Saturday, July 29, 2017

Exercising Kindness from Love (2 Peter 1:7-8)

“and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:7–8, NASB95)

Living more and more like Christ in godliness means that we also are to relate to one another more and more like Christ as well. Peter wrote that in our godliness we’re to add brotherly kindness or affection. The Greek word here is familiar to many of us. It is “philadelphia.” Even in our own country, we know Philadelphia as the “city of brotherly love.” But Philadelphia in practice seems to be increasingly detached from its name, which has according to neighborhoodscout.com, “found that the violent crime rate is one of the highest in the nation, across communities of all sizes (both large and small). Violent offenses tracked included rape, murder and non-negligent manslaughter, armed robbery, and aggravated assault, including assault with a deadly weapon.” Just talking about brotherly kindness, does not automatically result in brotherly kindness unless brotherly kindness is purposely lived out in the lives of those called to it.

People rub against people and cause friction. Not one of us in perfected in our daily lives. We all do things that can be an irritant to others, and it is for that reason that as brothers and sisters in Christ we are instructed to supply or to add brotherly kindness in our dealings with others. This is true even if a particular brother or sister in Christ may not treat us similarly. Remembering that we are living out the godly example of the Son of God we can look to the example of Christ who even responded rightly to those who wanted to destroy Him. Peter wrote in his first letter, “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1 Peter 2:22–23, NASB95) And in 1 Corinthians Paul wrote of himself and those working alongside him, “and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure;” (1 Corinthians 4:12, NASB95)

Treating others with brotherly kindness is a choice we make not because of how they treat us, but because of how God treated us even when we were His enemies. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NASB95) The “philadelphia” brotherly kindness that we show toward others is a direct outflow of the true “agape” love that God has shown to us, and it is the loudest statement that we can make to the watching world that God has made a difference in our lives. “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:33–34, NASB95) Because we love Him, we love others and treat them in godly loving ways with the affection that we have learned.

The Christian life is not lived in a vacuum. It is lived as a part of a body of believers who build into each other and who are placed in a world who desperately needs to believe and be saved. God loved us and sent His Son, and now He sends us with the love of His Son to love one another in word and deed, and to then also proclaim His great love to those outside the body who are in such great need. This love is only lived in community, whether that community is friendly as it should be in the church or hostile as it may be in the world.

Peter continued in the next verse, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is an amazing thing that nowhere in this passage is there a list of tasks to be accomplished, but rather it is about how our lives are lived. Living as God calls us to live pleases Him, and surely as we do so we will then be used by Him to accomplish the many and varied tasks that come along the way. None of us will do things the same way. Not one of us is a cookie cutter of the other. But all who are saved are brought together into one body of which Christ is the head. We are to continually look to Him and love as He first loved us. Doing this we will surely produce the fruit that He intends.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Growing in Godliness (2 Peter 1:6)

“and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness….” (2 Peter 1:6, NASB95)

Panic is an unnerving thing. It is that sudden sense of things being out of control in the face of a pending threat, whether that threat is real of not. Panic leads to questions of what to do. It often leads to uninformed and even unwise responses. And, the reality is that we are all prone to it in varying times, varying ways, and to varying degrees. At its core for those of us who are in Christ, panic is the tendency to take our eyes off of God in the face of a situation and look to the size of the threat and not the size of our God and His faithfulness.

Chief Engineer James Montgomery Scott (Scotty) was charged with keeping the Star Trek vessel the Enterprise “together” through all of its various missions. In one of his later roles Commander Kirk told Scotty, “keep this thing together till I come back” to which Scotty replied, “I always do.” “Self-control” can best be described as holding oneself together or holding oneself in. It is the idea of showing self-restraint or self-discipline. A self-controlled person is one who is measured and who does not fly off the handle when provoked. He is one who does not flee or panic at the sign of conflict or trouble. He doesn’t become unnerved when things could easily be perceived as unnerving.

In Galatians 5:23 this same word is used in the list of things which the Spirit works in believers as fruit of growth. In Christ, we exercise self-control as a fruit of growth such that we become less easily shaken or led to doubt. In relation to the reality of Christ’s return, Paul wrote, “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1–2, NASB95) What Paul is describing here is not losing self-control because someone tries to plant a doubt, but trusting in the true hope declared in the word of God. Paul wrote so that they might know the truth, and knowing the truth that they might stand firmly in it, not being easily or quickly shaken and losing composure.

Self-control means that we stay focused and on task, and it applies to every area of our lives. The apostle Paul wrote, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25–27, NASB95) I watched the Tour de France again this year, and I was amazed at the total life discipline that the cyclists had to apply to the entirety of their lives to cross the line at the finish twenty-one stages later. But as I reflect on that, I also look to myself and realize how easy it is to lose sight of how all of this works together in my own life and how I am tempted at times to avoid enduring one of the stages or trials. We are not running a sprint that will quickly end, but a marathon that continues until either Christ takes us home or He returns. It is for that reason that in our self-control we are also to apply perseverance. Perseverance is needed when things last, and I think it safe to say that every single one of us has faced things that we would rather not face that have lasted much longer than we had hoped they would. We probably can all even point to series of things that have seemed to pile up and pile on and have seemed somewhat overwhelming. We read that we are in these times to be self-controlled for the long haul.

It is this patient waiting and standing fast that really grows us as Christians. One of my favorite passages, not because it gives me warm fuzzies, but because it encourages me when I don’t feel like it to keep going with hope is James 1:2-4. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB95) Notice the attitude that is to accompany the waiting? It is joy. It is not the warm fuzzy happiness thing that the world seeks, but a deep-seated joy in knowing that our God is real and that He is faithful to finish in us the work that He started. He will not give up on us and we can have great hope in trusting Him. We are to actively think on who He is and what He has promised when the temptation to panic comes. We are all going to encounter trials. We will likely encounter lots and lots of them in all shapes and sizes, but these trials are not to shake us from our foundation. Though our faith is tested, we can stand knowing that the giver of our faith is untested. As we trust Him and see Him faithful to bring us through, we continue to grow more and more in our trust of Him. We learn to endure knowing that He is in control, and as we endure and endure He does the work of perfecting and completing us or growing us more and more into the image of His Son who endured so much for us. Endurance is not fun, but it definitely is a necessary part of God’s plan, and we do this as we diligently apply self-control over and over again by faith in our unfailing God.

As James said, the end result of this is our maturity or completion. The fruit of endurance is godliness. As we look diligently to God, trust in Him, rely on Him, and stand with Him He does the incredible work of growing us up and making us more and more like His Son. We can never be any more saved. Christ accomplished this for us on the cross. We can never be any more righteous. It is Christ’s righteousness that has been put upon us to make us acceptable to God. But we all can grow up in how we walk before Him, and this process of enduring self-control toward godliness is the one which God chooses to use to accomplish that very thing. This is what godliness is about. It is looking more like God in how we live as a response to our looking to Him and trusting Him for all that we are.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Christ’s Morality Lived (2 Peter 1:5b)

“in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge.” (2 Peter 1:5b, NASB95)

In verse 3 we read, “seeing [knowing and understanding] that His [Jesus Christ] divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3, NASB95) Verse 5 instructs us that from this knowledge that Christ has given us what we need according to His own glory and excellence we are to apply that same excellence to our lives. Our response of faith is to live as Christ calls us to live in the way that He demonstrated for us that He lived. This is not a response of hoping we will be good enough to please Him and gain His favor, but a response of knowing that we have been shown His favor and in a response of belief and trust we live accordingly.

To “supply” means that we add effort, and in context with the first part of verse 5, it is to be diligent effort. The two Greek words that make up the one used here (epichoregeo) are “epi” and “choregeo.” “Epi” means that we are to add to or to put upon. It means that we bring above and beyond to the table. It is a common prefix used to take an instruction to a higher level. “Choregeo” means to supply or to furnish abundantly. Together we get the picture of making every effort to respond fully in a specific way. And the specific area in which we are to excel in our faithful response is in moral excellence or in the same excellence that we have learned from Christ.

Of Jesus, we read, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, NASB95) In everything that Jesus did and said He applied moral excellence. He was pressed in all ways. We read in 1 Peter 2:23, “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1 Peter 2:23, NASB95) Jesus never cut a corner on moral excellence. The purpose for His coming was to fulfill the will of the Father, and He did it perfectly. In His prayer to the Father on the night He was betrayed He said, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.” (John 17:4, NASB95) As God taking on the form of man, the Son applied perfectly moral excellence to accomplish the work of the Father. And, this is what we are called to do in response to Him. We are to daily and even moment by moment apply His excellent standard to all that we do and say, knowing that we have been given the Spirit in us to minister to us in the process and the Word of God to set that course.

We are called by God to live outstanding lives and to do amazing things. It may or may not be heroic in the way that the world views things, but our responses to all that comes our way in life make a huge statement about who we are and where we place our trust. Even in the darkest of times, we can continue to respond in heroic ways because we know that with our God there is no difference between light and dark and there is no place where He also does not also hold us close.

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.” (Psalm 139:7–12, NASB95)

It is so amazing that our God has not called us to do something that He has not also shown us how to do and enabled us to then do. In our moral excellence, we are instructed to add and apply knowledge. It is as we hide God’s Word in our lives that we can then apply the truths that we have learned to the daily situations that we face. Being a Christian is not a check-list kind of life, but a life of continual response in trust to our God who reveals Himself to us. Our responses are to be informed responses to His truth.

As we study His Word we gain knowledge which leads to understanding and the insight to properly apply it. This is what we read in 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Timothy 3:16, NASB95) Head knowledge is one thing, but unapplied it really amounts to nothing more than boxes of once read books buried in the garage. Unless they are pulled out, dusted off and practically used they serve no real good. Teaching is the starting point, and the implied reciprocal part of that is learning. Then from that learning, to have value it needs to be applied.

The model we see here of Scripture is that it is profitable for “reproof” as well. This means that Scripture shines a light on the areas of darkness in our life. Those areas in our life where we are missing God’s mark, Scripture points them out to us with the illumination of the Spirit working in us. God does not beat us up over our wrongs, unless maybe we thumb our nose at Him and He decides to push a bit harder. But, He does show us where we need to change, and then with that He also gives us the proper way of change. This is where the next word, “correction,” comes into play. I wear glasses in order to see better. My glasses are corrective devices just as a cast or even surgery might be for someone who has something else wrong with their body. God’s Word is not only faithful to point out the misdirection, but also to set us straight in the right direction. He shows us where we are off track, how to get on track, and then how to stay on track. As we continue in verse 16 we read, “for training in righteousness.” God’s Word instructs us in righteous living, and we are each called to not only hide His Word in our hearts, but to apply it to the entirety of our lives whether that be thinking, speaking, or acting. Then verse 17 of 2 Timothy 3 speaks to the outcome of the knowledge of God understood and applied. “so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17, NASB95)

Living His moral excellence as revealed in His Word according to the power of the Holy Spirit in us as those saved by faith in Christ is how we are called to live by faith. The other stuff of life is really a proving ground in which it is to be applied, knowing that our God is incredibly merciful, gracious, and patient.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Our Diligent Response (2 Peter 1:5a)

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence….” (2 Peter 1:5a, NASB95)

Have you ever felt ungrateful? What about being bothered when you did something for someone, and you didn’t get a nod or a thank you? There is something wired in us, even if misdirected at times, that expects a response when good is done. It is inherent in us to be thankful to those who are good to us, and even to expect the same when we do good to others. This even leads to us wanting to reciprocate that goodness in some way. When we stop to ask “why” we often get a response that includes the word “because.” Thinking about this, I did a search of the word “because” in the Bible and I was amazed at the number of times it was used.

We are made by God to respond. We see that even our God responded in love to us to rescue us from our desperate condition. “But God, being rich in mercy, BECAUSE of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” (Ephesians 2:4–8, NASB95)

It was in response to His love for us and not something in us or that we did that He saved us and gave us all the precious promises that Peter alluded to in the previous verses. Now, in response to His great love moved into action for us we are to live rightly before Him. Paul, in Romans 12:1-2, called it our “reasonable” or “spiritual” (Greek: logikos) response of worship. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, NASB95)

We have been given the most amazing reason to respond. God showed His great love for us by saving us from our sins, giving us the assurance of eternal life, and indwelling and enabling us to live in the meantime. He has done all of this for us, and we can trust Him to continue according to His great faithfulness in all that He promised. He will not waver, and because of this we are called not to waver in response. This is what it means to apply all diligence. Our response is something that we are to make haste to do. It is to be our priority, and not something to be put off until a later date or until our circumstances might change. The Greek word, spoudēn, has that Boy Scout motto meaning of “Do your best,” and it stems from another word “speudo” which means to “make haste.” This one jumped out to me as a former swimmer and wearer of a brand of swim suit called “Speedo.” We are to be quick and diligent in our response to our God who was and is so loving toward us.

When I typed into the last couple of sentences the word “speudo” my spell checker bypassed the red line and quickly changed it to “pseudo.” I didn’t see it coming, and wouldn’t have except for backing up and rereading what had been written. The two words have all of the same letters, but in flipping the first two of them they could not be further apart in meaning. One of them has the meaning of a full focused a quick response and the other of not being genuine or true. And, just as I corrected the spell checker, we also are to be diligent to correct the fakes that might seem appealing. In our responses, we are to choose to focus wholly on what is right and proper before God.

We are to be about diligently applying all that we know of Him in how we live our lives before Him. This is our right and proper response. This means that we are to listen to Him, to take His Word captive, and to allow it to shape our thoughts and our steps. It means that we also are to turn away the fakes and the lies that come with them. We are to accept no substitutes in living fully for our one true God.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Escaped and Alive (2 Peter 1:4)

“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:4, NASB95)

“For by these” refers back to the divine power of God through which He worked to grant us everything that we have. He gave us the faith that we have. Apart from Him not only would we not have anything to believe in or trust, but more foundationally we wouldn’t even exist. It is the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ that is put upon us that makes us to stand as righteous before our God. It is His incredible grace that has been shown to us when all that we deserve because of our rebellion is judgment, and it is precisely because our account has been settled with Him by Him and we can live at peace before Him and in the presence of others. It is these things and more that Peter prayed would be multiplied to his readers in verse 1.

Continuing in verse 2, we read what God has granted to us EVERYTHING according to HIS DIVINE POWER that pertains to life and godliness. He does this with the full, unlimited, and perfect knowledge of every single one of us with full view of the entirety of His plan. He knows what we need for all that we are, and He is the grantor to make sure that we have it.

As I read today’s verse I was struck again that it began with “He” and “His.” The remarkable truth of us living before our God is that He is the author of life and He holds it in His hands. He is sovereign over all of creation, which even includes our enemy who while ruling on earth for a season does not do so unchecked by God’s powerful hand and perfect will. This is important to recognize when we run into those moments, days, and even seasons when things seem a bit out of control and we might be buried by our circumstances whether of our own doing or from somewhere else. It is important to grasp from the get go that God is powerful to fulfill every single one of the promises He has ever made, and He is trustworthy to do it. There is no power that can thwart Him, but rather all power whether here in earth, below or even above is subject to Him (Philippians 2:10).

There is no force pushing on us that that is more powerful than that of Christ to sustain us. This is the simple and absolute truth. From it God is fully capable of taking care of us and leading us to victory in every struggle or battle in which we might be engaged. When Peter wrote, “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises” we can believe it. His Word is true, and we can trust His words given to us. In Ephesians 6 Paul wrote about the warfare that we are all engaged in. He spoke of the spiritual battle which wages around us that we cannot see, and he told us that our way to victory is to dress ourselves in Christ. The starting place of being dressed is the recognition that God’s Word is true. It is the belt with which we are girded. It is the absolute assurance that He can and will act to do as He says, and it is His Word that declares the foundation we have in Him upon which we know we can stand. “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” (Psalm 119:160, NASB95)

Peter went on to add that not only have we been saved and given life according to the infallible Word of God through His precious promises being fulfilled for us, but we are being continually enabled to live according to that same Word. When we became Christians, we became new creations in Christ. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB95) We are no longer slaves to sin, but we have been made anew in Christ and we have received the Holy Spirit to live in each of us. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NASB95) We become changed vessels for God, and as His new creations we are called to live accordingly as we read in the next verse of 1 Corinthians. “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20, NASB95)

Being a partaker of the divine nature is more than joining a church or being a part of a denomination. It is being made alive in Christ and receiving the living God in the person of the Holy Spirit to remain in each and every single one of us to be in us until we are delivered into His eternal presence. This is a truth that does not change when we take our eyes off of God. The Spirit of God goes “nowhere,” but we are continually called to look to Him, walk according to His Word, and submit ourselves to His change and leading in our lives as we fulfill those things which He has appointed for us to do knowing that the Spirit is “now here.”

It is because He is God and all that we have comes from Him. He has made us able to share in this incredible life, and He enables us to live free from the lives we once had. He is the One that released us from the slavery of sin and corruption, and He even helps us live victoriously over the desires that even surface now to capture our eyes and hearts. It is in Christ, that we have “escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” Desire is a strong force. Lust is desire on the verge of action, and Christ gives us power to turn from these lusts, change our actions and reshape our desires. The battle is not easy, but the victory is sure in Him.

The psalmist asked in Psalm 119:9, “How does a young man keep his way pure?” In that same verse, he also answered the question with, “By keeping it according to Your [God’s] word.” (Psalm 119:9, NASB95) That’s the truth of the matter. Verse 11 has the accompanying action point. “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11, NASB95) These are both popular memory verses, but I venture to wonder how many who have memorized verses 9 and 11 have also memorized verse 10. “With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments.” (Psalm 119:10, NASB95)

Our lives as Christians are not about memorizing the do’s and don’ts and living according to them. The simple truth to this approach is that apart from verse 10 we will all fail. Our lives as Christians is about seeking after our God with all of our heart, and trusting Him to direct and guard our steps. He is the victory that has overcome the world.