Throw Away Love Part IV

1 Corinthians 13.2, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

In continuing the series on Love, I wanted to systematically go through the first few verses and talk about what “love” often looks like from Christians today, and how there is a massive deficiency of love.  Like a root without water in the midst of the desert, alone, trying to survive on it’s own strength, so too we find love today.  Paul, as I wrote yesterday, made a very strong case, explaining that doing one of the most important things in the church without love could be considered the same as nothing.

Paul then begins in the second verse with prophecy and prophetic powers.  We see “prophecy,” or better translated as “preaching” here, under scrutiny.  Even the most gifted man or woman of God is not exempt in ministering in love.  All we have to do is consider Balaam in the book of Numbers. Here was a prophet of God who knew the truth; and though he knew the truth of God’s word, he had absolutely no love for the people of God.

When he was asked to curse God’s people, did he hesitate?  Absolutely not, but did so with money as the contributing factor by Balak, king of Moab.  Rather than writing the entire passage out, I ask that you look it up in your bible with me.  In Numbers 22.16-34, we see that God who does not control us like robots, chose instead to send an angel to control Balaam’s donkey.  Several other times we can read in Numbers that Balaam would have continued to curse God’s people Israel were it not for God preventing him to do so.

Ultimately, Balaam led the people of Israel into idolatry and was put to death for this in Numbers 31.8,16.  Here, in Numbers 22, we see that the prophet knew God’s word, spoke God’s word and feared God in a self-protecting way.  But, he had no love for God and no love for God’s people.  With all of these things that we will read about in Chapter 13, specific characteristics of God’s love in agape, they are not adjectives.  And if you remember, an adjective describes a noun; these are not adjectives but verbs.

Love is an action, which we will see in next blogs over and over again.  But here, we see that the motive behind what we do is important.  If we have self-interest, praise, promotion, or advantage of any sort, our influence for the Lord will be undercut to that extent.  No matter how relevant our words are to our friend, particularly no matter how true the gospel is we are presenting, if it isn’t done in love, it will fall on deaf ears.  That’s why there’s very little fruit to the street evangelism today.  We must lead with our hearts before we lead with our hands.

In stark contrast to Balaam, we see Jeremiah who was the weeping prophet.  But he didn’t weep because of his own problems, but because of the wickedness of God’s people.  He wept over them just like Jesus did in Luke 19.41-44.  Look at the heart of Jeremiah in 8.18, “my joy is gone; grief is upon me, my heart is sick within me.”

Or Jeremiah 8.21, “For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.”

Or Jeremiah 9.1, “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!”

Jeremiah was a prophet with a loving heart, an aching heart, a spiritual heart and Paul was exactly the same way.  Acts 20.18b-19, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews.”

Romans 9.1-3 says much the same thing, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Paul ministered with incredible power much because he had incredible love.  MacArthur adds, “To proclaim the truth of God without love is not simply less than you should be, it is to be nothing.”

As we continue studying these things, we have to have the courage to ask ourselves, “am I acting, behaving, and even doing things for the glory of God without love?”  Do I speak to my loved ones with love?  You see, it is not optional for Christians, it is mandatory as we understand who Christ is and what He alone has done for us.  Everything, even the most “important” things we do for the Lord, must be done from the place of love.  If we don’t, it is considered as nothing.  How important than is it that we love?  Oh let us love!

Upside Down Part II

Mark 9.35, “And he sat down and called the twelve.  And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

This verse is so incredibly powerful.  It turns the world’s culture on its head and brings the philosophy of our age down into the mud in which it belongs.  The attitude of Christ is in direct conflict with the world; and so should the minds of us, His disciples.  The world’s idea of greatness is to rule, but Christian greatness consists in serving.  The world’s ambition is to receive honor and attention, but the desire of a Christ follower should be to give rather than to receive.  It should be to attend upon others rather than have others wait upon us

In short, what Jesus says here is this:  The person who lays himself out most to serve his fellow men, and to be useful in his day and generation, is the greatest person in the eyes of Christ.  We are so focused on self-pleasure right?  We are self seeking, self-indulgent.

Ask yourselves this:  Is there any service that you can perform today or tonight or tomorrow for your fellow Christian?  Is there any kindness you can do to them?  Is there any way to help them or promote them or to make them happier?  If the answer is yes to any of this, then we should do it without delay.  Yet there are so few in the church today who have this heart.  The people who are willing to do good, to break down prejudices, and who shake the very foundations of the world are these people.  They are the people who are willing to be last of all, servants of all.

All for the glory of Christ and not their own glory.

Let us rekindle what it really means to live in an upside down kingdom.  Take our passion for money and our use of it:  John Blanchard writes, “Few things test a person’s spirituality more accurately than the way he uses money.” This hurts my pride in a good way; it causes me to take stock in the fact that generally I use my money for myself only.  There are hundreds of other examples.

Mark 9.36-37, “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

I believe this section needs to be taken by faith.  Jesus teaches this lesson in a very touching manner.  He takes a child, after the disciples had been arguing and says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name and receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”  Such a profound statement!

This is foolishness to the natural person.  David Garland writes, “The point of comparison is the insignificance of the child on the honor scale.  The child had no power, no status, and few rights.  A child was dependent, vulnerable, entirely subject to the authority of the father; yet Jesus chooses such a one to represent those who are needy and low.”  If we want to be great, we must shower attention on those who are regarded as insignificant.

And Jesus follows this up with another paradox.  If we want to receive Jesus, we must receive those without status.  When we do this, we receive Jesus.  Imagine the implications of this!  It means that the greatest thing we can do is serve those who are forgotten and regarded as not important!  Those who have no influence, no titles, not priority and no power, they are those who have no importance in this world except to God.  This is foolishness to the world.

When you have a party, you want those who are closest to you, who have the most to give back, to come to your house.  Flesh and blood can see no other way to greatness than to serve kings and queens, people of high rank or wealth, or those with high positions.  JC Ryle states, “The son of God declares that the way lies in devoting ourselves to the care of the weakest and lowest of His flock.”

Those who serve like this will be honored, so Christ says.  Their work may often be hard and discouraging.  They may be mocked for what they do or ridiculed by the world.  But let them know that the Son of Man, Jesus Christ himself, remembers all that we do and is well pleased in this area.  Whatever the world may think, those who serve like this are they whom Jesus will delight to honor at the last day.

Now let me end this by saying a few things about Jesus here.  He is creating a team of disciples, pouring into them intimately with no one else around.  They are in the intimacy of Peter’s own home in Capernaum.  Jesus here talks about the fact that he will be delivered up to authorities, that he will suffer, and that he will die; BUT that he will be raised again into life.

It is the blood of Jesus Christ that makes all of this possible; it is the gospel of Christ that must, BY FAITH permeate all that we have been talking about.  You see, the temptation is to go and TRY HARDER to do these things.  But that’s not the way of the cross.  By faith we have to understand that Christ has already done it.  His blood, by faith, has cleansed us from our power trips and desires for self.

The disciples’ idea of Jesus was wrong; he was not going to give them everything they wanted in life.  He was going to give them everything they needed in DEATH.  That’s what’s so upside down about all of this.  It would make sense to anyone that Christ’s life would enable them the things they needed.  It is not so with Christ; His death and resurrection is the only thing that would give us what we need; reconciliation to God by the forgiveness of sins.  Help us Lord!  Help us see the upside down Kingdom and follow hard after you because we love you!

Upside Down

Mark 9.31-32, “for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”  But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”

Jesus here passes through Galilee but does not want anyone to know about it.  He leads the disciples from Caesarea Philippi along by paths and less frequented roads.  He is taking special care to pour deeply into his disciples because He knows his public ministry is coming to a close.  The end of His life, the purpose of His life, is coming to a head.

He needs privacy to teach them; success hinges on training these few men, who will carry the gospel to the world.  His success does not depend on the approval of the thousands or the ovation of the crowds as he performs miracle after miracle.  He does not need them; He does not need to perform another sign for that is not the point.  The point of it all is His glory, and they will soon come to understand this.  It’s not their glory!

He taught them expressly all that lay before Him in the suffering, death, and resurrection that was to come.  And they listened to him, but still did not understand.  The dullness of the disciples appears again to us in understanding spiritual things.  But notice that there were good things as well as bad things that Jesus mentioned.  He will suffer, but he will be victorious.  He will die, but he will be raised again.

But it was all very confusing to them.  Verse 32, “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”  Their minds were obviously, as we see in the next section, set on earthly things.  They were still set on the mistaken idea that the Messiah would have his initial reign on earth; they thought this was going to appear very soon.

This is interesting; JC Ryle states, “Never are we so slow to understand, as when prejudice and pre-conceived opinions darken our eyes.”  The immensely important statement about Jesus death comes out again.  He does this very specifically and intentionally.  He would have his disciples, and us therefore, know that His death was the Great End for which he came into the world.  It is only through the death of Christ, THIS death that he speaks of, that accomplishes and does away with the great problem we all face daily: that of Sin.  He reminds us how God can be just, and still justify sinners through the perfect sacrifice of His Son.

It reminds us that Christ didn’t merely come to earth to show a way to live, to teach a few things, or to work miracles.  He came to make satisfaction for our sin.  And that’s exactly what He has done in His death.  Let us never forget this!!

The great object that we fix our attention on is His death at Calvary.  We do not fixate on our own desires, we do not fixate on our own problems, and we do not sit in daydream realities where we lose ourselves in our own little worlds.

Mark 9.34, “But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with on another about who was the greatest.”

What had they succeeded in that gave them this idea of greatness?  They had argued amongst themselves over who forgot the loaves in 8.16.  They had argued with the teachers when they failed to exorcise an unclean spirit in 9.14.  They will argue with successful exorcists who do not follow men in 9.38.  They will mock a woman who shows extravagant love to Jesus in 14.4-5.  This competitive spirit even carries on in 14.29 during the last supper when Peter boasts more than others that he will remain faithful even if the others do not.

The disciples should worry on who it is that will betray Jesus, but instead they argue with one another about who ranks the highest in the Kingdom of heaven.  They are jockeying so to speak, for the position of highest honor next to their powerful liberator and Messiah.  Yet we see here as they do this, that Jesus walks ahead in silence, heading to his known death while his disciples push and shove each other on who would be the best.  Yet we see in his willingness to go to the cross that He was least.

The disciples still have visions of grandeur and do not romanticize about becoming servants.  They probably had images of power as they never had experienced it before.  Everybody would be their servants in this new system in their minds.  It seems they will never be able to take up a cross and follow their suffering Master who would be the redeemer of mankind.

They want redemption on their terms; not God’s.

Doesn’t this sound strange?  Who would have thought that a bunch of fishermen and a few tax collectors would have succumbed to such strong desires for supremacy?  Yet it is here plainly for us to see and apply to ourselves.  Though most of us are simple, yet we are all born a Pharisee.  We all naturally think far better than ourselves than we should.  We all naturally think that we deserve something far better than what we have; in fact, most of our lives are spent like these disciples…dreaming of it.

Pride is the source of it; pride says we deserve better.  Pride says we should have more money, more power, more freedoms.  It began in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve thought they hadn’t received everything that was their due and it continues in us today.

But Christ calls us to a different way; an upside down way of looking at things.  We must become like children; we must serve radically out of obedience and love of our Great King.  We are in the service of the King now, chosen vessels to carry His banner of truth forward.  Let us stop and take notice of this.  The way down is the way up.  The way to lead is to serve.  The way for wealth, is poverty in Christ.  Oh when will we get this?  We live not for our own glory, but for the glory of Jesus Christ.

Setting Our Minds

Perhaps it’s the epic Gladiator soundtrack I am listening to at the moment, perhaps it’s the place I am at in life or the degree at which I see my failures, but nonetheless I am amped right now.  I am expectant for God to move; but I must be careful.  God will not move according to what I desire, but for His glory alone.

I catch the same sort of drive within Peter in Mark 8.31-33, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Now, let me use an illustration.  It is one thing for me to disagree with my Senior pastor, Byron MacDonald and voice it in submission.  It is an altogether entirely different thing for me to rebuke Pastor Byron; yet in similar ways, that’s precisely what we see going on here; but much worse.  Peter was passionate; make no mistake about that.  The word used here in both instances for “rebuke” was the same word Christ used to rebuke the demons and condemn them.  It is very clear from this perspective that Peter’s protest was not mild at all; he went toe to toe with the Living Word and had incredible hostility.

The same apostle who stated that Jesus was the Christ just a few moments earlier, who was then called blessed by Jesus, had the gall to stand up to his Master.  This to me could be on some comedy show, if not for the reality that I am Peter more times than naught.  What was the nature of Peter’s rebuke?  Matthew 16.22b, “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you.”  Peter was coming against all that Jesus was saying plainly, according to Mark 8.32, because he was prepared, in his own mind, to prevent all those things from happening.

Now, I will not go into why Jesus rebuked Peter even sharper, calling him Satan, too much.  Suffice it to say, Peter was in a way acting out or being used by Satan to speak to Christ about the temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4.8-10.  He was in effect suggesting that Jesus could have all that the work of the cross could do, without having to undergo the pain of the cross.  After the temptation in the wilderness, Satan leaves but looks for an opportune time according to Matthew 4.13.  The time, through Peter, comes.  But why was the rebuke handled so sharply?  Jesus states in Mark 8.33, “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Oh how often do we do this?!  How often do I set my mind on the things of man rather than on the things of God?  From the Lord’s perspective, we see that Christ had to suffer so that victory of sin would be accomplished.  From Peter’s point of view, he was hoping for a political leader that would deliver the Jews from Roman rule; as well as perhaps a high place within that new governance.

I read myself in this passage, and I hope we all have the courage to look at our hearts in this.  Am I setting my mind on the things of God or the things of man?  It is a crucial question; the answer means we are setting our minds on God and godliness, or setting our minds on the world and worldliness.  The godly person is moved to act upon the things of God; the worldly person is likewise moved to act upon the things of the world.  It is really very simple.

In my zealousness of life, particularly as Gladiator or Braveheart’s soundtrack plays loudly in my ears, am I setting my mind on the things of God, or am I romanticizing the things of the world and preoccupied by them?  Where is my heart?  Where is my mind?  Am I rebuking Christ in my actions, in my arrogance, setting my sights and heart and mind on the things of this world?  Am I seeking to bend God’s will to my own so that my own little will is accomplished, or am I humbly submitting to the Lord of all as He leads, guides, and directs my life through His Word?

Where is my energy this day devoted?  Is it devoted to building up my own little empire?  Am I attempting to fashion God, or manipulate the divine, as IF He could be manipulated, so serve my own selfish gains, or am I seeking first the Kingdom of God and HIS (Christ) righteousness?  Have I made any plans, any attempts, to pursue righteousness or are those plans this day merely for my own little kingdom?

As RC Sproul writes about this section in Mark, “We especially need to ask ourselves these questions if we find that Jesus’ teachings offends us and prompts us to question or even rebuke Him.  May we never be so foolhardy.”

Let us not rebuke Christ in our actions or desires, humble ourselves and throw ourselves solely on the work of the cross, and seek the things above.

We Can’t But He Can

Mark 9.22-24, “And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.  But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  And Jesus said to him, “If you can!  All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The main thought I want to focus on, that I would emphasize, is that our Lord would have us clearly know what it is we really seek.  I would even argue, we need to know why we seek what we seek.  That’s the beginning of understanding the potential “place” we find ourselves in.

I have many conversations with others; many say they need more time.  Others say they want a companion.  Still others are looking for a job, wanting to get into the best school, or are just trying to find joy.  I believe with all of my heart that these are simply symptoms of a bigger problem.  We may think they are the answers we seek, but really, they are just symptoms.

Now, from the verse at hand, we can notice a few things right away.  First, we see this man in dire need coming to Christ and expressing to him that need.  He is wholly dependent upon Christ to heal his son; no doubt he’s tried everything else in life to remedy the situation.  I know as a father begging for his son’s healing, he no doubt drove himself crazy trying to find help.  It probably consumed him and even bled into all aspects of his life.

We can note from this father a wonderful interaction with Jesus.  He comes into the presence of the Messiah; the Christ.  The very presence of Christ elicits a response of openness and honesty.  The father almost fumbles over his words in excitement; he doesn’t care about the disciples, he argues with them in fact so as to get his way.  He then begins to exclaim to Christ the situation with his son.

This shows us something very profound.  I believe the Lord wants us to understand and to be thoroughly convinced that we will not be saved except by going to Christ alone.  It’s something we can all relate to.  He has tried everything in life; he is coming to Christ in faith asking him for a great miracle.

But there’s no guarantee that Christ will do what he asks; so he asks in fear.  Verse 22, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  We can notice that he doesn’t say, “Have compassion on ME,” but “have compassion on US.”  There is full ownership there.  He realizes where he lacks.  He is honest with Christ.

But when this man mentions “IF”, we have to understand that the IF is not in Christ as to whether he can save us, or in regards to prayer, IF he can save the object of our anxiety.  There really is no “IF” in reference to Christ, though it is quite honestly very possible that our lack of faith and doubt in His love or power would seem to suggest this.  There really is no doubt; Jesus Christ is God’s beloved son.

Just earlier in chapter 9 we read about the transfiguration from verses 2-13.  From the snowy slopes of mount Hermon, coming down into the plain where he would confront all these people as well as this needy father, Christ had been transfigured.  In all His glory He had shown as brighter than the sun and in the presence of His three disciples, He was whiter than the snow which no doubt lay around them.  Out of the cloud which enshrouded them like a fine mist, a voice is heard, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (9.7)

Now, we have to take stock for a moment.  If Christ is the beloved Son of God; that apple of God’s eye, the precious One of the Father; will He be denied anything?  As if this weren’t enough to cast our doubts upon the “IF” of Jesus Christ, we can’t forget that, though He is the Son of God, Jesus Christ is God as well.  What is there left that God cannot do?  Is there really any reason to doubt “IF” God can do this wonderful work that we need in our lives?

He who fashions us in our mother’s womb, He who spoke the stars and all their host into existence; is it too difficult for Him to provide us the job we seek, the companion we are desperate for, or the healing we desire?  But therein lies the reality to me that needs to be mentioned; we have to understand why in our hearts we want these things.  More than the object of our desires that Christ is easily able to accomplish, I believe we have to come to understand, as I mentioned earlier, that we must come to a place that Jesus Christ Himself is what we are seeking.

If we continue in this line of thinking, if we are still doubtful of Christ’s ability to provide that which we need, then I would suggest we do not know His goodness and we do not know His love.  Of course we would question God’s ability to provide if we did not understand that He is Lord!

Let me ask you this: is time really what you need?  Is a companion to share life with really what your heart yearns for?  Is a job, more money, or more freedom really the best this life can give?  Jesus Christ alone is.  That’s the point of this healing.  The father knew Him to be the Christ, and he had to come to a place where he was thoroughly convinced that Christ was alone the remedy for his needs.

Have you come to this place in your lives?  Are you seeking the needs of your lives, begging Christ to answer them and provide for them, thinking that these alone will make us happy?  Jesus comes to say, “All things are possible for the one who believes.”  Lord we believe, but help our unbelief.