Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: loving others

Knowing God without seeing Him

My time working for a company once coincided with the last years of the company’s founder being involved in the operation.  He and a friend had started the business over 40 years previous to my arrival. 

I never saw him while at work, our paths never crossed.  I was second shift in the QC lab, and he was managing the Executive Board.  However, within my first few years on the job, while at a dedication event for Chestnut Mountain Ranch, I saw him from a distance.  I was afraid to walk up and awkwardly introduce myself, and I rationalized my fear by thinking that my position was too low to justify me striking up a conversation out of the blue.

Although I never had another chance to speak with him, I did get to know him.  The longer I worked at the company, the more I found that nearly everyone knew Mike.  In previous years, he had purposefully worked closely with many of his employees.  Those who worked with him had adopted his ethos for excellent work and treating your workers with excellence.  I came to know the standards and expectations of the company because the founder had instilled his methods and expectations on those who would pass down those patterns of behavior to me.

On a much larger scale, something similar has happened in God’s family.  In the books referred to as “The Gospels”, we have four separate, but highly complementary, records of Jesus’ life.  John, the youngest of all Jesus’ disciples, would record Jesus telling the disciples at the Passover meal:

John 13:34-35
I give you a new command: Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.

How will others know that we are followers of Jesus?  It’s not because of the money we make, the car we drive, or the education we have.  We are identified as disciples based upon how we love other believers.

Did you know that Jesus even prayed for us modern-day believers?  That’s right, Jesus specifically mentions us – you and me – during His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before He was crucified.  John also recorded this:

John 17:20-21
I pray not only for [the disciples], but also for those who believe in Me through their word.  May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.  May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe you sent Me.

Jesus’ words obviously stuck with John.  Many years after Jesus had ascended into Heaven, here’s what John passed on about Jesus in a letter he wrote to other believers…ones who had never met Jesus:

1 John 4:9-12
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His one and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.  No one has ever seen God.  If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is made complete in us.

Notice a theme?  John carried on Jesus’ instruction, that God cares how we love one another, because our love is a reflection of His.  How well we love each other demonstrates how closely we are walking with Him…and as that kind of love is different from what the world offers as love, everyone will know that we are His disciples.

As the global church of believers – those who trust in Jesus for eternal life – we have many ways to get to know our Savior.  Start with what John tells us – choose to love your fellow believers.  Listen to others talk about their relationship with Him.  When we read Scripture, we find out who He is and what He is like.  We can pray and talk directly to Him.

Short of the rapture happening in our lifetime, we won’t meet Jesus face-to-face until we’re on the other side.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t know Him now.  We haven’t missed our chance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Correcting bad teaching

When Paul sent his letter of instruction and encouragement to Timothy, the very first area he discussed had to do with Timothy’s authority in the church family.

1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.

Right away, we see that Timothy is in charge.  The Greek word Paul uses for command means to instruct, charge, or declare a message to others.  This word was often used by the gospel writers to describe Jesus’ teaching to both the crowds and to his disciples.  Paul wants Timothy to exercise his authority in the church at Ephesus, as evidenced by him using that particular Greek verb five different times in this letter.

Given the multicultural makeup of the city, its inhabitants, and their multitude of religious practices, the church would have been inundated with many competing ideas about who God is, what He is like, and how a relationship with Him is supposed to happen. 

Whenever Timothy would encounter these incorrect ideas about God, and the time came for him to command people not to teach these false ideas, it is easy to understand how tense of a situation that could be.  No one likes being wrong, and no one likes being called out for being incorrect – especially on something they are passionate about.

Oftentimes, when a person’s doctrine beliefs are discussed, there is a tendency for pride to creep in.  We fight in order to show that our understanding is right…rather than taking the humble route of wanting to make sure we are rightly aligned with God. 

That balance between humility and authority will be challenging for a leader, so Paul makes sure that Timothy understands where his motivation comes from:

1 Timothy 1:5
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Timothy is to give commands because he genuinely loves the people he will be shepherding in Ephesus.  While Timothy’s instructions will be authoritative, they will be given for the people’s benefit. 

We need to correctly understand who God is and what He is like if we’re going to have a strong, life-giving relationship with Him.  As such, correcting false doctrine and false teaching is of paramount importance within the church family.  However, to be effective, the goal of our instruction must be love.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Reoccurring themes and second chances

As Paul wraps up his personal letter to Philemon, he also lists out final greetings from those who are ministering with him at the moment:

Philemon 23-25
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

In light of Paul’s plea for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus – despite the wrongs Onesimus had committed – one name on Paul’s final greeting list stands out: Mark.

Paul’s letter to Philemon and his letter to the Colossian church were very likely to have been written and delivered at the same time.  In fact, one of the great evidences for this timeline is the near-identical final greeting list at the end of Colossians, where Paul says:

Colossians 4:10
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)

This is the same Mark who deserted Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip approximately 20 years before Paul wrote his letter to Philemon.  Although the Scriptures do not record why Mark abandoned the team, we do know that his reasons caused significant problems later on:

Acts 15:36-41
After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they’re doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work.  There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus.  Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers.  He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

At that time, it was Barnabas standing in the gap for John Mark and pleading for Paul to reconcile over the past wrongs that John Mark had caused.  However, Paul did not want to trust John Mark after his previous failure. 

The disagreement over John Mark’s usefulness was significant enough for Barnabas and Paul to part company.  They are never mentioned together again in the rest of the New Testament.

Now fast-forward 20 years.  John Mark, through Barnabas’ mentoring, has become useful to Paul as they work together spreading the gospel.  There is no doubt in my mind that Paul saw in Onesimus the same need for a second chance that John Mark had needed so many years prior.  While Paul could not go back to change his previous choices, he was presented with an opportunity to make the better choice this time.

You can almost hear the echo of Barnabas’ plea on behalf of John Mark when Paul writes about Onesimus:

Philemon 17-18
So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 

Maybe we’ve messed up opportunities to reconcile relationships in the past.  We can’t go back and change those.  We have to trust that God will work in other people’s lives.  However, we will run into reoccurring themes the longer we walk with Christ.  There will be opportunities for us to make the right choice and help someone else.

Our great God is a God who gives second chances.  And He is patient enough to show us the reoccurring themes of life – even decades later – to give us another chance to act like Him toward another person.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Reflecting love

After all the dysfunction and relationship problems that Onesimus had previously caused Philemon, take a look at Paul’s appeal to Philemon to now accept Onesimus.  Does this sound familiar?

Philemon 17-22
So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self.  Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 

Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.  But meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.

Can you see how Paul is standing in the gap for Onesimus with Philemon, just like Jesus stands in the gap between us and God the Father?

Paul is confident that Philemon will listen to his request and accept Onesimus because Paul is the one making the request.  In order for the reconciliation to happen, Paul is willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Paul is choosing to spend of himself – both in monetary resources and in relationship capital – to repair the relationship between two people he dearly loves.  Additionally, Paul was confident that Philemon would accept his offer and would do even more than simply tolerating Onesimus – it’s clear from his request that Paul fully believed Philemon would accept Onesimus back into his family.

Similarly, Jesus is confident that God the Father will accept those who trust Him for eternal life because Jesus is the one making the request.  In order for our reconciliation to happen, Jesus was willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Jesus chose to spend of himself – by leaving behind the glory of Heaven, willing to be separated from the Father, and then to die a horrible death – to repair the relationship between those he dearly loves.  Additionally, Jesus knew that the Father would accept His offering and that the Father would do even more than just tolerate those who believe in Jesus for eternal life.  Jesus knew that because of His sacrifice, the Father would bring us into His family.

Paul’s actions are small-scale reflection of what Jesus did for each of us.  Without Paul’s assistance, it is doubtful that Onesimus could have been reconciled with Philemon.  Without Jesus, there was no way for us to be reconciled with God the Father. 

Great things happen when we imitate Jesus.  Relationships can be restored and lives can be changed – because we are acting like the One who restored our relationship with God the Father.  Our Jesus-changed life will positively affect the lives of others around us and simultaneously point them toward God’s bigger story.  The world doesn’t just need to hear the message of Jesus – they need to see it, too.

Paul was able to stand in the gap for his friends because he knew Jesus well enough to imitate Him.  If we stay close to Jesus, we too can be small-scale reflections of His great love.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Your story, as told by others

There is an old riddle that asks the question:

What belongs to you, but everyone else uses more than you do?

The answer is – your name.

All kidding aside, there is a fair bit of truth to that.  However, others rarely use just our names.  Attached to the use of our names is that person’s opinion of us…our reputation. 

Reputations can be broad and widely held, but they can also be held by individuals.  A “good” reputation can take a long time to build, and only a momentary lapse in judgment or selfishness can completely destroy one.  And to top it all off, there’s only so much we can do about them, since we’re not around when our reputation (for better or worse) is communicated to a new someone.

Therefore, our reputations will go ahead of us into places that we’ve never been to.  It may feel strange to think but people miles away from us, whom we’ve never met, could actually have an opinion about who we are.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philemon, he was in prison, and most scholars believe he was being held in Rome.  As the crow flies, Rome is over 900 miles from Colossae.  If you were to drive a car from Rome to Colossae on today’s highways, it would take you nearly 30 hours to get there.  Now let your mind move back to ancient Bible times….no cars, no social media.  A person’s reputation could really only travel by word of mouth.

And yet, from that far away, Paul hears of Philemon’s reputation:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

Whenever Philemon’s name comes up in conversation, what Paul also hears about is all the ways that Philemon demonstrates his love and faith.  By his actions and words, people can recognize his priorities.  They can also see which relationships in his life that Philemon considers the most important.  And his reputation of love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints went out for at least 900 miles!

I suppose, however, we shouldn’t be all that surprised at this, since Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper:

John 13:34-35
I give you a new commandment: love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.  By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus said all people.  When our love for one another is recognizable to others, it will also become our reputation.  And a reputation like Philemon’s will point others toward Jesus…even if we’re not physically there to share the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Talking with outsiders

No one likes a “know-it-all”.  Generally speaking, people do not mind if someone else has more knowledge, but the way a person handles themselves in light of that additional knowledge can make or break relationships.  Whether it’s among strangers or siblings, classmates or co-workers, no one appreciates being talked down to.  The subject matter could be of small consequence or something really important, but how something is communicated is as important as what is being communicated.

For those of us that have been following Christ for a length of time, there is a tendency toward smugness that will cause problems.  When we get comfortable going through the motions of living the “Christian life” instead of focusing on our relationship with God, we grow stale.  Our mindset and interactions with others will twist until we end up presenting a conceited, self-righteous version of Christianity.

A telling symptom of this stale-ness is found in how we interact with those outside of our Christian family.  What is our general attitude toward non-Christians?  While we know that they need Jesus, do our actions and attitudes invite them toward Jesus or push them away?  Do we speak at them with a lot of Christian-ese?  Do we belittle them because of their sin?

After spending most of his letter describing the wondrous relationship we now have with God and praising the Colossian believers for their great love for everyone in God’s family, Paul took a moment to give them a warning:

Colossians 4:5-6
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the time.  Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

Those outside the faith need our wisdom and our gracious speech, not arrogant attitudes and put-down talk.  Being “better off” doesn’t make us “more important”.  In fact, many of the Bible’s authors gave warning against such self-righteous thinking.

Instead, gracious speech comes from a grateful mindset.  That’s why Paul has spent so much time writing about the greatness of Christ and the priority He should have in our lives.  When we have our relationship with God in its proper place, then our interactions with outsiders will begin to look and sound a lot like Jesus’ interactions with others.

Looking and sounding like Jesus will draw a lot of attention, people will take notice of the difference.  In order to be ready to answer each person, we should take the same attitude Daniel had when God told him the meaning of the king’s dream:

Daniel 2:30
As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but in order that the interpretation might be made known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.

Can you hear his humility?  Can you see how Daniel shifted the focus from himself and gave the credit to God?  When we have the opportunity to share the gospel with others, we should have the same attitude:

I’m not a Christian because I’m better than anyone else.  One day, someone told me that God loves me enough to die for my sins.  He loves you, too.  I’m just glad that I get to be the one to tell you about it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Bridging the gap between God and others

We mentally separate the parts of our lives in order to keep everything straight.  The typical division of our time and relationships is into sections of church, family, work, school, and spare time.  However, we tend to make these areas into islands with little or no connection to the other areas.

As Christians, we also tend take this practice one step further – we see our relationship with God as something separate from our relationship with others.  While we know that both are important and need to be cultivated, we often deal with one while excluding the other.  However, the two are more connected than we realize.

This is the next point Paul wanted to convey in his letter to the believers in Colossae.  Look at the verses below and see if you can identify how our relationships with other Christians connects to our relationship with God:

Colossians 3:14-16
Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were called in one body, control your hearts.  Be thankful.  Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you

We can become so comfortable in our established family position that our relationship with God and our relationship with others can seem like mutually exclusive ideas.  The way these two concepts are connected for us is in the same manner Paul connected them for the Colossians. 

However, his bridge sentence is comprised of just two words, so it is easily missed.  Likewise, the full impact of this small sentence is also overlooked.  Paul says that we are able to aim for peace-driven love with those around us only as the message about the Messiah is present among us.  To be thankful is the bridge between the two.

We are truly thankful when we are mindful of the favor extended to us by someone else.  It shifts the focus off of ourselves and recognizes who the other person is and what we have become because of their actions.  The better we understand and think about Christ’s incredible love for us, the more we are thankful for the choices He made on our behalf. 

To be thankful is focus-shifting experience.  Being thankful towards God puts him in the proper place in our lives; it shows us how to lovingly and peacefully relate to others.  So our ability to bridge the mental gap between of our relationship with others and our relationship with God comes down to two words – Be thankful.

Keep Pressing,
Ken