’ve never understood it before, and the way that it has to be understood in the context and the intention of our Lord. I think I’m safe in saying that most preachers don’t really get a grasp on this, as most Christians do not, and that is a crippling reality.
Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments. I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. – Psalm 119: 1-11
To me the law is a beautiful thing. It is full of judgement, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23-24). The law is love written on our hearts (Romans 13:10, Hebrews 8:10). In my estimation, so that we are hardwired with the ability to love others with the love of Jesus Christ. Like an operating system for our soul, when we divert from the law and choose not to love another, the system gets confused and pushes back; “processing, processing, processing…” God reboot my soul, reset my system anew with love. My soul longs for it. God’s law leads me, directs me, governs me and to the extent that I accept this truth, seek after it and hold to it moment-by-moment, my soul is at rest in the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Still from time to time I encounter a sort of push back amongst Christians when the phase God’s law is used. For some the word law carries with it evil connotations of the very worst sort. To the extent the word ‘law’ or phrase ‘God’s law’ is perceived as an enemy of love. A fear arises in some that God’s law will push non-believers away. The phase “old testament god” is used, as if there were such a thing. God is God and has always been, no shadow of turning (James 1:17, Hebrews 13:8). Oh how this angers me. I hate this perversion of my Masters holiness. My anger of course is with the evil that has managed to redefine the meaning of the word law through hypocrisy.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. – Matthew 23:23–24
In my estimation, Jesus here criticizes the religious leaders for their blinding attention to detail that caused them to lead others astray from the truth of the law. My prayer is that the Pharisees and hypocrites perversions of the law will be untwisted and made straight. That we may dismiss the worldly definition of God’s law, wave God’s banner and return to the truth proclaiming a biblical definition of His law. That we would all fall in love with God’s beautiful law. That we would never be deceived into a judgemental nor self righteous nature. That we would not be fear-driven conditional lovers and so pervert God’s law. That any inner Pharisees within us would be vanquished by God’s truth (Psalm 139:23).
Judgement is not about one person assessing another’s keeping of the law but rather the law helping one keep their own affairs in order (Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:9–10; Micah 6:8; Habakkuk 2:4). Praise God for writing His law on our hearts that we may live abundantly (Jeremiah 31:31-34)!
Keeping the law is beautiful
Straining out the gnat is not evil in any way. Jesus makes it clear that we should do it. His criticism is that the Pharisees had done it to the dismissal of things that were more important. Loving the LORD thy God with all one’s heart and soul and mind and desiring to do His will in all things; Beautiful. Thinking one’s self capable of judging another’s love for God. Ugly; Deep concern for one’s own stewardship; Wise. Being overly concerned for someone else’s; Foolish. Judgement is a gift from God to help us with our stewardship. Let us not pervert this gift by trying to unwrap it for another. Instead let us rejoice in it. Praising God for His gift to us in humility as we are judged in grace and mercy to the glory of God. As we are made whole and mature in Christ.
Let us also consider the inverse. If we pass by and see another straining out a gnat and think, “that hypocrite” are we not in judgement of another? Is it not a matter of their heart whether they should strain the gnat in secret or let the light shine? Are we capable of knowing their heart? By straining a gnat have they said everyone else must also do the same, that it is right for all, certainly this would be judgement on their part, but have they done this by simply straining out the gnat? If so how is one to obey Jesus command to let their light shine? (Matthew 5:16)
Shine Your light oh LORD and vanquish darkness. Here is truth about the law:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. – Ecclesiastes 12:13
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. – John 13:34–35
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:10
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. – Matthew 22:36–40
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. – Matthew 7:12
Golden Rule thought experiment on the power of God’s law in love
Scripture: Matthew 7:12, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 13:5
God gives us a simple and basic, at the most fundamental level, instruction on how to keep the law well. Many call it the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). I say it is most fundamental because it is by way of that which we are most intimate with than any other; ourselves. We know exactly how we should like to be treated and regarded and so forth. Even if not consciously, subconsciously we are hardwired to love ourselves well. Follow along for one simple illustration of this truth. We know that love thinketh no evil or, put another way, keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).
What if we were to apply how we feel about ourselves in this matter on to others? In order to explore this question I encourage you to join me in a thought experiment on your being wrong. Popular exercise, I know.
Name a time when you were wrong; no excuses, no circumstances at work that were out of your control, no anything but you and your wrongness hanging out being wrong.
Let’s say you came up with something. Then let us go to how long it took to recall. Checking all those excuse boxes may have taken a bit of time. Well that one wasn’t really all my fault, etc. So how long did it take you to recall?
Now think back to the first time you had admitted you were wrong in this instance. Think on how quickly and completely you forgave yourself. Did it even take a second? Did it really even register?
Is not love a beautiful thing?!?! Praise God that His law is written on our hearts! (Jeremiah 31:31-34) His forgiveness, His grace and His mercy are written on our hearts!!! The questions then become, does it take you as long to come up with something someone close to you has done wrong? Has it taken you more than a second to dismiss it from your mind?
The point here is that our love of ourselves is much nearer perfection in fulfilling the law than our love for our fellows. God has written it on our hearts to help us, to enable us for the good work He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). How can we not fall in love with His law? Is it not beautiful? Does it not equip us to save souls and rescue others from bondage as it all the time