Do Everything in Love

1 Corinthians 16:14

Let all that you do be done in love (ESV).

God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). He desires that we are like him. He wants our inner beings to be love, and our conduct to demonstrate his kind of sacrificial love (Ephesians 5:1-2). He desires the full compass of who we are and what we do to be love. But….

Yeah, we all really struggle here. As followers of Christ, we want to imitate God’s love, and I think we make serious attempts for comprehensive loving behavior. But it’s a fight to love in everything. I know it sounds strange to put the words “love” and “fight” together. (If you thought of marriage during that last sentence, be thankful that your spouse can’t completely read your mind!) Seriously, we don’t want to admit that it can be difficult to do everything in love, to do the wise actions that demonstrate God’s kind of sacrificial love to our family and friends. On the other hand, we will admit that it’s very difficult to love sacrificially our neighbors, coworkers, and enemies. You see, we suppose that we basically are loving people, and if circumstances don’t mess with us, we will do everything in love.

We ought to do everything in love, but in our text, the Holy Spirit through the apostle decided to instruct us about this. Why do we allow a cross word, an angry look, a small disappointment, or a subtle exclusion of us set us off into actions that are anything but loving?

The answer is not in the circumstances that upset us. It is inside us. Godly behavior is not like the checklist that we all are supposed to do before driving cars. Do you remember that checklist from driver’s education? Before we began to drive, the instructor made us check so many things about the car, the passengers, and the surroundings. We haven’t yet taken our granddaughter anywhere in our car, but there will be new items on that mental checklist! But godly love is not conformity to a checklist. It rises from something inside you.

The something is the love of God. God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5b). Radical change has happened to those who follow Christ. The Spirit has come on us to fill our inner persons with God’s love. This love reached us at the time we were “weak”, “ungodly”, “sinners”, and “enemies” (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). It was love that reconciled us to God. It gives us a new position in Christ before God. It starts to transform our condition in the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

The inner person or heart is the place from which we start to do everything in love. We have a sweet assurance that God loves us. New thoughts develop in the heart. “Since God loved me when I was his enemy, I can reach out with his kind of love to my enemies. Since God loved me when I was a sinner, I can forgive those who have stepped out of line in their treatment of me. Since God loved me when I was ungodly, I can bear with those who are unlike me. Since God loved me when I was weak, I can help those who are too weak to interact with me as they should.” Thoughts like these begin to develop new attitudes. We see people, not as those to be criticized or condemned or cast off, but as those who ought to receive the benefits of sacrificial love – God’s love through us.

This change comes from within as we lay hold of the truth that we did not deserve God’s love. It came from his grace and mercy. It came through great cost, the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. God’s love is cross-shaped, and it remakes our thoughts and attitudes in this same cross-shaped pattern. We then begin to do everything in love, not because love is an item on our checklist, but because it is the pulse of our hearts. God’s overflowing love causes us to overflow with love for others. Doing everything in love comes from a heart filled with God’s love.

Grace and peace, David

Good Desires (Part Two)

img_11742 Chronicles 17:1-19

The Lord God has given people desires or longings. As we live in this world, we develop other desires according to our circumstances, abilities, etc. These desires can be either holy or wicked. In this article, we think again about the good desires that Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, had.

Jehoshaphat had a desire to seek the Lord (17:3-6). Notice how this godly desire worked out in his life.

  • He followed the good example of David. It is not clear if the text should be translated like the NIV does to refer to Jehoshaphat, or as the ESV does to refer to David (“because he walked in the earlier ways of David”). Regardless, Jehoshaphat sought the Lord like David did (cf. Psalm 27:8; etc.), and so he rejected the Baals. There were many false gods worshiped in Palestine with the title of Baal (“Master”). Each one was believed to be in control of some part of nature or some place. Baal worship was the attempt to gain the favor of these so-called gods, so that a person could have a happy, prosperous life. (Hopefully, that does not describe your motivation for worshiping the living God!) Worship of the Lord emphasizes his glory and goodness in redeeming his people from sin to eternal salvation. In true worship, we are not trying to buy something from God, but we are celebrating what he freely does. We need to remember Jehoshaphat’s rejection of Baal worship when we come to the next chapter.
  • His heart was devoted or “lifted up” to the Lord. In contrast, others might lift their hearts up to other gods, human wisdom or selfish ambition. But Jehoshaphat gave his heart or inner person to the Lord and his ways. (You simply can’t give your heart to the Lord and not to the Lord’s ways. True spirituality is according to God’s word.) The principle of the first great command was operating in his heart (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). When he realized that God was his covenant Lord, he gave himself to the Lord’s lordship over him. For Jehoshaphat, this required him to structure his life around the reality of God and his relationship to him, as mediated through the law covenant (Deuteronomy 4:23-24). For us, it means confessing that “Jesus is Lord”. Christ is the ultimate loyalty for the Christian, because God the Father has made him the ultimate Lord over everything. By his death and resurrection, Christ earned absolute lordship, and he exercises it (Romans 14:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:19b-23). Sip on that strong coffee for a while! Yes, that is spiritual caffeine that will really wake you up!

Comment: Some people might say that evangelical Christians are professional liars, because we say, “Jesus is Lord,” while we live contradictory to our confession. My friends, we should not try to answer that accusation with words but with lives that are devoted to Christ’s lordship. How are our lives saying that Jesus has set us free to live for God? But first, do you confess that “Jesus is Lord”? Listen to Romans 10:8-13. But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

  • His devoted heart produced godly action. He worshiped according to the law covenant, and not according to the ways of false religion, like the practices of Israel invented by Jeroboam I (cf. 1 Ki 12), or the polytheistic practices of the Canaanites. He did his best to remove the religious perversions of Asherah (the goddess associated with Baal or even with God in false religious practice). The high places had sacred stones that were supposed to contain the Baals. We must worship the Lord in his way, which he has clearly revealed in the Bible.

This weekend, think about the way you worshiped. First, did you gather with other believers? Second, did your worship conform to the pattern set forth in the New Testament Scriptures? How do you know that it did? Third, what good results came from your worship? Did it transform you and others?

Grace and peace, David

Good Desires (Part One)

dscn08032 Chronicles 17:1-19

Today we start a series of articles about “When Desires Clash”. We can see a serious clash of desires in the life of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Jehoshaphat was one of the better kings of the southern kingdom of Judah. (There were no godly kings in the northern kingdom of Israel.) He did many things that were pleasing to the Lord, because he loved the Lord. His good actions came from a good heart, since all our words and actions spring from the inner person of our hearts. But his life was also marred by various failures that occurred when he gave in to evil desires. In other words, Jehoshaphat was a lot like you and me. At times I imagine what it would be like if churches advertised that they were not perfect. The slogan could be: “Welcome to Messy Community Church, where it’s okay to admit that you are having spiritual and personal problems. But here by God’s grace, we also want you to see real change – to become increasingly like the Lord Jesus.”

All of us have desires. We have good, God-given desires, such as hunger, thirst, sex, dominion, safety, and comfort. We also have desires such as longings for wealth, prestige, and so forth. All our desires seek satisfaction, and our lives are formed very much by what wants we pursue. In the story of Jehoshaphat, we encounter a good man, who struggled with evil desires, like we all do. Most of his life, he gave himself to the good desire to love the Lord God. But there were other times, when evil desires worked against the ruling desire of his heart. In other words, his life was messy, and we can learn from the messiness of his life.

The Chronicler records the story of Jehoshaphat more extensively than the writer of Kings, and he presents it in four parts: his early reforms, his near fatal alliance with Ahab, his correction and recommitment, and his leadership in a time of national crisis. May God give us grace to really learn and change, as we read about God’s work in Jehoshaphat’s life. Today we will look at one of Jehoshaphat’s good desires. He had a good desire to strengthen his kingdom (17:1-2, 12-19).

Jehoshaphat understood his situation and what needed to be done. His kingdom had weakened during the later years of his father Asa, while the northern kingdom of Israel had been strengthening under Omri and Ahab. He made best use of his resources to counteract the growing threat from Ahab. As a national leader, he had to use do this by building up his military.

In a similar way, what do you do in spiritual warfare (cf. Ephesians 6:11; 1 Peter 2:11)? Fleshly means are ineffectual and misconstrue the enemy. Yet the problem of the American church for forty years has been that of trying to win a spiritual struggle with this-worldly methods. The result has been a poor imitation of the world that hasn’t helped but seriously complicated the crisis. We need to return to the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-17).

Jehoshaphat continued with his plan, as the Lord prospered it. When we read history in the Bible, we must maintain a proper sense of time. From a literary perspective, time is compressed to present key points. But in actual life, what Jehoshaphat did occurred over many years. He could not build a strong military force with adequate defensive capabilities in weeks or months. It was a long-term program.

In our culture, we expect and demand instant results. If something doesn’t work quickly, we wrongly assume that it will not work at all. Oh, someone might tritely say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” But the attitude of perseverance to accomplish spiritual goals is strangely lacking. Christ’s plan is clearly, concisely stated in places like Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:44-47. We need to persevere in his plan. There is no other way to build a local church, and it requires huge investments of our time into the lives of people in order for them to become followers of Christ. Only rarely do we see anyone turn from sin to trust in Christ quickly, and even in those times, God was already at work in their lives. Jesus has sent us into the world, so we ought to seek to make disciples where he has placed us. You and I must maintain a constant missional perspective. Let’s pray and reach out to people that they might become fully committed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

More Thoughts about Drawing Near to God


Hebrews 10:22

A few days ago, we learned from this passage that the living God wants his people to live in close fellowship with him. (I deliberately use the word “learn”, because one of the ways believers are referred to is as disciples or “learners”.) Nearness and boldness to God our Father is encouraged in this new covenant age. God welcomes us heartily into his presence. Coldness, a careless attitude, a lukewarm desire, and fear are all out of place. Instead, we are to have a proper approach to God: “with a sincere [true] heart”. So then, let us learn some more!

We ought to begin with an explanation of terms. The “heart” refers to the whole inner person: mind, emotions, will, etc. The “heart” is in contrast to the outer person (2 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Peter 3:4). Don’t restrict “heart” to the emotions. What is the nature of the Christian’s heart? To help understand it, let’s contrast it with a non-Christian’s heart. The unregenerate heart is a heart where sin reigns (Romans 1:21, 24; 2:5; Ephesians 4:18; Hebrews 3:12). But the regenerate heart is a heart where God’s reign has been established (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).

To approach God with a true heart is to draw near to him with a heart and life in conformity with the truth of God having been written in one’s heart. Remember the article about the belt of truth? We have been taught the truth in Jesus, and daily we need to apply his truth to the way we live. For example, the apostle said (Galatians 2:20), “I have been crucified with Christ.” This is a great truth of Christian experience. In our standing before God, he looks at us as crucified. Since that is true, observe how Paul follows up: “and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” He knew what was true and he sought to live out that truth in practical ways. In the same way, the ground or basis of approach is your union with Christ, but the manner of your approach must be with “a sincere heart”. This sincere heart requires us to draw near to God with reliance on, joy in, and a desire to conform to our Lord and Savior.

For this reason, we know the following. Merely religious persons seem to draw near to God, but they don’t come with a sincere heart. There are those who perform duties that God has commanded, but who do them in a formal manner and with the outward person only (Isaiah 1:10ff; the Holy Spirit is very emphatic in this passage!) There are also those who worship God by formal, manmade inventions (Matthew 15:7-9; the Lord Jesus is very emphatic in this passage!) God is not indifferent about how we approach him. God desires our heart. He wants our inner person fully involved in a godly manner when we come to him (Mark 12:28-30; Ephesians 5:19).

Are you making use of your privileges? God wants you to draw near to him. I’m sure you have a heating system in your house or apartment. Did you have it on when the days were cool? You probably have a bed with a comfortable mattress. Did you sleep on it or on the floor last night? Every Christian should be concerned that all believers in their local fellowship are drawing near to God. Notice the words of the text – “let us….” This ought to be one of our real and constant concerns for one another. “Father in heaven work in my brother or sister’s heart. May you give them grace so that they draw near to you. I want them to enjoy you and to know you and peace, as they trust in you. O Lord, please fill them with confidence to draw near to you.”

Grace and peace, David

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