Be Thankful (Part Two)

Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (NIV).

We offer thanksgiving as part of our new way of life (3:15). Our union with Christ in his death and resurrection has ended the rule of sin in our lives (cf. Colossians 3:1-4). The practices of the old way of life are contrary to a life of thanksgiving (cf. Colossians 3:5; cf. Romans 1:18-29; 2 Timothy 3:2). For this reason, we are to end the remaining actions of the old way of life. Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5 CSB; cf. Romans 8:13).

Our union with Christ begins the development of a new way of life. We become thankful to God our Savior. Thankfulness disables self-pity. How can you throw a pity party for yourself when you are a thankful person? Consider what we might call the self-pity sequence: Envy leads to self-pity that causes anger that leads deeper into bitterness that in turn causes depression. But thankfulness to God promotes humility and contentment. Every good gift is from God. Therefore, I should not expect to be treated as superior (1 Corinthians 4:7). Every good gift is from God. Therefore, I should be satisfied with his good gifts. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself (Philippians 4:11 CSB).

We also become thankful to others:

  • We recognize our mutual interdependence. We let each other know in a glad and encouraging way that we need each other.
  • We express appreciation. This makes us observe what Christ is doing in and through others, and then to verbalize our approval and enjoyment of such actions.
  • We encourage others in good works (cf. Hebrews 10:25).

We also offer thanksgiving as partners in worship (3:16). The word of Christ should govern our worship together. The word of Christ is both from him and concerns him. He is the source and the substance of God’s revelation or message to us. This word is to live richly in our hearts. How does this happen? It richly lives in us when we listen attentively to it (Matthew 13:9), hide it in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), handle it correctly (2 Timothy 2:15), and hold it out to others (Philippians 2:16).

We must seriously understand that thanksgiving is to be a corporate experience. The whole local assembly is to share in the richly living word of Christ together. Church is not a place that you go to, but it is people in Christ that you partner with for the word of Christ.

When the word of Christ has its proper place in a local church, it transforms the worship of the gathering of believers. The word that is sung in worship becomes a means of teaching and admonishing one another (cf. Colossians 1:28). We join the vertical and the horizontal aspects of worship. Then worship is not an individual matter, but a sweet sharing of life in Christ. Then our songs of praise join together as songs of gratitude for how God has given us grace together in the body of Christ. How is your experience of corporate thanksgiving to God in Christ? How would you rate what happens in your local gathering? Will you join with others to increase the overflowing gratitude that our Lord and Savior deserves?

Grace and peace, David

Be Thankful (Part One)

Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (NIV).

What are some blessings that you highly value? Now what are some characteristics that you highly value in other people? God highly values thankfulness. Yet I do not think that we take this positive quality of godliness very seriously. Read through the letter to the Colossians carefully and see the emphasis on being thankful. Thanksgiving should be part of our lives everyday. We should deliberately build it into what we are. One of the signs of a heart alienated from God is a lack of thankfulness to the Lord God. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21 NIV).

We offer thanksgiving through Jesus Christ (3:17). This is part of our larger life view. In everything we are to be Christ-focused. This approach honors the Triune God, because God designed this as the way to come to him and to honor him. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world (Romans 1:8 ESV, my emphasis). An examination of the New Testament references to thanksgiving reveals an emphasis on the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus. This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:15-16 CSB; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 9:15; Philippians 1:3-6; Colossians 1:3-4; etc.)

Since Adam disobeyed God and ruined our race, God is building a new humanity in Jesus Christ, in whom we are restored to God’s purpose for us. When we are giving thanks through Jesus our Lord, we are functioning according to God’s will and as a byproduct, we feel right. We are in alignment with God’s intention for our humanness.

When we offer our thanks through Christ, we honor him as the mediator between God and mankind. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV). When we offer a sacrifice of praise through Jesus our great High Priest (cf. Hebrews 4:14), we display and develop humility before the living God. We are confessing our absolute need of Christ to consecrate everything to God concerning us, including our praise.

However, we do not want to think of this mechanically or ritually but personally. Offering thanks through Jesus recognizes our personal participation with him in worship. As new covenant priests (cf. 1 Peter 2:5), we join with him to glorify the Father. By faith we should have a lively sense of approaching the throne of grace with him as our leader.

To do this, we ought to prepare our hearts for worship. You might have to rush to get to the gathering of God’s people, because we live in a world where our best plans for getting ourselves and our family ready go astray. But there should be no rush in the inner persons of our hearts. “Oh no, now what am I doing?” Be calm; God knows what happens in your life, and your brothers and sisters in Christ need to accept that, too. Let’s have some holy deliberation in the way we live, and not act like we’re in some sort of panic or agitation.

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Seven)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

Seeking God testifies that our joy is found outside of ourselves. We seek something when we realize that we do not have sufficient resources in us. A thirsty person will get up and look for a glass of cold water. A hungry person will raid the refrigerator, because he or she knows that food is to be found there. In the same way our hearts reach out for God when we are convinced that he has what we need spiritually and eternally. This kind of conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with full assurance (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 CSB; cf. John 15:26; Romans 8:15).

On the other hand, when God seeks us, he is not seeking to supply some deficiency in himself, because he is fully satisfied. And human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need (Acts 17:25 NLT; cf. Psalm 50:7-15; Romans 11:36;). Instead, God seeks us (Luke 19:10) in order to meet our need. God, wanting to share the immensity of his love, reaches out to us that we may drink at his fountain and be utterly satisfied. So he tells us that all his fullness is to be found in Christ and that he gives this fullness to us in Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:9-10 NIV). So then, we should realize that our Father in heaven really wants us to approach him in faith and through Christ by the Holy Spirit draw all that we need to satisfy our thirsty souls (John 4:10-14; 6:34-35; 7:37-39; 10:9-10; 16:24; Philippians 3:1).

Believers must be seekers. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob (Psalm 24:6 ESV). In heaven we will possess all things fully, and God will live with us in a way that is the completion of our present experience (Revelation 21:3-5). But now we are caught in the tension or pull between what we have by grace in Christ and what we still long for—to live directly in God’s presence.

By the presence of God, the Scriptures mean something richer than the omnipresence of God. Truly God is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Amos 9:2-5; Acts 17:26-28), and he is fully present and active in the fullness of his divine power. But by the presence of God, the Bible means God being with his people to bless and help and encourage and make his love known to us. We have this presence through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. As J.I. Packer points out in Keep in Step with the Spirit (p. 49), the Holy Spirit makes known to us the presence of Christ with us so that three events keep happening:

  • Personal fellowship with Jesus – the Lord draws near to us to share our lives with us. God is not a passive spectator but an active participant in our struggles.
  • Personal transformation of character into Jesus’ likeness – the Lord works in us to make us more and more like him, and we produce the fruit of the Spirit.
  • The Spirit-given certainty of being loved, redeemed and adopted through Christ into the Father’s family – the Lord lets us know that we belong to him and that he will never turn his back on us.

Let us draw near to God. He offers much to his children who rely on him. He promises himself, the awesome God over all!

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Six)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

What are some situations in which God calls us to seek his face?

  • We must seek him in the day of trouble. Call on me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15 CSB).
  • We must seek him when we can find no light. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God (Isaiah 50:10 NIV).
  • We must seek him when we lack contentment. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV).
  • We must seek him in the perplexity of life’s decisions. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 CSB).
  • We must seek him when our sins are like scarlet. “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV).
  • We must seek him during suffering. So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good (1 Peter 4:19 NIV).
  • We must seek him when everyone deserts us. At my first defense, no one stood by me, but everyone deserted me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that I might fully preach the word and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth (2 Timothy 4:16-17 CSB).
  • We must seek him at the time of death. The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen (2 Timothy 4:18 CSB).

“Therefore let us learn by the example of this blessed man, that when he had but a hint from God, ‘Seek ye my face,’ he answers, ‘Thy face, Lord, will I seek’” (Sibbes, p. 123). Just a hint from our Father in heaven equals a loving, royal welcome to his dearly loved children. Faith will see God’s light in the darkest room; it senses the feeblest light sneaking through some crack in the wall. It is like the servants of Ben-Hadad, who seized upon a hint of favor from Ahab (cf. 1 Kings 20:29-34). In a similar way, when we communicate with the Lord, we may remind him of his promises to us.

What did the psalmist do? Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope (Psalm 119:49 ESV). How did Nehemiah use this principle when he was distressed about the condition of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:8-9)?

When we talk with the Lord in this way, we are communicating “on the same wavelength” with God. In whatever ways the Lord speaks to us through the Scriptures, we should allow the truth of his word work in our hearts and respond appropriately to him. By this I mean, if we read of his love for us, we should tell him of our love for him. When we hear of his joy in his people, we should rejoice in the Lord. As he tells us who he is, we ought to be willing to disclose who we are to him. If our hearts are moved with the way he commits himself, should not we express our commitment to him? When he tells us to find comfort in his strength, we ought to draw near to him and rest in his almighty power.

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Five)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

So then, we should through faith obey God’s command to seek his face. God’s pattern for our behavior is always to follow his will, trusting him to supply what is need to walk in the way he directs us to walk in.

Now, it’s your turn. Answer the following questions after reading both passages to learn more about seeking the Lord through faith according to his word. What promise did the Lord give to Joshua prior to the conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua 1:1-9)? How is this promise like the one given to the church (Matthew 28:18-20)?

“So though David said, ‘I will seek thy face,’ yet there was a spiritual virtue that enabled him. God must find us before we can seek him. He must not only give the command to seek his face, but together with the command, there goes a work of the Spirit to the children of God, that enableth them to seek him” (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 6, p. 119).

Consider Christ’s commands to the paralyzed man (Mark 2:11-12) and to Lazarus (John 11:43-44). Christ commanded both what they were unable to perform, but with the commands came to them with the ability to obey. We might wonder how weak creatures could seek the face of the Almighty, Eternal God, who is beyond our comprehension. But with the call to draw near to God comes the power of the Holy Spirit to approach the Father through the Son.

What kind of obedience through faith should we give to the command to seek God’s face?

  • We should give an immediate obedience . To seek fellowship with our Father is not something that we should put off. Don’t be like the child who calls, “I’m coming dad,” while he or she continues to play with the toys.
  • We should give a cheerful obedience. For example, Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7 CSB). God is always to be approached joyfully. Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:2 ESV). This was the kind of attitude that Isaiah had when he heard God’s call (Isaiah 6:8). It was the kind of response that the apostles manifested after they experienced the pain they would suffer from obedience (Acts 5:41-42). “God would have things in the church done by such people” (Sibbes, p. 120).
  • We should obey sincerely; that is, we should be seeking God himself and not merely benefits from him. God sees through all hypocrisy. Though he wants to supply our needs and commands us to pray accordingly, the Lord first wants us to fellowship with him. Let us not mix these things up in our attitudes. It is far too easy for all our communication with the Lord to degenerate into sessions in which we only ask for stuff! Would you like to talk with a child who had that kind of attitude?
  • We should seek God perpetually. Resolve on seeking him now; determine to keep on seeking him daily. Our lives are made up of far too many false starts. We fizzle out like a sparkler that a child plays with. Think of something that you really like to do. How do you persevere in doing that action? You seize every opportunity! Seek God in that manner.
  • Our obedience must conform to the command. We only conform when we seek God’s face, regardless of our circumstances. Above all else God wants us to be devoted to seeking him, though we may not see how we will find him.

So then, we seek God successfully when we seek him in Jesus Christ through faith, and as James wrote, this faith produces actions consistent with who God is. “There is no good received by religion if we be not earnest for it. Religion is not a matter to be dallied in” (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 6, p. 304).

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Four)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

Let us look more closely at this. God speaks to us and we may speak to him, but how we speak to God flows from our heart’s direction: “My heart says….” As our minds think about the truthfulness and preciousness of God’s word to us, and our emotions join in with proper corresponding attitudes, then our wills issue correct orders to our whole being. These responses will vary according to the various parts of the word of God to us. For example, reading Psalm 8 should produce a different response than reading Psalm 51.  Reading Lamentations 2 should stir something different in us than when we read Romans 8. This will occur if our whole heart is directing our response to God. If we find the same responses to varied passages, we have a fairly strong reason to believe that they are canned responses, like the “canned laughter” in TV sitcoms. Or perhaps we are just being highly selective listeners. An example is the programmed responses to established rituals from various churches, including from those churches that claim to lack ritual.

What should be happening is that the whole heart should listen attentively, and then the mind, emotions and will should jointly frame an appropriate response, as we see that happened to David in the rest of this verse. But to use another example first, think of Psalm 34:8. Here we hear a call to Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him (NIV). What can you learn about framing an appropriate response to the Lord from this verse?

God expects us to apply the word and direct our whole being to seek him. This is necessary when the word of God exposes our true character to us. As we learn from the Bible our sinfulness, we may become discouraged from seeking the face of the Holy God. But it is at such points that we must by faith act upon the Scriptures and believe that God will receive us for Christ’s sake (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22). For example, what application and direction should we receive from Romans 15:7? What should we receive from Isaiah 40:28-31?

We must grasp that God truly wants us to seek him. Using the word of God with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we are to venture on God’s call to the soul and by faith approach the Lord. God speaks to us through the Scriptures in order that we might fellowship with him. The way is already established in Christ; now we may simply by faith draw near to God.

However, too many use the word improperly. We allow other matters to distract us. For example, when we hear the word preached or taught, we care more for the way the message is presented than for the content of the message. What are some mistakes people make when they listen to the Scriptures?

  • They desire to hear ideas cleverly presented.
  • They wish to increase speculations about doubtful matters.
  • They are eager to hear what agrees with their church tradition.
  • They like easy answers that ignores life’s complexities.
  • They want to hear moving stories.
  • They want to receive memorable phrases.
  • They like to hear what will make them feel good rather than change.

What direction does Christ give us? Listen to two challenges from the Lord Jesus. And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and more will be added to you. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:24-25 CSB, my emphasis). Therefore take care how you listen. For whoever has, more will be given to him; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him (Luke 8:18 CSB, my emphasis). Both the what and the how of our listening matter.

Thinking of how we hear, a lack of concern about our sin and a failure to repent will interfere with seeking God. Christ tells us that those who are poor in spirit, and who mourn (over sin) will be blessed by God (Matthew 5:3-4). But the Lord promises nothing to those who are unrepentant and refuse to listen to the word of God (Deuteronomy 29:19-20; Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 28:9). These truths also must be applied to our hearts!

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Three)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

Our response to the Lord’s invitation starts from the heart—our inner person, the seat of personality. It starts from our mind, emotions and will responding jointly to God’s gracious call. God wants our hearts above all. Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life (Proverbs 4:23 NET). But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over (Romans 6:17 CSB). Though outward obedience to God is good, it means nothing unless the heart is also seeking God. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’” (Matthew 15:7-9 NIV). Here are some characteristics of true spirituality, as we seek God from the heart. It is:

  • Focused on Christ
  • Rooted in redeeming grace
  • Flowing out to love to God and people
  • Living by faith
  • Expressing joy and hope
  • Growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord

We cannot explore these matters now. But we must also understand that true spirituality comes from the heart. It is not something that happens because of external pressure. Some people are “fine” spiritually as long as someone else is applying pressure on them. Friendship can have many positive benefits. There is a proper place for this in true spirituality. See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:12-13 NIV). And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25 CSB). However, there is something terribly wrong if the motivating power to seek God is outside one’s heart rather than inside it. Such a religion would show the lack of a new heart and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who motivates us according to Christ and the gospel. So then, our response starts from the heart, not as the efficient cause, which is Christ, but as the place where seeking God begins. God speaks to our heart and our hearts reply to him.

The response communicates with God: My heart says to you…. “David saw God in all his commandments” (Sibbes). He did not bring God’s communication down to the level of bare “book talk”. Instead, he saw the word as it truly is, as God speaking to us now in written form. The Scripture often declares, This is what the Lord says…. In other words we must lay hold of God’s continuing communication with us through the words, and this means that we must respond to God personally when we hear his voice in the Scriptures. “God and Father, you are speaking to me, and I would speak with you.” So then, we should take the opportunity the Bible presents to us when we read it to respond to God’s communication to us by communicating with him, the living God! This is what some mean by praying the Scriptures back to the Lord. Read a passage, and then use it as the framework of your communication to God.

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Two)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

We have heard God’s call to seek him. Next, let’s think about our response to God’s invitation.

Above all, let us realize that this is a personal invitation to a personal relationship. Seek my face. The living, Holy One wants to meet us up close. He doesn’t hold us at arm’s length. I have an injured shoulder that hinders me occasionally in giving or receiving hugs. Once, someone told me that my hug seemed awkward or reluctant, but that wasn’t the case at all. It simply felt physically uncomfortable at that moment. God has no such limitations. He, through his grace and love in Christ, is always able to invite us to draw very near. Seek my face.

God invites us to seek him, not the rituals of religion. This is where so many go astray from personal contact with God himself. Here is one way this happens. In the law or old covenant, God commanded Israel the way in which they could live in the presence of God and worship him at the tabernacle/temple. God set up laws of ritual cleanliness, prescribed sacrifices, which were administered through priests, as necessary to approach him. The religions of the ungodly in their worship of false gods also had religious rituals. But the true God ended all such things in Christ at his cross. Now true worship is to approach God the Father through the Son on the basis of his once for all finished sacrifice by the Spirit. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18 NIV). Jesus made it clear that the new covenant era was different from the age of the law covenant. Jesus told her, “Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24 CSB).

It is important to draw near to God through Christ and his finished work alone. We do not have prescribed rituals, because the Lord Jesus himself is our access to the Father. We do need the works of the law, because we live in the power of the Spirit. When we read the word, we hear the written voice of God in our personal nearness with him. Reading the Scriptures is not the means to gain God’s acceptance for a personal relationship. Instead, when we read, we simply listen to him in a state of nearness. The same is true of prayer, which is the believer’s communication with God. We speak with the living God as his dearly loved children, because he has brought us near in Christ (1 Peter 3:18). We meditate on God’s written word, because we have heard his voice and delight to ponder his word to us, as a husband or wife reflects on the words of their beloved. We eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper, not to receive grace, but because we remember the Lord in whom we already have grace. We sing in services, not as a means to gain God’s ear, but because he delights in the united voices of his children, as we declare his greatness to each other.

Therefore, live joyfully in your nearness to the God of glory. When you meet with your brothers and sisters in the Father’s family, delight in the blessing of shared grace. “We are here together with God the Father—set free, adopted, accepted, and eternally loved!”

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part One)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

In this verse we see God’s command and David’s obedience. God provides David with a warrant to seek God and David responds by accepting the offer. The first three words are not in the original text, but are added by the translators to make clear that God was inviting David to seek his face. The lack of the words should not surprise us. Close personal relationships are emotional, even when they flow deep beneath the surface, and so they can be abrupt. The sudden call from God to seek his face is thus very natural.

Let’s focus on God’s call to us.

In these words God is revealing to us that he wants to disclose himself to humans. In God’s word, we see written the certainty of his desire. David as God’s prophet tells us of this. God is reaching out from the glorious splendor of his majesty to draw near to his weak creatures. Here is a source of happiness, that God would have a close (face-to-face) relationship with people that he created. From this we ought to gain a better understanding of what true religion is. It is much more than the performance of ritual—any ritual and especially empty ritual. True Christianity is intensely personal. God calls to people he made to dare and approach the Holy One as one would approach a friend or lover. Yes, we must approach him as he directs in his word, but that is not the present point. Instead, it is God graciously calling, and a human simply trusting that call to dare to communicate with God.

Why would God want to call us to him? Mere creatures, particularly sinful creatures, can never add anything to all-sufficient Glory. No, it is because in his holiness (set-apartness) he is loving and good, and he wants to share his glory and goodness and love with us. So we hear these words, “Seek my face.” Notice also that God takes the initiative in relating to us. By nature we do not seek God (Romans 3:11). In fact, we wander from him and suppress his revelation. We fail to invest time to draw near to him. We get caught up in lesser things to our own loss. But God still graciously calls us to draw near to him (cf. James 4:8).

What we must understand is that God wants us to know him and to approach him personally. Some people who are great in the eyes of the world hold themselves back from common people. But God, the greatest of all, want us to be with him—forever. This is one of the goals of the plan of God (Revelation 21:3). Everything that God wants us to do by means of evangelism and worship and discipleship and service and prayer and fellowship tends toward this greater purpose; namely, to have a people close to his face. In the same way, every sin opposes that goal and seeks to ruin it.

Therefore, we must realize that if at any time we are not enjoying the sweetness of being near to God, the problem lies with us, and not with the God who loves us and calls us to participate in a close personal relationship with him. This can be hard for us to accept, since we tend to act like Adam in the Garden, when he blamed God for giving Eve to him. In our sin we want to blame God and to excuse ourselves. But our minds must be controlled by the Scriptures.

God has chosen to communicate his desire for a personal relationship with people. This is not some hidden fact, disclosed only to some discerning theologians. It is plainly stated in this text and many texts. Think of all the calls that come from God or Christ in the Bible. Consider God’s desire to fellowship with his people through Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9). Before the creation Father, Son and Holy Spirit were fully satisfied in their united glory as God. But because God is good, he willed to make his goodness known (Romans 9:23-24), not because he had to but because he wanted to. As light naturally enlightens a room, so the goodness of God naturally reaches out to those who need his goodness. What of those who do not want God’s goodness? Their wickedness does not discredit God’s goodness (Romans 3:1-8), and they fulfill another purpose (Romans 9:22).

Since we are God’s people and have experienced his goodness in a close way, we should sense our responsibility to let others know of his goodness (Psalm 34:8). God has called us to a place and time to be a co-communicator of his desire for personal fellowship. As we experience God’s goodness, we become better communicators of God’s desire to share his goodness with people that he has made. We thus have a happy message. In addition we show forth God’s desire when we freely want to tell others of God’s goodness and when we seek to spread this knowledge far. When a fire is great it burns far; when love is great it extends and communicates itself far and wide.

Grace and peace, David

Love in Practice (Part Two)

1 John 3:16-18

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (NIV).

When we learn the truth and begin to practice it, we learn the obligation to love one another sacrificially (3:16b). Instead of using the worldly language of unconditional love, it is more accurate to use biblical ideas and to say sacrificial love. God teaches us that genuine love requires us to give ourselves sacrificially for the good of others.

Notice that the apostle uses the language of “ought”. He is not merely giving good advice, like “you ought to buy this brand of gasoline to keep your fuel injectors clean.” The word John selected conveys the sense of obligation or debt (cf. Matthew 18:28, 30, 34). This is a constant obligation—present tense. Whenever we encounter others in need, we have a responsibility to do what we can to help them. Remember the parable of the “Good Samaritan” that Jesus used to teach the meaning of a neighbor in need.

We have not reached a proper understanding of love until we actually give sacrificially for the good of others. You will never express love in a relationship simply by talking about it. Anyone can say “I love you.” It is another matter to do disagreeable tasks for the benefit of someone else. You will know what love means when you have given yourself for someone else. Obviously this concept is not too popular today. It requires us to put others first and to risk personal discomfort. Someone might say, “I don’t feel like doing that!” I used to respond, “You don’t have to feel like it; just do it!” However, I find that somehow dissatisfying and not really measuring up to Christ’s example. Instead, stop and count the cost, but as you do that, factor in the truth of his love for you, and let his love rule your emotions. Never allow emotions that are unregulated by redeeming grace to have a greater authority in your heart than Christ’s example and God’s word.

How is loved proved or demonstrated (3:17-18)? John answers by illustrating with a scenario that shows the absence of love (3:17). Observe the reality test: if someone is capable of meeting a need. God is not asking you to step beyond what he has equipped you to do. But that is not the problem envisioned here! Too often we try to find a way out of simple obedience by raising objections that do not in fact apply to us or the situation.

John is talking about a person who has sufficient means to help, but closes their affections. The Greek word translated pity here means the seat of the emotions, including love, sympathy, pity and compassion. Observe the conclusion: then how does God’s love remain in such a person? God’s love changes how we act toward others!

So then, John says that love requires agreement between words and actions (3:18). He urges us to close the gap between our profession (words) and our practice (actions). Genuine love, like true faith, produces works. In fact, love produces works that are difficult and strenuous to perform. As Paul wrote, We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3 CSB, my emphasis).

One of the most difficult works we are required to perform is to evaluate a situation to determine what is Biblical, what is merely my preference, and what I must choose to do for the benefit of others! This can cause a seemingly mature saint to crumple. Or it might help you stretch your faith and grow! Consider 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Love for one another is indispensable in the church (Ephesians 4:29-5:2). We may not hold back from reaching out to meet the social and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means that every child of God must always communicate with the rest of the Father’s family in a loving manner.

Grace and peace, David