Living As God’s People
The character of God’s people -the Beatitudes
We are to be led by the Holy Spirit
We are to be the salt of the earth and light in the world
We are to bear the fruit of righteousness
We are to forgive those who sin against us
We are to love – the greatest commandment
We are the body of Christ, a holy temple
We are to be a people who know God’s peace and joy
Saved from the penalty and power of sin by God’s grace
As we saw previously God has, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, saved us from both the penalty and power of sin, given us new life and made us His people. As His people God has:
Blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:3,4).
God has made our life and source of spiritual power in Christ Himself. He has placed us in Christ:
And raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6).
The significance and greatness of God’s power working in us cannot be over estimated:
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us (Ephesians 3:20).
And as Peter also encourages us, by God’s power we can live as He intended:
Seeing that His 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. 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 1:3,4).
Therefore we have every encouragement to be able to live as God intends, through His power. So we need never despair. Though the power of sin has been conquered and we have Christ’s life within us, we need to put on and live out of the new self. How can we do this? It is our thinking which first needs to change:
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 12:2).
And in Ephesians we read:
That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:22-24).
But this does not happen without a battle:
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).
As God’s people we grow in Christ, by His power, as we lay aside the old self, renew our mind and put on the new self – Christ (Romans 13:14). But it is in our mind that the battle is waged. It is our thoughts that first need to be bought into obedience. Through the guidance of the indwelling Spirit of God and the Scriptures we can renew our minds:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:5-6).
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
You may ask: “But how can I control my thoughts?” When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He responded to every temptation with God’s word: “It is written…” (Matthew 4: 1-11). It is not sufficient to just repel a sinful thought. We must replace it with a good and righteous thought, speaking it out loud if need be. We fill our minds with God’s word by reading or listening to the Bible, through teaching, fellowship with other Christians, prayer and spiritual music. We must be prepared to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ in all things, including activities such as entertainment and recreational pursuits which may seem harmless but compete for our affection and mind’s attention. Through the power and presence of Christ we can overcome all such temptations.
Just as a baby learns to feed, talk and walk so we, when born again, need to feed (on the word of God), talk (the language of the Kingdom) and walk (think and act) in God’s ways. It’s learning a whole new way of life.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).
We can only truly fear God when we have a right perception of who He is. Too often God is perceived in human terms. Yes, we are created in His image and Jesus was God who became flesh as we are. Yet our understanding of God can never (at least in this life) fathom His being. There remains a mystery. This is especially true when we consider God’s creation: the vastness of the universe and the amazing wonder of life which He created – all by the power of His word. He spoke and it came into being. When our astronauts first travelled into space and saw the Earth like a jewel in the blackness of space they inevitably expressed awe. Like David who wrote this Psalm:
‘When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained’ he concludes – ‘How majestic is Your name in all the earth!’ (Psalm 8:3 and 9).
Therefore a healthy fear of God is foundational to a true knowledge of God. It is said to be the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, clean, enduring forever and by it we avoid evil (Psalm 19:9, Proverbs 16:6).
God told Jeremiah why His people should fear Him:
They shall be My people, and I will be their God and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me (Jeremiah 32:38-40).
Israel were to fear God so they would not turn away Him. However we should not think the fear of God is something we no longer need as people of the new covenant, or soften its meaning by replacing it with revering God. It might seem contradictory that having received God’s grace and kindness we should need to fear Him. It may be thought fear and faith cannot go together. However I would suggest a healthy fear of God actually complements faith. Jesus told us to fear God:
I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4,5)
We should note that this warning, and most of the other warnings Jesus made about hell (called Gehenna in the original Greek), a place of darkness and conscious everlasting torment, were made to his disciples – those who believed in Him. We may find it difficult to accept, even reject such, because we think it is inconsistent with God’s love. Yet Jesus, who told us about God’s love and salvation, taught us most of what the Bible has to say on hell. As unpleasant the subject of hell is, we cannot ignore it, for if we ignore the warnings or think they only apply to unbelievers, we are in danger of becoming complacent about sin.
The Christians in Rome received a solemn warning not to be presumptuous in thinking God would overlook sin in them which He would condemn in others. God’s judgement is impartial (Romans 2:1-11). We should take to heart both the severity and kindness of God (Romans 11:20-22).
While the fear of God should remain, it does not mean we live our lives in constant fear of His judgement. The early church had a healthy fear of God for they were ‘going on in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit‘ (Acts 9:31). It does mean though we need to have a right attitude towards sin and God’s authority knowing His righteous judgement to those who wilfully disobey Him. The fear of God should not, however, be our primary motivation to obey and serve God since it is the love of Christ that controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14). As we grow in Christ, through His Spirit within us, love should be our primary motivation as we shall learn later.
As God’s people what type of people should we be? In a word we should be like Jesus.
The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked (1 John 2:6).
Throughout the Bible we are encouraged, having received new life, to be loving, humble, forgiving, merciful, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, righteous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. Jesus used imagery of the natural world to illustrate what we are to be – salt of the earth, light in the world, branches of a vine which bear fruit, good soil which produces a crop, sheep who follow the shepherd and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
While it is God’s intention we show all these qualities, which in fact are the fruit of Christ’s Spirit in us, He works in each of us uniquely to accomplish His purpose for His glory. This is true also for different cultures and times.
In this next section some of these qualities will be explored in more detail beginning with Jesus’ teaching from what is known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7).
In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples the priority of inner character over outward conduct. It is what we are that will determine what we do. He began teaching his disciples by giving eight characteristics of citizens of God’s kingdom, known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). They fly in the face of human nature and run counter to what the world aspires to. They are not characteristics the world sees as keys to success and happiness. The world often portrays God’s way as repressive and joyless. Yet Jesus says those who bear these qualities are blessed, happy, fortunate prepared for His kingdom. But we also need to understand that Jesus didn’t just teach these qualities. He came and died to save and make us the people who would live them.
1. Poverty of spirit
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v 3).
The LORD is near to the broken hearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
Poverty of spirit arises when circumstances bring us to the point of seeing no way out and no hope. It could be poverty of means, ill health or a broken relationship which breaks our heart and crushes our spirit. Human nature sees poverty of spirit as something to be avoided, yet it is a condition which enables God to reach us. When someone is destitute in spirit, their only hope, comfort and strength is in God. When we are humble and recognise that we have nothing to offer God except our trust and obedience we become ready vessels for God’s Spirit. Such are potential citizens of the kingdom of God.
Luke’s account (6:20) says “Blessed are you poor…” and it is true that that those who have least in worldly possessions are those who are more likely to embrace the gospel of Christ.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (v 4).
When we mourn for our failings before God, He can reach us, forgive us and comfort us. Mourning over our sin is more than feeling sorry because we fear punishment. Like the prodigal son of Luke 15, we must grieve because we have sinned against a holy God and are unworthy of Him. As we mourn over the death of a loved one so we should mourn, first over our own sinfulness and secondly for the lost – those in spiritual death.
Those who mourn are sensitive to the sorrows of others also, weeping with those who weep and grieving over others losses. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, Peter wept after denying Jesus and Paul wept over those who had believed but then walked as enemies of the cross. God promises that though we experience sorrow in this life there will be a day when He wipes away every tear (Revelation 21:4).
3. Gentleness (or meekness)
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth (v 5).
The gentleness Jesus refers to is not an outward demeanour but an inner spiritual quality. Such do not exhibit an attitude of self-righteousness, but are aware of their own weakness. Like humility, gentleness does not assert its own will on others, act aggressively or take revenge, but rather gives encouragement.
We need to have gentleness of heart as Paul encourages us:
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12).
Humility is an essential quality which we also need to have and complements gentleness. While gentleness is shown in how we treat others, humility is shown in how we see ourselves – first before God and secondly before others.
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6).
But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word (Isaiah 66:2).
Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride is deeply offensive to God – and the original sin of Satan. Pride seeks to assert its own will over others and before God in the pursuit of self-importance. Jesus on the other hand taught that to be great in God’s eyes we must humble ourselves:
If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35).
Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:4).
Jesus said we need to be child-like (not childish) in the sense of having a humble attitude, willing to learn, admit our mistakes and change our ways. Such are the qualities of a child of God which is why Jesus showed such love and respect for children (Matthew 18:1-6). A child-like attitude is not just desirable but necessary:
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it (Mark 10:15).
Pride is contrary to humility, creates an opening for sin and will always be an obstacle to growth. Pride is never satisfied, but if we have humility we will be content.
We are encouraged to maintain a humble attitude:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3-5).
Those of us who exercise authority within the church must do so with humility, as a servant, not enforcing it over others as in the world. Authority is served by submission, not force.
Without humility we will want our own way rather than God’s and without humility towards our brothers and sisters in Christ we will inevitably find conflict and antagonism.
4. A hunger and thirst for righteousness
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (v 6).
As food and water are the natural need and desire of our body, so righteousness – being and living right before God – should be the earnest need and desire of our soul and spirit, a desire motivated by spiritual hunger and thirst, not fear of punishment. God promises that this desire will be satisfied – in Christ.
Jesus taught us that our first priority should be to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, a priority over and above the desires of life in this world. If we do this God will provide for our natural needs:
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (v 7).
Mercy is showing undeserved kindness to those who sin against us. We are to be merciful because God has shown mercy to us.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35,36).
To others who struggle with sin we need a merciful but wise attitude.
And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (Jude 22,23).
If we show mercy we will receive mercy.
6. Purity of heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (v 8).
Jesus emphasised that it was the condition of our heart – where our true moral nature resides – that counted in the eyes of God. He castigated the Pharisees for their inner unrighteousness and hypocrisy though they gave every appearance of being holy and righteous people. And as David also says:
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? and who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation (Psalm 24:3-5).
Being pure in heart is to have a heart free of moral impurity. It is not just appearing to do what is right, the intent of our heart must be right also, according to God’s standard. How can we have a pure heart? Only through a heart and conscience made clean through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:22).
7. Making peace
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (v 9).
A peacemaker does not seek conflict but neither is he a pacifist or one who avoids conflict and makes peace at any cost. A peacemaker is someone who seeks to see people reconciled – first to God and then to each other. A peacemaker does not seek revenge when wronged, but rather works for the other’s good.
So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another (Romans 14:19).
Jealousy and selfish ambition lead to conflict and disorder but when love is practised, peace is made.
Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Corinthians 13:11).
As God has made peace with us so we are to make peace with each other.
8. Enduring persecution for righteousness sake
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (v 10,11).
Suffering for righteousness and for Christ’s sake is not something that any would naturally yearn for, yet Jesus says such are blessed. Further it is something we ought to expect:
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29)
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).
Peter also forewarns and encourages us with these words:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
Are we prepared to bear the world’s ridicule and hate, the loss in this world of all we hold dear for the sake of Christ and the glory to come? We should know that across this world persecution, suffering and loss are being endured by our brothers and sisters in Christ on a daily basis.
It is not just enduring suffering but how we respond to suffering that is important:
For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favour with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 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 2:20-23).
Therefore, like Jesus, we need to patiently endure suffering and persecution without retaliation leaving judgement to God.
We cannot do these things in our own strength
When Jesus taught these words it must have produced despair in the hearts of His hearers. Many have endeavoured to live as Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, only to fail miserably. In our own strength it is impossible to consistently live these eight qualities, but the good news is: in Christ we can. As Paul says:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).
My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you (Galatians 4:19 ESV).
Through the cross the power of our sin nature has been broken and through resurrection of Christ we receive His life in us. Therefore it is Jesus Himself who is the source of our strength to live the way He taught us. But how is Christ’s life revealed in us? This is the next subject to be considered.
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses his soul for My sake, he is the one who will save it (Luke 9:23,24).
Through the cross of Christ we have died to sin and received new life, but unless we deny ourselves the fruit of Christ’s life will not be produced in us. Taking up our cross is not unavoidable trial, but the daily choice of God’s will over our own. It means renouncing control of our own life and placing it in the hands of Jesus. We have to allow the life of Jesus to be formed in us through the choices we make. He will not force us. Therefore the faculties of our soul – mind, intellect, wisdom and will need to be submitted to God and the leading of His Spirit. We dare not trust in our own strength, wisdom and ability. They will only serve as an impediment unless we submit them to God.
And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Now that we have been saved by Jesus we live our lives for Him, not for our own interests. As we deny ourselves and submit our will to His, He is able to produce in us the fruit of righteousness. Breaking long-held sinful habits may be difficult, but with faith in Christ, through the Holy Spirit and with discipline and perseverance, they will be overcome.
We need to deny self to follow Christ so that His life will come to maturity in us. This will mean a humble, intentional choice of our will to do God’s will rather than our own and the end of self-importance, self-righteousness, self-dependence, self-vindication, self-pity and our own wisdom.
Such choices can be painful. It could mean choosing a life of humble service for the sake of others over a well-paid and highly regarded career. Even Christian ministry can be a hindrance in following Christ if we love our position in the church more than the people of the church. Are we content just to be a servant whose praise is from God?
Denying self and taking up our cross to follow Jesus will be personally painful and may cost our time and resources, health, recreation, sleep and even our families. It is contrary to human nature and will always be inconvenient. Whatever would hinder our following Jesus we must put aside. As the writer to the Hebrews encourages us:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1,2).
A word of caution is needed here. Denying self and following Christ does not mean we can throw off our responsibilities in this world towards those around us and pursue a ministry of our choice. Such a choice could in fact be motivated by selfishness, not the leading of the Holy Spirit. Serving Christ cannot be an excuse to not love our neighbour – those closest to us.
We Are To Be Led By the Holy Spirit
We are to be led by God’s Spirit, not by the desires of our flesh or own wisdom.
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Romans 8:14).
Being led by and walking by the Spirit of God is for all who believe in Jesus. It distinguishes those who are God’s children from those who are not. As Paul tells us:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
We are not to be a people who merely conform to a set of rules, but are to be motivated by God’s Spirit living in our heart. This is the essential difference between the Old and New Covenants:
Being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).
How are we ‘led by the Spirit‘? Only through salvation in Christ with God’s Spirit dwelling in us and with a renewed mind can we be led by the Holy Spirit, discern and know God’s will. We are led, not forced to follow. This is why we need to have spiritual ears. Seven times in the book of Revelation Jesus says ’He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches‘. Throughout the book of Acts it was the Holy Spirit who spoke to and guided the church and individuals.
As sons of God we learn to hear the Holy Spirit as we spend time listening, through prayer, reading, meditating and applying God’s word – the Bible. Understanding God’s word comes through spiritual enlightenment, by the Holy Spirit, not human reasoning alone:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (2 Corinthians 2:12-14 ESV).
Yet we need both: the Word (the Bible) and the Spirit. For what we discern inwardly from the Spirit must be in harmony with what we read in the Bible. If we don’t read and know what the Scriptures teach we will not be able to test those inner feelings whether they are from God or not.
Jesus taught many spiritual principles through parables, because only by the Holy Spirit could they truly be understood (Luke 8:10). He also used examples from the natural world to illustrate what we to be and what we are to do while in this world. This will be explored next.
We Are To Be the Salt of the Earth and Light in the World
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men (Matthew 5:13).
What did Jesus mean by saying we were to be the salt of the Earth? Salt was, and is, used primarily as a seasoning. It adds flavour to food. Its presence is distinctly noticed and though small in amount its influence is great. So it is with us as we live in this world. People should notice that we are distinctly different by our behaviour. We are, as it were, the taste of God on Earth. We might be a minority in our community but our influence should be for good. However, Jesus warns if we become tasteless, that is if we have become no different in our behaviour and an influence for good to those in the world, we are no longer of any use and will be discarded. This is a sobering prospect.
Light in the World
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).
Jesus is the light of the world and we show His light through good works such as love, kindness, mercy, hospitality and compassion to others but most of all to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot be light in the world if we cloister ourselves in Christian communities and have little or no interaction with those outside. Light exposes darkness and so it is essential that if we are to be light in the world there be no darkness in us:
So that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).
To be salt and light in this world and show the life of Christ within us, we need to be uncompromising, consistent and not hypocritical by speaking and behaving differently when we are in the company of those outside the church.
We Are To Bear the Fruit of Righteousness
Jesus spoke of us as being trees, branches and soil which produce good fruit.
So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Mt 7:17-19).
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
My Father is glorified by this: that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples (John 15:1-4, 8).
This fruit is the moral character of Christ and it is only through our union with Christ that we bear this fruit. It is not of ourselves. When we bear fruit we show His life to others and the world.
This fruit we are to bear is not knowledge or great spiritual gifts. Knowledge is needed, study is good and spiritual gifts are needed but as Paul says they can be a cause for pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). Unless the knowledge and gifts we have bring about greater humility and produce fruit, the foremost of which is love, they are in vain (1 Corinthians 13:2).
In the parable of the sower Jesus says:
But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance (Luke 8:15).
The parable tells of two others which do not bear fruit, though there was, for a time, when the seed had germinated and grown. Those typified by the rocky soil are those who hear and receive the gospel but lack depth, believe for a time and in a time of testing fall away. Those typified by the seed among thorns hear the gospel but do not bear mature fruit because their love and concern for the things of this world impedes the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Those with an honest, pure and good heart, who keep God’s word through the trials of life, will bear fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22,23).
Note, Paul says the fruit of the Spirit is, not are. That is the fruit is not individually grown but all are produced as a result of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We should ask ourselves: “Am I growing in each of these – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?” In whatever circumstances we find ourselves, even in prison for our faith in Christ, there is no law, either civil or in the Church that can prevent us bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
How do we bear this fruit? Without Christ we can’t, but as we remain joined to Him we can. A branch cannot bear fruit separate from the vine and a light globe cannot give light of itself unless it is connected to a power source. In the same way, we cannot bear fruit unless we remain spiritually in Christ. However we need to remove that in our lives which would impede or prevent the fruit of Christ’s spirit in us. As Jesus told us in the parable of the sower:
The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance (Luke 8:14-15).
Putting off the old, putting on the new self and growing in Christ will be a life-long process as we, in faith, submit our will to God’s.
As Paul instructs us:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:5-14 ESV).
We should note a few things from this passage. First Paul assumes we have repented of our old way to live the new way (have put off, v 9 and have put on the new, v 10). Next he says we are being renewed. This is Christ’s ongoing work in us. Then we are told to go on putting to death our old sinful deeds (v 5 and 8) and go on putting on the new (v 12).
Notice too the fruit of God’s Spirit will be revealed in our relationships with others. This is especially true in the home, in our marriages, with our children or with our parents. Husbands – how do you react to a critical wife? Wives – how do you react to a husband who seems indifferent to your needs? In the work-place too – how do we shape up when pressured by a domineering supervisor? While we may appear pious to Christian friends, our true nature is inevitably revealed in the eyes of those closest to us. Are we showing the fruit of the Spirit to them?
Saved To Be Holy and Righteous
God saves us to be a holy and righteous people:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age (Titus 2:11,12).
It is of note that Paul never refers to Christ’s followers as Christians but as ‘saints’ or ‘holy ones’ (Romans 1:7). If we think of ourselves as what we are in Christ (holy ones), rather than what we were (sinners) I believe we will be better equipped in our mind to be holy in practice.
There are two aspects of being righteous – the first is that we are made righteous by God’s grace as a gift through faith in Christ, known as justification. This is also called imputed righteousness – by virtue of what Christ has done for us and requires our faith. The second is that we to be righteous through bearing the fruit of righteousness, known as sanctification. This is also called imparted righteousness which comes by virtue of what Christ does in us, requires our obedience and will be an ongoing work while we are in this body.
But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But He loves one who pursues righteousness (Proverbs 15:9)
While we need to choose and pursue righteousness, it is a fruit which comes through the spirit of Christ in us:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11).
It is to God’s praise and glory, not ours, since we cannot be righteous except through Christ. This we must always keep in mind lest pride in our own righteousness gain a place in our heart.
Similarly, there are two aspects of being holy. The first is that we are made holy through faith in Christ, by His blood (Acts 26:18, Hebrews 13:12). This Christ did as a one-time act, not to be repeated. We who have believed in Jesus are called saints – holy ones, who are made holy in Christ and set apart for a purpose. The second is that we are to be holy:
But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behaviour; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15,16).
We are to pursue or strive for holiness. As the writer to the Hebrews encourages us:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14 ESV).
It is through the application of God’s word we are made holy:
Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:25,26).
His word must therefore be an ever present part of our life. We are to live by every word that proceeds from God through hearing and obeying (Matthew 4:4).
As we choose to do what is right we become holy:
For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification (Romans 6:19). (Note: the words sanctification and holiness have the same meaning).
That we are to be a holy and righteous people is not working for our salvation, but rather the working out of our salvation. Holiness and righteousness should therefore be a result of our new nature in Christ. In a contemporary expression, they are as a result of our new DNA.
We can be holy and righteous because of what Christ has accomplished through His cross and resurrection. Therefore we have every reason to be confident and rejoice in God.
Conquering our tongue
What we say is also as important as what we do:
For, the one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil (1 Peter 3:10-12).
James also says we need to control our tongue (3:2-10). Words can build up or tear down. It is easy to criticise and pass judgement on others but how difficult it is to undo words hastily uttered but later regretted? We also need to be on guard against a judgemental attitude, especially towards the lost and those struggling with sin. Such an attitude can become an excuse to hate in the guise of being righteous. While there is a proper place for correction, it must be done in love and in a spirit of gentleness, looking first to our own walk. Remember we are all sinners saved by the grace of God.
Our speech should be that which builds up as Paul says:
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).
Don’t Be a Pharisee
Jesus taught us that we need to have a righteousness which comes from the heart:
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).
The Pharisees were people who were righteous in their own eyes but not before God. They were zealous for God and the Scriptures, travelled land and sea to make converts and tithed diligently but focused on externalities, not the inner person. They worshipped God, but not in spirit. They praised God with their mouths but not with their hearts. They were fastidious in cleanliness but neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness. They loved money and the praises of men and thought that giving to God negated their need to honour their parents. They sought to impose burdens on others in the name of righteousness but were unwilling to help and be compassionate.
Yet the truth is we can all fall into the same error as the Pharisees if we place greater emphasis on outward form rather than the inner person. Another error is to build upon man-made traditions; whether they be the way we ‘do church’ or a theological tradition rather than the word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say traditions are necessarily wrong but we need to always test them against God’s word as revealed in the Bible.
The righteousness which God desires to see in us should also shown in how we treat the poor, needy and afflicted, especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we despise or neglect them, our ‘righteousness’ is in vain and God is not pleased (Isaiah 58:1-12).
So we need to ensure that we are motivated from the heart, guided by the Scriptures, led by the Holy Spirit, out of love, compassion, humility and mercy, not begrudgingly nor out of a desire to maintain a man-made tradition, exercise power over others or receive praise and recognition. Most importantly it is God we must first please, not man.
And when we worship we should realise true worship is not a ritual done in a certain place at a certain time but in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). That is, it comes from our heart and is expressed in our living for God as Paul encourages us:
To present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).
Guarding our thoughts not just actions
Jesus taught us to guard against, not just sinful actions, but sinful thoughts which flow from what we see:
If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell (Mark 9:47).
Of course Jesus did not mean to literally remove an eye since it is not the eye itself that sins but the thoughts coming from our heart. The seriousness of the warning is plain. We need to do whatever it takes to not sin or risk going to hell. This warning bears particular significance today as technology can bring sinful media into our homes through a button on our remote, the click of a mouse or a touch screen.
Being prepared to do good at all times
In the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25) Jesus illustrated two types of disciples, both of whom were looking for His coming. Yet five were said to be foolish, because they did not take oil for their lamps and were not prepared when He came. The oil, which supplied the flame which gave light, could represent the light of good deeds (Matthew 5:14-16) or the light of Christ within us (Ephesians 5:8,9). What the oil represents, though, is not important, for it should be suffice to say they neglected to do what they should have done and so were unprepared. The end result is they were shut out.
Other scriptures tell us to always be prepared, holy and blameless, ready for Jesus’ return (1 Thessalonians 3:13, 5:23; 2 Peter 3:11-14).
We are encouraged to be diligent in practising moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love so as to make certain of Jesus’ calling and choosing.
For as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you (2 Peter 1:10,11).
We should always be on guard against establishing our own standards of righteousness rather than God’s. Unconsciously we may do this when we compare ourselves to others rather than that revealed in Scripture. While we live in this world there can be a temptation to think that if we maintain a standard of morality higher than the world we are OK. The error of this, is of course, that the world’s standard becomes our reference for morality, not God’s word. This is also why we need to have a cleansed and pure conscience (Hebrews 10:22).
Being compassionate but uncompromising
In standing up for God’s standard we may be accused of being behind the times and a bigot. While this can be expected from those outside, it can, sadly, happen within the church. While we should be uncompromising in standing for righteousness, it must be done with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
Jesus spoke much on how we should relate to and treat other people – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will face situations where we encounter misunderstanding, indifference, rejection and outright hostility. Yet we are to respond, not in the same way, but with humility, love and forgiveness. Will we be like those who have hurt us or be like Jesus?
Yet we need to guard against compromising God’s standard out of a sense of compassion for others. This has become apparent with the greater acceptance of divorce and remarriage. Jesus did give one exception (sexual unfaithfulness before marriage) but the fact is most divorces are not for this reason. There is also a greater acceptance of homosexuality within many churches. The human need to love and be loved is understandable, but not at the cost of God’s standard of righteousness. Scripture clearly teaches us that a sexual relationship can only exist within marriage – between a man and a woman for life. Therefore what we feel should not determine what we do. Those who are in such situations need truthful, wise and loving counsel, not condemnation.
This brings into prominence the essential requirement of denying self to follow Christ. Will it be, at times, difficult? Yes, but not impossibly so. So if we are struggling with same-sex attraction this interview with Sam Allberry is both enlightening and encouraging. We need to realise that most, if not all, people will experience sexual temptation. A husband may experience romantic and sexual attraction to another woman and similarly a wife for another man. A man might experience desires and sexual attraction towards children. Yet to act upon such temptations would be sin.
Sin against children is one of the most diabolical as Jesus solemnly warned:
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6).
Therefore the fear of God is needed. Jesus also said whatever we value in this life which causes us to sin must be parted with lest we end up in hell (Matthew 18:9).
Jesus’ life is both our example and our true life. Jesus never married or had an intimate relationship with a woman, yet He was the most complete and fulfilled person to have lived in this world. The world tells us that one must be either a sexually active heterosexual or a sexually active homosexual to be complete. This is a lie. For a Christian true completeness is found in Christ. Whether we have same sex or opposite sex temptations, we are told to resist them and by God’s grace we can (1 Corinthians 10:13). To give up what cannot last to gain what will last forever and far better is no great sacrifice. Human love lasts for a moment but God’s for eternity. That is our choice.
Marriage is probably one of the greatest opportunities for blessing while at the same time being one of the greatest testing grounds of the Christian faith. It has been said that if you want to best serve Jesus, stay unmarried (as Jesus and Paul encourage us), but if you want to be like Jesus then marriage is a great tutor. Why? In marriage, every aspect of Christian nature is tested – faithfulness, forgiveness, humility, gentleness, self-control, self-denial, patience, endurance and need I say love – which encompasses all these.
Divorce, to some, may seem the only way out of a difficult or unhappy marriage. Marriage counsellors often observe it is not the big issues which cause couples to part but the little things, which, if not dealt with and forgiven, breed bitterness. Being faithful to our husband or wife is not conditional on our having happiness and harmony. God wants us first to be faithful and holy. Could it be that we expect marriage to provide those deepest needs which only God can provide?
In 2000 I became, unwillingly, divorced. As a Christian there were many things I might have been prepared for but divorce was not one of them. Believing that the Scriptures taught marriage was for life, I was devastated. Yet through this time of great trial God’s grace and love sustained me. You can read about it here. If you are separated or divorced (but not remarried) I would strongly encourage you to reconcile or if unable to, remain unmarried. God’s grace will be sufficient. That I can say from experience.
Caring for our body
We need to care for our body, since it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. As Paul tells 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).
and to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). We know we are not to give our body to sexual immorality or abuse it with drugs but we can also abuse it with food or drink if we consume more than we should. Why is it so often that the foods we most desire are the ones we know are unhealthy if taken in excess?
In Western society the sheer availability of food makes this a particular challenge for some of us. For those who struggle in this area the good news is with self-discipline, through God’s grace and power and with the help of loving brothers or sisters, it can be overcome.
Righteousness is a fruit
The fruit of righteousness comes as we grow in Christ. Yet growth takes time, and just as we don’t expect certain behaviour of a baby or toddler because of their inability, lack of knowledge and experience compared to an older child, so it is with us before God. However, as we grow in knowledge, with the leading of the Holy Spirit, we are expected to grow in righteousness.
Being holy and righteous is not a list of do’s and don’ts, but rather the fruit of Christ indwelling us as we follow the leading of His Spirit. As a child of God, it is what we were created to do (Ephesians 4:24) for His glory. As we read in the beloved Psalm:
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3 ESV).
But we should always remember it is our standing in Christ, by God’s grace, through His death and resurrection that we are made both legally and practically righteous. Therefore we should always be on guard against any form of self- righteousness.
Forgiving those who sin against us
Forgiving others is one of the basic characteristics of all who follow Christ.
In the prayer Jesus taught us, is a request for forgiveness, but it assumes we have already forgiven those who have sinned against us. Jesus then goes on to say if we don’t forgive others we will not be forgiven our sins.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12).
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:14,15).
In the parable of the unforgiving servant, (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus tells of a servant who owed an enormous debt, so great he could not repay it. He is forgiven the debt by his master but then goes out and shows no mercy to a fellow servant who owed him a pittance in comparison. The master then calls the servant back, throws him in prison and reimposes the original debt. Jesus then concludes this parable with a warning of the consequences of not forgiving others:
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart (Matthew 18:35).
We are to forgive those who sin against us because we have been forgiven our debt of sin, one impossible for us to pay, by the blood of Jesus.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).
We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2) and so despite what someone else may do to us we must be prepared to forgive. This does not mean, however, we condone their sin or that they will not have to bear the consequences of their sin – particularly if it is a criminal offence. For example, a perpetrator of physical or sexual abuse cannot expect to be forgiven just because he has said “I’m sorry”. First there has to be true repentance on his part, not just feeling sorry. There needs to be a genuine change of mind evidenced by confession, accepting his responsibility for his actions (not making excuses), that he has sinned, not only against another, but against God (whom he needs to fear) and making concrete steps to change his behaviour. Even then forgiveness cannot be expected – it can only be freely given. Yet if we don’t show mercy when we should and can, then neither can we expect to receive mercy as James says:
For judgement will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13).
Yet the greatest motivation to forgive is love.
We are to Love – the Greatest Commandment
Jesus told us the two greatest commandments were:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).
Of all the qualities that God’s people exhibit, love should be the foremost. In fact love encompasses them all, which is why love is commanded or exampled more than any other quality.
First love for Christ must take priority over everyone and everything else and we show this by obeying Him:
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him (John 14:21).
For this is the love of God: that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).
Jesus promises those who love Him:
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).
Jesus showed and taught us agape (one of three Greek words translated ‘love’ in English) is not the love of feeling but that of doing showed by esteeming, valuing and caring for the one loved, even at personal cost. God has demonstrated His love for us in the sacrifice of His Son:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
So when we know how great is God’s love for us, we too can love:
We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Agape Love – the Love of God
Agape (the Greek word translated as ‘love’ in the New Testament) is the God type of love – as distinct from the love that seen in the world. The world’s type of love is typically conditional: if you love me then I’ll love you. The God-type of love, agape is not conditional. It does what is right to others in His eyes. It is a sacrificial love which does good without expecting good in return – even for those who hate and mistreat us:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them (Luke 6:32).
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Luke 6:35).
Loving those who love you is natural. Loving your enemies is supernatural but it is the love Jesus expects of His followers.
Paul tells us that great faith and knowledge are of no account in God’s eyes if we do not love:
If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).
Knowledge without love will lead us to inflate our own self-importance instead of humble service to others.
Paul expresses the nature of agape love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: it is patient, kind, humble, pure, forgiving, bearing, hoping, believing, enduring all things and never ends.
Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ
Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ shows the world that we are His disciples and that we have been saved and born again:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34,35).
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23).
12 times in the New Testament we are told to ‘love one another‘, 9 of those by the apostle John.
For this reason we cannot be lone Christians without meaningful relationships with other Christians. We can’t claim to love our brothers and sisters in Christ if we don’t want to spend time in fellowship with them. This must mean more than just going to church on a Sunday. We should test our hearts here: who do we prefer to keep company with – other Christians or non-Christians?
There may be times when we don’t feel like loving our brother in Christ, but we must, out of love for Christ who gave His life that we might live. Paul encourages the Galatians with these words:
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith (Galatians 6:9-10).
One of the most beneficial ways we can love one another is to pray for one another according to God’s will. Here is a guide to the power of prayer.
Nor can we profess to love God while at the same time hating a brother or sister in the faith. It is hypocrisy:
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).
Nor should we think hate is just an intense negative feeling towards someone. It can in fact be passive hate in that, in our heart, because of some perceived or real offence, we are looking for an excuse not to love (which is not hard to do).
Love for those who are being persecuted
Love for our brothers and sisters who are suffering under persecution is of particular importance. We are encouraged to remember those in prison, as if with them:
Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Hebrews 13:3).
And Jesus said what we do or don’t do for them is the same as we do or don’t do to Him (Matthew 25:35-45).
We may not be able to physically visit them but we can support them practically, and most importantly, pray for them.
While it is natural to want love from others, the onus is always on us to love. Love cannot be earned, it can only be given. If we only love when we are loved we are no different to the unsaved. This is especially true when we have unmet needs and don’t feel loving. Agape love is what we do, not what we feel.
Love seeks the other’s best interests and good. It may not at times necessarily be what is nice or pleasant, but what is needed. Speaking the truth in love to another may cause offence and pain, even though it is intended for good. Nevertheless we must not fear speaking the truth, but it must always be done in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).
Love in the home
As mentioned earlier, it is in our own family relationships that love is first practised and tested. God’s purpose for the family is not just for procreating the human race, but to be a place where His love is exemplified through husband and wife, parent and child. Every new-born baby is totally helpless and dependent on the loving care of his parents – a picture of our relationship to our heavenly Father. A home where love is nurtured between husband and wife and parents and children is a taste of heaven on earth.
Divorce, for this reason, should not be considered by those who follow Christ. Separation may be warranted where there is serious abuse, but not a legal divorce. Love does not count a wrong suffered and endures all things.
The love and relationship between a husband and wife is to exemplify the love and relationship between Christ and His Church. A husband loves his wife by caring for her and a wife loves her husband by submitting to him (Ephesians 5). Of course love will also be expressed in other ways. I am aware that the terms ‘head’ and ‘submit’ are contentious to many. This, I suggest, is because such terms are coloured by the world’s concept: head = boss/superior and submit = slave/inferior. Yet this is not the case in God’s kingdom, for Jesus said “This is not the way among you” (Mark 10:42-45). The one who leads is not by definition superior, or the one who submits inferior (such ideas are from the world).
The roles of head/leadership and submission are governed by ‘agape’ love – love which does not seek its own but the well-being of the other. Love and submission are willingly given, not demanded. Too often our understanding of what is love is shaped by how love is portrayed by the world and in particular the media. Love, according to the world, has to be something we feel, yet the love that Jesus taught is expressed by what we do.
There is much confusion and error these days regarding the relative roles of husband and wife in Christian marriage and this article ‘The Role of a Christian Man’ brings much needed clarity.
As parents we learn to love our children as we not only provide for their physical needs, but through patiently enduring sleepless nights, daily routines, playing, reading to and comforting them. Parenthood teaches us love, humility, patience (as our Father in heaven is patient with us), self-denial and endurance. As one mother said: “I prayed for patience and God gave me children”. Training and disciplining them (and discipline here does not mean a brutish display of force) is also how we love them. Discipline teaches a child to fear and respect delegated authority, preparing them to know the fear of God. If we neglect to diligently discipline our children we in fact show hate towards them (hate, biblically, is not necessarily a feeling of animosity but can be indifference to or denial of another’s need – read Proverbs 13:24). In the home, are we seen as loving people by the other members?
Our love is first revealed through those closest to us.
We Are the Body of Christ, the Church, a Holy Temple
When God saved us in Christ He made us members of the spiritual body of Christ – the Church.
It might help at this point to understand exactly what we mean by ‘the church’ for it can convey different ideas to different people. The Greek word, translated as ‘church’ in most English bibles, is ‘ekklesia‘ which literally means ‘called out ones‘. It means more than simply a gathering of people (and never refers to a building). It refers to a people, called by Jesus, out from the world, together as a community for a purpose: to be God’s holy people who do His will on earth.
Christ is the head and we are the body – the church. It is essential we recognise that there is no earthly ‘head’ to which we are accountable and has authority over us. Therefore any ‘church’ on earth which claims to be the one true church to which we owe our allegiance is in reality supplanting Christ Himself. Beware!
As members of Christ’s body we no longer live for ourselves, but for Him and for the benefit of others. This is why we cannot choose to be independent Christians without a vital relationship with other believers. We need others and others need us to grow in Christ. Our love and submission to one another is grown and tested through our relationships within the Church. As Paul encourages us:
But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:15,16).
So God’s purpose for us is to be a functioning member of the body of Christ – the Church – and to be built into a holy temple of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:20-22). Each of us form a unique part of God’s house, the body of Christ (1 Peter 2:5). With Christ as the Head we build upon others and others on us. Without our active participation the body suffers loss and so do we.
As the church we have two principle roles – 1. to other members of the body and 2. as a witness (in word and deed) to the world and bringing the knowledge of God and His salvation. As to the first Jesus said:
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).
Without such love our witness to the world lacks substance or worse. As to the second Jesus said:
Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you (John 20:21).
As Jesus’ hands and feet it is our role to bring the knowledge of God’s salvation in Christ to a world in spiritual darkness. Yet unless we live as a holy people, above reproach, our witness will be in vain. How often is the name of God and Christ blasphemed in the world because of the sin of those who bear the name of Christ?
Therefore we need to pursue holiness, respect each other’s gifts and abilities and maintain a humble attitude. We each have a vital role in the body, whether it is what we would consider a humble role or a more visible one. The bond of love is crucial in the growth of the body of Christ. There inevitably will be tensions – different opinions and priorities – which will bring division and mar our witness unless love is fostered in a mature way. Yet this does not mean we are to pursue unity at any cost. We must never, in the name of unity, neglect or avoid speaking aspects of God’s word which are deemed hard, controversial or divisive. The truth should be spoken without compromise, but always in love.
Jesus said we to abide or remain in Him, as a branch in the vine. It is His life which gives us true life. It is His life which enables us to bear fruit (John 15:5,6).
How do we abide or remain in Christ and be spiritually united to Him?
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love (John 15:10).
Here we have the amazing promise that God the Father will love us, and with Jesus, dwell with us spiritually if we love Him. And we love Jesus through keeping His word, that is doing what He has asked us to do, confessing Him, remaining faithful and loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We Are To Be a People Who Know God’s Peace and Joy
Throughout the Scriptures we are told to be a people of joy and who know the peace of God. This peace and joy is not dependent on outward circumstances but is ours through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and because of the hope that is before us.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
As Jesus did before the Cross:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Many times we are told to rejoice as Paul encourages us:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
This is especially true when we face adverse circumstances:
Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
And in times of persecution:
But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation (1 Peter 4:13).
We can express this joy in song:
Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright (Psalms 33:1).
The peace of God and Christ is ours while we are in this world despite what may happen:
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
And as we read in Isaiah:
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 51:11 ESV).
Therefore with such encouragement we can always know peace and joy in this world as we keep the promises of God and our hope in Christ before us.