A Dreaded and Difficult Conversation

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-19 ESV

The moment Peter had been dreading finally arrived. Ever since he had peered into the empty tomb, he must have experienced a growing sense of irrepressible joy at the thought that Jesus was alive and he might get see Him again. But his excitement was tempered by a nagging sense of guilt over his public denials of Jesus. On that night in the upper room, when Jesus had announced that one of the 12 would betray Him, Peter had boldly proclaimed, “I will lay down my life for you!” (John 13:37 ESV). But Jesus had responded with an equally bold statement of His own:

“Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. – John 13:38 ESV

And that very same night, as Jesus was being interrogated by the high priest and the members of Sanhedrin, Peter fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy.

The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”  – John 18:17 ESV

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” – John 18:25 ESV

One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.  – John 18:26-27 ESV

Three separate times, Peter had been asked about his personal relationship with Jesus. Three different individuals asked him to confirm his identity as a disciple or follower of Jesus, and three times he vehemently denied any knowledge of or relationship with Jesus.

Now, standing on the shore of the sea of Galilee, Peter’s worst fear was realized. He found himself alone with Jesus. Peter had been avoiding the inevitable. The weight of his guilty conscience must have become unbearable, preventing him from fully experiencing the joy of being with Jesus. Every time Peter looked at Jesus’ face or caught a fleeting glimpse of the nail prints in His hands and feet, a sense of shame and self-loathing must have welled up within him. It is difficult to imagine just how tortured Peter must have felt each time he looked on his resurrected Master and friend.

And now, Jesus approached him one on one. There is no way of knowing what was going through Peter’s mind at that moment, but one would expect that Peter had been rehearsing the apology he would need for just such a moment. Yet, mercifully, Jesus broke the awkward silence by speaking first. And what Jesus had to say to Peter speaks volumes. One might have expected Jesus to say something like, “I told you so” or “Well, what have you got to say for yourself?” But instead, Jesus asked Peter a series of three questions.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” – John 21:15 ESV

“Simon, son of John, do you love me? – John 21:16 ESV

“Simon, son of John, do you love me? – John 21:17 ESV

Actually, it was one question asked three different times. That night in the garden, Peter’s inquisitors wanted him to confirm his relationship with Jesus, and three times he had denied having one. But now, Peter is being asked to publicly confess and confirm his love for Jesus. And this time, the one asking the questions is the very one Peter had denied.

Peter’s brash and impulsive nature had finally caught up with him. Over the years he had been with Jesus, he had made a habit of speaking his mind and trying to set himself apart from the rest of the disciples. He was naturally competitive and driven to do whatever it took to stand out from the crowd. All three of the Synoptic gospels record his pride-filled response when Jesus had declared, “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Matthew 26:31 ESV). Peter had boldly proclaimed, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (John 26:33 ESV). He was declaring himself to be better than the rest. He was made of better stuff. But little did Peter know that his bold claim was going to be put to the test and he would end up failing miserably.

But at the heart of Jesus’ questions is the issue of love. The very first iteration of Jesus’ question compared Peter’s love with that of the other disciples. When Jesus asked, “do you love me more than these?,” He was not asking if Peter’s love for the other disciples was greater than his love for Him. This was a question designed to expose whether Peter still harbored feelings of superiority, and considered himself to be more committed to Jesus than his fellow disciples.

Remember, Peter had accused the rest of the disciples of a lack of commitment. He had predicted that they would all fall away at the first hint of trouble. But he was different. He would stay the course and remain by Jesus’ side through thick or thin. Or so he had thought.

But standing face to face with Jesus, all Peter could say was “Lord; you know that I love you” (John 21:15 ESV). No comparison. No competition. He was not willing to speak for or compare himself with the other disciples. All he could do was confirm his own love for his friend.

Over the years, much emphasis has been placed on the two Greek words for “love” that appear in this passage. One is the word agapaō and the other is phileō. The first is said to be a description of divine love – a selfless, sacrificial love expressed by God to men. While the latter was more commonly used to refer to a lower, earthly form of love – the love between two human beings. And while there is some truth to this distinction, it is also true that these two words were often used interchangeably in the Greek language. Yet, John seems to establish a clear pattern in this passage. He records that Jesus repeatedly used the word agapaō, while Peter responded by using the word phileō. There is a subtle, yet important, point of clarification being made as Jesus discusses the nature of Peter’s love. Does Peter love Jesus in the same way that Jesus loved him?

Jesus had laid down His life for Peter. He had personally demonstrated the very definition of love He had given to the disciples.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 ESV

Jesus had faithfully fulfilled His role as the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” – John 10:11-12 ESV

By his actions that night in the courtyard, Peter had proven himself to be a hired hand. The wolf had come and he had fled. But now, Jesus was offering Peter an opportunity to prove his love. With each successive query, Jesus responded to Peter’s answer with a directive.

“Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 ESV

“Tend my sheep.” – John 21:16 ESV

“Feed my sheep. – John 21:17 ESV

In essence, Jesus is demanding that Peter prove his love for Him by loving those for whom He died. Jesus had told the disciples, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16 ESV). And now, Jesus was turning the care and feeding of the flock over to Peter and his companions. If Peter wanted to prove his love for Jesus, he was going to love and care for those whom Jesus gave His life.

In His teaching on the Good Shepherd, Jesus had stated, “he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4 ESV). In a sense, Jesus was turning over to Peter the responsibility for shepherding and leading His flock. Peter and the other disciples would become under-shepherds, commissioned by the Good Shepherd to feed and tend His sheep. These men could express no greater love for Jesus than to care for His sheep. Jesus was leaving and He was going to turn over the care and protection of His flock to His disciples.

And then Jesus reveals to Peter that his shepherding of the sheep will be costly. Peter too will end up laying down his life for the sheep. This impulsive, self-assertive man will one day find himself being led by others. But as a sheep to the slaughter. This somewhat poetic-sounding prophecy by Jesus was meant to reveal to Peter “by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:19 ESV).

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” – John 21:18 NLT

Peter’s life was going to be dramatically different from this point forward. No longer would he live the self-willed, ego-driven life he had known up until that day. He will live a long life, but one that will be dedicated the the flock of Jesus Christ and end in him laying down his own life for the sheep – just as Jesus did. And according to the early church father, Eusubius, Peter was crucified in the midsixties A.D. during the purges of the Roman emperor, Nero.

But when Jesus had completed His one-on-one conversation with Peter, He ended it the same words He had used when they first met: “Follow me.” But this time, Jesus wasn’t asking Peter to become His disciples. He was inviting Peter to follow His example of selfless, sacrificial love for the sheep. And one day, when Peter had fully followed Jesus’ example, he would follow Jesus to heaven.

“When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:3 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

No Greater Love

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” John 15:12-17 ESV

It’s rather odd to hear Jesus speaking about love when you consider the fact that He is just hours from His own death. And for the disciples, all His talk about dying and leaving them behind must have sounded like a strange way to show His love. Yet, for these men and all who would come to faith through their future ministry, the cross would become the greatest expression of love.

Just a short time earlier, in the upper room after Judas had departed, Jesus had disclosed to His remaining disciples a new commandment.

“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

Notice the point of qualification that Jesus adds: They were to love one another, “just as” He has loved them. Jesus made this statement just hours before He would hang on a cruel Roman cross as the payment for their sin debt. He was going to follow through on His earlier promise concerning His role as the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 NLT

And it would not be until Jesus had died, resurrected, and ascended back into heaven, that the disciples fully grasped the full import of what Jesus meant about loving as He had loved them. In a later letter, John would disclose His Spirit-enabled understanding of Jesus’ incredible expression of selfless, sacrificial love.

If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.

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. – 1 John 3:14-16 NLT

The sacrifice Jesus was about to make on the cross was totally motivated by love, and not just His own. The death of Jesus was going to be a priceless expression of God’s love for mankind. This is exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 NLT

The apostle Paul was blown away by this reality and saw the death of Jesus as ongoing evidence of the Father’s love for him.

But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8 BSB

God had loved Paul in the midst of his sinfulness. He didn’t require Paul to get his spiritual act together. It was while Paul was still firmly entrenched in his rebellion and sin that God sent His Son to die in Paul’s place. And the same thing is true for each and every follower of Christ. Paul makes that point clear later on in his letter to the believers in Rome.

…he [God] did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all… – Romans 8:32 NLT

And Paul would encourage the believers in Ephesus to use the selfless love of God as a model for their own lives.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 BSB

According to Jesus, the greatest expression of love was someone willingly sacrificing their life for the sake of another.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 ESV

The disciples were not ye able to grasp the full significance of this statement. But in time, they would come to understand and appreciate what Jesus had meant. They would stand by and watch their friend and mentor die a gruesome death on a cross. They would weep and mourn as His life slowly and painfully ebbed away. They would see His broken and beaten body removed from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. And in the days following this hope-shattering event, they would gather together in sorrow and self-pity, as they tried to wrap their minds around what had just happened. But then they would receive the shocking and mind-blowing news: “he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6 ESV). The would discover the tomb to be empty, Jesus to be alive, and their lives to be forever changed.

But on the other side of the cross, Jesus called His confused and concerned disciples to love one another. He referred to them as His friends, further indicating His love for them. He did not view them as servants or slaves, but as close friends to whom He was sharing the most intimate details concerning His life. Rather than leaving them in the dark, Jesus was disclosing the content of His private conversations with His Father.

“…all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” – John 15:15 ESV

They were the recipients of privileged information, passed down from God through His one and only Son. And Jesus makes it clear that the time they had spent with Him had been divinely ordained.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” – John 15:16 ESV

He had chosen them. But as Jesus will disclose in His high priestly prayer, God had been the guiding hand behind His selection of these men.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

While each of them had chosen to follow Jesus on their own accord, they were actually operating according to the sovereign will of God. Their selection by Jesus had been preordained by God and He had great things in store for them. The events of the last three years would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in the days ahead. Their greatest days were ahead of them because Jesus loved them and was going to lay down His life for them. That selfless, sacrifical act of love would make possible the fulfillment of the promise He had made to them.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the one believing in Me, the works that I do, also he will do. And he will do greater than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12 BSB

They didn’t realize it at the moment, but they were going to bear much fruit, just as Jesus had told them.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8 ESV

But their fruitfulness would be accompanied by access to God. The imagery of the vine and the branches comes into play here. God, as the vinedresser, would fulfill His will through the Vine, producing lasting fruit through the branches. This interdependency between the Father, Son, and the Son’s faithful followers, would result in a harvest of lasting fruit. And the disciples will experience the joy of desiring to do the will of the Father. Like Jesus, they will learn to say, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). Their desires will change. Their requests of God will become less selfish and more selfless. And Jesus assures them that His words are meant to produce in them a love for one another. But it will be His actions, not His words, that make that kind of selfless, sacrificial love possible. His death, as the ultimate expression of God’s love for sinful mankind, will provide the power they need to keep His commands, love one another, bear fruit, and do greater things.

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

The Best is Yet to Come

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” John 14:15-21 ESV

Jesus has just assured His confused and shell-shocked disciples that they will do “greater works” than He has done. But this amazing promise is only for those who believe in Him and will only be available after He has returned to His Father (John 14:12). And Jesus further assures then that when that day comes, they will be able to ask Him anything “in His name” and He will do it (John 14:14). The ability to do greater things and the promised of answered prayer. Those two promises were meant to encourage the disciples but, like so many of His other statements, they went right over their heads. All throughout His time with them, Jesus had fielded all kinds of questions from these men. They had constantly bombarded Him with requests about everything from the nature of the kingdom to the meaning of His parables. They were naturally curious and filled with childlike inquisitiveness, anxious to know more about who Jesus was and what He had come to do. But the closer He got to the cross, the less they seemed to comprehend His true identity and purpose.

But Jesus is letting them know that things are about to change, and not just for Him. While His life will end in death, it will be followed by His miraculous resurrection. Then, when Jesus has returned to His Father’s side, their lives will be forever changed. They will end up doing “greater things” than He has done. But what does this mean? Is this a promise that they will raise the dead just as He did? Will followers of Jesus have the capacity to walk on water or turn water into wine? While some believe that is exactly what Jesus is promising, the context seems to indicate something far different. While the “great things” that Jesus did had amazed His onlookers, what truly made them great was that they were done in the power of God, according to the will of God, and for the glory of God. They were intended to be signs of who Jesus was and were meant to bring glory to the one who had sent Him. And Jesus is telling His disciples that the same will be true for them. They will do “greater things” because they will be greater in number. And their numbers will grow. But the point of emphasis is not the nature of things they will do, but the power in which they will do it and the fact that what they do will be done in God’s power and for His glory.

And they will still be able to make requests of Jesus, but now they will ask in His name and according to His will. They will no longer be driven by selfish concerns but will pray according to the will of God and in keeping with the character of Jesus Himself. Their motivations will shift from self-gratification and personal pleasure to asking for those things that will bring glory to God.

But how will the death and resurrection of Jesus make all this possible? How will His departure bring about such radical transformations in the lives of His disciples? The answer is found in verses 14-31. Jesus introduces His disciples to the secret that will allow them to do greater things and pray in His name.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” – John 14:16 ESV

Jesus informs His dispirited disciples that His departure will be followed by the Spirit’s arrival. This “helper” or “advocate” will be the Spirit of truth. The Greek word is paraklētos, and it refers to “one who comes alongside.” This word has been translated as counselor, helper, assistant, and intercessor. But Jesus is referring to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Yet Jesus is not insinuating that the Holy Spirit’s arrival will be the first time He has come to earth. He is letting the disciples know that the Spirit, who has been with them all along, will take up residence in them.

You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:17 ESV

Their relationship with the Spirit will change. As long as Jesus was with them, He served as their helper or advocate. But with His departure, they would need “another helper,” one who would step in and guide the followers of Jesus in His absence. The Spirit of God would play a more integral and intimate role in their lives. He would not only be with them, but he would also come to dwell within them. And once again, the full weight of this news escaped the disciples. They had no way of understanding what Jesus was talking about. But it would be the Holy Spirit’s presence within them that would empower them to do the greater things that Jesus promised.

And this power would only be available to those who believe in Jesus – those who love Him and keep His commandments. But what are the commandments to which Jesus is referring? It would seem that, based on the context, Jesus is referring back to His two earlier statements concerning belief.

“Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1 ESV

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” – John 14:11 ESV

The greatest expression of their love for Jesus would be their willingness to believe in who He was – all the way to the end. Notice that Jesus provided them with a conditional statement:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper…” – John 14:15-16 ESV

The conjunction, kai can also be translated as “then,” and it would seem that Jesus is letting them know that their love for Him will allow them to believe in Him, in spite of all that is about to happen. And their belief will not be in vain. He will rise from the dead, ascend to His Father, and send the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and empower them for future service for God.

Knowing exactly what is going through His disciples’ minds, Jesus assures them that He is not going to leave them to live in the world like abandoned children. While His death will seem like the end of the world to them, He lets them know that they will see Him again. The world, referring to all those who refused to believe in Him, would never see Jesus again. The Pharisees would assume that their adversary was permanently gone. The Jews who had followed Jesus would return to their old lives and, in time, would forget that Jesus ever existed. But after His resurrection, Jesus would appear to hundreds of His followers – those who loved Him and had continued to believe in Him.

And Jesus provides His disciples with a powerful message of encouragement.

“Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” – John 14:19 ESV

His resurrection would be life-changing for them. And it would fulfill what He had said to Martha just prior to raising her dead brother back to life.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

With His resurrection and the subsequent coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus and the Father were one. And they would know it because they would experience unity with the Father and the Son through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

Jesus is encouraging His disciples to keep believing. He knows they are struggling with doubt and fear. They are confused by all that He has been saying and are finding it difficult to understand how any of this could be in the will of God. And as the events unfold in the hours ahead, it will only appear to get worse. But Jesus assures them:

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” – John 14:21 ESV

While the disciples would continue to display fear and doubt, even abandoning Jesus at His moment of greatest need, they would never stop loving Him. And even in their weakness and filled with all kinds of questions, they would continue to believe in Him. And their belief would not be disappointed. Their love and belief would be rewarded by the love of the Father, expressed in the gracious gift of His Son as the payment for their sin debt. And when Jesus had fulfilled His mission, God would raise Him to life again, guaranteeing the hope of eternal life to all those who loved and believed in His Son.

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

More and More Part 2

9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV

It’s interesting to note how, in this passage, Paul contrasts love and lust. In verses 1-8, he points out the need for the Thessalonian believers to “abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). They were to refrain from practicing sexual sin or, as the word means in Greek, “to hold one’s self off.” As believers, they had been given a new capacity to refrain from their old desires, driven by their sinful natures. Upon placing their faith in Christ, they had received the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And, as a result, they were able to say no to lustful desires.

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:17 NLT

The sinful nature lusts or desires the wrong things. And Paul pointed out to the Galatian believers that those who allowed their lives to be driven by the desires of their old nature, rather than the Spirit, would produce ungodly fruit in their lives. And the first three he mentions are tied to sexual sin.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

And Paul has warned the Thessalonian church: “each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 ESV). John Piper defines lust as “a sexual desire that dishonors its object and disregards God” (John Piper, Battling the Unbelief of Lust, http://www.desiringgod.org). And he expands on that definition by adding:

“Sexual desire in itself is good. God made it in the beginning. It has its proper place. But it was made to be governed or regulated or guided by two concerns: honor toward the other person and holiness toward God. Lust is what that sexual desire becomes when that honor and that holiness are missing from it.” – John Piper, Battling the Unbelief of Lust, http://www.desiringgod.org

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand that they had a new obligation to live their lives in such a way that everything they did brought glory and honor to God. With the Spirit’s help, they were to learn to control their bodies, not allowing their natural, God-given desires to become perverted or distorted by sin. Sexual desire is not a sin, but it is actually a gift from God. But like everything else in life since the fall, this godly gift can be stained by the presence of sin. Rather than being an expression of self-sacrificing love for another, it turns in on itself, demanding that someone satisfy our selfish desires for sexual pleasure. God gets left out of the picture. And love gets replaced by lust. That is why Paul points out that their lives were to be marked by holiness, not impurity.

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 ESV

And this was not a message Paul reserved for the Thessalonians. He shared the same warning to the believers in Rome.

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:12-13 NLT

Lust versus love. One dishonors the other person by using them for purely selfish reasons. And, in the end, this disobeys and dishonors God. But when we truly love as God has called us to love, sacrificially and selflessly, the other person is treated with value, dignity, and honor. And God receives glory.

A Christian marriage is to be a proving ground of the Spirit’s life-transforming power, where the selfless, sacrificial love of Christ is modeled in everyday life. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). Then he provided them with specific application of what that mutual submission would look life in the marriage context.

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. – Ephesians 5:22-26 NLT

While we find it easy to get hung up on Paul’s call for the wives to submit, it is essential to understand that he is calling both the husband and the wife to practice selfless submission – out of reverence to Christ. And earlier in the same chapter, Paul provided a call for the Ephesians to imitate God and to follow the example of Christ.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT

And then he added a what-not-to-do element to his instructions.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. – Ephesians 5:3 NLT

Love, not lust. That is the call placed on the believer by God Himself, and the kind of love God had in mind was modeled by Christ. And this selfless love was not just reserved for marriage. It was to be displayed in all their relationships. God has called His children to love others in the same way He has shown love to them.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

And He expects them to follow the example of Christ.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. – 1 John 3:16 NLT

And Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they don’t require any more instructions regarding the kind of love God has in mind “for God himself has taught you to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9 NLT). And the apostle John lets us know just how God had taught them.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. – 1 John 4:9-11 NLT

Paul compliments the Thessalonian church for having displayed the very kind of love he was writing about. They had already given evidence of their selflessness and willingness to sacrifice on behalf of others. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul bragged on the tangible expressions of love displayed by the Macedonian churches, including the fellowship in Thessalonica.

Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.

For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. – 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 NLT

But Paul didn’t want them to rest on their laurels. In fact, he begged them “to do this more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:10 ESV). They were to keep loving. They were to stop lusting. And then Paul adds three characteristics or marks of a life lived in love.

  1. Their lives would exhibit peace and calm, rather than strife and turmoil. Paul told the Romans, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NLT). Peaceful lives create an atmosphere in which others feel safe and secure. And that is an expression of love.
  2. They were to tend to their own affairs, refusing to meddle in the concerns of others. This is not a call to disregard the needs or life circumstances of others, but it is simply an extension of Jesus’ admonition to “get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:5 NLT).
  3. They were to be diligent workers, using whatever skills they had to provide for themselves, and refusing to become a burden to others. There was no place for laziness or a spirit of entitlement in their lives.

And Paul had a purpose behind his call for selfless, sacrificial living.

Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. – 1 Thessalonians 4:12 NLT

At the end of the day, Paul was interested in seeing the Thessalonian believers live out their faith in tangible ways that exhibited the power of the Spirit and gave proof of their status as God’s children.

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

Faith and Love

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13 ESV

At some point, Timothy left Thessalonica and rejoined Paul in Corinth. Upon his arrival, he had shared with the apostle some encouraging news regarding the spiritual and emotional state of the Thessalonian believers.  And upon hearing of their “faith and love,” Paul was indeed encouraged, referring to his report as “good news”(euaggelizo).

Normally, Paul used this Greek word only when referring to the Gospel message – the good news concerning Jesus Christ. In fact, this is the only place in the entire New Testament where it is not used in that way. But for Paul, news of the steadfast faith and love of the Thessalonians was directly linked to the life-transforming power of the Gospel. Their persevering faith was evidence of God’s power, made possible by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In his first epistle, the apostle Peter reminded his readers that, because of “God’s power,” they were “being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5 ESV). God was preserving them through faith, and guaranteeing their future inheritance of eternal life. This comforting fact prompted Peter to exhort the believers to whom he wrote.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

And Paul knew that the capacity of the Thessalonian believers to express love was proof that they had experienced the love of God. The apostle John clarified that those who truly loved others were exhibiting the life-changing love that God had graciously shown them.

We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. – 1 John 4:19-21 NLT

Faith and love were on display in Thessalonica and Paul could not have been more pleased. He was also encouraged by Timothy’s report that the Thessalonian believers maintained a strong love for Paul and Silas, manifesting itself in a desire to be reunited with them.

He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. – 1 Thessalonians 3:6 NLT

Paul didn’t always receive a warm welcome in the many cities he visited. He knew what it was like to face rejection and had even endured physical abuse at the hands of those with whom he had shared the Gospel. So, it was comforting and encouraging to hear that the Thessalonian believers had not lost their affection for him. This was particularly meaningful to Paul when he knew that there were those who were constantly trying to undermine his authority and diminish his influence. To hear that the believers in Thessalonica had not turned their backs on him or the Gospel he had preached was especially encouraging to Paul. And Paul let them know that news of their persevering faith had brought him comfort in the midst of his own personal circumstances.

So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. – 1 Thessalonians 3:7 NLT

He had found the content of Timothy’s report to be spiritual rejuvenating.

It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 3:8 NLT

Paul was a man of prayer and, while physically separated from the believers in Thessalonica, he had been interceding for them before the throne of God.

Night and day we pray earnestly for you… – 1 Thessalonians 3:10 NLT

And they were in good company because Paul made it a habit to pray for all the churches he had helped to plant. He told the church in Ephesus:

I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly… – Ephesians 1:16 NLT

He informed the Colossian church:

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. – Colossians 1:9 NLT

And he wrote to the believers in Rome, letting them know that they were on his heart and in his prayers.

Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. – Romans 1:8 NLT

And Paul told the Thessalonians that his prayers for them were filled with expressions of thanksgiving to God. He was able to enter into God’s presence with gratitude and with great joy because he knew that his spiritual children in Thessalonica were thriving, even in the midst of difficulty. But along with prayers of thanksgiving to God for all that He was doing among them, Paul was also “asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10 NLT).

Paul was the consummate pastor/shepherd. He loved to see people come to faith in Christ, but he also found great joy in helping them grow up in their faith. He was an evangelist and a spiritual mentor. He shared Peter’s passion to see new believers move from spiritual infancy to maturity.

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

Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). And so, Paul made the spiritual growth of the various flocks he had helped to found a high priority in his prayer life. When he couldn’t physically be present among them, he made sure he was regularly interceding on behalf of them.

And along with his prayer for permission to return to Thessalonica, Paul asked God to increase their capacity to love others.

…may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. – 1 Thessalonians 3:12 NLT

And this love was not to be myopic, focused solely on the members of their congregation. It was to flow outside the fellowship and into the streets of Thessalonica, so their lost friends, family members, and neighbors could also experience the love of God. Paul was simply asking God to empower them to do what Jesus had expressed in His sermon on the mount.

“…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 5:44-48 NLT

Anyone can love those who love them in return. But the love of God was best expressed in the gracious gift of His Son. It was while we were still mired in our sins and incapable of expressing love to Him, that God loved us. And no one describes the love of God better than the apostle John.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:9-12 NLT

Faith and love. Paul knew these two things were the key to their ongoing spiritual health and vitality. And both come from God. They are not self-manufactured or the by-products of human will power. That is why Paul reminded the Thessalonians that one of his ongoing prayers for them was that God would continue to increase their love and strengthen their faith. And his request had an eternal focus. He was thinking long-term, not short-term.

May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen. – 1 Thessalonians 3:13 NLT

Paul was a man on a mission and that mission had a goal. There was a finish line at the end of the face. There was a prize at the end of the contest. And while there might be obstacles and difficulties along the way, there is a reward waiting for all those who run the race with endurance.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:17-18 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

A God Worth Worshiping

1 It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
    and many nations shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
    and no one shall make them afraid,
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever.
Micah 4:1-5 ESV

Chapter four features a dramatic shift in the tone and language of Micah’s prophetic message. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he moves from speaking about the coming judgment of God to the future restoration of the kingdom. It’s as if Micah was saying, “I have bad news and I have good news.” He delivered the bad news first and is now letting his audience know that there is a silver lining to the dark cloud hanging over their heads.

As with all prophecies, it will be essential to establish the timing involved in Micah’s message. Has what he predicted already happened or does it remain as yet unfulfilled. It is interesting to note that the prophet Jeremiah penned an almost identical message in the book that bears his name.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
   and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore. – Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV

The glaring similarity between the messages of these two prophets has left commentators and scholars debating the original source of their prophetic word. Did Isaiah borrow it from Micah or was it the other way around? But if you look at Isaiah’s own words, he makes it clear that he derived his message from God.

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem – Isaiah 2:1 ESV

And Isaiah opened his book with the following explanation:

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. – Isaiah 1:1 ESV

The same thing could be said of Micah. He opened his book with these words:

This is the Lord’s message that came to Micah of Moresheth during the time of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. – Micah 1:1 ESV

Both of these men received their messages from the same divine source, so why should we be surprised when what they have to say sounds similar. They were prophesying during the same period of time to the same generation of people living in Judah and Israel. And God’s message was consistent and cohesive.

But the primary focus of our attention should be on the content of their message. They were predicting a vastly different future for the people of God that seemed to contradict all they had been saying up until this point. For three chapters, Micah has had nothing but bad news to share. The days ahead were dark and foreboding. The coming judgment of God was going to be devastating and inescapable. And then, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he says, “And now for the good news!”

Micah refers to this future time period as “the latter days.” In Hebrew, it is ‘achariyth yowm and it can be translated “last days” or “end times.” This is what is often described as an eschatological reference. It has to do with the eschaton or end times and deals with those days in the distant future when God finalizes His plans for the world He has made. Virtually all of the prophets of God included messages concerning the “end times” in their writings.

“In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 38:16 ESV

Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” – Daniel 10:13-14 ESV

Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. – Hosea 3:5 ESV

Notice was the Daniel passage states: “For the vision is for days yet to come.” Now, that could be said about all prophetic messages since they all deal with future events. But what we have to understand is that some of those predictions have already taken place, while others remain as yet unfulfilled. When reading the prophetic books, we can look back over history and connect certain prophecies with actual events. We know that the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and their capital of Samaria was destroyed. We also know that the Babylonians defeated the southern kingdom of Judah, ransacking the capital of Jerusalem and taking tens of thousands of its citizens captive.

These events were prophesied by God and He sovereignly orchestrated their fulfillment. But what about this particular message recorded by both Micah and Isaiah? Has it taken place yet? Has it already been fulfilled? To answer those questions, we have to examine the content of the message and search the history of Israel to see if any past event accurately fulfills the prophetic promise it contains.

First of all, Micah refers to “the mountain of the house of the Lord.” This is a reference to Mount Zion, the outcropping upon which the city of Jerusalem still resides, and where the temple dedicated to God had been built. Micah describes a day when Mount Zion will be “the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship” (Micah 4:1 NLT).

At this point, one must ask the question, “Has this prophecy been fulfilled?” Is there a time in Israel’s distant or recent past when this promise of God has taken place? And the answer would be an emphatic, “No.” And the next part of the prophecy substantiates that conclusion.

People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
 – Micah 4:2 NLT

There has been no fulfillment of this prophecy. At no time in Israel’s past have we seen any such event take place. That means it remains as yet unfulfilled. So, the “latter days” must pertain to a time that lies in the future. And, as if to support that notion, Micah adds some aspects about this future time period that prove its eschatological nature.

For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
    his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will mediate between peoples
    and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
    nor train for war anymore. – Micah 4:2-3 NLT

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to determine that this promise remains unfulfilled. At no time in Israel’s distant or more recent history has any part of this message taken place. Even after the people of Judah were allowed to return to Jerusalem after 70 years in captivity, they never experienced anything like what is described in these verses. When Israel declared its independence as a nation on May 14, 1948, it did not see anything happen that remotely fulfilled this prophecy. In fact, the succeeding years have been filled with war, open hostility, and a growing animosity for the nation of Israel by its geographic neighbors.

We know, from our own experience, that nations have not hammered their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Wars have continued unabated since this message was first delivered to the people of Israel, and the animosity between nations has not diminished in any way, share, or form.

Yet, Micah predicts a future day when…

Everyone will live in peace and prosperity,
    enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees,
    for there will be nothing to fear.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has made this promise! – Micah 4:4 NLT

This is a divine promise guaranteed by the “Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” the Lord of hosts. Which means it will take place. But the question remains: “When?” When will we see everyone living in peace and prosperity? Surely, that time is not now. But according to God’s promise, it will take place.

These verses describe a future day when everything on this planet will be radically and unalterably changed for the good. God will bring about a miraculous alteration to the geopolitical landscape of the world. It will be a time when all the world will recognize Him as the one true God. Israel will be returned to a place of prominence and power, with the Messiah, the Son of God, reigning from the throne of David and ruling over the nations of the world. And Micah uses this good news to encourage his audience to refocus their attention on the one who was going to make it happen. If this is to be Israel’s preferred future, then Micah begs them to start experiencing it now.

For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever. – Micah 4:5 ESV

God is going to one day make Israel great again. So, why not worship Him now? Micah wants his contemporaries to understand that their God is great and He has incredible plans in store for them as a nation. But they must begin to walk in His name now. They must live according to His will, behaving in ways that reflect their calling as His chosen people. For Micah, it made no sense to reject a God who was so gracious and great and who had such a remarkable future planned for them. And he is going to continue to paint a vivid portrait of Israel’s future as promised by the gracious hand of God.

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

Remember, Restore, and Renew!

1 Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
    look, and see our disgrace!
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
    our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
    the wood we get must be bought.
Our pursuers are at our necks;
    we are weary; we are given no rest.
We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria,
    to get bread enough.
Our fathers sinned, and are no more;
    and we bear their iniquities.
Slaves rule over us;
    there is none to deliver us from their hand.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
    because of the sword in the wilderness.
10 Our skin is hot as an oven
    with the burning heat of famine.
11 Women are raped in Zion,
    young women in the towns of Judah.
12 Princes are hung up by their hands;
    no respect is shown to the elders.
13 Young men are compelled to grind at the mill,
    and boys stagger under loads of wood.
14 The old men have left the city gate,
    the young men their music.
15 The joy of our hearts has ceased;
    our dancing has been turned to mourning.
16 The crown has fallen from our head;
    woe to us, for we have sinned!
17 For this our heart has become sick,
    for these things our eyes have grown dim,
18 for Mount Zion which lies desolate;
    jackals prowl over it.
19 But you, O Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures to all generations.
20 Why do you forget us forever,
    why do you forsake us for so many days?
21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
    Renew our days as of old—
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
    and you remain exceedingly angry with us.
Lamentations 5:1-22 ESV

The state of affairs in Judah could not have been any worse. And Jeremiah had an up-close and personal perspective on every aspect of the suffering and pain. He had been there for the days of the Babylonian siege. He had lived through the fall of Jerusalem. And he had watched as the enemies of Judah had leveled the royal capital, destroyed the temple, and murdered vast numbers its citizens. Jeremiah had been forced to watch as thousands of his fellow Jews had been placed in chains and forced to march all the way back the Babylonian capital as slaves.

For those who remained behind in Judah, the prospects were grim. Their nation had been destroyed. Their homes had been reduced to rubble and the national economy was non-existent. They had no king, no army, and, therefore, no means of protection from the enemies. They were weak, defenseless, and hopeless. Their army had not protected them. Their allies had abandoned them. And every one of their false gods had failed to come through for them.

But while everyone around him was wringing their hands in fear and dismay, Jeremiah was taking his concerns to the one source who could do anything about it. He was pleading his case directly to God Almighty. And the first thing he asks God to do is remember.

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
    look, and see our disgrace! – Lamentations 5:1 ESV

Jeremiah is not afraid that God will somehow forget what has happened to Judah. He is calling on God to reflect upon their current circumstances and to consider them soberly and circumspectly. Jeremiah had his perspective on things, but he knew that only one viewpoint mattered and that was God’s.

And Jeremiah appeals to God as to a Father, describing the devastated condition of His children.

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
    our mothers are like widows. – Lamentations 5:2-3 ESV

The land of Judah had been part of the inheritance provided by God to the people of Israel when they had arrived in the land of Canaan. It had been His gift to them, in keeping with the promise He had made to Abraham centuries earlier.

“And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:8 ESV

But Jeremiah reminds God that the land was no longer controlled by the descendants of Abraham. It was being ruled by the Babylonians. The Judahites who had been left in the land were nothing more than caretakers for their Babylonian overlords. And without any army, the people of Judah would find themselves incapable of defending the land from incursions from foreign raiding parties. Before long, what little remained of the former inheritance given by God to the descendants of Abraham would be lost.

And Jeremiah appeals to God’s sense of justice by describing the people of Judah as fatherless orphans and widows. They are like children who have lost their fathers and have no one to protect them. Their status is no better than that of a recently widowed woman who, upon the death of her husband, finds herself without a home and without access to any legal rights to ensure her future. And as a prophet of God, Jeremiah was very familiar with God’s stance on widows and orphans.

Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:17 NLT

Jeremiah knew that God had strong feelings for the helpless and the defenseless, and took exception to those who abused them.

Your leaders are rebels,
    the companions of thieves.
All of them love bribes
    and demand payoffs,
but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans
   or fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:23 NLT

And Jeremiah had repeatedly conveyed God’s message of concern for the helpless and hopeless to the people of Judah.

This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! – Jeremiah 22:3 NLT

But no one had listened. No one had cared. They had refused to take God’s commands seriously. And, as a result, the entire nation had become widows and orphans. They had gone from being the abusers to being abused. Before the fall of Jerusalem, when it was business-as-usual in Judah, the people had practiced injustice by taking advantage of the helpless and hopeless. Everybody had been out for themselves. But now, the table had turned. And Jeremiah describes just how radical the shift in circumstances had been.

Clean drinking water, which used to be readily available and free, was now exorbitantly expensive. Firewood had become a not commodity as well. And food had become virtually non-existent because of famine and the constant presence of foreign raiding parties. Children were dying of starvation. Women were being raped. Young men and boys were being forced to do manual labor like slaves. Civil society had fallen apart, with village elders being shown no respect, former princes being treated like common thieves, and the general population left in a state of abject despair.

Joy has left our hearts;
    our dancing has turned to mourning. – Lamentations 5:15 NLT

Jeremiah is sharing his heart with his God. He is telling the King of Judah the sorrowful state of His citizens. He is appealing to the loving Father of the children of Israel and asking Him to consider their fate and intervene on their behalf. Not because they deserve it, but because He is God.

The garlands have fallen from our heads.
    Weep for us because we have sinned.
Our hearts are sick and weary,
    and our eyes grow dim with tears. – Lamentations 5:16-17 NLT

Jeremiah knew full well that this fate had long been coming. It had been the inevitable outcome of generations of unfaithfulness.

Our ancestors sinned, but they have died—
    and we are suffering the punishment they deserved! – Lamentations 5:7 NLT

But now, Jeremiah calls on His faithful God to intervene. Jerusalem may have been destroyed, but the God of Jerusalem was alive and well, sitting on His throne in heaven.

But you, O Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures to all generations. – Lamentations 5:19 ESV

Nothing that had happened on earth had changed anything about God’s rule and reign in heaven. The current conditions in Judah were no indictment on the power and sovereignty of God. He had not lost a step. He had not diminished in His authority or power. That is why Jeremiah knew that any delay in the reversal of their affairs was up to God. He was obviously not out of control, so He must have had a reason for postponing His deliverance.

So, Jeremiah begs God to act now! No more delay. If there was no reason for delaying His deliverance, then why not bring it now?

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
    Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
    and you remain exceedingly angry with us. – Lamentations 5:21-22 ESV

Remember, restore, and renew. That is what Jeremiah longed for God to do. He was counting on the fact that God had not utterly rejected them. His knowledge of God would not allow him to go there. He knew that God was faithful and would not abandon His children forever. He had punished them, but He would also restore them. This was the God Jeremiah knew and believed in. It was the God he had served with his life and in whom He relied upon for salvation.

Like his fellow prophets, Jeremiah continued to place his hope in the trustworthiness of God.

Where is another God like you,
    who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
    overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
    because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:18-20 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

Faith in Action

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people. – Philemon 1:4-7 ESV

It’s not hard to recognize Paul’s intense and sincere love for Philemon. These are not the pious-sounding platitudes of a pastor, but they are legitimate expressions of love from a close friend. And Paul tells his friend that news of his faith and love causes him to offer up prayers of thanksgiving to God. Paul is grateful for the tangible expressions of life change that have become evident in Philemon’s life. His faith in Jesus Christ’s love for him has resulted in visible displays of selfless love for the people of God.

The apostle John used this same combination of faith in Jesus and love for others in his first letter.

And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. – 1 John 3:23 NLT

And John went on to call for a consistent and persistent kind of love that would reflect the believer’s new relationship with their gracious and loving Father, who is the source of all love.

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

John emphasized that the believer’s capacity to love others was evidence of their newfound relationship with God and was made possible because God had loved them enough to send His Son to die in their place as the payment for their sins.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

Paul complimented Philemon for his love of others. But you can sense that Paul is setting Philemon up. He is lovingly preparing his friend to hear some news that will likely prove difficult to receive. It will involve Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus.

Paul begins by explaining to Philemon the content of his ongoing prayers for him: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 1:6 NLT). Paul has already complimented Philemon for his love for others. But he wanted Philemon to know and experience the full impact of the Gospel in his life. Paul deeply desired that his friend’s faith would grow in depth and intensity so that he might know and experience all the fulness of joy promised to him in Christ. Jesus had told His disciples:

“Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:9-13 ESV

Paul wanted more for Philemon. He was not content to allow his friend to rest on his laurels or to become complacent in his faith. While there was obvious evidence of fruit in Philemon’s life, there would always be room for further growth. And Paul wanted Philemon to understand that God’s transformative work in his life would never be complete in this life. It would be ongoing and never-ending. And Paul made it a habit to pray for the continual spiritual enlightenment of all those he loved and to whom he ministered.

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.

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 1:18-20 NLT

Paul wanted Philemon to know that his love for others was contagious, having spread far beyond the confines of their local faith community. News of Philemon’s love had reached the ears of Paul, as he sat under house arrest in Rome. And Paul told him, “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love” (Philemon 1:7 ESV). But why? What was it about Philemon’s actions that caused Paul to rejoice and be encouraged? Paul provides the answer:  “because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:7 ESV).

As an apostle, teacher, and fellow Christ-follower, Paul found great joy in watching believers live out their faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. When he was able to witness the body of Christ functioning as intended, he couldn’t help but be encouraged. Unity and true community within Christ’s church was important to Paul. That’s why he told the church in Philippi:

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 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 2:2-4 ESV

Philemon had no idea what was coming. As he, Apphia, and Archippus read this letter together, he must have been deeply encouraged. But the other shoe was about to drop. Paul was preparing to test Philemon’s faith in a profound way. His concept of what it means to love others was going to be stretched. His ideas regarding justice and mercy were going to be challenged as never before. His secular and sacred worlds were about to collide, causing him to reconsider his faith in a whole new light.

Philemon had a blind spot. But he was not alone, and this is probably the reason Paul had included Apphia and Archippus as recipients of his letter. The topic Paul was about to bring up was going to be controversial for each and every member of the local congregation who met in Philemon’s home. They would have known about Philemon’s runaway slave. And most, if not all of them, would have been familiar with and agreeable to Philemon’s legal rights as a master. But Paul was about to rock their collective world.

While the early church seemed to have no problem with slaves coming to faith in Christ and even attending their local fellowships, a social stigma remained. There was a lingering sense of separation and segregation. And Paul addressed this issue repeatedly in his letters to the churches. He was out to tear down the societal standards of his day that were creating division within the body of Christ. In their place, he called for a sense of oneness in Christ.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 NLT

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT

While the world outside the doors of the church was practicing segregation, enslavement, and every conceivable form of social prejudice, Paul was calling the body of Christ to practice “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 3:3 ESV). There was no place for division and disunity in God’s family. Everyone stands as equals at the foot of the cross. And as Paul reminded the believers in Rome: “For God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11 NLT).

No, in God’s Kingdom, all share the unique and undeserved privilege of adoption as His sons and daughters, regardless of race, creed, color, or social standing.

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 3:4-6 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.

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

As I Have Loved You

And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. – 2 John 1:5-6 ESV

Love one another. Now, where in the world would John have picked up an idea like that? It doesn’t take much digging to find out that John had been heavily influenced by the three-plus years he had spent with Jesus. His time spent under the tutelage of his friend, rabbi, and teacher, had made an impact on him. And ever since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, John had spent his life fulfilling the commission given to him and his fellow disciples.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 18:18-20 ESV

The “dear lady” to whom John had written his letter was none other than a local congregation of believers located somewhere in the province of Asia Minor. And John was writing to encourage the members of this church to observe and keep the commands of Jesus. And John had one particular command of Jesus in mind when writing his letter.

John well recalled that fateful night in that upper room in Jerusalem, where Jesus had shared a last Passover meal with he and the rest of the disciples. The image of Judas walking out of the room in order to betray Jesus must have been indelibly etched into John’s mind. But it is obvious that he never forgot the words Jesus spoke to them just before they made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. He recorded them in his gospel account.

“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

There was a great deal that Jesus had taught His disciples during the time they had been together. But this particular statement from Jesus had resonated with John and had remained a focus of his ministry long after Jesus had returned to His rightful place at His Heavenly Father’s side.

Jesus referred to this command to love one another as a “new commandment.” And yet, in the first of the three letters John wrote, he described this command as an “old commandment.” Consider his words carefully.

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. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 7-11 ESV

Even under the Mosaic Law, the people of God were required to love one another. But it was based on the concept of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had stated that this idea encompassed all the teaching found in the Law and the Prophets.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 ESV

It was a reciprocal kind of love. In fact, Leviticus 19:18 reads: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus declared that He had come to fulfill or complete everything written in the Law and the Prophets.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17 ESV

The kind of love commanded under the Law was reciprocal in nature. And, according to Leviticus 19:18, it was a love that used self as the standard: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

But what made this old commandment new, was the arrival of Jesus on the scene. He had come to reveal a new way to love, one that was based on a much higher standard than “as you love yourself.”

That night in the upper room, Jesus had expanded the command to love one another by adding the important phrase: “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV). He was establishing Himself as the new criteria for measuring and modeling love. It was not enough to love others as you loved yourself. Now, the standard was Christ’s love. It was going to be a selfless and sacrificial love. A lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love. And just a few chapters later in his gospel, John recorded Jesus repeating this new command to love one another.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” – John 15:12-14 ESV

Now, in his letter to the “the elect lady and her children,” John was reminding this local congregation of Christ-followers to love one another in the same that Christ loved them. This selfless, sacrificial love was to be the mark of each and every believer. Again, in his first letter, John explained:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:19-21 ESV

The motivation behind their love for one another was to be the love of God for them, as expressed in the sacrificial death of His Son. As John recorded in his gospel:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 ESV

How easy it is to enjoy the love of God, as demonstrated in His Son’s substitutionary death on our behalf. And how quickly we can express our love back to God for all that He has done for us. But John would have us remember how hypocritical it is to state our love for God while refusing to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we love God, we are obligated to love all those whom He loves.

And John wants his audience to know that our love for God is best expressed through our obedience to His commandments.

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. – 2 John 1:6 ESV

The New Living Translation puts it this way “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.

For John, our love for God and others were inseparably linked. You could not do one and not the other. The greatest expression of love for God was to obey His commands, and one of His primary commands was for His children to love one another.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:2-3 ESV

It should not be difficult for believers in Christ to love one another. In fact, it should be a joy to love as we have been loved. It should bring us great pleasure to share with others the love that God has lavishly and graciously showered on us.

John had been steeped in the love of Christ. And, as one of His apostles, John was passing on His message of love to the growing body of Christ – the Church. And each time he stressed love for one another, John must have recalled the closing words of the prayer Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father that night in the garden: “…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26 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.

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

In Truth and Love

The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. – 2 John 1:1-3 ESV

This letter, written by John the apostle is, as its title indicates, the second in his trilogy of epistles written sometime between A.D. 90-95. It is believed that all three of these letters were written by John while he was living in Ephesus. Much shorter in length than his previous letter and marked by a more personal and intimate tone, some scholars have concluded that this letter was written to an individual. They cite his use of the term “elect lady” in the salutation of the letter. But it seems more likely that John is simply using the feminine designation to refer to the church because she is the bride of Christ.

For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. – Ephesians 5:23 NLT

For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. – 2 Corinthians 11:2 NLT

Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself. – Revelation 19:7 NLT

John is writing to a local congregation, which he refers to as the “children” of the “elect lady.” John reminds this local fellowship that they make up the elect of God. He uses the Greek word eklektos, which means, “picked out or chosen.” He wants them to know that each of them have been placed in the body of Christ by God the Father. They were chosen in advance by God and their presence in the body of Christ was according to His divine will.

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. – Romans 8:29 ESV

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:5 NLT

…because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. – Ephesians 1:11 NLT

John, in just a few short words, is picking up on Paul’s description of the body of Christ as an organism, not an organization. The church is a melting pot, created by God and consisting of people from all walks of life and every imaginable background.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT

John opens his letter by referring to himself as “the elder.” This stands in stark contrast to the manner in which Paul typically referred to himself in his epistles. Take his letter to the Ephesian church.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God – Ephesians 1:1 ESV

John was also an apostle of Christ Jesus and would have been perfectly justified if he had chosen to use that title. But he chose to refer to himself as an elder. Why? The Greek term he used is presbyteros and throughout the New Testament, it is translated as elder, bishop, and presbyter. This was the title used to refer to those men whose job it was to provide spiritual oversight and leadership for the church. John was letting his audience know that he was writing as a caregiver. This letter was written with a pastor’s heart. He makes this clear by describing them as those “whom I love in truth” (2 John 1:1 ESV).

John was writing this letter out of love. It may be that he kept his introduction rather cryptic because he was attempting to protect the identity of those to whom he wrote. This letter was likely written toward the close of the First Century, a time when the church was beginning to face increasing persecution. And since John’s main area of ministry was Asia Minor, it makes sense to conclude that the church to whom he was writing was located in a Roman province. It’s quite probable that this small congregation of believers was experiencing growing pressure to compromise their faith. But John reminds them that his love for them is based on “the truth.”

This simple phrase was a favorite of John’s and can be found throughout his gospel. And you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to determine how John came up with it.

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 NLT

The truth was the good news of Jesus Christ. It was the message of the Gospel as proclaimed by John the Baptist and lived out in real life by Jesus Himself. John opened his gospel with the declaration that Jesus was the embodiment of the truth.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

He went on to stress that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV). And John would quote Jesus as saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

The incarnation of Jesus was the penultimate expression of God’s love.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 NLT

And it was the truth of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection that made John’s love for this local congregation possible. John pointed that out in his first letter.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

And John lets this fledgling congregation know that they are loved, not just by him, but by “all who know the truth” (2 John 1:1 ESV). They can rest assured that the global body of Christ cares for them just as much as John does. They are not alone. And John lets them know that this bond they share with all the other churches scattered throughout Asia Minor and the rest of the world is “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1:2 ESV).

The truth regarding Jesus Christ and His message of redemption is what holds the body of Christ together. If this local congregation of believers was to take its eyes off of Jesus, they would lose sight of the hope found in His resurrection and promised return. They shared a common commitment to the eternality of the Gospel message. The truth of Jesus Christ was not just a temporary salve for life’s difficulties, but a permanent hope based on the promise of eternal life. The truth will be with us forever. This means we must not judge the veracity of God’s promise based on current circumstances. Whatever this local fellowship was experiencing was not to be the determiner of the truth. The truth, displayed in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and centered on His promised return, has a permanence to it that should bring hope in the midst of suffering, joy in the face of sorrow, and a sense of peace even when faced with difficulty.

And John reminds his audience, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us…” (2 John 1:3 ESV). These divine gifts will never cease, no matter what happens to us or around us. The grace, mercy, and peace of God will never run out because our God is faithful. His unmerited favor and compassion will never diminish. So, we can experience the inner tranquility that comes from knowing He is with us no matter what is taking place around us. He will never leave us or forsake us. We are loved – permanently, perfectly, and eternally. As Paul so aptly and eloquently put it:

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. – Romans 8:38 NLT

John wraps up his greeting by assuring his readers that grace, mercy, and peace come “from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son” (2 John 1:3 ESV). They are gifts from the Father and the Son and they appear in the form of truth and love. He wants them to never stop believing the truth because it is the basis for understanding God’s love for them. And when they are able to comprehend just how much God loves them, they will be able to love others more effectively and selflessly.

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