“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” Paul identifies the law as “our guardian until Christ came.” (Galatians 3:24) This guardian kept us under lock and key, safely shut up in a cell. Once Christ arrived, we became “sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26) Having been made new, and given our freedom; we “are no longer slaves, but sons, and if sons, then heirs through God.” (Galatians 4:7) We are suddenly able to “put on Christ” and step out of the purview of the law. (Galatians 3:27)
Once you leave the law behind you, once you throw off those chains that once bound you; you don’t usually “desire to be under the law” again. (Galatians 4:21) You are not of Mount Sinai, but of the Jerusalem above, says Paul. “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman. So, brothers we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:30-31)
“For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
“A crucible for silver, a smelter for gold, and the Lord is the tester of hearts.” “All a man’s ways seem to right to him, but the Lord evaluates the motives.” (Proverbs 16:2) “The Lord’s lamp sheds light on a person’s life, searching the innermost parts.” (Proverbs 20:27) “Get wisdom — how much better than gold! And get understanding — it is preferable to silver.” (Proverbs 16:16) “The one who acquires good sense loves himself; one who safeguards understanding will find success.” (Proverbs 19:8) “Listen to counsel and receive instruction so that you may be wise later in life.” (Proverbs 19:20) “There is gold and a multitude of jewels, but knowledgeable lips are a rare treasure.” (Proverbs 20:15) “Listen closely, pay attention to the words of the wise, and apply your mind to knowledge.” (Proverbs 22:17) “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, a flowing river, a fountain of wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:4) “A wise heart instructs its mouth and increases learning with its speech.” (Proverbs 16:23) “I have instructed you today — even you — so that your confidence may be in the Lord.” (Proverbs 22:19)
God makes it crystal clear that He is holy and just. In Him there is no darkness. He makes it even clearer that He is merciful. Throughout His Word, He speaks of and shows off His great hatred of disobedience, sin, and waywardness. Simultaneously, He speaks of and shows off His willingness and great desire to forgive, restore, and love those He calls His own.
Our part is believing these two truths regarding the nature of God. Believing in God’s wrath necessarily leads to fear, but “perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18) Our fear is rather awe of God, a marveling of God’s ability to “forgive the iniquity of Your people; You cover all their sin. You withdraw all Your wrath; You turn from Your hot anger.” (Psalm 85:2-3) “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” (Psalm 85:11)
Jesus proclaims, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins; I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Luke 5:24)
“If we confess our sins, [You] are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “For You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon You.”
“Love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you are born again — not of perishable seed but of imperishable — through the living and enduring Word of God.”
If we are in Christ, then you and I are born again. Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless he “is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed”, says Jesus, “that I tell you that you must be born again.” (John 3:6)
Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks from this [well] water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water I give him will never get thirsty again — ever! In fact, the water I give him becomes a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
If we are in Christ, then you and I are born again of water and Spirit, and we have eternal life “springing up within [us].”
The seed we hold within — “the living and enduring Word” — germinates, grows, buds, blossoms. “For the Word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12) Given that the Word of God dwells within us, let us be fragrant to our Lord, “loving one another earnestly from a pure heart.”
Asaph sings of how the wicked “have an easy time until they die.” (Psalm 73:4) They appear to lead lives of luxury. “They are not in trouble like others; they are not afflicted like most people.” (Psalm 73:5) “Look at them — the wicked!” laments Asaph. “They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth.” (Psalm 73:12)
Asaph recognizes his own embittered state. He knows that his “innermost being is wounded.” He is aware that he “is stupid and doesn’t understand; [he] is an unthinking animal toward [God].” (Psalm 73:21-22) He keeps this bitterness toward God to himself, going into the sanctuary to understand the destiny of the wicked.
And in the midst of his own wounded state, he remembers the presence of his God. He sings,”Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but you? And I desire nothing on earth but You.” (Psalm 73:23-25)
The easy state of the wicked is an illusion. Asaph knows God “puts them in slippery places; [He] makes them fall into ruin. How suddenly they become a desolation! They come to an end, swept away by terrors. Like one waking from a dream.” (Psalm 73:18-20)
Love is the key to the Christian life. Love emerges from Jesus in conjunction with knowledge and discernment. Righteousness is the direct result of this love; and its end is the glory of God.
Jesus’ disciples feign wanting to know “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1) Imagine them looking at one another, thinking – for example – “Surely I’m better than Matthew; after all, he’s a tax collector!” – or – “I’ve got to be greater than Judas; after all, he complains about wasting an expensive ointment, pretending he cares for the poor.” Martha must think, “I’m better than Mary.” After all, Martha complains about her sister, Mary – implying that she is lazy. Martha wants Jesus to rebuke her for sitting at His feet while she prepares the meal. Peter even briefly appears to think he’s better than Jesus, rebuking Jesus for saying that He will be killed and rise from the dead. “Far be it from You, Lord! This will never happen to You.” (Matthew 16:22)
When they ask Him about being the greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus shows His disciples a child. He tells them that “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus calls us to turn and become like children. Sounds similar to turning back the clock, perhaps wiping the slate clean and starting over from a place of innocence and great humility. We are to think better of others than we do of ourselves; treat others as we would wish to be treated. We are not to put stumbling blocks in the way of others; or lead others into temptation. Jesus warns, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened about his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” says Jesus. “For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)
The second great commandment and the one Jesus gives us is “that we should love one another.” (1 John 3:11) “Whoever does not love abides in death” rather than in life. (1 John 3:14) And if we hate one another, then we are become as murderers, “and you know no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15) Simply, the author is telling us that hatred leads to eternal death while love leads to eternal life.
The first murderer, Cain, murders his own brother in a fit of jealous rage. “And why did he murder [Abel]? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:12) And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people love the darkness rather than the Light because their works are evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the Light and does not come to the Light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works are carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)
The author of 1 John actually warns us that “we should not be like Cain.” (1 John 3:12) If we become like Cain, then we are “not of God” for the “one who does not love his brother” can not be “born of God” (1 John 3:10,9)
Yet, “whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.” (1 John 3:20) “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) Let us come to the Light so that our “works are carried out in God.” (John 3:21)
Paul writes to Timothy, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: ‘He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.’ (1 Timothy 3:16) Then Paul warns that some in later times will “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:3) In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensual mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Colossians 2:16-19) The rules and regulations these persons demand of you, says Paul, “have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23)
“Rather,” writes Paul to Timothy, “train yourself for godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7) “Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10)
The example Timothy is to set is “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12) The godliness he seeks is Christ Himself.
Paul outlines rather thoroughly the qualifications for the office of overseer (or bishop): this person “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife (or the man of one woman), sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” (1 Timothy 3:2-3) He should also be able to “manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.” (1 Timothy 3:4) And, “he must not be a new convert.” (1 Timothy 3:6)
Then Paul writes to Timothy that in addition to these fine qualities, the bishop (or overseer) “must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
Today, I believe this final quality is overlooked and even demeaned as a catering to the world. Think about the recent scandal involving the self-proclaimed prophet who confidently announced the coming of the last day, and the ‘rapture’ of Christ’s church. Even now, this man is claiming the second coming was only miscalculated and is actually going to occur in October of this year. This man is hardly “thought well of by outsiders” and has indeed become “a snare of the devil.” He is leading many people to mock our Lord; and is likely causing new converts to doubt the veracity of God’s organized church and even His Word.
Nothing in the Word of God is to be skimmed over and is to never be dismissed as irrelevant — Paul clearly teaches that a person who desires to lead “must be well thought of by outsiders.”