What Does It Mean To Lay Down Your Life for Your Brother? 1 John 3:16-18

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18

When we hear Jesus laid down his life for us, usually the first thing that comes to mind is his crucifixion. Jesus died for us on the cross…that is what laying down his life looks like. I think John is letting us in on a little more to the story than just the crucifixion. Notice what he says next, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

John tells us that, like Jesus, we ought to lay down our lives for others. No surprise there, but notice the example he gives of what this looks like. He doesn’t tell of a Christian dying for another Christian. John’s illustration of how to lay down your life for others is to help someone in need. The truth of the matter is, few of us will ever die for another person, while all of us have the opportunity to put others first on a daily basis.

That brings us back to Jesus. When did Jesus lay down his life? It started well before the cross. It started when he invited a tax collector to follow him, even though he knew people wouldn’t like it. It started when he got an adulterous woman out of being stoned, even though he knew it would cost him. It started when he raised Lazarus from the dead and the plots to kill him started to swirl. It started back when he told them he would tear down the temple and raise it up again in three days but they didn’t understand him and were angry with him for saying such things.

The point is, Jesus laid down his life all along the way. The ultimate demonstration was in the cross but the reality is, it started way before that. The cross was the natural progression of a life that was already given up for others. So when we are called to lay down our lives for others, don’t get all focused on dying for someone else and never put this into practice for lack of opportunity. Realize that laying down yourself for others is about how you value people and how you see yourself.

I Can Do It Myself

DSC_0611One of Elijah’s favorite lines is, “I can do it by me-self”. It might be a glass of milk that he normally drinks without a problem but says that phrase and then proceeds to spill a bunch down the front of his shirt, pooling up on his shorts. He wants independence but he isn’t ready for it.

When you are totally dependent but act as if you aren’t consequences abound. When you are two years old, consequences include spilled milk, stained shirts, and broken toys. When you are an adult consequences include spilled blood, stains of sin and broken lives. We might think we can do it all by ourselves but the truth of the matter is we must rely on God in everything. We want independence but we weren’t meant to live independently. Like Elijah we aren’t ready for it and the truth is we never will be. Life independent of God is death.

Ten Reflections on the Importance of Scripture

I really do love the Bible. It has meant so much to me in both the peaks and the valleys of life. It is like a long standing relationship that just gets better and better with age. I have had the times when the Bible fell open to just the right text at just the right time and felt God was telling me something. When my grandmother was dying of cancer and in her last days I sat in Bible class that Wednesday night with tears in my eyes. I opened my Bible straight to 2 Cor 1 about the God of all comfort. There has never been a moment in my life where the words felt more like in some small way God had me and countless other people in mind when he inspired the opening words to the second letter to the Corinthians. I have had times when I wrestled and wrestled with a text and couldn’t get much out of it that seemed applicable at all but somehow I knew I was better for the experience of trying to hear what those ancient words had to say to my modern ears.

The Bible has served as a mentor to me. There are the times the Bible has humbled me into recognizing I was wrong or needed corrected. Then there are the times scripture has jumped up right in front of me, come to life, and was responded to with “Aha!” The pieces finally clicked together. They had been there all the time but maybe a new insight, a new piece of information or life experience made an old, much read verse, come to life in a new way. I am sure you know what I am talking about. You have almost certainly been there yourself.

A few reflection on scripture:

  1. The Bible stands there and says what it says and I have to deal with it. If I get my priorities out of whack I can try to manipulate what it says to suit my ears but cherry picking Greek glosses and lexicons or by coming up with some obscure interpretation. But if I am humble enough to let God’s Word change me rather than me change it I will experience something powerful in its study. It is like getting a letter from a friend about a problem. You can’t argue back with a letter. You have to take it all in first and read what is there, even re-read it.
  2. Because the text is living, breathing, and sharp (Heb 4:12, 2 Tim 3:16) and because my life isn’t static, the Bible often encounters me at different times in life in different ways that it ever has before. I certainly read the Gospel of John differently now than when I was 13. Knowing the themes, the signs, the theology, purpose, and where John is taking the reader the text has become so much richer for me than it used to be and things now seem obvious that were buried for the 13 year old version of myself. I love the richness that brings to the text as the words on the page are the same but the conversation changes as our maturity and readiness to hear what it is saying changes.
  3. We are looking back on what many looked forward to and so we take much for granted. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that the Gospel that has been revealed to us was concealed even from the angels much less those who went before the church and ministry of Christ. So there is much to be appreciated about being the recipients of the complete message of God/Christ through the Gospels and letters of the New Testament but also through the Old Testament (more on that another time). This gives us a privileged perspective of faith resulting in great responsibility. For instance, when Mary and Martha are upset with Jesus for not getting to Bethany to heal Lazarus any faster we know he is going to raise him from the dead. They don’t. That doesn’t mean we don’t have any faith struggles because our picture of God can be more informed than those who just had this piece or that. But it is still a blessing nevertheless!
  4. God knew I was thickheaded enough to give me the Gospel in four formats. I love the differences in perspective of each of the Gospels. God was so wise to preserve that for us! Mark is action packed. Matthew is so detailed in how this story fits the rest of the story. Luke is compassionate. John is intimate…an inner circle view of much of the goings on and explanations of Jesus’ ministry with the sole intention of producing faith in the reader.
  5. Scripture is rich in the variety of genres and approaches it takes to speak to me the words of God – poetry, geneology, narrative, letter, and everything in between.
  6. There is always someone to relate to. Whether I did something good or bad there is always someone to relate to. The Bible isn’t interested in painting the good guys as the good guys. The Bible is interested in pointing imperfect people toward a perfect God. The result is I realize I am in the same boat as everyone from those who barely got it all the way up to the “heroes of the faith.”
  7. Scripture brings me hope no matter how imperfect I find myself to be. Man after God’s own heart and murderer, shepherd of God’s people and murderer, stepped on the waves and denied him three times. Yet all were received back into God’s grace in the end. That gives me hope.
  8. Scripture is effective in leading me toward life and righteousness. Philippians 4:8 says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I can’t think of anything to think about that fits those criteria better than scripture itself. Jesus said his words are spirit and life (John 6:63).
  9. As Donny D says often, you will never do what the Bible says and wake up with regrets wondering why on earth you did something so foolish. It doesn’t get much more practical than that.
  10. The One whose hands knit me in my mother’s womb also produced the words contained in scripture. His words really are life.

What has scripture meant to you whether you have studied it all your life or even just a short amount of time?

Jonah Brings New Meaning to the Term “Entertainment Center”

And we thought we would get hours of entertainment from this thing…

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A Great Weekend

Not much blogging this weekend. We started it out going to Gainesville for a youth group/college reunion of people from the University City Church of Christ. Friday, got in a round of disc golf at Northside Park and shot par. Watched the Gator game in the Swamp…from the bull gator box seats, 50 yard line at the very top of the stadium. All the food you could shake a stick at plus no rain when you’re inside. Went from there to a great reunion and got to reconnect with a ton of friends from some of the most formative years of my life. Great morning at church today with several people coming forward for prayers, a great worship experience and all topped off with our LIFE groups getting kicked off tonight. Snuck in another round of disc golf this afternoon and shot 2 under at the new disc golf park here in St. Petersburg. Glad to be back.

How was your weekend?

Coming up this week on the blog:

  1. Gospel of John
  2. Some thoughts on Small Group ministry
  3. Any thing you would like to hear about or learn more about?

What Are the Results of Sin?

We usually are quick to point out death (Romans 3:23) and that is a correct answer but what is interesting about sin is that this death can be a very slow, gradual process. This is very much in line with the song “Slow fade” by Casting Crowns. Death yes, but in the meantime sin takes its toll.

Scripture is clear that sin has consequences while we are living that don’t have to wait until we die. Here are some that the Bible mentions:

  1. Darkening of our hearts (Roman 1:21)
  2. Being given over to our desires (Romans 1:24)
  3. Corrupted minds (1 Timothy 6:5)
  4. Being unable to understand the truth (1 Corinthians 2:14 & 2 Corinthians 4:4)
  5. Hostility toward God (Romans 8:7-8)
  6. Love of darkness (John 3:19)
  7. Slavery (John 8:34)
  8. Disconnected from community with God and others (2 Corinthians 6:14)
  9. Enemies with God (Romans 5:10)
  10. Death (Romans 6:23)

Sin is the opposite of what God wants for us. Sin doesn’t wait until we die to start killing us. It can be a long and slow process that results in the exact opposite of God’s design. Notice how what God wants for us is the exact opposite of this list:

  1. Give us light (John 8:12)
  2. Freed from earthly desires (1 Peter 4:1-2)
  3. Renewed minds (Romans 12:2)
  4. Convicted of the truth (John 8:32)
  5. Friendship with God (John 15:15)
  6. Love of the light (1 John 1:7)
  7. Freedom (2 Cor 3:17)
  8. Perfect community with God and others (Hebrews 8:10)
  9. Children of God (1 John 3:2)
  10. Life (John 10:10)

In the end, sin is set to undo all that God intended for our lives. It is more than an “oops” or an “uh oh.” It is important that we recognize the serious consequences of sin in our lives and its destructive force and power to murder us slowly. Credit to Stanley Grenz’s, Theology for the Community of God for help with the sin list. It is a great book if you don’t have it I would highly recommend purchasing it.

Living Without Really Living

This weekend I was helping a friend clean out a house that had been used and abused by renters. Windows were smashed, the inside was dirty, piles of clothes were strewn about the backyard. Someone had been living in the shed out back and there were maggots here and there making a stench. What is worse, there were kids toys and clothes in the mix, which made you wonder if kids had lived in the midst of the mess. My friend and I talked about how living in this state wasn’t really living. Yesterday I asked our Sunday school class what would be worse…to pull out of your driveway and get smashed by an 18 wheeler being killed instantly, or to live each and every day without really living?

I wonder how many people have nice tidy homes but on the inside their spiritual house is in the same state of affairs as that rental property we were cleaning up?

Romans 8:1-17 – Life in Step with the Spirit

21 of 35 instances of the word “spirit” in Romans occur in chapter 8. Some have taught that the Holy Spirit is not active today. There are two extremes that have caused a rejection of the Spirit’s operating in the life of the believer today. The first extreme are those who have made a big deal out of spiritual gifts, prophesy, and speaking in tongues. We have seen that so abused that we wonder if it is even real. The other extreme is that the Holy Spirit is hard to pin down and the modern mindset likes things cut, dry, and quantified. The Holy Spirit is an unknown quantity. The funny thing is so is God the Father. We readily accept his role and yet somehow we think we can nail him down because we limit him to the words in the Bible. We dissect his words, translate them, interpret them, and memorize them to gain mastery over them, as if that was possible! We learn in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and that we better understand the crucial role of the Spirit in our lives because without it not only are we mistaken, we are dead (Rom 8:9).

Romans 8:1-4 – What Jesus Came to Do:

Romans 7 concludes with that famous passage of the struggle that we face in life with the flesh and how the answer to our problem comes through Jesus Christ (7:25). Romans 8 continues talking about the deliverance that is found through Christ. Paul writes, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” This points back to what Paul was saying in Romans 6 about dying to self and sin and being raise to walk with Christ in newness of life. It also points back to Romans 7:1-4 that death brings freedom from past obligations. Then in 8:3-4 Paul adds on to something he brought up back in 7:7-13 – that the law served a purpose but ultimatly the law did not have enough power on its own to bring an end to sin and death. The law was incapable of bringing transformation to our lives. So what do we say? Do we say that the law was left unfilfilled? No. Christ fulfilled the law in us through his death on the cross (8:4).

There is something that has to be pointed out in verses 3,-4 “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in human flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” Jesus came in the flesh and died in the flesh in order to fulfill the requirement of the law perfectly. Christ didn’t come as a divine spirit and do battle with sin and death to fulfill the law. He came just like us, in flesh. And in that flesh he met every obligation and requirement of righteousness that was found in the law and in doing so he accomplished two things. He fulfilled the law and through his death he freed us of our obligation to live driven by the desires of the flesh. He could only do that as a man, like us.

Romans 8:5-17 we have contrasted life by the Spirit and life by the sinful nature:
I find it helpful to list the things Paul says about life by the Spirit and what Paul says about life by the sinful nature

Life by the Spirit:

  • Life (8:6)
  • Peace (8:6)
  • Submission to God (8:9) – controlled by the Spirit
  • Children of God (8:15)

Sinful nature:

  • Death (8:6)
  • Hostility (8:7)
  • Unable to submit to God (8:7)
  • Slaves (8:15)

Fear and Security:

These two ways of living are diametrically opposed to each other. It is important that we realize that Paul is not saying that one sin means you are no longer living life by the Spirit. He is talking about being controlled by the Spirit or being controlled by the sinful nature. It is not a one sin and if you die before you confess it you are out! No. He said in 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and just one unconfessed sin is not big enough to seperate us from the love of God! (We will talk more about that in a minute). Many of us have grown up in our faith with real fear issues. Are we in or are we out? For Paul our salvation is not as tenuous as that because it is based upon God’s faithfulness that we are saved. It is not a in one day and out the next. If God were that fickel we should all just give up. But we have better promises than that! Verse 11 gives ms so much hope, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”

Imagine you were going to wire your house for surround sound. You get the speakers, the wire and all the necessary equipment. You get up in the attic and run the wire. You drill holes in your walls and ceiling. You read through instruction manual after instruction manual on how to wire your receiver, DVD, TV, etc. After you have done all that hard work and gotten yourself covered in insulation, bought expensive equipment and got the job done there was one final thing that had to be done for it to work. You had to press the “on” button. Would you press it? Of course! You wouldn’t leave it off after going through all that trouble and paying a high price for the equipment to make it work. You wouldn’t let a silly button keep you from your desired goal. That is how it is with what Christ has done for us. Paul is saying that if God was willing to send his own Son to die for us in order to redeem us he is certainly willing to sweat the small stuff that comes after. If he was willing to send his Son to suffer, die and be risen again we can have hope that he will also raise us from the dead at the proper time and give us life. That gives us a certain assurance that God is going to make good on his promises because we see how much he has already done for us!

Adopted as Children of God (8:14-17):
What gives us even more assurance is that we have been adopted by God into sonship. That means we are heirs and that there are things in store for us that have not yet occurred. Witherington and others point out in 8:16 that you have two witnesses  God’s Spirit and ours that testify and based on Deuteronomy 19 two witnesses make a valid testimony. He is saying that it is certain that we have become God’s children and heirs to the promise. In verse 17 he ties suffering to glory. He will explain that more in 18-30. And so we are the children of God and because we are God’s children we don’t need to live with a spirit of fear, rather we live in the light of the fact that our father has made some powerful promises to us that we know will be made right because he has already opened the way through Jesus Christ. We have already caught a glimpse of what is to come and because of that we can withstand whatever this world has to throw at us.

Life or Death Decisions – We Make Them More Than We Know

When I was a graduate student in psychology we had a health psych rotation that dealt specifically with transplantation and gastric bypass. The hospital felt that before someone could be approved for an organ transplant they had to pass a psychological screening in order to make sure that the organs were going to the people who were most likely to take care of themselves because there are far more people in need of organs than there are organs to be donated. When you are in graduate school in psychology you get used to writing lengthy reports and you realized that the result of the evaluation and what was contained in the report you were writing could follow that person the rest of their life. This was particularly true of transplantation because we gave approval or disapproval for the transplantation based on what we found psychologically. It is a sad thing to have to deny someone the transplant they needed to save their life. This was a life or death decision and it was sobering to have to deny someone a transplantation. You knew in the back of your mind that saying no to this person was saying yes to someone who had a higher likelihood of treating themselves well and so there was a positive side but you certainly hurt for those people who were going to get the bad news.

As I think back on those decisions I can’t help but think that maybe we make more life or death decisions than we even know about. In studying Romans the last several months it is very clear that Paul believes the decisions we make in life lead either to death or to life (Rom 6:11-14). So realize that as you deal with other people and as you make decisions in life that the consequences might be far greater than we realize. What the great Vizzini once said may hold true more often than we think that “death is on the line.” But what is more amazing is that God holds out an offer of life to those who would receive it. I think the accuser often does a fabulous job of convincing each one of us that the decisions we make in life only have mundane consequences. We have to be re-convinced that how we live can actually have life or death consequences.

What is Romans 6 Really All About?

I have quoted or turned to Romans 6:1-6 & Romans 6:23 dozens of times when talking with people about becoming a Christian and the importance of baptism. Only recently have I really taken a look at Romans 6 in light of what Paul is actually trying to say through the context and audience of the letter. Again, Romans is a letter and when we write a letter we write it with a purpose and it has a logical flow. When we prooftext things we strip them of their context and miss much of what is actually being said. For instance, in Romans 6:1 Paul writes, “What shall we say then?” That implies that what he is about to say is predicated on what he has just said in the previous chapter. So what did he say in 5 that informs our views on what is in Chapter 6? Let’s have a look.

In 5 Paul was talking about sin and grace. He mentioned the sin that came through Adam (5:12) and how much greater was the grace that came through Jesus Christ (5:15). His point was that once you are unified with Christ you have life (5:17-21). Paul begins chapter 6 this way, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Because Paul cannot be there in person to deliver this letter, he masterfully takes on their questions in advance and then addresses them one by one. The natural question that results from what he said in chapter 5 would be this, “If God looks so glorious because of how much grace He gave through Jesus to forgive sin, wouldn’t he look even more glorious if He had to give even more grace?” And how would He do that? If we sinned even more! That is the attitude, in my view, that Paul is addressing in chapter 6. We will unpack 6 to see how he answers it in a moment.

Before we do that we have to remind ourselves that Paul is writing to Christians, not non-Christians. What is funny about how we use this verse is that we have traditionally used it to speak to non-Christians about baptism. That is not at all what Paul is doing or even intending in this chapter! Paul is saying that once we realize what actually took place at our baptism, we cannot even think of asking such a question that might rationalize us sinning all the more. Why? Because we have died to that master (6:2 & 7). You cannot talk about continuing to live in something you have died to. Paul uses the example of slavery. Once a slave dies, he is no longer bound to serve his master. In baptism we have died to the master of sin and are set free from those old ways. We are raised to follow a new master…one who brings us holiness and eternal life (6:22).

So this beautiful picture of what is happening in our baptism in Romans 6 is not written to convince non-Christians they should be baptized. It is written to convince Christians not to fall back into sin. Those who are baptized are raised from the waters of death to sin to walk a new life (6:4). Through this act we are united with Christ both in his death (6:3) and also in his resurrection (6:5). When you think of the grandest moments of the Gospel story it has to be the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. Here, Paul is saying that we participate with Christ in that and in doing so, just like Christ…we don’t have to die ever again (6:8-11). Praise God!

Before we move on to 6:12ff we have to talk for a moment about the kingdom of God. When Jesus came to earth and began his ministry Mark records that he preached repentance and the coming kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). In Mark 9:1 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” We would assume he is talking about Pentecost but whatever your interpretation of that verse is, it is clear that Jesus did not view the kingdom as something a zillion year from now in a land far, far away. Instead he viewed it as something that was being revealed in the hear and now and that we can participate in. Here is why that is important background to discussing Romans 6. God has a desire for us to live life as He intended it before sin was in the picture. He wants us to be holy, righteous, and upright. He wants us to do His will and live for Him. The only way to do so, once sin entered the picture, was to die to sin through uniting ourselves with Christ’s death and to be resurrected through baptism to be united with Christ in new life. So for Christians to even ask if they should now be able to sin more shows that they misunderstand their new identity in Christ. That is what Paul is reminding them of in Romans 6. To go back into a life of sin is like a man who has been raised from the dead who walks around a while but then longs to be back in the grave among the dead. That wouldn’t make sense would it? That would be foolish wouldn’t it? And so it is with those who have been raised from death and united with Christ in his resurrection and yet return to evil ways.

So what about the rest of the chapter? Romans 6:12 ties back with a “therefore” – “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” He goes on to say that we are either instruments of wickedness or of righteousness and that what we do in the body actually does have a spiritual impact on our lives (6:12-14). There is no room for dualism here. There is no big disconnect between body and soul. I think we would all agree that our actions have spiritual consequences but I wonder how often we live with that in mind. Isn’t it great to think that we are to be instruments of righteousness here on earth? We can be used by the hand of God to accomplish His will but we have to remember who we are, what we have died to and why we live again.

In 6:15 Paul asks the question that was implied back in 6:1…just in case they didn’t get it in 6:1-14. This time he expands on the slavery example that he mentioned in 6:7. He says in 6:15-23 that the master you choose leads either to life and righteousness (6:22-23) or to death and sin (6:6:16,21,23). They are confronted with a choice of who they will serve. To me this is one more instance where “once saved, always saved” just doesn’t pan out. Paul is warning these Christians sternly to choose to continue to make God their master and not turn back to the death that is found through sin. We get to that famous verse that offers a summary of all Paul has laid out in chapters 5 & 6 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23).  What I find interesting about this verse is that he doesn’t say, “The wages of sin is death but the wages of righteousness are eternal life.” He makes a distinction here. Back in Romans 4:4 he says that when you work your wages are not given as a gift but as an obligation. Apply that to what Paul is saying here. When you sin, you earn your just wages – death because you worked hard for it! You cannot receive life as the result of a wage. It is a free gift that can only come from God.

So Romans 6 is more than a series of prooftexts (Rom 6:1-6 & 6:23) to be pulled out and used at the proper time. This continues his line of thinking from the beginning of the letter but especially from chapter 5. I will post thoughts on chapter 5 soon.