The Apostle Paul was deeply concerned after finding out how his friends in Galatia abandoned God’s grace for the burdensome yoke of religion. These ‘born-again’ believers were caught up in dead works. Reduced to slaves, they denied themselves of their freedom, working vigorously to secure their spot in heaven. Somehow they bought into the idea that salvation is based upon man’s performance rather than on God’s promise. Paul likens this type of legalism to paganism.
“But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.” (Galatians 4:8)
This is true of every believer. There was a time each of us served something as if it were a god, but it wasn’t a god at all. While it had no authority over us, we bowed to it regardless. Your god may have been money, a career or a hobby. Perhaps it was a drug that dominated your life. Or maybe it was a person. Whichever the case, you answered to another master besides the true and living God. While you may not have realized it at the time, you were in bondage. Someone or something had a tight leash on you. Instead of ruling it, it ruled you. Then Christ set you free!
Before the Galatians came to Christ, they bowed to useless idols. These so-called gods were not all that different from you or me. They may not have looked human, but they were believed to have human appetites, emotions and interests. It’s for these reasons they were idolized. They epitomized our most basic instincts and deepest desires. This offered man a convenient means to worship his own nature. Indeed, pagan worship is self-worship.
While modern man may not bow to carved images, self-worship remains the most popular form of worship even today. Jesus turned this idea on its head when He declared, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) This golden rule is an absolute impossibility when our focus is inward. It requires a radical paradigm shift, from a self-serving mindset to a mindset of serving others. This is how the Christian exercises his or her liberty.
“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
The flesh offers only one thing and that is bondage. There is no getting around this. Whether it’s sins of the flesh, or works of the flesh to satisfy the law, the end-result is always the same: you become a slave. Deliverance is found in Jesus alone. Once we embrace Him we embrace love. When we embrace love, we embrace the highest form of freedom.
Allow His love to rule over you, in you and through you. Freedom never tastes sweeter than when we do.
Love like Jesus!
I want to discuss something that is often discussed – love. For starters, I’ll ask something that is seldom asked: What immediately comes to mind when others think of you? Is it a hobby, trade or sport? Perhaps you’re notorious for your political views. Or maybe it’s a keen sense of humor that stands out most. If you’re a musician or an artist, you may be known best for your talent. Obviously, we all have a recognizable “special something” programmed into our DNA. But the quality we’re to be known for first and foremost is… Love! Jesus had this to say on the subject:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Jesus refers to the law of love as a “new commandment”. What’s so new about it? Wasn’t this charge engraved in stone centuries before The Word became flesh? Indeed, the mandate to love has been around since the beginning. Jesus, however, put a fresh perspective on it by pointing to Himself as the standard. “Love one another as I have loved you.” He commands. This is the ultimate game-changer. Not only that, the bar for love is set incredibly high!
As impossible as it may seem, this is how we’re to be recognized. Yes, this is how we’re to be identified as disciples of Jesus – not by our love, but by His! His heavenly love is to be the trademark of every Christian. The problem is, we’re all flawed human beings. Even our understanding of love is flawed. It’s true. We can neither duplicate nor replicate the perfect love of Christ. So, what’s a person to do? The answer is Jesus!
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” John 15:4
Loving like Jesus requires abiding in Jesus. His love cannot be manufactured through human effort. He is the producer. We are merely distributors. Unless we tap into the source of love, we’ll remain in short supply. It works the other way as well. The more we abide in Jesus, the more love we have to offer.
“He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Without Jesus we can’t love like Jesus. In order to fulfill the new commandment, abiding in Him is an absolute essential. Learn from the light bulb. It doesn’t produce light when stacked on the shelf at Home Depot. It distributes light when connected to a power source. The same is true for us. We need a power source. The good news is, we have one at our immediate disposal. His name is Jesus!
In our recent studies through 2 Corinthians (chapters ten and eleven in particular) we have encountered some eye-opening discussions having to do with false teachers. It seems many believers were more impressed with them than with Paul who simply preached the gospel simply. The false teachers were not only skilled communicators, but also had the ‘wow factor’. For those more interested in eloquence than substance, Paul’s speech was regarded as contemptible. While Paul may have lacked charisma, these other so-called teachers lacked honesty. In stressing this point, Paul cautions believers to give great care when it comes to measuring truth. In short, we’re not to be fooled by goose bumps.
These crucial lessons from the Apostle Paul bring to mind a certain fellow I know who has become quite popular as an itinerant speaker. Some years back, infidelity and other reckless behavior disqualified him from ministry. With the lapsing of time, he has managed to bury his indiscretions beneath tall tales. The stories he shares are fascinating. They are cleverly designed to wow and pull heart strings. While this “preacher” is an artful communicator, truth-telling is not one of his strong suits. But that doesn’t seem to matter. In a culture hungry for inspiration, fact-checking remains low on the priority list, even in mainstream churches.
Sadly, there will always be those who prefer eloquence over substance. Lies are friendlier. I don’t want to hear I look sixty. Convince me I look thirty-nine. I’ll accept truth elsewhere, but not here. A chill up the spine feels better than a pierce to the heart. When addressing my flesh, “Tell me lies, tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.” as the old Fleetwood Mac song goes.
The church does not exist for the edification of our flesh. Our purpose is spiritual edification, and the spirit demands truth. It is a grave mistake to measure truth by what appeals to the flesh. We will only be deceived. The goose bumps and chills must always be held suspect. The heartstrings that are tugged and the ears that are tickled must be ignored. These are merely palpitations, not validations. Paul warned his understudy Timothy:
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
Let’s face it, fables promise more goose bumps than preaching, reproving, rebuking or exhorting. However, fables do not promote spiritual growth. They stunt it. This is why we must watch out for those who rely upon fables to draw an audience. We must keep our emotions in check, and pay more attention to what is said as opposed to how it is said. If it appeals to the flesh, chances are it’s fable. If it offends, there’s a good chance it’s fact. We’ll never know if we go solely on feeling. We must do as the Bereans did with Paul and other traveling preachers:
“These [the Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Our man for 2016
There is a reason I don’t endorse political candidates, and it’s not just for legal reasons. For those who may not know, entities with (501c3) non-profit status are prohibited from endorsing politicians. The 501c3 is the ticket for tax deductions on charitable giving. For this reason churches incorporate under it. There’s also the additional perk of not having to pay property taxes. While the government allows this, it’s with the understanding that charitable organizations will stick to charity and not become a campaign headquarters. Organizations that can’t hang with that may still operate, just not as a tax-exempt corporation.
Some might say that the 501c3 is a muzzle for pastors, not allowing them to promote their “chosen” for political office, thus thwarting God’s divine plan to straighten up our wayward nation. I will respond by saying I have never been shy when it comes to speaking up on issues. Nor has our nonprofit status at Calvary Austin prevented me from speaking up for Israel, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and religious freedom as in the case of Hobby Lobby when mandated to violate their Christian convictions under Obamacare.
At the present time, I am free to speak on these issues because they are biblical. Furthermore, I encourage folks to look at voting records and know where candidates stand on these important issues. I trust that most are intelligent enough to vote according to their conscience and choose the right person without my two cents worth. Usually, there is more than one candidate who fits the bill. My preference may not be yours and that’s okay.
Even if I were allowed to endorse candidates, I still wouldn’t. Honestly, I’ve never been that far in the tank for anyone. If by some miracle that changes, my lips will remain zipped, at least from the pulpit. The reason being is this: endorsing candidates is divisive for a church. I’m willing to lose a 501c3 if need be, but I’m quite unwilling to divide the body for the sake of a political agenda. Furthermore, endorsing a candidate would require aligning the church with a political party. I’m not willing to do that either.
I view the church like a view family. Members (and visitors) should feel a sense of belonging no matter what their political persuasion might be. No one should ever feel judged or singled out because they don’t tow a certain political line. The beauty of the church is not found in uniformity, but in diversity. Calvary Austin happens to be a very diverse group. We have people of all shades and types from various walks of life. I love this about our church. Where else can a diverse group gather as one, leave their differences aside and have all things in common? This is our testimony to our community. The church is a place of love and acceptance. In Christ we are one. Therefore we exalt Him only. Promoting any other will only divide us. Therefore, we endorse no politicians.
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts.” (1 Corinthians 14:1a)
It’s worth pursuing
The above passage reminds of where our priorities need to be. Love is to be pursued while spiritual gifts are to be desired. Not only should we desire gifts, Scripture instructs us to “earnestly desire the best gifts.” The passage doesn’t stop there though. It goes on to say, “yet I show you a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) What follows next is the most acclaimed discourse on love ever written. (1 Corinthians 13)
The point is clear: while spiritual gifts are excellent, love is much more excellent. Without it spiritual gifts hold no value at all – they’re nothing. This is why love is to be pursued. Gifts, on the other hand, are to be desired. To help grasp this idea, allow me to illustrate. A home is to be pursued. The swimming pool is a desire. It might even be an earnest desire, but the home is more important. That’s where the priority needs to be. Or think of your hobby. Hobbies are great to have. But work is greater. It’s more necessary. Therefore, work is pursued, while hobbies are desired.
In the family of God, love is the necessary thing. We can get along without spiritual gifts, but we cannot get along without love. Getting our priorities flipped lands us into trouble. That’s what happened in Corinth. Instead of pursuing love, they pursued gifts. “You come short in no gift.” Paul tells them. (See 1 Corinthians 1:7) Love may have been a desire, but they hardly pursued it. This church didn’t get along at all.
Desire is good if what’s desired is good. But desire does not always lead to pursuit. I desire a full head of hair. However, I’m not pursuing it. Frankly, it’s too costly. Gifts, on the other hand, cost us nothing. That’s why they’re called “gifts”! God gives them freely. We freely receive them. It simply comes down to desire. If you want the gift, you accept it at no charge.
Love doesn’t work that way. It is costly. While receiving it is free, pursuing it has a price. We must die to self. That’s not always a desire and why we don’t pursue love as often as we should. The desire may be there, but not the pursuit. Not always, anyway.
Love is something we’re to be in ‘hot pursuit’ of. Think of a bounty hunter. He won’t rest until he gets his man. He remains on his trail determined to collect his reward. The pursuit consumes him. Many pursue an education, a career, or a companion with similar passion. They are willing to go the distance and suffer the costs, whatever it takes. We all pursued sin in like manner before surrendering to Christ. We didn’t stumble into it. We were in hot pursuit of it.
Now that we are in Christ, we are on an altogether different pursuit. We pursue love with everything we’ve got. The gifts we desire only serve to help us in this pursuit. Stay on love’s trail, my friend. Do your all to capture it. The reward will be huge.
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Calvary Chapel of Austin Church
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