Monday, January 28, 2019

Order of Operation: Mutual Affection

The previous message focused on Jesus and several of his traits. His defining characteristic, however, was purposely saved for later discussion.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. - 1 John 4:7-9
God is love and Jesus is God who came in human form, so he too, is love. If we’ve truly added godliness to our Faith, then the end result should be the display of godly love. That is what Peter said in the order of operation he provided. However, when we look at Peter’s order, we see that he gave us a step in between godliness and love that he referred to as mutual affection.

To understand mutual affection and why Peter mentioned it, we have to acknowledge that love as God displays it and how he wants us to display it differs from how we typically display it. God’s love is unconditional. If we’re honest, in most cases, ours isn’t. Going from love with a multitude of conditions to love with no condition is undoubtedly a difficult thing to do. One condition, in particular, seems to be more prominent than others. By and large, we tend to love those that share the feeling for us. That is what mutual affection is, and though it is an imperfect form of love, Peter was telling us that it can be used as a stepping stone to the truest form of love.

Almost all of us understand mutual affection. We have parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins, and, at some point, many of us grow and have our own children. The dynamics differ from person to person, but almost all of us have people in our lives that we love and that love us. With family, we don’t even have to do anything. That love is almost a biological imperative. Even those without traditional families can understand mutual affection. Over the course of our lives, we meet people that we connect with and that become our friends. The love we have for our friends is different from what we experience with our families. It tends to have to be developed and cultivated. Still, like with familial love, the love we share with our friends exists largely because its mutually held.

The Bible acknowledges these relationships and provides guidance on how we should behave in those relationships. The Bible instructs parents on how they should treat their children (Ephesians 6:4), on how children should act towards their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3), and how we should treat our siblings (Matthew 5:23-24). Jesus even comments on the greatest act of friendship (John 15:13). Mutual affection, though not the perfect form of love is important. It’s something we as humans, whether Believer or non-believer, can understand. If it’s something we already do, why would Peter mention it as something we should add to our Faith?

The reason is that mutual affection can be expanded in a way that opens the door for our understanding of true love. Jesus opened the path for that expansion. If our relationships within our families are our best examples of mutual affection, then one way to expand how we display mutual affection is to expand who we consider to be family. Jesus already provided the example for that.
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”  He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” - Matthew 12:46-50
The Body of Christ isn’t supposed to be some loose knit collection of people with similar beliefs. God expects us all to look at each other as members of the same family. He wants us to have the same love for our brothers and sisters in Christ that we have for our biological brothers and sisters. That is not an easy or automatic thing, but loving our Christian family is something we must do. When instructing the early Christians, Peter gave them the following charges:
Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king. - 1 Peter 2:17
The difficulty involved with learning to love everyone within the Body of Christ is the reason we have to start to exhibit a state of godliness before we can truly take on the challenge. We are expected to hold affection for our fellow Believers even without a blood bond like we have with our biological family members. We are expected to hold affection for our fellow Believers even if we don’t share common interests and desires like we do with our friends. If we can learn to love our fellow Believers like brothers and sisters, then we will have learned how to condense love from something that typically has to fulfill numerous conditions down to something that only requires meeting one - belief in God. God’s love is unconditional. When we add mutual affection to our Faith, it means that our love only requires meeting that one condition.  It's not the goal, but if we can accomplish that task, we will be closer to understanding love as God does. At that point, we will only be one step from achieving our end goal and fulfilling Peter’s order.

Chris Lawyer
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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Order of Operation: Godliness

In the last message, perseverance was discussed. The next step in the plan Peter laid is adding godliness. When someone perseveres, they are typically working towards something. A state of godliness is what Believers should be trying to achieve. At first, one may think that sounds silly. How can we as flawed humans ever reach such a state? What would a truly godly human being even look like? Luckily for us, those questions have already been answered. God has already provided for us the model of a godly human in his son, Jesus Christ.

As we’ve mentioned before in this discussion, our goal should be to become more like Jesus. That’s what it means to seek godliness as a human being. Christians speak a lot about Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well we should. After all, it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that opened the door for our salvation. However, in our attempts to honor his sacrifice, we shouldn’t forget about the life that he lived prior to giving it up. It was during that life that he delivered the Gospel and set the example for how everyone who would follow him should live. So what traits should those that live like Jesus display?

First, godly people should be humble. Jesus was called the “King of Kings (1 Timothy 6:15),” but he came to this world in a humble manner, born in a manger. He maintained a state of humility throughout his life. He was God in the flesh. With such status, one might think that he would have lived like royalty. Instead, he eschewed the noble class and instead spent all of his time with the commoners of the time. He could have demanded to be worshipped as the deity he was. Instead, he simply took on the role of a teacher and allowed those around him to treat him as such. Several of his teachings revolved around humility. So as his followers, we should not act as if we are better than anyone. We should maintain a humble spirit as Jesus taught in Luke 14:11:
For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Why is it so important that a godly person be humble? Yes, Jesus was humble and we want to be like him, but why is humility such an important part of godliness? Humility was essential for what Jesus truly came to do for this world.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” - Matthew 20:28
Jesus came to serve and sacrifice for those around him. To do that, he had to lower himself, and the same is expected of us. When we believe ourselves to be better or more important than others, it makes it more difficult to serve them. However, when we humble ourselves and do not see others as being below us, then serving as Jesus did becomes easier. The willingness to serve is one of the primary traits of Jesus that we should also exhibit. He made that clear when he washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-17). Specifically, he said to them:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” – John 13:13-17
Jesus took that action as an example of how everyone should be able to humble themselves to serve others. If our Lord could serve those who were unquestionably beneath him, how can we, who are ourselves just normal humans, do any less for those around us? Jesus was not only willing to serve but to commit the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow man. Dying for our fellow human beings may not be the charge for most of us, but adding godliness to our faith means being willing to put others over self.

Perhaps the most obvious of Jesus’ traits was his sinlessness. He was perfect in that he always acted according to the Father’s will. Peter stated the following:
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth.” – 1 Peter 2:21-22
Even when being directly tempted by Satan himself, Jesus stood firm and did not sin (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus was pure goodness, and in our effort to exhibit godliness, we too must work to be goodness personified. Avoiding sin to that degree is not easy, and our effort to emulate Jesus in that way is perhaps, more than anything else, the reason we must work so hard to build our self-control and perseverance. However, even with all the effort we can muster, becoming sinless like Jesus seems like an impossible task. It absolutely would be if not for the Holy Spirit. Because of God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice, we have been given access to the Spirit, which as we have previously discussed, helps in all our steps moving toward godliness. The Holy Spirit is the main reason that we can become godly even as beings made of flesh and blood. If we trust in the Holy Spirit, we should see sin as something that can be conquered.
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. – 1 John 3:9
That verse does not mean that once we come to the Faith, we instantly become sinless. Earlier in his writing John says:
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8
What he is telling us is that when we choose to follow God and accept His Spirit, we have the means to escape sin. When we sin, it’s not because the Spirit fails us. It’s because we fail to follow the Spirit’s lead. In our pursuit of godliness, we must apply our developed self-control and perseverance to constantly and consistently acting according to the Holy Spirit, the God within us. Only then can we truly appear as Jesus did and add godliness to our faith.

There are many other traits that Jesus exhibited that we should strive to add to ourselves. What we discussed here is just a start, as we continue to gain knowledge about Jesus, we should focus on what we can do to be more like him. Still, becoming godly was not the end of the process prescribed by Peter. Exhibiting, he most important of Jesus’ traits in its truest form is the end goal. Becoming like him is simply the prerequisite to accomplish that.

Chris Lawyer
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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Order of Operation: Perseverance

As discussed previously, 2 Peter gives an order to follow after coming to the Faith. So far, we’ve established that the first step is to make a conscious effort to do good and avoid evil. After that, we must look to the Bible to gain greater knowledge and understanding of what is good, so we can refine our efforts towards that goal. In the last message, we identified self-control as the trait that we need to develop to ensure that we are able to consistently and continuously avoid the things that can inhibit our abilities to do good. The next step is to add perseverance to our self-control. Perseverance is defined as steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.[1] The Bible tells us that perseverance is necessary.
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. – Hebrews 10:36
Life throws a lot at us. After working to develop self-control, many of the smaller temptations will be easy for us to avoid, and they will barely register as obstacles along our path to righteousness. However, the small temptations are not the only things we will encounter. There will be times when we find ourselves in dire situations where doing the wrong thing will give us a way out. There will be times where we are at low points and we feel like doing the wrong thing is the way to rise above our problems. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves in positions where doing the right thing might even hurt us in the short run. At those times, our self-control will truly be tested, but those are precisely the times when we must be most committed to doing God’s will. That is what perseverance is all about. Persevering through all of our hardships is another of those things that sounds easier said than done. If it puts the self-control we have developed to the test, how can we be strong enough to still do the right thing? That’s the good thing about perseverance, the more we persevere, the easier it is to persevere. As we learn to push through the small things, we are equipping ourselves to push through the bigger things. Perseverance is something that grows with use, so those hardships that we face actually make us better and stronger in our commitment to God’s way. As Paul told the church in Rome:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance – Romans 5:3
The same is also true when we find ourselves in crises of faith. Remaining steadfast in our faith through those crises helps us to strengthen our faith and thus our commitment to God. James said:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. – James 1:2-3
It’s easy to see why the ability to persevere is so important to our faith. It would be nice if, through developing self-control, we instantly reached a state of perfect discipline. In such a state, no matter what we faced, we’d never fold and would always do what we know to be right. Unfortunately, it is rare that anyone ever reaches such a state and certainly not without a lot of time and dedication to developing it. That means that even with a general desire to do good, knowledge of what is good, and the self-control necessary to stay on a righteous path, we may still stray sometimes. As Believers, our desire is to avoid sinning, so it is easy to look at those times when we fall short as failures. To some extent they are, but we cannot allow our failures to stop us from striving towards our ultimate goal - becoming like Jesus. Perseverance isn’t just about resisting sin. It’s also about developing the strength to go back to God when we’ve strayed from Him. It may be hard to find our way back to the right path, but once we do, that perseverance will be rewarded with a greater ability to resist those same pitfalls in the future. The more we can recover from our failures, the greater our chances of not failing again in the future. Of course, as we become able to avoid sin altogether we become stronger as a result. Perseverance is the mechanism that sustains our spiritual growth. Through the cycles of recovering from our failures and succeeding at resisting temptation and sin, we become strong in the Lord. Eventually, we can get to a point where very little can shake our faith or commitment to righteousness because we have become what God wants us to be. It’s just as James said when he continued the statements referenced above:
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete; not lacking anything. - James 1:4
We’ve talked before about reaching for perfection (i.e., becoming like Jesus). Doing that is tough for humans, but through perseverance, it is not impossible. As we will see, it should be our expectation.


Chris Lawyer
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