Tag Archives: Paul

Love Is the Greatest Command

The Most Important Thing in the Bible Is Love

Though the Bible has many commands, love is the greatest command of them all. Check it out:The greatest of these is love.

The Old Testament Law

In the first five books of the Bible, sometimes called the Torah or Pentateuch, God gives instructions to Moses. The people refer to this as the law. These rules, or guidelines, are numerous. In fact, there are 613. Though I once considered counting them myself, I decided not to. Plenty of Jewish scholars already have, and they come up with 613. I’m fine with that.

Bible students divide these 613 instructions into two categories: things we should do and things we shouldn’t do. Some people call these positive commands and negative commands. In case you’re wondering, yes, there are more things we shouldn’t do than things we should do. Furthermore, some Bible academics group these 613 commands by topic, such as worshiping God, making vows, offering sacrifices, and so forth. Even with these divisions and categorizations, the number of instructions is still unwieldy. Besides there’s not too many people I know—okay there’s no one I know—who follows all 613 rules.

The Ten Commandments

In the middle of the 613 instructions, we find the Ten Commandments. Ten is much more manageable than 613. Most people I know affirm the Ten Commandments—even if they can’t list all ten. (Though I can come close, I can’t either. But this doesn’t trouble me because different faith traditions can’t agree on what the ten are anyway.)

Again, scholars divide this list. The first four commandments relate to our relationship with God, and the last six relate to our relationship with others. Also, if you’re keeping track, the majority of the Ten Commandments tell us what not to do, only a few tell us what we should do.

Jesus Summarizes the Law

Someone asks Jesus to identify the greatest commandment. But he doesn’t give one answer. He gives two. The first is to love God fully and completely. The second is similar, to love others as much as we love ourselves. Then Jesus adds that the Law and writings of the prophets all hinge on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36–40).

Though Jesus gives two answers, they have a common theme. The theme is love. Love is the greatest command. Love is the greatest commandment. Click To Tweet

Paul Writes about Love

In the first letter Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he devotes a whole section to love. He tells them how important love is and gives them a description of how love behaves. Then he says that love never ends, even though prophecies—and other things people think are important—will cease. He concludes this famous passage with a succinct phrase, “The greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13).

Love Is the Greatest

So, we start with 613 instructions, focus on the ten big ones, and then Jesus narrows it down to two, which have a common theme of love. Paul confirms that love trumps everything.

Instead of focusing on what we should and shouldn’t do—following a list of requirements with religious fervor—we should instead turn our attention to the greatest commandment: love.

Love God, and love others.

If we do this everything else should fall into place.

What Does the Bible Mean When It Says, “All Scripture?”

All scripture can teach us about God and instruct us in his ways

What Does the Bible Mean When It Says, “All Scripture?”One verse I heard often at a particular church I attended was 2 Timothy 3:16. It says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” (KJV). This verse was cited to remind us of the holiness and practical applicability of the Bible to inform our daily lives. According to this preacher, “all scripture” referred to the KJV, the only version he accepted.

However, let’s consider the phrase all scripture. When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, the New Testament didn’t exist. So Paul couldn’t have been referring to that text. Yes, there were various portions of what later became the New Testament being circulated among the followers of Jesus, but they also shared other texts that didn’t make it into today’s Bible. Therefore, Paul couldn’t have meant for all scripture to encompass the New Testament.

From his perspective, when he said, “all scripture,” he envisioned the texts that were available to the Jewish people. That would certainly include the Old Testament) and may have included other supporting religious documents).

The version of the Bible in use in Paul’s time was the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint included the thirty-nine books we have in our Old Testament, but it also included more.

The Septuagint used during the lifetime of Jesus and Paul, also included the books we now call the Apocrypha. So these books of the Apocrypha would fall under Paul’s umbrella term of all scripture. (And for my preacher friend who insisted on reading the Bible in the KJV, I must point out that the original version of the KJV included the Apocrypha.)

That’s something to think about.

If the Apocrypha is part of what Paul meant when he said, “all scripture,” then the Apocrypha is also “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” When Paul writes that all scripture is profitable, I take him seriously. Click To Tweet

The books of the Apocrypha included in the Septuagint are:

See why Christians Should Consider the Entire Bible.

When Paul writes that all scripture is profitable, I take him seriously. And I encourage you to as well.

We Must Teach Sound Doctrine

When we talk to others about God it’s critical we teach sound doctrine

Paul writes a letter of instruction to his protégé Titus. In it he devotes a lengthy section instructing Titus about how to teach others. Paul opens this passage with the simple direction that Titus must teach whatever’s appropriate for sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).

I like this phrase, “sound doctrine.” The concept of having a healthy foundation for our faith should guide the things we tell others when we talk about God.

We Must Teach Sound DoctrineSound Doctrine: This idea of having a worthy creed implies that there is a basis for it. The Bible is certainly our primary source for our doctrine. We find further guidance in this by the direction of the Holy Spirit and in considering what others have to say about the Bible. If we say something contrary to what we find in the Word of God or how the Holy Spirit directs us, this isn’t a doctrine that’s sound.

Unsound Doctrine: If we consider sound doctrine, the opposite might be unsound doctrine. What does this entail? Unsound doctrine includes things that aren’t in the Bible, notions we make up or sound good. Our unexamined customs, practices, and traditions could fall under the category of unsound doctrine. We should avoid it.

Sound Heresy: Another opposite of sound doctrine might be sound heresy. What is sound heresy? It’s things that sound good, but aren’t. Sometimes this is people misquoting Scripture. For example, “The Good Lord helps them who helps themselves,” isn’t in the Bible, but many people think it is. It is, in fact, sound heresy, because people believe it even when they shouldn’t.

Another example of sound heresy comes from preachers who say things with such passion and so frequently, that we accept their words as truth even if those things aren’t supported by the Bible. We feel good about these ideas, but they aren’t relevant; they’re just sound heresy. We must seek to hold onto a sound doctrine. Click To Tweet

Instead we must seek to hold onto a sound doctrine, rejecting shallow doctrine as well as sound heresy. We should be like the people in Berea who check to see if Paul’s words are supported by what Scripture says (Acts 17:11).

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Titus 2, and today’s post is on Titus 2:1.]

The Holy Spirit Lives in Us, But Do We Realize It?

God’s Holy Spirit exists in those who follow Jesus

Before Jesus leaves this earth to return to his father in heaven he promises his disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who Father God will send them. The Holy Spirit will teach them all things and remind them of what Jesus said (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit Lives in Us, But Do We Realize It?

A few weeks later, the Holy Spirit shows up. He comes with power and might. He supernaturally enables the disciples of Jesus to do amazing things (Acts 2:1-4).

What about us today? For people who see no evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they assume this promise of Jesus only applied to his disciples, that the Holy Spirit is not a present-day reality.

However, other people operate under the power of the Holy Spirit most every day. They see Jesus’s promise as one that applies to all his followers throughout time. They believe that the Holy Spirit lives in us—all of us. Which is it?

We get a hint at the answer in Paul’s letter to his protégé Timothy. Paul affirms the Holy Spirit lives in Timothy, as well as in all of us (2 Timothy 1:14). This confirms that Paul believes in Holy Spirit power. Paul moved in that power, and Timothy could tap into that same power. What are we doing with this Holy Spirit power that God gave us? Click To Tweet

Neither Paul nor Timothy were disciples of Jesus, but they are his followers. As followers of Jesus they have the Holy Spirit in them, even though they weren’t his disciples. The same applies to us today. As followers of Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit in us. The Holy Spirit lives in us.

The question is, what are we doing with this Holy Spirit power? Are we ignoring it, or using it to accomplish amazing things for Father God and Jesus?

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Timothy 1, and today’s post is on 2 Timothy 1:14.]

What’s the Only Thing That Counts?

Paul tells us that faith and love is what matters most

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).What’s the Only Thing That Counts?

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.]

 

3 Essential Aspects of Christianity

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

Though 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.3 Essential Aspects of Christianity

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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Is Being a Christian Easy or Hard?

Regardless of circumstances, God walks with us

Is Being a Christian Easy or Hard?In Paul’s second letter to the believers in Corinth, he warns them not to deceive others or distort God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2). That is, don’t misrepresent God’s character or intent to the world.

Yet, this happens. Some people, in their zeal for Jesus, promise those on the outside that if they just say “yes” to Jesus, then all their problems will go away and life will become easy.

It doesn’t work that way.

Jesus says to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28), that his followers may pay a price for their commitment to him.

Paul details this heavy cost. But along with each threat he gives assurance of God’s provision (2 Corinthians 4:8-9):

  • Hard pressed from every direction, but not crushed
  • Perplexed, but not in despair.
  • Persecuted, but not
  • Struck down, but not

God promises we will not be defeated, anguished, forgotten, or ruined. Click To TweetSo when we follow Jesus we can expect to be harassed, mystified, attacked, and hurt. Yet in this, God promises we will not be defeated, anguished, forgotten, or ruined.

We must count the cost before we follow Jesus, because committing ourselves to him may bring about hardship, but take courage knowing that God will prevail and help us through these trying situations.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 4, and today’s post is on 2 Corinthians 4:2, 8-9.]

Who Are We to Judge? We May Have It Backwards

Though the Bible tells us to judge, who we’re supposed to judge may shock you

Who Are We to Judge? We May Have It BackwardsWhen Paul writes to his friends in Corinth, he has much to say because they struggle with many things. He spends a whole chapter in his first letter addressing sin within their assembly: sexual sin, specifically incest.

In reading between the lines, it seems the people involved think God’s grace gives them the freedom to pursue this lifestyle, to live as they wish, while the rest of the church remains quiet on the issue.

Paul is concerned one bad example will infect others and embolden them to go wild as well. As the saying goes, “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel,” though Paul’s first-century version says a little bit of yeast affects the whole batch of dough.

He tells them how to deal with this issue and the perpetrators. Though he expects them to assess the situation and take action, he places limits on the scope of their role as judge.The world fails to see the love of Jesus, because his followers fail to show the world his love. Click To Tweet

Specifically he says not to worry about those on the outside, that God will deal with them. Instead, they need to worry about the people within their group, that self-policing is in order. Paul reminds them that they should judge folks within the church but they have no business judging people in the world.

Much of today’s church has this backwards. We delight in pointing a condemning finger at the actions of the world, all the while ignoring the behavior within our own community.

It’s no wonder the world thinks the church is comprised of close-minded, judgmental, hypocrites—because it is.

It’s no wonder the world fails to see the love of Jesus, because his followers fail to show the world his love. Instead they show judgement, mean, hateful judgement.

Though we need to judge ourselves, we have no business judging the world in which we live. So stop it.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 5, and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 5:12-13.]

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Why We Shouldn’t Take God’s Grace for Granted

We dishonor God by persisting in sin because we assume his grace will cover it

Why We Shouldn’t Take God’s Grace for GrantedA highschool friend heard about the doctrine of eternal security—which some people shorten to the more accessible mantra of “once saved, always saved”—and latched onto it. She reasoned this creed allowed her to act any way she wanted, that she and God were in a good place in their relationship, and her behavior didn’t matter anymore.

In short she took this as a license to sin.

She thought she had her get-into-heaven card, and that was all she cared about. She disconnected her reality on earth from her future in eternity.

Though she rightly embraced God’s grace, she incorrectly assumed it came with endless abundance. This didn’t feel right to me. Surely she overreached and grabbed onto an unwise conclusion. I tried to talk her down from her extreme position, but she wouldn’t listen.

Instead she clung to her steadfast belief that nothing she did from that point forward would have any bearing on her spiritual future. After all, she had said the prayer, so she was in. I wish I had read Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. I wish I had known about the sixth chapter.The deeper the sin, the greater God’s grace. Click To Tweet

In it Paul addresses this topic of sin and grace. The deeper the sin, the greater God’s grace. This is true. Yet some go too far and claim our ongoing sin serves to elevate God’s grace.

Paul says, “No way!”

When we follow Jesus we turn our back on our wrong behaviors (Romans 6:1-2).

I wish I had known that to tell my friend.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 6, and today’s post is on Romans 6:1-2.]

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Should Paul’s Self-Description Inspire Our Faith Perspective?

Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with three traits for us to ponder

Should Paul’s Self-Description Inspire Our Faith Perspective?Paul begins his letter to the church in Rome by giving them an overview of his situation. He shares three characteristics about himself, his mission, and his calling. Though he does this to establish credibility for his message, and thereby encourage the recipients to take his words seriously, the attributes seem like a mini-biography, one with spiritual importance.

In Paul’s self-assessment, he says he is:

A Servant of Jesus: I like to call myself a follower of Jesus—as opposed to the more general description of Christian, which means different things to different people. Being a follower of Jesus shows commitment, yet it still implies I have some say in the matter, that I made a choice.

Being a servant, however, carries with it a deeper commitment. I need to move my mindset from being a follower to becoming a servant. Maybe you do, too.

Called to be an Apostle: Instead of focusing on the meaning of the word apostle, which could suggest a missionary, a church leader, or a passionate adherent (all of which describe Paul), let’s instead focus on the word called. What does it mean to be called by God?

While we may not have a calling at the same high level as Paul, all Christians are called, first to follow Jesus (as in “Come and follow me,” Matthew 4:19) and then to obey him (John 8:51). As we serve him he will tell us to do other things, too. These are our callings, even if we’re not traveling around the world as his missionary.Everyone who follows Jesus should be set apart. Click To Tweet

Set Apart for the Gospel: While being set apart could be a Spirit-led summoning of the highest order (Acts 13:2), it could also be a simple command to set ourselves apart from the world, to not be conformed to it (Romans 12:2). Everyone who follows Jesus should be set apart in this way, while being open for him to also set us apart for something greater.

If we are a true Christian (as opposed to being one in name only), we will do well to adopt the attitude of Paul: that through Jesus we are his servant, called, and set apart.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 1, and today’s post is on Romans 1:1.]

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