Communication: Talking Like Jesus (Part Two)

IMG_0254Ephesians 4:20-32

When we speak like Jesus, we will be pursuing the proper goal or purpose of building up others.

Gospel-focused communication will be spiritually constructive. This agrees with the purpose of discipleship, that is, of teaching disciples (Matthew 28:20; 1 Corinthians 12:7). God wants us to build up the body of believers. Talking like Jesus in constructive speech is part of your function in the spiritual body of Christ. The head (Christ) is sending out beneficial messages to each of his members, and we are to spread those beneficial messages to other members. This means we seek the improvement of the people of a local assembly (church) by the way we speak and what we speak. No sane contractor would seek to harm the building he was under contract to construct. Yet how many Christians pull others down by gossip, slander, cutting comments, or a simple lack of gentleness or compassion? And how few deliberately intend to help others improve spiritually, which is the point at hand? Building up one another rarely happens in a quick conversation on a Sunday morning. Such words can be constructive, but they are limited by time. Every Christian needs to be in a small group.

Constructive speech aims to build up, especially where the brother or sister in Christ has a need. What are some needs that we all have from time to time?

  • Rebuke (Galatians 2:14; Titus 1:13b)
  • Instruction (Acts 18:26)
  • Encouragement (Acts 11:23)

When we speak like Jesus, we will keep our words within some wise guidelines. The entire life of Jesus shows his use of wise words at all times. Will the way I am about to talk build up this person like Jesus does, or will it provoke sinful attitudes or responses? Here are some examples:

  • Is my communication sexually suggestive? Sex is a normal part of life. God created it! But improper words can arouse desires that should not be. Talk about sexual matters wisely.
  • Is my communication inducing the other person to anger? The point is to use some common sense to avoid words that are pushing the other person’s buttons.
  • Is my communication causing fear or doubts?  Don’t spread despair amid the general gloom! TV newscasters are paid to spread doom and gloom, but wise words lead people to confident expectation (hope) in God.

What benefits does this conversation intend to seek in the heart and life my brother or sister in Christ? Have I thought this through before I speak? Actually what good will it do? To talk about some subjects with some people is an exercise in futility, because they do not what to listen or change. Consider Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 7:6). Can I turn this conversation in a spiritually profitable direction? Some cannot be, or it is not the time nor the place. We must use discernment; this requires skill. To what degree does this conversation display “true righteousness and holiness” (4:24)?  Jesus our Lord used his words to teach about God the Father and to make us think with an eternal perspective. How are your words doing that?

Grace and peace, David

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Communication: Talking Like Jesus (Part One)

IMG_0304 (1)Ephesians 4:20-32

A few years ago, it was rather popular for Christian youth to be wearing clothes and trinkets with the initials “WWJD”, meaning “What would Jesus do?” Like most modern fads, it was short-lived. Hopefully, it at least was used by God to get some people to think seriously about how authentic their relationship to Jesus actually was. “How can you call yourself a follower of Christ, if you fail to follow him?” is always a legitimate question.

When we focus on communicating like Jesus, it would be very easy to construct whatever model of “talking like Jesus” one desired by a selective citation of a few texts from the Gospels. Join that defective method with a couple emotionally charged illustrations, and you have a ready made heresy. For example, we could turn to Matthew 15 and paint an anti-religious establishment Jesus. That would sound very appealing to “they like Jesus but not the church so we worship in nature” crowd. Or we could read the last part of Luke 8 to emphasize the compassionate speech of Jesus. That approach would endear us to those who want a therapeutic Jesus. Or John 6 would be an excellent introduction to Jesus the theologian, valiantly standing for truth as the crowds walk away. The folks in the institutional, confessional church model like that one. Or perhaps we should open our Bibles to Mark 13 to hear the prophetic Jesus, since in troubled times people want to hear of escape from the turmoil of life. Many escapist Christians love to hear about prophecy above all other things. But then what would we do with Matthew 23? Oh, have you never read it? Should we model our speech after the way he speaks there: “woe to you”? The “angry Jesus clearing out the temple” model appeals to people angry about how their preferred view of culture is being ruined.

My point is that we must always be cautious when we approach the subject of talking or acting like Jesus. Are we hearing only part of what the Spirit has revealed about Christ that is being presented as the whole of what Jesus is and what we should be? The text before us presents a model of communication for talking like Jesus. However, let us remember that it is not all of what an authentic Christ-focused model is. In order to communicate like Jesus, we must draw from his full story, and not merely our preferred passages. Obviously, this could be material for a book. With the preceding caution in mind, let’s consider this idea. To speak like Jesus means to speak in a constructive manner.

When we speak like Jesus, we will rid our conversation of words that are destructive. As a general principle, we will seek to eliminate “unwholesome” talk (Ephesians 4:29). The Lord Jesus never engaged in unwholesome words. The apostle chose a colorful word. Consider a couple literal usages in the New Testament Scriptures. It is used of “spoiled fish” (Matthew 13:48) and of “decayed trees” or “rotten fruit” (Matthew 12:33). From the immediate context in Ephesians, we can find specific examples of unwholesome talk: falsehood (4:25), bitterness (4:31), shouting (4:31), slander (4:31), foolish talk (5:4), and impure or coarse jokes (5:4). A helpful exercise might be to journal the type of words that you use during a week. Write examples of unwholesome words on a sheet of paper, and then put check marks next to them when you know that you have used such words. The goal is a simple reality check for you. Or in your small group (you are in a small group, right?) discuss the subject of unwholesome words together. In what area does most of the group struggle? How can you help each other?

According to this text, we must take charge of eliminating unwholesome talk from the way we talk. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” is about as blunt and directive a command as any in the Bible. We must accept the Holy Spirit’s authority to order us to speak like Jesus. This is not a suggestion, if you want to be “nice”. It is of the essence of new covenant life. We should not minimize these sins of the tongue. “I say that when there is any loose and filthy talk, or talk tending to give liberty to evil, it is just as if speech was being used to poison men’s souls” (Calvin).

There is a better way. Maximize what Christ can do in you by the Holy Spirit. How does this happen? Use wholesome words to strengthen others. Since all followers of Christ are members of his spiritual body, we have an opportunity with the help of the Holy Spirit to be part of significant changes in the lives of others. Effective communication can be very powerful. The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:23-24 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

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Communication: A New Starting Point (Part Two)

IMG_0296Colossians 3:16-17

We might suppose that having a good, beneficial conversation with people that we desire to talk with would be relatively easy, and especially that talking with a brother or sister in Jesus Christ would be the easiest thing in the world. Surely, we’re not talking with a stranger or an enemy, are we? We all know from painful experience that having profitable, God-honoring conversations often prove to be troublesome events. But let us walk with the Lord of glory in his beautiful ways.

Communication starts with the word of Christ. The message of Christ must find a home in our hearts. The “word of Christ” is best understood as the “message that comes from Christ”; namely, what the Lord Christ communicates to us in the God-breathed scriptures. Our hearts are to be the place where his message lives. What does this mean? When you live in a home, you control and make use of the resources available in that home. Clearly, when Christ’s word lives in our heart, it is controlling the “cellphones” and the “tablets” and the “computers” by which those in the home are able to communicate with others. Is Christ’s message controlling the content and the manner of what we say? What did Christ say to others? How did he say it? To answer those questions is a starting point. Please read and reread the Four Gospels!

Christ’s message must live richly in us. What does this mean?

  • Pay close attention to it. In regard to communication, we should listen to the kind of words that Christ wants us to speak and the way in which we should speak them to one another.
  • Submit to the authority of Christ’s word to direct our speaking. This is a conscious decision of faith. Since we believe in his supremacy, we listen to how he directs us to talk with people.
  • Assimilate his lessons. Establish new patterns that agree with what he is teaching you. This is part of being a learner (disciple) of Jesus. Seek the help of the Holy Spirit in doing this.
  • Develop plans for dealing with communication problems. For example, if you know that a certain person or situation presents an opportunity to speak in a way that is not like Christ, then you should prepare to speak in a godly manner. Prayer is necessary.

The message of Christ must structure our speech. I’ll mention two ways. First, since Christ is God’s wisdom, his word leads us to speak wisely. Am I listening to this person, or am I just waiting for a chance to speak? Is this the right time to speak? What needs do I perceive in this person as we converse? Am I trying to assert control or to develop a relationship? Second, it leads us to speak constructively (teaching and instructing). We should frame our words so that the other person is blessed with the knowledge of the Lord.

Communication starts with the glory of the Lord Jesus. We must practice “Christ-structured” or “gospel-formed” communication. Ask yourself, “What on earth is my mouth here for?” We live in a time in which the basic creed is self-satisfaction and self-expression. This heavily influences the way we communicate. People ponder, “How can I get my point across? How can I verbally manipulate others to do it my way?” People try many sinful methods to maneuver people with their words, like flattery, sweet-talk, half-truths, harangue, loudness, anger, obscenity, nagging, slander and gossip. The Lord calls us to speak with a different purpose: to communicate his worth and to express his love.

We must seek ways to express the Lord’s significance. Remember the guiding principle of “for the sake of his name”. We must be intent on making known that God’s reign takes place through the Person, work, word and power of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ! We are to lift up the fame of his name. Christ’s name is what draws followers of Jesus together; it unites a gospel community. We do this by giving thanks for concrete, practical matters in which Christ has made a change in us. We want others to enter into the joy of having the Lord at work in our lives. “Christ is remaking me, and I want you to experience this joy, too!” The point is: If you are new in Christ, you should speak like someone who is new in Christ.

Grace and peace, David

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Communication: A New Starting Point (Part One)

FifteenFiveColossians 3:16-17

We live in a paradoxical time. We have access to an unparalleled amount of information at speeds beyond the imagination of anyone living before 1980. Yet, in spite of all this information, we are losing the ability to communicate with one another. One evidence of this is the divorce rate. A staggering amount of marriages end within ten years. A constant problem in failing or failed marriages is the lack of ability to communicate. When talking with couples that are married or who want to be married, the mentor puts communication high on the priority list of items to work through with the couple. As we approach this important area of life, I think it is important to avoid a new legalism; you know something like “Ten Steps to Great Communication!” Let’s seek a new starting point.

Communication starts with who you are. For the follower of Christ, this means that we are new people in Christ, God’s adult sons and daughters. We cannot change the way the ungodly communicate. A basic principle operates in every human. Our words come out of our hearts (the inner person). See Matthew 12:33-37; Luke 6:45. Destructive words come from destructive hearts (Matthew 15:19); this is the way of life for people who do not follow Christ (Romans 3:13-14). To tell an ungodly person how to reform their way of talk is to provide a temporary, inadequate fix.

We used to live in a house with ongoing water leaks. Once we discovered a leak in our house, as a ceiling tile fell to the floor. The proper procedure was to repair the leak. We did not go out and buy a new ceiling tile, put it in place, without fixing the leak, and then say, “Our problem is solved!”

Those who follow Christ have experienced a radical change. We are no longer what we were, but we are new in Christ. The old inner person has been put off, and a new inner person has been put on (Colossians 3:9-10). As you carefully read the text, you will see that the new inner person is not perfect but is experiencing continual renewal. As J.I. Packer said, it is like we live in a house that is being renovated, and sometimes we have to deal with the dust and trash of renovation. But it is this radical change and ongoing renewal that gives us a new starting point. If you believe in Christ, you are new in Christ. Now live like the new person you are, not the like the old person you used to be. By faith live in conformity with your new life that you have through union with Christ. Our problems come when we don’t live by faith in Christ and try to deal with life in a fleshly manner. A new pattern of life happens as we keep in step with the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:19-26). The Spirit acts within us to renew us according to Christ (Colossians 3:8-9). A married couple who knows Christ can say to each other, “Honey, the Lord has fixed the leaks in our hearts! Now he will help us clean up the mess and redecorate!” The first step in communication change is to know the Ascended Christ by faith and then to act by the Spirit in conformity with him.

Grace and peace, David

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The Breastplate of Righteousness (Part Two)

IMG_0163Ephesians 6:14

It is good to know that God has given us the gift of the breastplate of righteousness, which is part of the armor of the God. This gift is for his glory and our good. So then, let us consider how this armor strongly protects us from two of Satan’s schemes.

One of the ways that Satan opposes the people of God is to accuse us before God (Job 1-2; Zechariah 3; Rev 12). As our adversary, Satan seeks to disrupt our fellowship with God. One means is to attempt to raise questions about our standing before God. The evil one strives to find an ally within us called a guilty conscience. By attacking us here, he seeks to cause all kinds of uneasiness in us. An attack might proceed something like this: “How can you possibly imagine that God will accept you? Look at the ugly mess your life is in! The Holy God, whom you presume to call ‘Father’, will have nothing to do with you, sinner! I have observed your way of life. You call yourself a child of God? Hypocrite is a better name for someone like you.” And so Satan seeks to unnerve us, to raise doubt and fear and unbelief in the good news of Jesus Christ.

How do you handle such attacks?

  • A mere professor of religion will shrug them off. “Why should I worry? I made a decision, I was baptized, and I am a member of the church! I even serve in the church!” But notice the emphasis on “I”. Such an attitude reveals reliance on “works righteousness”. And such a person does not have any firm basis for salvation.
  • On the other hand, a true believer will renew his or her repentance, humbly bow before the Father, and cry out, “Father in heaven, I have no other hope but the blood and righteousness of your Son. Lord Jesus, I trust in you! Lord, you know all about my sin, and my deepest thoughts and motives, but your saving grace is all the merit I need. I rest on you.” Every time a true believer relies on Christ, he or she will experience the full strength of Christ’s righteousness. There is no condemnation (Romans 8:1)!

Another tactic of the evil one is to distract us from the glory of Christ and the joy of knowing the Lord. There are many subtle attacks here. One method is to tempt us to add a little to Christ—a little ritual, a little doctrinal knowledge, a little experience, or a little service. Once the believer falls into the trap, the devil promptly kicks the legs out from that one little extra. Some problem enters the church or the believer’s life, and he or she finds out that there is no joy in that little extra. They have lost connection with the head of the church. The only way back is repentance and reliance on the Lord’s perfect righteousness. Another method is to draw our hearts away from our first love to pursue worldly things: wealth, sports, recreation, vacation, homes, tech toys, and so on capture the heart, and the believer wanders from the battle line to the sidelines. Listen to their talk. It is not about Christ and his righteousness. It is about their current infatuation with the worldly thing. Can such a person recover? Yes, praise God that Christ’s righteousness is sufficient even for that bitter denial of Christ.

Think of the words of verse two of “At the Foot of the Cross” by Steve & Vikki Cook. “Upon the cross of Jesus, Lord I would fix my eyes, for it always will remind me of these truths. My iniquity seems endless, yet greater still your grace, and I will glory in the Cross throughout the ages.”

Has something besides the Risen Lord Jesus captured your heart? What is the burning passion, the desire of your heart? Do you want to sing “love songs” to the Lord Christ, to praise the Father by the power of the Spirit for God’s Beloved Son? Or do you wonder what in the world a preacher or this blog writer is talking about? “What has happened to all your joy? … I am perplexed you” (Galatians 4:15, 20)! I plead with you. Put on God’s armor! Rest and rejoice in Christ’s surpassing righteousness.

Grace and peace, David

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The Breastplate of Righteousness (Part One)

IMG_0280Ephesians 6:14

Consumers are confronted by many marketing schemes, or perhaps some are scams? One that was popular a few years ago during the rebate craze was the “price after rebate”, which sounded fine until you tried to read and fulfill the rebate instructions that seemed impossible to comply with! Another such method was/is the “lifetime guarantee” from companies that are small and that no one has ever heard of. However, true Christianity is not a marketing scheme. Consider Christ’s message to people (Luke 13:3, 5, 24; 14:27; 16:13; 18:22). Such teaching makes it clear that Jesus was not seeking to manipulate people into following him.

Our subject in this series of articles is spiritual warfare. We focus on the armor or spiritual protection that the Lord Jesus Christ has provided for us. The apostle Paul uses the illustration of an ancient soldier’s armor to represent the spiritual blessings that we have in and through Christ. When we are strong in the Lord and his mighty power and by faith rely on what we have “in him”, we are fully protected against any attack of the enemy. Now let us think about the spiritual blessing we have in “the breastplate of righteousness”.

First, let’s unpack the picture of the breastplate. It was vital in battle long ago. In the close combat action of the ancient world (consider scenes from a movie like Gladiator), the breastplate was especially important. It had two parts (the front and the back) and protected the soldier’s heart, lungs and other vital organs. Without this piece of the armor, the soldier was very vulnerable to every sword, spear or dagger thrust and to arrows and other debris of battle. While not impenetrable, it offered him at least some means of making it through hand to hand fights alive. The armor that Christ gives his people is much better than the armor in the illustration.

Second, we need to remove a misconception. At least since the time of John Bunyan and his Pilgrim’s Progress (and I recommend the book), a teaching has been circulating through the Christian church that “the armor is only for the front. The Christian has no armor for the front, so you must face the enemy.” That teaching is partially incorrect. Certainly, we ought to confront the enemy. “Stand!” But the point of confronting the enemy was taken from the wrong idea. Both the breastplate and the helmet protected the front and the back (and the sides) of the ancient soldier. We are still protected, thank God, if our spiritual enemies slip up behind us, or if we fall flat on our faces! Having put on the armor of God, we are very safe throughout all the special emergencies of spiritual battle.

Third, I offer some thoughts to help us understand this spiritual grace. Like the other pieces of armor, some try to interpret this righteousness as the believer’s own achievements in practical sanctification (that is, growth in grace, 2 Peter 3:18). I can certainly understand their concerns, for the pursuit of holiness and godliness is not optional, as the New Testament Scriptures constantly stress. The imputed righteousness of Christ is not a license to sin, as some wrongly teach (Jude 3-4). In fact, union with Christ demands a godly way of life (Romans 6). In a time of growing rebellion against God, we must stand for righteous and holy conduct. However, the evil surrounding us must not lead us to misuse any text of Scripture. For reasons mentioned in previous blog posts, “righteousness” must the imputed or credited righteousness of Christ. Anything else turns the armor of God into our armor, and offers little, if any, protection against spiritual attacks. Only the proud or the ignorant assume that they have progressed in growth in grace to the point where their own holiness protects them. Yes, the Holy Spirit produces conformity to Christ. Yes, that way of life glorifies God. But where in the Bible does he ever tell us to trust in ourselves and our works of righteousness? No, the Spirit of God does not.

Instead, let us think about the gracious provision of the righteousness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This righteousness, which is ours through faith in Christ, is God’s righteousness. It comes from him and fully meets his approval. By it we are right with God—justified (which means, declared right)! We have peace with God (Romans 5:1), are saved from God’s righteous wrath (Romans 5:10), and reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). Being in Christ Jesus, we can never be condemned (Romans 8:1) or separated from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). The righteousness that comes from God and that is by faith (Philippians 3:9) is what the Spirit of God through the apostle urges us to put on. “It is an infinitely perfect righteousness, consisting in the obedience and sufferings of the Son of God, which satisfies all the demands of the divine law and justice…” (Hodge). It is this kind of breastplate that can protect us who follow Christ against the devil’s schemes. Christ’s righteousness is our true joy and confidence in spiritual warfare. Thank God for this far beyond your ability to imagine perfect armor.

Grace and peace, David

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The Belt of Truth (Part Two)

IMG_0188Ephesians 6:14

How do we put on the belt of truth? In other words, how do we establish our minds in the knowledge of God that the Lord Jesus Christ has given us? We must aim at sincerity of heart in embracing Christ by faith. The Lord must be sought, believed in, and loved, and not merely the gifts and benefits that we may receive from him. Do you want to know the Lord (Philippians 3:7ff)? To know God through faith in Jesus Christ is the most important matter. (If you’re not sure what I mean, please contact me.) Though some might agree that knowing the Lord is most important, they develop instability in the inner person of the heart by fickleness. One moment they seem to want to be totally for Christ, but then they flirt with the attractions of the world, the flesh and the devil (1 Timothy 1:5-6; 2 Timothy 3:5).

We must pay attention to the ministry of the Word (Ephesians 4:11-16). Though listening to the ministry of the Scriptures is not a sacrament (a means of conveying grace to the heart by participating in some ritual), the Holy Spirit does use the Bible to develop and perfect correct ideas about Christ our Mediator in our hearts. This means that we cannot “channel surf” in our minds when the Spirit by the Scriptures is presenting doctrine to us. Some think that practical preaching is hearing some “how to” program, like “Seven Steps to Successful Family Living”. However, what can be more practical than knowing more about my God and all that he is?

Do not enslave your mind to any person or party (1 Corinthians 3:4-7). Evidence from God’s Word, not a polished or dynamic preaching style should convince your mind. There is a great difference between profiting from a pastor or teacher and idolizing one. Yet paradoxically, only a thin line separates the two. Far too many blindly accept what their favorite television and radio preachers or teachers say. Follow me only as far as I follow the Lord Christ.

Beware of curiosity (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Many are lured into Satan’s trap out of a plausible desire to understand error. “I want to know what it is, so that I can refute it.” To borrow from the style of John Bunyan in the Pilgrim’s Progress, Ms. Seducing Spirit can pretend to be Mrs. Honest Inquiry. Before you begin the study of error, make sure that your mind is humble before the Holy Scriptures and that you don’t have any loose threads of thought that the evil ones can grab hold of. Some matters are best left to very mature teachers, who “by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish truth from error” (Hebrews 5:14). If you do have to study error, make sure that you cleanse your heart with the truth of the Scriptures after examining falsehood. Don’t give the devil a foothold in a tired mind.

Humbly seek a settled, established mind from God (Ephesians 1:17f; Psalm 25:4; 119:18, 34). To paraphrase William Gurnall: Keep this deep in your heart. God who opens our eyes to know the truth must also give strength to hold on to truth (2 Tm 1:14).

Don’t stumble over differences in opinion that you see among people who profess to know the Lord (cf. Romans 14). Many things can cause a difference of opinion: pride, personality conflicts, ignorance, sin not put to death, twisting of the Scriptures, etc. All the clocks in town will strike twelve together before all the Christians in the world, or any local church, will agree together. Please be more concerned about seeing the power of the clear truth that you do know work in your heart than about how Christians disagree about the millennium or other minor matters.

Every day we must put on this basic grace of knowing the truth that is in Jesus. This is where we start our preparation for the day’s conflict. Approach life from the position that the living God has made himself known to you. Don’t play around with other ideas. Make a fresh commitment in your heart to pursuing the knowledge of the Lord. Only as you know the Lord are you ready for battle.

Grace and peace, David

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The Belt of Truth (Part One)

IMG_0269The Belt of Truth (Part One)

Ephesians 6:14

When you shop for a car, truck, van or SUV, at some point the salesperson will tantalize you with all the features of that particular vehicle: internet capability, safety features, sound system, comfort package, etc. All this is an attempt to convince you that particular model will be perfect for you. All believers are in union with Jesus Christ, and so we already have the perfect spiritual protection package. In this section the apostle Paul uses the illustration of the armor an ancient soldier to help us grasp all that we have in the Lord Jesus. However, the apostle is not trying to sell us this spiritual protection. Like a good salesperson that shows you how to use all the features of your new vehicle when you pick up the vehicle, Paul shows the various features of our spiritual blessings in Christ, in order that we might engage in spiritual warfare successfully.

What spiritual reality is represented by the phrase “the armor of God”? There are three alternatives:

  • The parts of armor signify various aspects of a godly character or lifestyle developed in a believer.
  • The parts of armor stand for various spiritual blessings that we have in Jesus Christ.
  • The parts of armor represent both of these ideas.

Here are some reasons for choosing the second alternative. First, it best expresses the idea that these are parts of the armor of God. I find it difficult to see how they could be character traits or way of life actions that we develop, because then they would only be as protective as far as we mature in godliness. Second, it best maintains the consistency of thought, because some of them, like the sword and the helmet) are clearly direct blessings from God. It seems rather arbitrary to take the others as characteristics of a believer. Third, it best conveys the certainty of victory. For example, consider this remark by Hodge about the breastplate of righteousness. “What is that righteousness…? Many say it is our own righteousness, integrity, or rectitude of mind. But this is no protection. It cannot resist the accusations of conscience, the whispers of despondency, the power of temptation, much less the severity of the law, or the assaults of Satan. What Paul desired for himself was not to have on his own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith; Phil. 3:8, 9. And this, doubtless, is the righteousness which he here urges believers to put on as a breastplate.”

What spiritual blessing does the “belt of truth” symbolize? Let’s begin with two general comments about this picture. The belt was important to a soldier because “it gathered his tunic together and also held his sword. It insured that he was unimpeded when marching” (Stott). Putting on the belt also prepared a person for action, or as here, it was the first step in getting dressed for conflict. Compare 1 Peter 1:13.

Truth does not refer to objective truth, the Scriptures, because that is the sword that we are to take. “But it means truth subjectively considered; that is, the knowledge and belief of the truth” (Hodge). This blessing was given us at the time of salvation, when by the Holy Spirit we were taught the truth that is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:20-21; cf. Matthew 16:17; John 6:45). When by grace we receive Jesus the Lord, we also receive the knowledge of God, one of the basic blessings of the new covenant (Hebrews 8:11).This is the reason Christians ask people, “Do you know the Lord?” By this we do not mean knowledge of the facts about Christ or knowledge about worship skills, but knowledge of the Lord himself. This is where the essence of our protection in spiritual warfare begins. You cannot be strong in a Lord that you do not know. You cannot find protection from one to whom you are a total stranger. Does the Lord know you? Do you know the Lord?

“This is the first and indispensable qualification for a Christian soldier. To enter on this spiritual conflict ignorant or doubting, would be to enter battle blind and lame. As the girdle [belt] gives strength and freedom of action, and therefore confidence, so does the truth when spiritually apprehended and believed. Let not anyone imagine that he is prepared to withstand the assaults of the powers of darkness, if his mind is stored with his own theories or with the speculations of other men. Nothing but the truth of God clearly understood and cordially embraced will enable him to keep his feet for a moment, before these celestial potentates. Reason, tradition, speculative conviction, dead orthodoxy, are a girdle [belt] of spider webs. They give way at the first onset. Truth alone, as abiding in the mind in the form of divine knowledge, can give strength or confidence even in the ordinary conflicts of the Christian life, much more in any really ‘evil day’” (Hodge). Compare Colossians 2:1-10. So then, we ask again, “Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ?

Grace and peace, David

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Healthy Hearts (Part Two)

Proverbs 15:13-17

How do you maintain a healthy heart (15:14)? To have a healthy heart you must avoid spiritual “junk food”. You must not “feed on foolishness” [NKJV]. Foolishness is to live without regard for God and his ways; it delights in the wisdom of the world and pride in one’s own insights. Mental relaxation is necessary to maintain proper mental health. We should not keep the mental gears turning endlessly, or we will wear ourselves out. But we can relax our hearts in godly and wise ways, such as enjoying restful evenings at home with our family or friends, talking walks in the park, reading good books, attending concerts, sunning oneself on the beach, and so on.

However, there are mental activities that are detrimental to a healthy spiritual heart. Here are three to avoid:

  • Listening to the empty speculations of people (Acts 17:21); never go to sleep with error on your mind. Replace it with the truth (Philippians 4:8).
  • Filling one’s heart with visual and verbal images that are unholy (Ephesians 5:3-7)
  • Chasing fantasies (Prov 28:19)

In order to have a healthy heart you must feed on what will build it up in the Lord. Above all this means the knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 2:3). This needs clarification. Seeking knowledge of the Lord ought not to develop out of a desire to exalt oneself intellectually. Study of the Scriptures can easily deteriorate into a vain, intellectual activity.

Some do this to increase one’s reputation or to refute an argument by someone or to feel more spiritual. Such a person might think he or she is building up the heart, while actually weakening it. Our aims should be love for the Lord and a desire to mature—to become like him.

We need to know where to find proper food for the heart. We must begin with the Bible, and then use other means like proven books that exalt the Lord and value godliness, and sound preaching and teaching to aid our knowledge of the Lord’s message.

When you start to eat properly in a spiritual sense, you might find your heart offering objections. All of us struggle with various types of spiritual weakness. For example, “I don’t have enough time” or “I don’t have sufficient ability.” Seek God’s help in managing your time according to God’s purposes. Everyone has the same amount of time everyday—twenty-four hours. It all depends on how you “slice your pie”. I know that some of you have a very tight schedule. Every moment of your day already seems to be scheduled and you do need time to relax. But it may simply be a matter of better time management to place spiritual matters higher in your value system. Write out your daily activities on a piece of paper. Keep track of how much time you invest in each one. Evaluate which ones you can eliminate or devote less time to. Ask yourself, “How do my activities support the fulfillment God’s purposes for my life?” Then make a new daily schedule and give priority to your relationship with God and his other purposes for you.

In faith use the abilities that God has given you. God has made us all different—praise the Lord! He does not give each of us the same intellectual abilities, and he only expects you to use what he has given you. We used to tell our children, “If God has only given you a ‘C brain’ when it comes to math, then use your ‘C math brain’ and earn a C grade. But if he has given you an ‘A brain’ in English, then you should seek to bring home an ‘A grade’ on your report card.” God never expects you to act beyond your abilities. It is far, far better to read one chapter or a part of a chapter in the Bible and to profit from it than to exert effort simply to do a task. Listening to God’s voice written in his word is a privilege and should be a pleasure (Psalm 19:10). But it is also an activity that you must value. You make time to eat physical food, and hopefully you enjoy what you eat. It takes time to exercise, but it can provide a sense of well-being. It is also true that you must schedule time for the word, prayer, and meeting with other followers of Christ. May the Spirit of God lead you into some new spiritual pleasures that will strengthen your heart!

Grace and peace, David

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Healthy Hearts (Part One)

IMG_0242Proverbs 15:13-17

The Bible uses the word heart as the center of the human personality—the inner person in contrast to the body. It is the spiritual side of the person, and it has three aspects: the mind, the emotions and the will. While we all share these three aspects, God has formed our personality and the events of and people in our lives style it, so that we are all unique people. But regardless of our individual form, God tells us truths that he intends to transform our inner person increasingly into his moral likeness. In other words, God wants to perfect the variety that he has designed in the womb and develops through the events and people of our lives. So let’s examine what he tells us about human hearts from this passage.

The Lord tells us the effect of a healthy heart (15:13). Every human is a functional unity of the outer person (the body) and the inner person (the heart or soul or spirit). Contrast this text with Psalm 42:3-5, where we see the depressing influence of a downcast heart. Depression leads to inactivity that breeds more depression and inactivity. It is a downward spiral.

Since we have this functional unity between the inner and outer parts of our humanness, the Lord encourages happiness of heart. In the words of John Trapp of long ago, “The heart sits smiling in the face and looks merrily out of the windows of the eyes.” However, we must clarify the Lord’s intent. The Lord wants us to have a happiness of heart that is based on proper principles (for example, Psalm 32:1-2). The Lord wants us to express our inner joy wisely and with a regard for the life situations of others (Romans 12:15; Proverbs 27:14).

Consider how the heart can create two very different effects. First, a happy heart will make you appear cheerful, and that shows up on your face. I recall two songs from years ago that sought to get this point across: “Take that frown off your face, put a smile in its place, let the love of Jesus Christ show through!” And, “Smile a while, and give your face a rest, raise your hand to the One you love the best, then shake hands with one nearby and greet them with a smile!” Those who are part of a local body of Christ should learn to read each other’s faces, and then prayerfully, boldly and gently seek to serve each other in love.

But second, heartache crushes the spirit—a person loses the desire to continue. What are some causes of heartache? Events like unfulfilled expectations, untimely or unexpected separation, and betrayal by one you love. Such happenings can pile up quickly, and we can feel shattered.

The way out can be difficult and long. The Lord Jesus Christ has provided ways to help you. He speaks to us through his word, providing us his perspective and counsel. For example, read out loud and listen to Psalm 119. It is a great prayer of a person enduring affliction. Let its words soak into you, and then pray them back to God our Father. Jesus has given us his Spirit, who desires to produce his fruit in us (Galatians 5:22-23). Think of each of those qualities, and ask the Spirit to refresh your heart with them. Christ has also placed us in groups of people who know him and love one another (1 Peter 1:22). You are with them to share life, and since they belong to Christ, they are equipped to help you (Romans 15:14). The Lord is forever faithful. Draw near to him; he wants you to have a healthy heart.

Grace and peace, David

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