Speak Truth in Love

Being both honest and kind is how we grow in our faith and mature through Jesus

Speak truth in love.When Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he tells them to speak what is true with love. This should be our guide in all that we say. While this makes sense, it’s harder to put into practice.

Truth: This phrase, to speak truth in love, starts with a call for honesty. As the saying goes, “Honesty is the best policy.” Better still, the Bible commands us not to lie (Leviticus 19:11).

Yet how often do we tell a tiny fib to protect someone’s feelings? Is this okay? How often do we tell someone an untruth because it is expedient? Or maybe we lie to avoid a confrontation or having a difficult conversation.

While some of these issues may be shades of gray, others are black-and-white. The point is Paul tells us to speak truth.

Love: The guiding principle in how we express ourselves honestly is love. Love should temper what we say and how we say it. We want our words to help and not to hurt. Love is the framework for truth telling.

Yet sometimes out of a desire to love, we hide the truth. We obscure what is real because it is the easier path to take. This is a show of love, but it’s outcome isn’t truth.

We need to speak what is true and to do so with a loving attitude.We need to speak what is true and to do so with a loving attitude. Click To Tweet

Grow: Though speaking the truth in love feels like wise advice, it’s not always the easiest path to take. Being both honest and loving at the same time can be a challenging thing to do. But we must persist in this effort.

When we speak the truth in love, Paul tells us that we will grow in our faith and develop maturity as the group of people—the church—who follow Jesus.

That’s why speaking truth in love is so important. We do it for Jesus.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Ephesians 4, and today’s post is on Ephesians 4:15.]

What’s the Only Thing That Counts?

Paul tells us that faith and love is what matters most

What’s the Only Thing That Counts?In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he opens chapter five with a discussion about freedom and slavery, about following the law and not following the law. He says that in Jesus these things have no value.

His explanation of this is a bit confusing. It’s a passage we need to go back and reread to try to understand what this prolific biblical writer is trying to tell us. But if we don’t quite grasp it, that’s okay. He summarizes his point in one succinct line: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6, NIV).

The only thing that counts is love expressed through faith.

Think about it.

May we use our faith to express our love to others. It’s the only thing that counts. Click To Tweet

Faith is the starting point. We have faith in God the father through Jesus the son as revealed by God’s Holy Spirit. We have faith that God lives in us and is through us. We have faith that a better tomorrow awaits us, both in this world and in the next. We have faith that God is with us in all circumstances and at all times, that he answers our prayers aligned with his sovereign wisdom.

But faith alone fall short. James tells us that faith without action is dead (James 2:17). While action could mean many things, let’s go back to Paul. He says that through our faith we are to express love. That’s what matters.

If faith is the starting point of the one thing that counts, love expressed is the outcome. Love is a confusing word in today’s modern society, covering the full gamut of emotions from preference to passion. But to understand the kind of love that Paul is talking about, we should go back to the Bible, we should go back to the words of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. He starts out by saying, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NIV).

He ends his explanation of love with these words, “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Did you catch this? In Paul’s trio of traits, he starts with faith, and he ends with love. Hope is what connects the two.

May we use our faith to express our love to others. It’s the only thing that counts. Paul says so.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Galatians 5, and today’s post is on Galatians 5:6.]

 

Was Jesus a Feminist?

Jesus elevates the standing of women and treats them as equal to men

Was Jesus a Feminist?As the book of Matthew winds down, we see in chapter 28 that Jesus rises from the dead, appears to his followers, and ascends into heaven. As he arises, he leaves us with the Great Commission: to go throughout the world and tell others about him.

In reading this chapter it’s easy to miss something that seems trivial but is actually a huge deal. When Jesus rises from the dead, who are the first people he appears to? He first reveals his risen form to a group of women. I think this is intentional. Here’s what happens.

Jesus’s body is placed in the tomb. After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and another Mary go to the tomb to ceremonially prepare Jesus’s corpse for a proper burial. What they encounter shocks them.

The earth quakes. An angel opens the tomb and sits there. He tells the women not to be afraid, that Jesus isn’t there and has risen from the dead. The angel shows them the empty tomb and tells them to let the other disciples know.

Jesus’s victory over death is huge news. This accomplishes what he came to earth to do. Everyone needs to know. He chooses women to carry this all-important message to his followers.

However, the culture of the day didn’t give any credence to the testimony of females. It was a male-dominated society. Women were treated as second-class citizens. Imagine that: The world’s most important news ever is delivered by people the culture overlooks and even dismisses.

But by his example, both during his life and after his resurrection, Jesus seeks to change that. He considers women fairly. He treats them as equals to men. His attitude and actions toward women is counter-cultural for the day.Jesus may have been the first feminist. Click To Tweet

Jesus may have been the first feminist. Though feminism is a loaded term—that means different things to different people—the dictionary tells us that feminism is believing in and advocating for the equality of women.

Though much has changed in the 2,000 years since, there is still more work to do. We, both male and female, should follow Jesus’s example and pursue gender equality. After all, both men and women are his children. He loves us all just the same. We should do likewise.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 28, and today’s post is on Matthew 28:8-10.]

How Do We Respond to Jesus?

We should show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us

Live for JesusThe Bible records many things Jesus did when he was here on earth. A reoccurring action is Jesus healing people from their physical and spiritual maladies. Matthew 8 records several of these instances, and we will focus on one of them.

Jesus goes to Peter’s house; his mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. (Note the reference to Peter’s mother-in-law. This tells us Peter was married.) Though we may not think too much about a fever today, this illness was bad enough to keep this woman in bed. She wasn’t merely resting, waiting to get better. She was incapacitated and not able to do anything. The situation was serious.

Jesus walks up to the bed and touches her hand. When he does her fever leaves her body. The next phrase is curious. It says she gets up to wait on him.

The cynic might say that Jesus healed her with selfish intentions, that he made her well only so she could take care of him, likely preparing some food for him to eat. Though this is a humorous thought and one many women likely nod their head in agreement with and might make men snicker, this misses the point.

Instead, I see Peter’s mother-in-law taking care of Jesus as a response to show her gratitude to him for what he did to make her better. Her example is one for us to follow.What do we do to show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us? Click To Tweet

Jesus has done so much for us. What do we do to show our gratitude to him?

It’s too easy for us to move from day-to-day and take Jesus’s work in our lives for granted, to not bother to show him our appreciation.

Jesus saved us, forgave us, and restored us to right relationship with his father. Plus, Jesus loves us, teaches us about God, and shows us how to live.

For all Jesus has done, what should our response be? What can we do to show Jesus how much we appreciate him?

Perhaps we should live for him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 8, and today’s post is on Matthew 8:14-15.]

Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t Understand

False teachers slander what they don’t understand, and they will be destroyed

Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t UnderstandOver the years I’ve heard many ministers talk about things they didn’t understand. Not biblical or spiritual things, but worldly things. Out of ignorance they condemn certain people for their actions, slandering them in the process.

This is why the world doesn’t understand Jesus and his church. This is why the world thinks Jesus hates them. Though he doesn’t, the words people say when they talk about things they don’t understand sends the wrong message that Jesus has something against humanity.

In Peter’s second letter he talks about these ministers and those who parrot their uninformed views. Peter explains that these teachers who slander what they don’t understand are false teachers. They’re irrational like wild animals. They’re creatures operating under instinct, void of intelligent thought. What is the outcome of these false preachers who speak of what they don’t understand? Peter makes it clear. They’ll be destroyed (2 Peter 2:12).

Jesus is all about love. Jesus loves everyone, especially those on the outside, the people on the fringes of society who religious folks reject.Many people, who claim to represent Jesus, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately too many people who claim to represent Jesus, often the ministers of his churches, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. These false teachers cause the church to reject those in the world and condemn them, even though this isn’t what Jesus wants.

We should reject these false teachers. We should ignore what they say and disassociate ourselves from them. These false teachers will be destroyed. Peter says so.

Instead we need to align ourselves with Jesus and the love he offers to everyone. When we do this, our love will point them to him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Peter 2, and today’s post is on 2 Peter 2:12.]

The Bible Teaches Us How to Live With One Another

Scripture is packed with instructions of how Christians should treat each other

 The Bible teaches us how to live with one another.Last year I shared 13 Reasons Why I Love the Bible, and I periodically expand upon one of those thirteen reasons. Today we’ll explore how the Bible teaches us to live with each other. Although these lessons occur throughout the Bible, let’s focus on one reoccurring theme. I call these the “one another” commands. These instructions teach us how to treat each other.

The Bible contains thirty-one of these one-another instructions. Most only occur once, but four of them occur multiple times. This must mean they’re more important, or else they wouldn’t be repeated. They are:

Love One Another: The command to love one another occurs ten times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. John writes about this the most but so do Paul and Peter.

Unfortunately our society today has a skewed understanding of the word love. Consider the following.

  • I’d love to go to the movies with you.
  • I love pizza.
  • I love to read the Bible.
  • I love my family.
  • I love God.

These are all phrases I’ve used. But they convey different meanings of the word love, ranging from preference to passion. What is love? Our society often treats love as an emotion, but let’s consider love as an attitude that prompts unselfish action. When it comes to loving one another, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us some helpful instructions on how to do this. By following these verses we can begin to love others in a biblical way.

Encourage One Another: In four places, both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible tells us to encourage one another. Using positive words to lift others up and inspire them in their life and faith is a simple thing, yet most of us fail to do so most of the time. This is a skill we need to learn and then apply.

We all know people who encourage us. We enjoy our time with them, because we feel better about ourselves afterwards. May we be like them.

However, we also know people who we don’t enjoy being around because they discourage us, either directly through negative talk or indirectly through their attitudes. May we not be like them.

Let us encourage others and provide a positive, nurturing relationship that motivates them to do better.

Live in Harmony With One Another: Paul and Peter tell us we’re to live in harmony with one another. This is key. Harmony comes out of biblical love and is bolstered by encouragement, but there is more to harmony than that.

Two words come to mind that relate to harmony. The first is peace. We should strive to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

The second word is unity. It’s critically important for followers of Jesus to live in unity with one another. When we do so, we point others to Jesus. When we fail to do so, we push people away from Jesus. May it never be so.

Unity—that is, harmony—is important to Jesus. In one of his prayers he asks his father that we will live in unity, that we will be one just as he and his father are one (John 17:21).

Greet One Another With a Holy Kiss: The fourth of the one-another commands that appears multiple times in the Bible is a perplexing one. It’s the instruction to greet one another with a holy kiss. What does that mean?

I explored this in another post where I speculated that this command might be a “sacred act of intimacy for the church community.” Then I admitted that I’m not really sure.

Another thought is that greet another with a holy kiss might be like a secret handshake, a way to express Christian affinity without saying a word. I suppose that works, too.

Or we could interpret this command to greet one another with a holy kiss as a principle that implies acceptance and affection with all others who follow Jesus. This also might be a viable interpretation of this confusing phrase.May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us. Click To Tweet

In addition to these four, there are twenty-seven other one-another commands in the Bible. As we strive to follow them and put them into practice, the Church of Jesus will grow, and the world will be better for it.

May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us.

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3 Essential Aspects of Christianity

Living for Jesus is simple, but we often make it harder than it needs to be

3 Essential Aspects of ChristianityThough some people try to turn their walk with Jesus into a complex set of criteria, in reality living the Christian life is simple. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it is simple.

Here are the three essential aspects we should consider as we follow Jesus. In practical terms, this is what it means to be a Christian.

Worship God: As a follower of Jesus, we want to put God first. We do this as we worship Him. We must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). I understand this principle, but figuring out what it means presents a challenge. Yes, we worship him on Sunday morning, but we also worship him the other 167 hours of the week.

We worship God by how we live our lives. We worship him by the things we say and do. We worship him with our thoughts and attitudes. And we worship him when we practice the next two essentials of our Christian faith.

Pursue Community: God exists as Trinity, as three in one. God is a community. He wants to have a relationship with us that reflects his community. Yes, we should have a fearful reverence for God. And we should love him as our perfect heavenly Father. But amid this resides living with God in community.

Beyond having community with God, he wants us to be in community with his other children. He created us to crave connection. We aren’t to live out our faith in isolation but to love one another. Community means we encourage one another, support one another, and put one another first. Which takes us to the third essential aspect of living the Christian life.

Prioritize Others: As we walk with Jesus, we esteem others as more important than ourselves. This is hard in today’s me-first society. But it is Jesus’s way. We sacrifice our ego and set aside our plans in order to do what is best for others.

That’s what Jesus did. That’s what we should do. And this doesn’t just apply to those in our spiritual community, but it also applies—in fact it especially applies—to those outside our Christian bubble.

Putting others first concerns our neighbors, the people we meet as we go about life, and those within our circle of influence. By putting others first, we show them Jesus’s love. Without saying a word, we can point them to Jesus.

In considering these three essential aspects of Christianity, we can further simplify them with one word: love.Love is how Jesus lived his life, and love is how he summed up the entire Old Testament. Click To Tweet

Love is how Jesus lived his life, and love is how he summed up the entire Old Testament. He condensed the Law and the writings of the prophets into two simple perspectives: love God and love others (Matthew 22:38-40).

Furthermore, in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth he talks about love. He ends this well-known passage saying that the greatest thing of all is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love is what matters most. As we worship God, pursue community, and put others first, we exemplify the love of God.

May we all love well. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

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How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?

Through Jesus we can discover our response to violence and oppression

How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?Seldom a day goes by when we don’t hear of terrorists who commit violence and murder in the name of their faith. These religious zealots believe a higher calling gives them the right to kill others in order to elevate their beliefs.

This seems barbaric, ignorant, and misguided. We, as followers of Jesus, would never do that. But Christians have. In the name of religion they killed. And we only need look at the Old Testament for a precedence that seems to give permission.

Old Testament Violence

As the nation of Israel leaves Egypt and comes to reclaim the territory God gave them, he tells them to annihilate the inhabiting people, to utterly destroy them and their pagan practices. As I read these accounts in the Old Testament, I struggle with the violence I encounter. I don’t get it. It doesn’t seem justified, and it’s not fair.

Yet, I see four things that somewhat help me reconcile the violence we read about in the Old Testament.

It Was Specific: God does not give a universal command for his people to kill all their enemies, regardless of geography or situation. He directs this instruction only at the people living in the Promised Land, occupying the territory he gave his people. To apply this to any other circumstances is inappropriate and a misuse of scripture.

It Was For One Season: God’s command to wipe out the inhabiting peoples only applies to one period of time: as his people take back the territory he gave them. He never says this instruction to kill and destroy applies for all time or extends indefinitely into the future.

It Was an Anomaly: In a general command, one without limits, God tells his people to treat the foreigners living among them as one of them, as native born (Leviticus 19:34). This is far different than his one-time instruction to kill.

It Was Fulfilled: Even if we disregard that the command to kill was specific and for a limited time, remember that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17). It is over, in the past. The old ways are gone.

Still, these seem to me as poor justifications for the Israelites to kill. Though I’m content to accept God as sovereign and freely admit that I can’t begin to understand him or his ways, I still struggle with the Old Testament’s slaughter of people. (By the way, it’s hard to convert people to your way of thinking when they’re dead.)God says we are to love our enemies, pray for them, and live in peace. Click To Tweet

New Testament Nonviolence

I am, however, comforted by the New Testament, which doesn’t perpetuate God’s people inflicting violence on others. I’m encouraged by what Jesus and his followers say to counter the Old Testament’s accounts of violence:

Love Your Enemies: Jesus says we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). When we love people, we want the best for them. Check out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 for details of what love entails.

Pray For Those Who Persecute You: Right after Jesus commands us to love our enemies, he adds that we should pray for those who intend us harm (Matthew 5:44). By the way, this includes the terrorists who today kill people in the name of their religion.

I’ve never thought to do that until right now. It’s going to be hard. Will you join me?

Live in Peace: Paul writes to the followers of Jesus who live in Rome, instructing them to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). In the book of Hebrews we read the same thing, along with the kicker to be holy as we do (Hebrews 12:14). Our holiness points others to God, allowing them to see him for who he is.

Though the violence in the Old Testament perplexes me, what applies to us today comes from the New Testament: Love our enemies, pray for those who intend us harm, and strive to live in peace with everyone.

That is how we are to respond to the violence around us today.

Does It Ever Seem Like God Hates You?

What we may perceive as a lack of love may actually be the embodiment of it

Does It Ever Seem Like God Hates You?In the book of Revelation, John shares a grand vision with an epic scope, far reaching and future focused. But before we get to that, God has some first-century messages for seven area churches. Three of these messages appear in the third chapter.

In John’s supernatural dream, amid the seventh message to the seventh church, the one in Laodicea, Jesus says “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent,” (Revelation 3:19, NIV).

We know Jesus and his Father are all about love. They love us. That’s why they made a way for us to hang out with them forever. Love sent Jesus to earth. Love sacrificed him for us. Love ushers us into heaven.

When I think of God’s love, I think of his mercy (not getting the bad things we do deserve) and his grace (getting the good things we don’t deserve). I like grace and mercy.

However, two things I don’t think about when I consider God’s love are rebuke and discipline. Yuck. Yet correction is part of love, too. Parents, discipline their children to keep them safe and healthy and to prepare them for adulthood.

So discipline, from both God and our parents, is a good thing. It’s an act of love.When God disciplines us, it’s because he loves us. Click To Tweet

When God rebukes and disciplines us, it’s because he loves us, not because he hates us, has given up on us, or is ignoring us. Correction is one way he expresses his love to us.

How should we respond to his discipline?

Jesus explains that, too. With all sincerity (earnestness) we need to change our ways (repent).

I think this might be one way we can show God we love him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Revelation 3, and today’s post is on Revelation 3:19.]

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Does Jesus Offend You?

Though many people like an easy Jesus, not everyone accepts what he says

Does Jesus Offend You?Jesus normally teaches the masses in parables. Though most don’t really understand what he means, they like his stories because they’re so countercultural. Plus, he sometimes gives them food and heals them. He’s a cool speaker who does nice things for them. What’s not to like?

Then one day he speaks to them directly. He’s blunt. There’s no compelling story, just some weird message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He’s not talking about actual cannibalism; it’s a metaphor—of some sorts. It’s about life and death, sacrifice and reward.

The people grumble. They complain he’s hard to understand and say no one can accept his message. Many of his followers become ex-followers. They reject him and go in search for something else, but the disciples stick around; they’re all in.When things get tough, Jesus’s disciples stick around. They’re all in. Click To Tweet

Yes, the main message of Jesus is easy. He loves everyone and opens his arms to accept us. But sometimes he’s hard to understand, too. Sometimes his message offends people. Their response is to give up on Jesus.

But I’m all in. I hope you are, too.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is John 6, and today’s post is on John 6:53-68.]

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