Faith in Action

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:3-7 ESV

Peter has just offered a prayer that grace and peace be multiplied in the lives of his readers, based on their expanding knowledge of God and His Son. As their understanding of the Father and Son grew, so would their faith in and reliance upon them. Later in his letter, Peter provides a stern warning against the dangers of false teachers. These individuals were attempting to promote a different source of knowledge. But here, he opens up with an encouragement to know God. His simple prayer reflects the thoughts of Paul found in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. – Ephesians 1:15-18 NLT

Here in the opening chapter of his letter, Peter puts a heavy emphasis on spiritual growth and maturity. It echoes the words found in his first letter.

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT

While salvation is a one-time event in the life of a believer, it is far from a static process. It begins at a point in time but then carries on for a lifetime. This process is often referred to as sanctification. The apostle Paul sums up the God-ordained and Spirit-empowered process of sanctification in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

In God’s grand redemptive plan, our salvation is the opening act of a marvelous drama that will one day culminate with the final scene of our glorification. The apostle John describes this ongoing transformative process in his first letter.

Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as Christ is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 BSB

Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear that we are “saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” He went on to warn that it is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). Yet, Paul seems to be contradicting himself in his letter to the Philippian believers: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV). But Paul is not encouraging salvation by works. He is simply stating that the process of sanctification takes effort on our part. Our salvation was a gift. But our sanctification is a Spirit-empowered process that requires our cooperation and willing participation.

And Peter reminds his readers that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). In other words, they were not going to have to self-manufacture the energy to live godly lives. It had all been provided for them by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The “all things” to which Paul refers are the divine resources they had received when they came to know Christ. They were fully equipped for the sanctifying process God had in store for them. But it would require a constant reliance upon God’s Spirit and a desire to grow in their knowledge of God and His Son.

For Peter, it was essential that his readers understand that Jesus had called them to Himself by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had been attracted to the moral excellence and virtue of the God-man, Jesus. His sinless life and sacrificial death on their behalf had been the source of their belief. The gospel that had been preached to them had declared Jesus to be the Son of God and the sole source of salvation from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death. And they had believed. But now, Peter wanted them to know that there was much more in store for them. There were precious promises attached to their salvation.

…because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:4 NLT

Peter raises their expectations and focuses their attention on the ultimate outcome of their salvation: Their future glorification. But that pending promise had present implications. Yes, they would one day share in Christ’s divine nature and permanently escape the influence of the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. But they didn’t have to wait for the hereafter. Peter assured them that they could also live distinctively different lives in the here-and-now.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. – 2 Peter 1:5-7 NLT

God had promised to sanctify them and He would. But they would have a part to play in the process. Jesus had not only called them by His own glory and excellence, but He was calling them to share in His glory and excellence. They were to model their lives after His. And Peter gives them an extensive, yet not exhaustive, list of Christ-like qualities with which to supplement their faith. These are the “things” to which Peter referred back in verse three.

Peter begins with moral excellence. The Greek word is aretē, and it refers to “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Faith in Christ should result in a life that mirrors the character of Christ. If we will one day be like Him, then it only makes sense to begin the process now. It should be our greatest desire to emulate His life and mirror His moral excellence in all that we do.

Next, Peter encourages his readers to supplement their faith with knowledge. The Greek word is gnōsis, and it refers to the acquisition of information that can be beneficial to decision-making. In the early days of the church, there was a growing heresy that came to be known as Gnosticism. The proponents of this false doctrine taught that true salvation was based on the discovery of secret or hidden knowledge that was only discoverable by a fortunate few. This “higher truth” was declared to be essential for attaining divine status and achieving spiritual maturity. But Peter was suggesting something altogether different. He was promoting an ever-increasing knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. The kind of knowledge Peter had in mind was the same that Paul descrived to the believers in Philippi.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. – Philippians 1:9-10 NLT

Next, Peter adds the quality of self-control (egkrates), which is “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites” (Outline of Biblical Usage). One of the false teachings that had infiltrated the early church was dualism, which taught that the spirit was essentially holy, while the physical body was impure and defiled. This dualistic approach to life made allowances for ungodly behavior in the “body” because it didn’t matter. It propagated the idea that anything done in the body, even the grossest sin, was actually meaningless and, therefore, permissible. But Peter clarified that, for the Christian, there was no dichotomy between spirit and body. The new nature they had received by virtue of their faith in Christ was to be evidenced in every area of their lives.

And their visible exhibition of self-control was to be marked by steadfastness (hypomonē). In Greek, this word carries the idea of constancy and unswerving perseverance. According to the Outline of Biblical Usage, it is “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

Peter knew that his readers were facing increasing opposition and oppression for their faith in Christ. And even when they did what was right, they would suffer for doing so. That is why they needed to persevere in spite of the adversity they would face. And when they did, they would be following the example of Christ Himself.

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV

Suffering for the sake of Christ was part of their calling. But perseverance in the face of suffering would require godliness (eusebeia). And Peter used the life of Christ to describe exactly what this looked like in his first letter.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:22-23 ESV

Patient endurance will show up as godly behavior – that which reflects the character of God. And it is based on a desire to honor and please God through our actions.

According to Peter, one of those demonstrations of godliness would be brotherly affection (philadelphia). It was essential that Christians exhibit a demonstrative and distinctively different love for one another. It was Jesus who said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). Their love for one another was to be tangible and visible. It was to set them apart from the rest of society and provide living proof that God had transformed their hearts and lives.

But Peter adds one more essential and non-negotiable attribute: Love (agapē). This takes the concept of love one step further. Here, Peter is highlighting a love that is unbiased and non-partial. It goes beyond filial or familial love. This is the kind of love that Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48 NLT

The apostle Paul summed up this kind of love when he wrote: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT). This is the same kind of love they had experienced from God and they were expected to share that love with anyone and everyone, including their enemies and their friends. Even if it cost them their lives. For as Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Love God. Love Others

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 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. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” –  Matthew 22:34-40 ESV

Pharisees question Jesus.jpg

In this section of the Gospels, Jesus is being bombarded by a relentless series of questions posed to Him by various factions of the religious elite. First they questioned His authority, wanting to know what right He had to say and do the things He did. Then the Pharisees tried to trick Him with a question regarding the payment of taxes to the Roman government. When they failed, the Sadducees, the liberals of their day, asked Him a question regarding marriage and the resurrection. The fact was, they didn’t believe in resurrection and they wanted to show that Jesus was in opposition to their belief system. They viewed Jesus as a heretic and wanted to expose Him as such. But Jesus saw through their motives and easily handled their question.

Like a tag-team wrestling match, the Sadducees were quickly followed by the Pharisees, who once again posed a controversial question to Jesus. This time it concerned the Mosaic Law – their area of expertise.

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”Matthew 22:34-36 NLT

This was a common topic of debate among rabbis. They were constantly arguing whether one commandment had precedence over another. And this was a significant issue to them because the Pharisees had codified the law into 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions, many of which were man-made addendums to the law given to Moses by God. And the people of Israel were expected to keep this staggering list of 615 rules and precepts.

With that many laws, it wasn’t long before one seemed to contradict another. For instance, over in the book of Leviticus, the Law records, “Do not stand idly by when you neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16 NLT). Yet, over in Exodus, it declares, “…but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on that day must be put to death. You must not even light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath” (Exodus 35:2-3 NLT). So, if your neighbor’s life was threatened on the Sabbath, what were you to do? Take action or rest?

This argument came up regularly between Jesus and the Pharisees, because He healed regularly on the Sabbath, which they saw as a clear violation of the Law. In essence, by asking Jesus this question, they are testing Him to see if He had any greater insight into the Law than they did. And they seriously doubted that He did.

The answer Jesus gave them revealed His authority over the Scriptures.

“’You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” – Matthew 22:37-38 NLT

He quotes from the Shema, a portion of Scripture recited daily by all Jews.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. – Deuteronomy 6:5-6 NIV

This is just the first part. The love of God was to dictate all their behavior. But Jesus points out that there is a second part to the command.

“A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:39 NLT

Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 and reminds them that this second part is equally essential. He tells them that they are to love God and love man.

What Jesus presented was not new to them, but He instilled these commands with new emphasis and meaning. While love for God is to be supreme, one of the greatest expressions of our love for God will be our love for others. The apostle John reminds us:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? – 1 John 4:20 NLT

Why was this have been so revolutionary and revelatory to the religious leaders? THEY DIDN’T DO IT! They said they loved God, but actually hated their brothers and sisters. As a matter of fact, Jesus was going to have some stinging things to say to them.

“For they crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” (Matthew 23:4 NLT

In His answer, Jesus was giving them a new way to see the Law of God. “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 23:40 NLT). Every other law was based on a love for God and a love for man. The Ten Commandments themselves were divided into these two areas. There was to be a horizontal and vertical aspect to our love. You can’t have one without the other. They are meant to be reciprocal – and this Law of Love is found throughout the New Testament.

Owe nothing to anyone — except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These — and other such commandments — are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. – Romans 13:8-10 NLT

But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14 NLT

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. – James 2:8-9 NLT

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”John 13:34-35 NLT

Jesus puts love for God and love for man on equal footing. They are inseparable and yet the Pharisees claimed to love God, but hated their fellow man. They hated sinners of all kinds.

Fast-forward to Matthew 25:37-40. In this passage, Jesus is talking about the future judgment of man. He used the picture of a shepherd dividing his flock between the sheep and the goats. This is an image of what will take place at the end of the tribulation period. It is speaking of Gentiles who have survived the tribulation period. Some will have come to faith during that time. And their love for God will be evidenced by their actions and their treatment of the Jews who will be going through intense persecution during the final half of the tribulation. These “sheep” will stand before God and receive recognition for their efforts. And they will ask:

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:37-40 NLT

Their love for others will be proof of their love for God. Their capacity to love others will provide evidence that their hearts have been transformed by God. In fact, it will be the main criteria for judgment. Yet all those who failed to do the same were condemned. OUR LOVE OF OTHERS IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO GOD. It proves our love for Him. It gives evidence that we understand His love for us.

So, how are you doing with these two commandments today? Do you claim to love God but struggle with loving others? Since you can’t put your arms around God and show Him love physically, He asks you to express your love for Him by loving those He has made.

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. – John 13:35 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Spiritual Supplements.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.   – 2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV

If God has supplied everything we need for living the godly life to which He has called us, are we free from having to bring anything to the table? Do we play any part at all? Peter quickly eliminates any notion that we have no responsibility in our own spiritual growth. He has just reminded his readers that they have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). This is because God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). And it is through those promises that we “may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). So, with that reality in mind, Peter encourages his audience to “make every effort”. The Greek could be translated, “giving all diligence”. They are to contribute something, in addition to or alongside of, that which God has supplied. And they are to do so diligently and earnestly. There is a sense of urgency to Peter’s words. He is not making a suggestion, but communicating a non-optional necessity. This is something they must do and the sooner, the better. He is going to provide them with a list of seven character qualities that should mark the life of every believer. And Peter points out that we are not born with them. We are not even “born again” with them. He says that we are to “supplement” our faith with them. The Greek word Peter uses is interesting. It is epichorēgeō, and it comes from another Greek word, chorēgeō, that means, “to furnish the chorus at one’s own expense”. The preposition, epi, seems to convey the idea of time, place or order. Faith is the necessary ingredient and the only prerequisite for salvation, but it is to be followed in close order by this chorus of qualities, and they are to be added “at one’s own expense”. This doesn’t mean we self-manufacture them or develop them out of thin air based on our own human effort. But we must strive, alongside the Spirit and with His help, to see that this things are added to our faith. In essence, our faith is to grow and produce fruit in the form of tangible, visible character traits.

Peter begins with virtue. The New Living Translation calls it “moral excellence”. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action”. This ties back to Peter’s admonition in his first letter, “be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15 ESV). This moral purity or excellence of character is to show up in every area of life. It is to be internal as well as external. Virtue is not to be a facade we manufacture to fool those around us. It is to flow from the inside-out. Next, Peter adds knowledge. His idea here seems to be moral wisdom, the ability to know what is right and wrong. Good behavior is dependent on a solid understanding of what God demands and expects. Paul talks about this very thing in his letter to the Romans.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NLT

God wants to change the way you think. The word, orthodoxy, refers to right beliefs. But the word, orthopraxy, refers to right behavior. Moral knowledge or wisdom that does not show up in moral purity is worthless.

Next on Peter’s list is self-control. This has to do with temperance or moderation. It is the ability to master one’s desires and passions, especially sensual desires. Paul put it this way:

15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT

Knowing what to do is of no use if we lack the self-control to follow through on that knowledge. The night that Jesus was going to be betrayed, he prayed in the garden and was forced to confront His disciples about their inability to stay awake. They lacked self-control, so He said to them, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41 NLT). Paul confessed, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” (1 Corinthians 9:27 NLT).

The next characteristic on Peter’s list is steadfastness. It is a word that conveys patient endurance and perseverance, even in the face of difficulties and trials. The journey of faith is a long-term, life-long commitment. Knowing what is right and having the self-control to do it is great, but not if it cannot be maintained over an extended period of time. Jesus described this kind of short-term, impatient person in a parable He told to the disciples.

20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. – Matthew 13:20-21 NLT

No endurance. As soon as the trials of life show up, they give up. But our faith is going to require an ongoing, steadfast, never-give-up-no-matter-what kind of endurance that lasts to the end. Jesus told us “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13 NLT). He was not inferring that some will lose their salvation. But He was stressing that endurance is a hallmark characteristic of those who have placed their faith in Him, and within whom He has placed His Spirit.

It should come as no surprise that Peter adds godliness to the mix. After all, he clearly stated in his first letter, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT). Godliness is nothing more than behavior that reflects the character of God. As His children, we should emulate His nature. We are sons and daughters of God, so our behavior should reflect that reality. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned him of the state of affairs that would mark the end times.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… – 2 Timothy 3:2-4 ESV

What’s interesting is that Paul goes on to say that these very same people will have “the appearance of godliness” but will deny its power. What a minute? Look at that list again. Do any of those characteristics even remotely come across as godly? No. But we have to keep in mind that they are qualities that issue from the heart. They can remain hidden from view. So, these people were capable of appearing one way, but on the inside, they were something completely different. Godliness is not just an outward action, but it stems from an inward disposition that is determined to do what God desires. It stems from a desire to please God in every area of life.

What does Peter mean by “brotherly affection”? It is the Greek word, philadelphia, and it literally refers to the love of one brother for another. Jesus matter-of-factly stated, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). John expands on the words of Jesus, providing us with even further insight into what this kind of love entails.

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness. – 1 John 2:9-11 NLT

The kind of love John and Jesus are describing is a tangible expression of love that can be seen and felt. It is not a sentimental, Hallmark-card kind of love that shows up in words only. It gets fleshed out in acts of mercy, compassion, and kindness.

And on top of this brotherly-focused love is to be added agape love. That’s the Greek word Peter uses. And it is the highest expression of love. It is the way in which God has loved us. It entails selfless sacrifice. It is a love that expects nothing in return. In other words, it is not self-serving. This is not a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of love. Jesus described this kind of love in stark terms.

12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:12-13 NLT

Jesus loved us enough to die for us. He gave His life for us. And that is the kind of love that is to characterize our lives. Jesus came to serve, not be served. He came to sacrifice His life for those who hated Him. Jesus didn’t love the lovely, the lovable, or those who loved Him back. And John reminds us that our love should emulate that of Jesus.

16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. – 1 John 3:16-18 NLT

These things are essential to healthy spiritual life. They are like supplements to aid in our spiritual development and formation. Like vitamins and minerals are necessary for our physical well-being, these seven characteristics need to be added to our faith on a daily basis, so that we might grow stronger and more vibrant in our faith. Having a bottle of vitamins in the cabinet will not make you healthier. You have to take them, regularly and over the long-term. Having these seven characteristics pointed out to you is pointless if you are not going to add them to your spiritual life. Which is why Peter said we are to make every effort to supplement our faith with these things. They don’t replace our faith. And we do not add them apart from faith. But they are the fruit of our faith. We must believe that God desires these things for us and that He will empower us as we strive to make them a permanent part of our lives.



English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Faith In Action.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:1-6 ESV

The author ended chapter 12 with an exhortation to “be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” and to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV). The same God who shook the landscape surrounding Mount Sinai and rattled the knees of the Israelites with His divine presence, is our God and has prepared a kingdom for us. So what should be our response? Proper worship, reverence and awe. And to make it even more practical, in the closing chapter of his letter, the author illustrates what those things look like in everyday life.

Sometimes we are tempted to make our worship of God an external show for others to see. We confuse worship of God with the intensity of our singing, the verbosity of our prayers, the selflessness of our service or the generosity of our giving. But sometimes our love for God is best measured in our love for others. Worship of God that does not include love for others is hypocritical and insincere. So the author moves from grand descriptions of God as a consuming fire to a plea for brotherly love. “Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1 ESV). Love for one another is an indispensable and non-negotiable requirement for anyone who claims to worship God. At one point in His earthly ministry, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees, who posed to Him what they believed to be a trick question. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36 ESV). His intent was to entrap Jesus. The question he posed to Jesus was one that the Scribes and Pharisees debated regularly. They had numbered the laws of God and had come up with 613, 248 of which were deemed positive and 365 designated as negative. Then they had divided them two categories, the “heavy” or more important ones and the “light” or the less important ones. They wanted Jesus to tell them which one was the “heaviest.” And Jesus answered, “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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-38 ESV). Love God AND love others. According to Jesus, those two commands encapsulate the entirety of the rest of the law.

So  it is no wonder that the author of Hebrews told his readers, “Let brotherly love continue.” Then he took it a step further. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2 ESV). This recalls the parable of the good Samaritan that Jesus told in response to another inquiry from a Pharisee. He approached Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 ESV). Jesus responded with a question of His own, asking the man to tell Him what the law said. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” the man replied. Jesus commended him for his answer and told him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28 ESV). But the man was not satisfied with Jesus’ answer and asked for clarification. “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 22:29 ESV). That’s when Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan. In it, He described what it truly means to show hospitality and kindness to someone who is a stranger and in need. It involves sacrifice. It requires a giving up of your rights and a commitment of your resources. The author of Hebrews echoes the sentiment of Jesus’ parable when writes, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3 ESV). Our love for God is best expressed by our love for others. The apostle John encourages us to compare the love Christ expressed for us with the way in which we love others. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).

Love should permeate all of our relationships, including that between a husband and wife. If we love one another, there is no place for adultery or immorality. We will always want what is best for the other person. Self-obsession or self-love is the greatest detriment to loving others. When we love ourselves too much, we are incapable of loving others. We end up putting into our relationships only to see what we can get out of them. They become self-serving rather than selfless. And it’s interesting that, in this context, the author warns against the love of money. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). The love of money is self-directed. We love money for what it can do for us. And yet, to properly love others, our money may need to be involved. We may need to let go of our resources in order to best express our love. It was James who said, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16 ESV). Talk is cheap. Words cannot fill someone’s stomach or make them warm.

The walk of faith is to be future-focused, recognizing that the ultimate promise of God is our glorification and final redemption. We are to live with the end in mind. But our faith-walk is also to be God-dependent. We are spend our days on this earth with a constant recognition that He is our provider and sustainer. That is why the author reminds us to be content, because God has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). But not only are we to be future-focused and God-dependent, we are to be other-oriented. We are to live our lives with an outward orientation that puts the needs of others ahead of our own. When we love others, we are loving God. When we lovingly sacrifice for others, it is an act of worship to God. When we give up what we have for the sake of others, we are letting God know that we are dependent upon Him. All that we have comes from Him and is to be used for His glory and the good of others. Our constant attitude is to be, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6 ESV).

Something Old, Something New.

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. – 1 John 2:7 ESV

John has gone out of his way to stress to his readers that they could know if their relationship with God was healthy and secure. He has stressed the need for them to understand that their right relationship with God was based on a firm belief in the deity of Jesus. He alone is the key to eternal life. And like His Father, Jesus is light and “in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). And those that truly know God and His Son, Jesus Christ, should be marked by certain characteristics and behaviors. They should have a recognition of their sins and a willingness to confess them. They should walk in the same way in which Jesus walked – in the light. They should keep His commandments. In other words, John is not talking about a cognitive knowledge of God alone, but a practical, experiential knowledge that shows up in everyday life.

But in verse seven, John becomes even more specific, focusing in on a particular command that he feels is needed at that moment in the lives of his readers. He refers to it as both an old and a new commandment. He reminds them that they have had this commandment “from the beginning” (1 John 2:7 ESV). “The old commandment is the word that you have heard” (1 John 2:7 ESV). John is basically telling them that this is something they should already know. It was part of the original message they had heard when they came to faith in Christ. In fact, it was part of the message of Christ that had been taught to them. No doubt, they had heard the story of Jesus and His encounter with the lawyer. He had been put up by the Pharisees in an attempt by them to trick Jesus into saying something for which they could condemn Him. So the lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36 ESV). And Jesus responded, “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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39 ESV). Love God. Love others. For Jesus, it was as simple as that. And now John is reminding his readers of this “old” command. He was attempting to give it new life by applying it to their immediate context. He tells his readers, “At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you…” (1 John 2:8 ESV). In other words, love for God and love for others was true in Jesus’ life, but it should also be true in their lives. John remembered well the words of Jesus, having recorded them in his gospel. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV). Jesus didn’t leave the definition of love up for grabs. He didn’t open it up for interpretation or debate. He said that we were to love others in the same way that He loved us – selflessly and sacrificially.

Like John’s audience, most of us know this commandment all too well. We have heard it and, more than likely, memorized it. But do we keep it? When John writes, “we ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6 ESV), he has this commandment in mind. Jesus referred to it as the greatest commandment. To love God and to love others. Two commands, but in Jesus’ mind, they were one and the same, inseparable and indistinguishable. Which is why John could write, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20 NIV). Pretty strong words. But John isn’t done. He goes on to say, “Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:14-15 ESV). And then he adds, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7 ESV).

Our love for God is expressed through our love for others. God’s love for us is evidenced in our capacity to love others. It is proof that we have a relationship with Him. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 ESV). Just as God is light, God is love. It is His very essence. It is not a characteristic of God, but the very nature of God. And as His children, we are to live in the light and walk in His love. We are to spread His light and love through our lives to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ – both locally and globally. The apostle Paul puts it this way: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV). Then he goes on to tell us to have the mind of Christ. We are to share His same attitude of selflessness, sacrifice, and humble service to others. We are to walk in the same way in which He walked. We are to love as He loved. And when we do, the world will know that we are His disciples.

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Strengthen the Church.

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

 And the same is true for you. Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church. – 1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT

Let love be your highest goal! Those are the words Paul uses to bridge his section on love and the specific application of that love when it comes to the gathering of the Corinthians for their worship services. Love is to be applicable and practical. It is not a feeling so much as it is an attitude and an action. Love must manifest itself in daily life. And for the Corinthians, one of the places where love was missing was their worship assembly. It would appear that they had an obsession with the spiritual gifts – with two of them in particular. Tongues and prophecy dominate this portion of Paul’s letter and it was evidently because those were the two gifts that the Corinthians desired and practiced the most. But as Paul had stated earlier, they were doing so without love. Their use of those two gifts of the Spirit were not motivated by love, but out of pride. They had a preference for the two more spectacular gifts: Tongues and prophecy. But they were using them in such a way that they were causing confusion in the worship services. There were those who were speaking in tongues, but without an interpreter; a necessary requirement if others were to benefit from what was being said. All throughout this section, Paul emphasizes the need to build up, edify or strengthen the entire body. Tongues were really for the benefit of the individual or the unsaved. The key was that the hearer must be able to understand what was being said. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and they spoke in tongues, they were speaking in foreign languages that none of them knew. But the Holy Spirit was directing their efforts in order to reach those in the audience who were foreigners and unsaved. They each heard the gospel in their own language and were edified. In the case of the Corinthians, they were speaking in tongues, or foreign languages, but to a room full of Greek-speaking people who had no idea what they were saying. So their words were unintelligible and unhelpful. It seems that when an individual spoke in tongues, the language he or she spoke was unintelligible to the speaker as well. They did not know what they were saying. That is why Paul would go on later in this chapter to give parameters or guidelines for the use of the gift of tongues in a worship setting. “No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28 NLT).

Remember, Paul’s point seemed to be, “Let love be your highest goal.” This concept was to govern even the use of spiritual gifts. To use your spiritual gift in such a way that it failed to build up the body of Christ was unloving. To covet a particular gift because it seemed more flamboyant or “spiritual” revealed selfishness, pride and arrogance, not a spirit of love. Christianity is not a solo sport. It is not about the individual, but is to be about the body. All throughout this letter, Paul has emphasized the need for unity, order, and brotherly love. In this section, he repeatedly emphasizes the non-negotiable need to strengthen the entire church. Self-edification and self-gratification were not to be the goal. Paul was not diminishing the role of the spiritual gifts, but reminding the Corinthian believers that the gifts were given by the Spirit for the benefit and overall edification of the body, not the individual. For Paul, the motivation was always to be the instruction and edification of the body. “But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language” (1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT). Just like the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control), the gifts of the Spirit were always to be other-oriented, not self-centered.

Everything God does has order and purpose behind it. The gifts were given to build up the body, not the individual. When we allow our spiritual gift to become a prideful, self-centered sign of our own spiritual significance, we miss the point and turn what God had intended for good into something destructive and divisive. But if we remember that love is to be our highest goal, the tendency toward self-centeredness will fade into the background as we focus our attention and our gifts on the building up of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Father, we find it so easy to make it all about us. We are inherently self-centered in our outlook and have the unique capacity to make even the spiritual gift You have given us all about us. We fail to realize that even our salvation was not just to save us from sin and secure us eternal life, but to make us ambassadors for the cause of Christ on this planet. Otherwise You would have taken us when You saved us. But You left us here and placed us in the body of Christ, and equipping us with the tools we need to minister to and build up one another. continue to give us a passion for serving and loving one another like Christ had. May love be our highest goal. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

It’s Not All About You.

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:33 NLT

The Christian life is a team sport, not an individual event. Yet, many of us, heavily influenced by a society that puts all the emphasis on the individual, have come to believe that everything revolves around us, including the Christian life. But Paul would beg to differ. He had a completely different perspective, and spent a great portion of his correspondence to the believers in the early church trying to convince them that individualism was antithetical to the Christian cause. A big part of the problem that Paul was trying to address concerning meat sacrificed to idols had to do with the selfish and self-centered attitude that was motivating the behavior of some of the Corinthian believers. While the logic behind their argument that they were completely free to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols was true, it still did not give them the freedom to do as they wished. They had to consider the well-being of others. Just because they could eat meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience didn’t mean that they should.

The response of these individuals had been, “I am allowed to do anything.” But Paul reminded them that not everything was good for them or beneficial. He gave them another way of looking at their situation that took the focus off their individual rights and put them on their role within the Body of Christ. “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23 NLT). In other words, it’s wasn’t all about them! The universe didn’t revolve around them. They were not the center of all things and the sole inhabitant of the planet. In saving them, God had placed them in His family along with other brothers and sisters in Christ for whom they had a responsibility to love and protect.

For Paul, community was everything. Fellowship and loving concern for one another were the foundational principles of faith. Every believer was to live his or her life with a sense of shared responsibility and mutual concern for one another. Individual rights were to take a backseat to the corporate well-being of the flock. That required a daily dying to self and a willing sacrifice of legitimate rights and freedoms – all for the benefit of others. But Paul didn’t just write about this, he lived it. “I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33 NLT). He had adopted this same attitude and lived it out in his daily life. Which is why he could say with a straight face, “you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT).

Paul echoes this theme in his letter to the believers in Philippi. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-5 NLT). He then went on to describe in great detail the attitude that Christ possessed. He gave up His divine privileges as God, and took on human flesh. He came and served, becoming a slave to all men. He willingly obeyed His Father, even to the point of death – giving His life as a substitute for sinful man. We are to follow His example. We are to live our lives with the same selfless, sacrificial attitude. It isn’t all about us. It’s about Jesus Christ and His body, the church. It is about the Kingdom of God and His plan for the redemption of the world. It is about the benefit and well-being of the other members of Christ’s body for whom I have a responsibility to willingly give up my rights for their good. Loving God and loving others is our call. That requires sacrifice and selflessness. It demands that we have the same attitude or mindset that Christ had – like Paul had.

Father, give us the mind of Christ. Let us see our lives like He did. We need to give up our addiction to individuality and begin to think corporately and communally. Too often, we let our rights become a road block to mutual love and care for the body of Christ. Thanks for reminding me once again that it isn’t all about me. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men