Monday, April 4, 2016

Thur 4/7 P3 - Embracing Christ-centered rather than man-centered Christian living

James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.

1 John 4:7 "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."

The past couple of days have been focused on the important subject: "Embracing Christ-centered rather than man-centered Christianity. In the first installment we considered James' warnings to his readers to avoid "favoritism" and thus "man-pleasing Christianity". Yesterday we looked at what happens when we show partiality to one another from James 2:1-13. We discovered that showing partiality is another way of saying "being a man-pleaser". When Christians get caught in the trap of trying to court favor with men in the place of bringing pleasure to Jesus, less love for Christ, His Word, God's glory and people occurs.

How James and 1 John work together in urging Christians to embrace Christ-centered Christianity
Clearly James is warning his readers to not show preferential treatment in their dealings with one another. Whenever we study warning sections in God's Word, it is God's way of warning us about what not to do. Often it is instructive and helpful to turn to sections that are dealing with the same subject, urging us on what we need to do. Exhortation is a form of communication that urges readers and listeners to perform a certain task, or to increase effort in a practice that they are already doing. Warning sections in scripture urge readers to avoid certain practices or attitudes that can hurt their walk with the Lord. Whenever we are dealing with sin, we need both warning and exhortation. 

The Apostle John gives the antidote to showing favoritism in his short Epistle of 1 John.  In 1 John 4:7-21 we see John painting a picture of a church that is to exercise the Great Command to "love one another". When we speak of "loving one another", human love is not the love we are exercising, but rather God's love. Notice the four outcomes of Christians showing love to one another, and how such outcomes lead believers to embrace Christ-centered Christianity rather than its man-centered counterfeit.

1. More love, not less love for Jesus. 1 John 4:7-9
John cannot help but to write about Jesus Christ's accomplishments on the cross. Why? Because his exhortation to "love one another" is based off of God's supreme act in the sending of Jesus. As we love one another with respect to Christ's redemptive work on the cross, He and others will become more dearly loved. Loving one another - rather than being partial - yields a greater flow of the love and power of Jesus Christ. When God's power of love flows through His people - the net result is like electricity through a light bulb.

2. More love, not less love for God's glory. 1 John 4:11-12
John writes in 1 John 4:11-12 "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us." God's glory is His goodness and name put on display. As we aim to love one another, we are positioned to not only better see God's glory, but to enjoy it. Jesus states in Mark 12:28-34 that the two greatest commandments are to Love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

The command to love my neighbor is directly related to my love for God. Whenever Christians make these two commands central to their life, God's glory in Jesus Christ takes center stage. As Christians sharing this core conviction to come together in unity of heart and mind, the spiritual climate of the church becomes saturated with love and zeal for His glory.

3. More love, not less love for God's Word. 1 John 4:13-19
1 John 4:13-15 states - "By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." As the Holy Spirit testifies to your heart and mine about who we are and whose we are, He does so in connection to the scriptures. Where else do we learn that Jesus is the Son of God, or that He first loved us? The scriptures! (1 John 4:16-19) 

Whenever we choose to love one another with God's love, the love for God's word will follow suit, since scripture itself is described as the believer's food. (Job 23:12; 1 Peter 2:1-2) 

The Holy Spirit within the Christian bears witness of the words which He inspired through the writings of the Apostles and writings. It is through the scriptures that faith is born, nourished and enabled to see Jesus Christ. (Luke 24:44; James 1:18)

4. More love, not less love for one another. 1 John 4:20-21
1 John 4:20 reads - "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." As we make a concerted effort to love one another without partiality, we will have the supernatural by-product of greater love for God. Conversely, as we aim to make our lives more God-centered - we will have greater love for one another. Why? Because God has so chosen to indwell each Christian by His Spirit. (John 14:17; Ephesians 1:11-14) 

Moreover, Christ purchased His people with His own blood, making them precious due to the price paid for them. (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Again, we cannot separate loving the Lord our God with all our mind, soul and strength from the other great commandment to love our neighbor.

Conclusion - loving one another results in embracing a Christ-centered Christianity
Through John's simple command to "love one another", we find the antidote to the warning James gives concerning showing partiality. As we love one another with God's love, we will end up with Christians who love God and others more than themselves, which in turn makes for Christ-centered churches. May every Christian consider these words and embrace Christ-centered Christianity rather than its man-centered counterfeit. 

A Tour of Proverbs - Why you and I need to study the book of Proverbs

Proverbs 1:1-2 The proverbs of Solomon, the Son of David, King of Israel: (2) To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding.

When I was a boy, my family had traveled to visit my uncle. He had a wood stove and had been recovering from a then recent hospital stay. At the time, various people would come to help him out with the chopping of wood and the stacking of it beside his home. While we were there visiting, I thought I would go outside and chop some wood to help him out. The ax that was near the wood pile was particularly weathered – with a cracked wood handle and a rusted ax-head. As I placed the first log on the chopping block – I raised the ax to begin the chopping. To my surprise, the ax suddenly became very light – to which I discovered in the next split second was due to the dislodging of the ax-head from the handle! I panicked. Five seconds later I heard a dull thud about 15 yards behind me. The ax-head landed on the ground and thankfully, no one was outside! The point of this story is to illustrate not only the dangers of a dull ax in chopping wood, but also the dangers of not having God’s wisdom in your life.

Why I have begun reading Proverbs, and why you should too
Recently I began reading through the Book of Proverbs. My motivation for taking up the book of Proverbs is to gain insight into God’s plans and purposes for our lives. Currently, my family and me are making some major decisions and are in a major transition phase of our lives. Whenever I have had those times in my life where I see my situation outstripping my current level of trust in God, Proverbs is one of the Bible books to which I turn. I imagine you who are reading this post today are facing a series of tests and situations that demand a greater need for wisdom. Like me, you want to have “God’s mind” on the given matter at hand. In rehearsing the above illustration about the dull ax and the wood, whenever we face a stack of logs (whether they be challenges, decisions, wrestling with sin, increasing faith in God, raising families, building stronger marriages), we’d best be sure to have a sharp and effective edge to our Christian walk. That is how wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures operates.

In the New Testament we find this command from James 1:5 “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” In reflecting upon that command, I find two major sources for acquiring the wisdom of God: first, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3); and second, the Word of God in general and the Book of Proverbs in particular. Certainly the entire 66 books of the Bible are the verbal embodiment of God’s wisdom delivered to His people (Psalm 19:7). For the sake of brevity in our post here, we will deal with Proverbs. So, the question is: how is it that Proverbs delivers wisdom to those who read it?

What Biblical wisdom is, and isn’t
To begin, we mustn’t equate wisdom with intelligence or academic performance. Oftentimes, some of the most intellectually gifted people in the world display little wisdom. Unlike Greek concepts of wisdom that refer to acquisition of knowledge or speculation on abstract ideas, the Hebrew mind understood wisdom as having to do with the “skills needed for living life before God”. In the Book of Proverbs and throughout the Hebrew scriptures (of which the Old Testament was originally composed), three major terms were used to define what was meant by “wisdom”. Bible scholar Gleason Archer in his seminal work: “A Survey of Old Testament Introduction” discusses each of these terms: “Hokma, “wisdom”, the term most frequently used, pertains not so much to the realm of theoretical knowledge or philosophy as to a proper grasp of the basic issues of life…”. Archer then adds further explanation wherein he writes: “and of a relationship of God to man as a moral agent”. The premier example of this word’s usage is found in Proverbs 8.

The second term translated “wisdom” or more so “understanding” in the Bible is the Hebrew term “binah”. Dr. Archer explains the meaning of “binah”: “Binah, understanding, connotes the ability to discern intelligently the difference between sham and reality, between truth and error, between the specious attraction of the moment and the long-range values that truly govern a successful life.” Solomon uses this term in Proverbs 1:2, which the NASB translates as “understanding”. Certainly the first seven chapters of Solomon’s book deal with a father attempting to impart “binah” or “understanding” to his young son.

The third term used to describe wisdom in the Old Testament in general and Proverbs in particular is a Hebrew term translated “discretion” in Proverbs 3:21. Dr. Archer explains the meaning of this term: “tisiyyah, or sound wisdom, efficient wisdom, or, in a derived sense, abiding success. This term conceives of wisdom as an authentic insight into or intuition of, spiritual or psychological truth.”

Whenever we consider these three terms, we can liken the concept of Biblical wisdom to that of a three legged stool. Each term explained above functions as the legs upon which rests the concept and practice of Biblical wisdom. The Book of Proverbs enables the Christian to “sharpen the ax of faith” so-to-speak. Dull axes can hurt when chopping trees or firewood, since more work has to be done and the effort quickly wears the person out. However, with a newly sharpened ax, what was an impossible task suddenly is made quick work. This is what the Book of Proverbs achieves, and why it is included in our Bibles. The Holy Spirit knew God’s people in future generations would need wisdom from on high. Truly if you and I want to have more wisdom, we need to study the Book of Proverbs.

A very brief outline of the Book of Proverbs
Many commentators have noted throughout the centuries that the Book of Proverbs is not as easy to outline as other Bible books, due to the fact that much of its contents are topical in nature. I have found when studying Proverbs, it is helpful to note the many topics and themes one encounters as they read the book. Such an approach can prove helpful when dealing in counseling situations or in aiding oneself in better understanding the practical realities of Christian living. Based upon certain headings that we find in the book, we can discover how the Proverbs are situated into certain “collections”. Let the reader note:

A. The Proverbs of Solomon to his son on relationships and character. Proverbs 1-9

B. The Proverbs of Solomon as they pertain to the general matters of life. Proverbs 10-24

C. The Proverbs of Solomon for Kings and Leaders. Proverbs 25-29

D. More Proverbs that deal with relationships and character. Proverbs 30-31

Closing thoughts

So if you and I want to have more wisdom, we need to study Proverbs. I find it interesting that the book emphasizes the need for God’s wisdom in relationships and character development. How many of us can testify to the ever-increasing need for God’s wisdom in those areas? The oft-times appeal for leadership in our churches and culture and the need for wisdom in the complexities of life are covered in the middle parts of the Book. For reasons such as these, it would be to our benefit to read the Book of Proverbs – one chapter a day. If we do that, we can enjoy renewed faith and increased wisdom in the span of a month.