Matthew 7:7-12: The Law of Love

Read: Matthew 7:7-12

Matthew 7:12 has been called the “Golden Rule” and rightfully so because it is what Jesus says is the summation of the Law. He also calls it one of the Great Commandments too (Matthew 22:36-40). Paul calls this teaching the “Law of Love” (Romans 13:8-10) and James the “Royal Law” (James 2:8). The original manifestation was found in the Old Testament among a sundry of other laws related to interpersonal relationships (Leviticus 19:18). To the New Testament writers, this single command is given a number of special names which indicates that it is among one of the most important teachings that Jesus gave concerning the Law and the Prophets.

The position of this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount follows a short discourse on petitioning God. Jesus teaches that God is a good father who wants to give those that ask what they ask for. This text along with John 15:7 though are used by skeptics to discredit the Christian faith. They argue that the scripture teaches that whatever one asks for one will receive from God, no questions asked and without reservation. This thinking essentially reduces God to a cosmic genie that will grant any wish. The problem is that it fails to take into account what Jesus is saying. John 15:1-17 explains the context of this though. The context for the statement is that those who are asking are also abiding in Christ such that when they do ask they asking in accordance with God’s will. When one trust God, he directs them accordingly (Proverbs 3:5-6).

John also connects such asking to the Great Commandment. Jesus in John 15 gives the old commandment a fresh understanding when he says to the disciples that they should love others as he has loved them when they had been taught to love others in the manner that they would like to be loved. The Sermon parallels this. Jesus is showing that God gives graciously and abundantly to those who ask and should also be the same when one loves others as well. If God loves generously, then all those who call themselves followers of Christ ought to do the same.

The beauty of this “law” is that it is not a prohibition against an act, rather it is freedom to act. In Galatians 5:13-26, Paul connects that in serving others one is fulfilling the law, but says that those that live according to the Spirit are not under the law. Life in the Spirit manifests a number of “fruits”. There are not laws against these. This is perhaps the one thing that separates Christianity apart from all other faiths concerning works. Other faiths teach that one follow a moral code of conduct in order to gain enough merit to obtain some kind of salvation or avoid some kind of judgment. Christians though are saved by faith instead of works, so they are free to love without pretense and why they are not under any law at all. When Jesus commanded the disciples to love as he did, this is precisely what he was getting at. Jesus didn’t need to gain merit, rather he was doing it selflessly.

Lord, help me to love as you loved!

Matthew 5:43-48: Love Everyone!

Read: Matthew 5:43-48

“Love thy neighbor as thyself” has been called the “Golden Rule” among other things. This commandment is found in the Old Testament among a plethora of laws concerning how neighbors should interact with one another (Leviticus 19:9-18). It is also among the “Greatest Commandments” that Jesus gives in Matthew 22:34-40. He says that on this command along with loving God “hang” the Law and the Prophets. The idea from the original language of the New Testament is that the Greatest Commandments are like a rope on which the rest of the law is suspended. If the rope is cut, then the everything else comes crashing down. In a manner of speaking, Jesus is saying that it is the essence of the Law and the fulfillment of the Law when one puts it into practice.

But Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount corrects another bad teaching that the people had been taught concerning the Law. They had been taught that their “neighbor” only included a select few people and the rest of the people were their enemies, and it was okay to hate them. This is evidenced by the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Here, Jesus gives the same commandments from Matthew, but the hearer wanted to “justify himself” by limiting the scope of his neighbor. Jesus shows how the Samaritan was the neighbor to the one in need, which these Jews hated. This is why Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount qualifies what he says concerning loving one’s neighbor with loving ones enemies as well, showing them that the real benefit to loving one’s neighbor comes not from loving those who are most like oneself, rather loving ones that are not like oneself. It is in this context that loving one’s neighbor really plays out.

Paul and James both echo the command in their writings as well. Paul himself says that by following the command that one will fulfill the Law too in much the same way Jesus implies (Romans 13:8-10). James calls the commandment the “Royal Law”, implying that it comes from a king, no other than God himself (James 2:8). While certain aspects of the Law don’t necessarily apply anymore, specifically those related to ceremonial law, this part unequivocally is affirmed by the New Testament and shows that the Greatest Commandment implies that one’s neighbor is everyone, not just a select group of people. Christians today are still under the same law concerning loving one’s neighbor, and do well to fulfill it. In doing so too, one can show the love of God and win one over to God as well!

Lord, help me to love my neighbor!

Luke 6:27-38: Love Without Pretense

Read: Luke 6:27-38

Jesus was the master of quotable truth. A number of his saying found in Luke and Matthew are common vernacular in the English language. A few include “Judge not, and you will not be judged”, “Love your enemies” and “Turn the other cheek”. While these sayings are good and true, one needs to understand them in the full pericope of what Jesus taught and said to avoid misquoting or misusing these sayings.

The contrast Jesus gives in the text between “loving one’s enemies” and doing good to those who are good offers a key insight. Jesus rhetorically asks, “What good is it to do good to those who do good?” This obviously has no benefit, but when does it to his or her enemies, it goes against the grain because it makes the recipient take a pause because there is real virtue in this action because it requires sacrifice. The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-36 speaks to this virtue. When asked, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus give the parable talking about a Samaritan doing good to someone in need when a priest or Levite would not. The Samaritan did what was right and good without asking about who the man was, where he came from, what his name was or anything of the like rather than merely restricting his “good” to who where like him.

The virtue that Jesus is describing of doing good while expecting nothing in return is the essence of what is implied by the Greek word, “agape” – one of the many Greek words translated “love”. 1 Corinthians 13 lists in detailed the what this kind of love entails: a virtue that is love without any sort of love in return. Jesus said that this love is epitomized by a man laying his life down for a friend (John 15:13). The reward of such love is not found in what one will receive in return or even in the ease of loving those who are like oneself, rather it is as Jesus says – it is wrapped up in rewards in heaven.

Modern culture uses these sayings to attempt to silence those who preach against sins that aren’t in keeping with the Scriptures, but given the context, that is not at all what Jesus was talking about. Rather, he was admonishing his hearers to become people who were people of conviction that loved by withholding nothing and not “judging” others as the Levite and priest did, even when persecuted. Christians can take heart, knowing that judgment and vengeance belong to God, but can still speak the truth in love – this is not judgment. And those that hear the truth will be won over by love (1 Peter 3:13-16).

Lord, help me to love everyone without pretense!

Joshua 8:1-29: Getting Back in the Game

Read: Joshua 8:1-29

Israel had just suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the people of Ai. They were presumptuous  about God working on their behalf and attacked the city without seeking God. When they suffered a defeat, Joshua was dejected and sought God. They then found Achan who had had kept something forbidden by the ban. Joshua and Israel then dealt decisively with the sin. God told Joshua to not be “dismayed” – that is defeated and broken. Joshua picked himself up and God told him to take Ai as he had Jericho. They used ambush tactics, but God gave Joshua a command: to raise his javelin toward Ai. At this, Joshua did as God commanded and Ai fell and all its inhabitants fell under the ban, just as Jericho did.

Even though Israel had sin among it, they dealt with the sin and felt its remorse. After this though, Israel got right with God and got back on the track of doing as God commanded them to do. A similar story of one failing but getting a second chance happened with Peter. Peter denied Jesus three times, even after saying that he would never do such a thing. And when Peter did deny Jesus, he remembered what Jesus had spoken to him concerning this and wept bitterly. Without a doubt, Peter felt like an athlete who had been ejected from the game and felt like his career was over (John 18:25-27, Luke 22:62). But quite the contrary was true. Even though Peter had denied Jesus, Jesus was not finished with Peter. In fact, this gave Jesus and opportunity to model one of the things he had taught Peter: love and forgiveness. Jesus, after Peter denied him three times, asks Peter if he loved him three times. Peter in all cases answers that he does indeed love Jesus. Jesus in response to these answers commands Peter then to “Tend his lambs”, “Feed his sheep”, and “Tend his sheep”. Jesus was metaphorically telling Peter to not feel down in the dumps, but get back in the game and do what he had been commissioned to do (John 21:15-23). God was telling Joshua to not feel down in the dumps, but get back to the business of carrying out God’s commands and leading the people of Israel in the commands of God.

The command to follow Jesus went out to the original disciples at the beginning of his ministry and at the end of his ministry on earth. Like Peter though, faltering in one’s walk with God does not cast him or her out of God’s presence forever. What God wanted from Israel and Joshua was not a prideful heart that denied what they did, rather a contrite heart and a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17), and Joshua had this. God does not give up on people; rather people give up on God. But when one does falter, one need only confess it to God and God is faithful to restore (1 John 1:9) and give someone a second chance. And one can continue to walk in the ways of God all the more, following his commands!

Lord, help me not to wallow in the mire, but get back to following you after I fall!

Ecclesiastes 12:8-14: The End of The Matter

Read: Ecclesiastes 12:8-14

The Preacher ends where Proverbs starts off – the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7 says that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The Preacher, after having searched things out and evaluated his entire life accordingly, concludes that all is vanity and that the lot of main is to fear God and keep his commandments. He Preacher sought to gather wisdom and arrange it in a fashion for his readers to understand, and writes his treatise as if it where the ultimate manifesto on the subject matter concerning life. He shifts from third person to first person, warning his “son” to beware of anything beyond what he has read in the Preacher’s writings here. The Preacher warns that there is no end to the making of books and much study is tiresome. But nevertheless, the Preacher does commend wisdom calling it a “goad” – that is something worn by cattle to prod them on. In the case of wisdom, it is to live skillfully in accordance with God’s commands, because God brings action into judgment.

The Preacher already encouraged his reader to fear God (Ecclesiastes 5:7, Ecclesiastes 8:12). The Preacher in his conclusion echoes what the Law had already spoken in Deuteronomy 10:12. When the Old Testament talks about fearing God, it is not talking about being afraid of God in the sense that one is afraid of something that is scary, rather being fearful of God is realizing one’s place before God and responding appropriately to that knowledge. The appropriate response is obedience as the Preacher points out and what God requires. Deuteronomy 10:12 says that God’s people should love him and serve with all their heart soul. Jesus declared that this was the greatest commandment on which the law and the prophets were suspended like a weight on a rope (Matthew 23:37-40) and says that obedience is how one shows live for God (John 14:15). What is certainly true throughout the whole of scripture and is the bedrock of all that one does in life is to love and fear God, and one does this by keeping his commandments.

One’s relationship with God begins at the point of salvation where one follows Jesus’ command to repent from one’s sin and another to believe the gospel (Mark 1:15, John 12:50). After this, a believer receives the Holy Spirit and with the help of the Holy Spirit embarks on a life that pursues godliness by following the commands of Christ. The Preacher learned this lesson the hard way, but people need not do this – they can learn what brings the most fulfillment by hearing the gospel, believing it, and living it!

Lord, help me to fear you and keep your commandments!

Ecclesiastes 4:7-12: Friends

Read: Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes seems to be speaking from experience concerning friends. In his old age, he is alone, not having any friends because he spent his entire life pursuing wealth to no end. He says that there is no end to his toil and no contentment in wealth. The preacher declares this predicament meaningless as chasing after the wind. He had traded meaningful relationships for stuff, and in the end he was empty. With this in mind, the Preacher makes some observations concerning friendship:

  • Two are better than one when it comes to labor. There is a synergy to the effort of two people when they work — more output than the sum of the individuals. The Preacher thinks that this is a good return on one’s investment because it is efficient — requiring less effort to accomplish the same sort of task.
  • Those who have friends have someone there to help them out in a bind, but those who don’t do not have such luxuries. The Preacher probably had his wealth as his security, but this does not help one in only when people can. In the event when money cannot help, having a person to help is worth more than all the money in the world.
  • Friends offer each other warmth too. The Preacher describes it in terms of lying down with one another. In ancient times, when traveling, travelers would huddle together at night when sleeping to stay warm. Such is true when times are cold figuratively too. One does well to have a friend to help him or her through cold times.
  • Friends are also there to watch another friend back — that is defend them when threats arrive, that is threats of all sorts. Threats can come in all shapes an sizes from accusations to physical threats. Friends can help defend one’s character and life at times.

The Preacher summarizes the text on friendship: a chord of three strands is not easily broken. This summary statement shows the value of friendship. When a strand is bound together with other strands, the strands pull as a unit rather than three individual strands. The load is distributed evenly such that it is not likely to break! The ultimate description of friendship is found in Christ. He says that the greatest form of love is for one to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). In the manner that Jesus laid down his life, so Christians ought to lay down his or her life for the sake of his friends, being willing to work with one another, help one another, comfort one another, and protect one another in all things!

Lord, help me to be a friend to others!

2 Timothy 1:7-18: Not Ashamed

Read: 2 Timothy 1:7-18

Paul called for Timothy to rekindle the gifts that had been bestowed upon because God did not give him a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-control. This reminder to rekindle the gifts prompts Paul to write about the implications of this rekindling: to be unashamed. Paul encourages Timothy to be “not ashamed” of the testimony of Jesus or Paul. Paul before he went to Rome declares to the Romans that he is not ashamed of the gospel because power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Paul wants Timothy to join him in the suffering for the sake of the gospel – that is, as Paul describes the bringing of immortality by conquering death. John calls it “eternal life” (John 3:15-16, John 17:3, John 12:50, etc.) Paul calls it eternal life elsewhere (1 Timothy 1:16, Titus 1:2) Paul was appointed an apostle, preacher, and teacher of this gospel, and Timothy, his protégé, is also like him in this respect in that he is a preacher and teacher of the gospel. Paul’s unashamed because of the certainty of what he believes and who he believes in, namely Jesus Christ. Paul later recalls some of those who abandoned him because they were ashamed that Paul was imprisoned: Phygelus and Hermogenes. Paul yet recalls Onesiphorus, who went to Paul and Rome while Onesiphorus was visiting there. Paul recalls what services Onesiphorus rendered in Ephesus and later salutes Onesiphorus’ house because of this.

Sandwiched between his recalls of abandonment and his encouragement to Timothy, Paul gives Timothy two commands. First, he says that retain the standard of “sound words”, that is the sound doctrines that Timothy had received from Paul. Paul qualifies this command with faith and love in Jesus Christ. These sound words are not only right doctrine, but right action on the part of Timothy. These doctrines were not only taught, but lived out accordingly by Paul such that Paul was an example of the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus. Second, Paul commands Timothy to guard the “treasure” through the Holy Spirit which was entrusted to him. Paul does not specify what these treasures are, but that which is entrusted to a person, is generally speaking, not owned by that person. Timothy had been sent to Ephesus to the pastor the church there. Paul had advised the elders in Ephesus to shepherd the “flock” (that is the church at Ephesus) there in the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). Paul in Acts notes that Jesus bought these with his own blood. They belong to him, but are entrusted to the elders there. Timothy is likely receiving the same sort of commission here to be on guard against threats from within and from without. Timothy, with a spirit of power, can exercise his gifts in love to hold fast to sound doctrine and guard the flock entrusted to him.

Paul is convinced of Timothy’s faith that he received, and he encourages Timothy to join in his suffering for the sake of gospel of Jesus. Paul notes that he is in chains because of the gospel and adds two names to the hall of shame and one to the hall of fame of faith. Persecution for the sake of the gospel did not stop with Paul and Timothy – it continues all over the world today: Many nameless believers die every day because they, like Paul, are not ashamed of the gospel and have taken stock in the promises of Jesus to bring immortality. This sort of hope makes death rather moot, so one has a spirit of power and can stay faithful to the truth of the gospel and guard those who they shepherd, whoever they may be. But even when persecution is not prevalent, other things, such as busyness, apathy, comfort, inclusivism, materialism, among many other things can seep into the church and lives of believers and cause people to become ashamed of the gospel. Christians who are not experiencing persecution should still obey the commands Paul gave Timothy: to hold fast to sound doctrine and guard what is entrusted to them whether this be family, a church, a class, a small group, friends, even one’s own self. Christians should be alert and unashamed in a spirit of power, love, and self-control, on the watch for danger.

Lord, help me not be ashamed of the gospel, for it is what brings life!

2 Timothy 1:1-7: Reminders

Read: 2 Timothy 1:1-7

Paul introduces himself in the letter to Timothy as an apostle of Jesus Christ and addresses the letter to Timothy his “beloved son”. Timothy and Paul had a tight-knit relationship. Paul first encountered Timothy in Lystra (Acts 16:1). Timothy apparently had been raised by his mother with a deep respect for the Jewish faith out of which Paul had come although his father was a Greek. Timothy is mentioned in the salutations of five in the New Testament letters including 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. He also served as Paul’s emissary on a number of occasions to these churches (1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Corinthians 16:10, Philippians 2:19, 1 Thessalonians 3:1-4). The father-son relationship between these two men is cemented as Paul raised up Timothy as his spiritual child. In the same manner in which a parent longs to see their children after a long time of absence, Paul longs to see Timothy, who brings joy to Paul’s life by Paul merely thinking about the faith that was passed down to him by his grandmother and mother and is now present in Timothy.

Paul wants to remind Timothy here of the things that Paul had given him by the laying on of hands. Paul also reminds him elsewhere to not neglect the gifts he had received earlier in (1 Timothy 4:14). These gifts are spiritual gifts that had been bestowed upon Timothy. Paul does not mention what these gifts are, but he wants to remind him because of the faith that Timothy had similar to his mother and grandmother. He wants Timothy to “kindle afresh” the gifts – that is to reignite them so they may burn and be used with power. Spiritual gifts are received every Christian for the purpose of serving the body (1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Peter 4:10). Paul says that Timothy should ignite his gifts because the God did not give a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and discipline (self-control, sober-mindedness). Paul and Timothy were a powerful force, enabled by God’s. They exercised love and thought clearly in the manner of all manners pertaining to the mission that they were a part of.

Christians today have the same faith that Paul and Timothy had. Because of the same faith is shared, Christians can do as Paul did when times are hard: remind others or remember for themselves the Spirit that is within them, the gifts they have, and the love they have for one another. When hardship applies pressure to one’s life it is difficult to see through the fog that can cloud one’s mind. It is difficult to remember all that one has available in his or her arsenal to combat hardship. When others are under duress, one can spur them on, reminding them all the good things God has given them and exercise one’s own giftedness towards the one enduring hard times. These kinds of reminders are healthy, and can make all the difference in how one approaches the hardships in life!

Lord, remind me of the powerful resources you have given me, especially when I and others need them!

John 21:15-23: Second Chances

Read: John 21:15-23

Peter denied Jesus three times, even after saying that he would never do such a thing. And when Peter did deny Jesus, he remembered what Jesus had spoken to him concerning this and wept bitterly. Without a doubt, Peter felt like an athlete who had been ejected from the game and felt like his career was over (John 18:25-27, Luke 22:62). But quite the contrary was true. Even though Peter had denied Jesus, Jesus was not finished with Peter. In fact, this gave Jesus and opportunity to model one of the things he had taught Peter: love and forgiveness. Jesus when he washed Peter’s feet said that Peter was not in need of a whole bath, rather just a small cleansing (John 13:10). Jesus, after Peter denied him three times, asks Peter if he loved him three times. Peter in all cases answers that he does indeed love Jesus. Jesus in response to these answers commands Peter then to “Tend his lambs”, “Feed his sheep”, and “Tend his sheep”. Jesus was metaphorically telling Peter to not feel down in the dumps, but get back in the game and do what he had been commissioned to do. Jesus follows this up with a parabolic saying concerning the sort of death that Peter would die. Peter, according to the historian Eusebius was crucified upside down on a cross in Rome. This sort of violent death was akin to one jerking Peter around where he did not want to go similar to an older person who he told what to do.  Peter would get back in the game and dedicate himself to the task of Preaching Jesus to the nations.

Jesus then says a peculiar statement: “Follow me!” This is certainly a throwback to when Jesus first met Peter and Phillip and said “follow me” in John 1:43. The command to follow Jesus was coming to them again at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Many thought that the preceding statement was an indication that one of the disciples would live forever until Jesus’ return. The reality of the matter was that Jesus was just stating a fact concerning his ability to do so, not necessarily implying that one of them would actually do that. In any case, the concern was not to worry who was betraying who or anything of the like, rather to focus on the main thing: Jesus.

The command to follow Jesus went out to the original disciples at the beginning of his ministry and at the end of his ministry on earth. Like Peter though, faltering in one’s walk with God does not cast him or her out of God’s presence forever. What Jesus wanted from Peter was not a prideful heart that denied what he did or tried to rationalize what he did, rather a contrite heart and a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17), and Peter had this. Jesus took this broken man and was able to restore him so that Peter would be a leader as the gospel went out from Jerusalem. God does not give up on people; rather people give up on God. But when one does falter, one need only confess it to God and God is faithful to restore (1 John 1:9) and give someone a second chance. And one can continue to walk in the ways of God all the more.

Lord, help me to continue to follow you, even after I mess up!

John 17:22-26: God’s Glory and Love Revealed

Read: John 17:22-26

Jesus while praying for the disciple prays that the Father would be glorified in them just as the Father had been glorified in Jesus and so that the disciples would know the oneness that Jesus has with the Father. They would know the love of the Father for Jesus and have the same sort of “perfect unity” that Jesus had with the Father. Because of the oneness the disciples will have with the Father, the world will know that Jesus sent them.

The manifestation of God in one’s life is the Holy Spirit living in one’s life (John 14:16-18). The disciple were not be left as orphans, but were to receive the Holy Spirit who would guide and teach them in the way they should go so that the world would know that Jesus was sent. The Book of Acts records the progression of the Holy Spirit coming into the lives of believers and directing them where to go next, what to say, how to say it, among many things as the gospel went out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. But before they started this mission, they went to Jerusalem to wait on the Spirit (Acts 1:4). The Spirit came and they were filled with power and this started the movement that Jesus was promising even here.

Jesus also asks the Father that the disciples get to see the glory where Jesus was and how the Father loved even before the foundation of the world. Seeing the glory of God revealed was not something that anyone could do and live (Exodus 33:20-23). God’s glory could certainly overwhelm a person as it did with Isaiah when he was in the presence of God (Isaiah 6:1-8) because one realizes his or her sin and cannot stand before God because of this. Up to this point, the disciples had seen some manifestations of God’s glory and had accessed the Father principally through God in human form, Jesus. Jesus was asking God to fully reveal himself to them so they could know the glory of not as in a mirror or with veiled faces as Paul describes (1 Corinthians 13:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18), but rather in the fullest sense of what can be known. He asks this so they can know the love of the Father for the Son, the love of God for them, and so Jesus may be with them in this love.

God did not stop revealing his glory and love with the disciples. Everyone who believes in the name of Jesus can know the love of the Father in the same way and have the oneness with the Father in the same manner the disciples did. In doing so, they will too receive the power of God and will be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can then help guide and direct the Christian as he goes into the world and speaks about the truth of Jesus.

Lord, I have seen your glory and love! Compel me to show it to others!

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