The God you didn’t expect

Imagine arriving in heaven and encountering someone shining the entry gate. You ask him if he could direct you to Jesus. He says, “I am.” “Excuse me?” you respond with surprise, “Perhaps you misunderstood me. I am looking for the King of Kings ands Lord of Lords.” Once again, he says, “I am.” 

I still remember how intrigued I was to see how God was portrayed as a janitor at the end of the 2003 movie, Bruce Almighty. Something resonated with me. I immediately thought of Jesus’ words to His prideful disciples, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). 

Is it possible that our vision of God is clouded by wrong images from religion and from our own hearts? I think many people will be surprised when they meet God. Jesus was certainly the God that people did not expect when he came to earth.

What it will be like to meet God? What will He be like? I have friends who are with God and I know that my time will soon come to meet God.

Will I be surprised by the unexpected when I meet God?

Examples of people meeting God revealed in Scripture are a little scary. Those who received small glimpses of God in His glory backed off from him in fear for their lives. Isaiah was so shocked by the power and purity of God’s glory that he pronounced a woe on himself. Like many prophets before him, the apostle John (whom Jesus loved) received a revelation of Jesus in His glory and “fell at his feet as if  … dead.” He didn’t think he’d make it out of the experience alive. “But he (Jesus) laid his right hand on John and said, ‘Don’t be afraid!’” (Revelation 1:17).

I am inviting you to reflect on the nature of God in a way that should bring comfort, and confidence about meeting him. It will also challenge us to be more godly (God-like) toward others. Consider this provocative question:

When you meet God will He be all about you?

Some people wrongly think of God as a self-absorbed deity who demands the praise and worship of His creatures. Yet while it’s an appropriate response for the created to honor and praise their Creator, it might surprise some to know that God is a lot more focused on others than Himself.

When we meet someone who is all about himself, a self-centered, self-absorbed person, we’re not likely to think of him as a being very godly. But when we meet someone who is self-giving, and focused on care and service for others, we are right to see such qualities as godly — God-like. God is love. He is the self-giving lover of His creation. 

One of the repeated descriptions of God in Scripture states: “God is love” (I John 4:8). Love is beautifully described in all it’s other-focused ways in I Corinthians 13:4-8a. 

Here is what might surprise us about God: 

When you meet God, He will be very much about you. Does this surprise you? I need to be careful in saying this because self-centered people will likely misread me and think of God as one more person lined up to serve them. Don’t be so foolish. We must first meet God in repentance regarding the sin that separates us from Him (see: Luke 18:9-14) if we hope to experience what I am about to share. 

Repentant people will also resist this idea because they feel unworthy of divine attention. Truly redeemed people are like those who respond with astonishment upon hearing the Lord’s words, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). “Us? When did we…?”

Something feels wrong about the statement, “God is very much about you.” I am tempted to tone it down with many qualifiers. It is wise to approach such a great truth with trembling humility. Yet the boldness of the claim is fitting to both the character and actions of God.

How is God able to be about us?

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:6-8).

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us” (Romans 8:31-34).

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:10).

God’s forgiven, redeemed people are called “dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1) and “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12). We are the objects of God’s ”great love for us — God, who is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). In view of this great love, it should not surprise us when the apostle asked, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Let this truth sink deeply into your heart.

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

“Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (I Corinthians 13:12). 

Perhaps you should read this post again and talk to God about what you’re reading and how you feel about it.

Jesus was the God they did not expect. Let’s not make the same mistake in how we understand our God (see: Isaiah 58:8-9;66:1-2; I Corinthians 1:25).

Steve Cornell 

 

Forgiveness is an act of worship

Have you ever thought of forgiveness as an act of worship?

Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25).

Forgiveness is the choice not to hold things against another. Forgiveness is absent when one holds things against another. This is what we call resentment and it is a root cause behind many personal and societal problems. It’s the tendency to bear grudges and it often leads to revenge.

Holding against

Many people go through life collecting grievances (perceived or actual) and then storing them in their memory bank — specifically, in what I call their grudge account. Rather than forgiving an offender, they choose to nurse their anger; to lick their wounds and to sludge in their grudge.

This way of life is rarely traveled alone because misery enjoys company. It validates our resentment when we can find people to commiserate with us in our grievances by swapping grudge stories. Some throw pity parties to seek solidarity with others in their resentments.

Those who habitually collect perceived rather than actual grievances are in a different category. These people behave in narcissistic pathologically paranoid ways. They’re narcissistic because they think people think about them more than people do and pathologically paranoid because they imagine people are continually against them. They people who are self-destructively self-absorbed and must come to even deeper levels of repentance by embracing Jesus’ call to self-denial.

“Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

But Jesus’ words “Forgive him” are hard to hear when you’ve been badly hurt. I recall more than once, people responding, “Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

Does Jesus ask us to become morally neutral about the wrongful and damaging behavior of others? Is he asking us to pretend nothing happened and let our offender off the hook?

One thing is clear from Jesus’ words, whatever else forgiveness involves, it’s the opposite of “holding something against” someone. Forgiveness requires an act of “letting go” or “releasing”— a refusal to “hold against”.

Empty your grudge account

But this act of releasing is not a superficial or feigned act of erasing or ignoring the wrong committed against us. Letting go of an offense does not require moral neutrality about right and wrong. We’re not required to let the offense go into some imaginary zone of forgetfulness.

Forgiving is an act of worship that takes place in the presence of the God who is the righteous judge of all the earth. Forgiveness is an act of releasing the offense to the God who said, “Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

I am suggesting that forgiveness is first and foremost a matter between you and God, not you and your offender.

When someone hurts us, we tend only to see the horizontal significance of what occurred. “This is about me and the one who hurt me!” we insist. For those who worship God, however, life is primarily about God and secondarily about them. In the rest of Mark 11:25, Jesus reminded us that even our grievances must be dealt with in relation to God: “…if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Do we earn God’s forgiveness?

When Jesus related forgiving others to God forgiving our sins, was he suggesting some form of conditional or earned system of forgiveness? Is this a quid pro qo arrangement (favor for favor)? No! Our forgiveness from God is based on God’s undeserved favor received through Jesus Christ. It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but that God expects His forgiven people to forgive. When forgiven people don’t forgive, God is not worshipped— He is dishonored (See: Matthew 18:21-35).

This is where worship connects with forgiveness. When we forgive, we “let go of” instead of “holding on to” or “holding against.”

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God the hurtful actions and consequences of the wrong done to us. God has sole prerogative of vengeance (Romans 12:19). If the one who hurts us is to be punished, it is God’s right to punish him. When sinned against, turn to God and worship Him by acknowledging His authority as Judge. Acknowledge that any judgment against the one who wronged you is His right — not yours.

Forgiveness as worship is not surrendering or neutralizing our sense of morality and justice. This is not a cheap “letting off the hook” of the one who hurt us. It’s not a mental exercise in forgetting or a feigned effort to trivialize evil by saying, “O well, we’re all sinners.” It’s an act of worship before the final Judge.

On this view, forgiveness is not solely about me – what happened to me and who did it. It’s about God—who He is and His authority as Judge.

Worshipping God, not using Him

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God what rightly belongs to him. Since God is “the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right,” releasing to God places the offence in the purest context of judgment. Forgiving is releasing the grievance and the offender to God’s all-knowing perspective and to the perfect balanced of justice and mercy. This honors God by placing matters into His hands and His timing.

But this approach to forgiveness must not be corrupted into a “God will get you” mentality. Worship is not an effort to use God; it’s an act of humbling yourself before Him.

When forgiveness becomes worship, the offended person humbles herself before God honoring and confessing Him as judge and trusting Him to uphold His judgment as He chooses and in His time.

Unexpected blessing

In this act of “letting go” or “releasing to God,” the one who forgives is also released and empowered to live out the radical prescription of Romans 12:20-21: “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Punishment of wrongdoers

Please don’t leave this subject with the final words from Romans 12. The connection with Romans 13 is important in any discussion of forgiveness. According to Romans 13:1-4, sometimes God executes His wrath (compare 12:19) and punishment of wrongdoers through the agency of human government (see esp. Romans 13:4). This strengthens the point that forgiveness is not a matter of moral neutrality.

When the one who wrongs you receives punishment from a God-ordained authority, it’s right to support and honor the role of government in punishing wrongdoers (see: I Peter 2:13). We honor this role of authority for the glory of God and the good of society. Yet endorsement of just-punishment must never be sought as a means for vindictive and vengeful intention. If tempted toward this response, turn to God is worship based on Romans 12:18-21.

When we’ve been wronged and the punishment of the wrong-doer becomes a matter for human government, we cannot sincerely support such punishment with the right spirit until we prayerfully apply the teaching of Romans 12:18-21.

An invitation

This is an invitation for those who bear grudges to worship God as the only rightful judge of evil. Turn your grudge over to the Judge! Recite His deep moral opposition to the evil committed against you and surrender every desire for revenge to His prerogative in punishing evil (Romans 12:19).

If God chooses to (or involves you in) mediating His judgment through ordained human authority, honor and support those authorities for fulfilling their divine role (see: Romans 13:1-4), but check your heart against seeking false and destructive satisfaction through personal revenge.

The connection between Romans 12 and 13 offers the important reminder that forgiveness does not require a surrender of our sense of right and wrong.

We need the grace of God to apply these truths with sincerity and humility.

Prayer

“God, please help me to worship you when I’ve been hurt by others. You have forgiven my sins and each day I remind myself that you have not dealt with me as my sins deserve. I release my grudge to the Judge and trust you with the outcome.

Steve Cornell

See: Moving From Forgiveness to Reconciliation

Don’t be alarmed by conflict

Mature perspective on conflict

The key to unity in a marriage, family or Church is not the removal of all conflict (that happens in heaven).

So instead of being unrealistically alarmed by differences and disagreements or dancing around them, we should view them as opportunities to mature in deeper and stronger love for one another (I Peter 4:8). When we avoid conflict or just enable others, we often postpone trouble for the future. God provides many opportunities (through conflicts) for us to practice the kind of love He demonstrated to us (Romans 5:6-8).

The key to unity is a deeply shared commitment to work through differences and pursue reconciliation based on God’s love for us in Christ (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1; Titus 3:3-7)

Make every effort….. (memorize these verses)

  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19).
  • Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14).
  • Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
  • “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (offenses)” (I Peter 4:8).
  • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).

 Love is anti-rivalry and peace-building 

  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Balancing truths

Short audio clips

Steve Cornell

Whom does God love?

Scripture speaks generously of God’s love when it reminds us that, “God so loved the World that He gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

Yet “Whom?” or “What?” does the word “world” include?

Should we understand “God so loved the world” point to a Creator’s love for all people or only a redeemer’s love for His chosen ones?

“I know that some try to take world here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do.  All the evidence of the usage of the word in John’s Gospel is against the suggestion.World in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John’s vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God.  In John 3:16, God’s love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of “the whole world” (1John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together. More importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis, God’s love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect” (The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, D.A. Carson).

Eight truths for all people

  1. We are all sinners who receive the penalty of death (Romans 3:10235:12).
  2. God has demonstrated His love for all (John 3:16;Romans 5:8).
  3. God desires salvation for all (I Timothy 2:3-4;II Peter 3:9).
  4. God has made provision for salvation for all (I Timothy 2:5-6;4:9-10Titus 2:11I John 2:2).
  5. God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30).
  6. God holds all accountable for their response to His provision (Romans 2:4-11;14:11;Acts 17:31).
  7. God takes no pleasure in rejection of His provision (Ezekiel 18:23,32).
  8. God will save all who place faith in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16;11:26Romans 10:13).

Steve Cornell

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Did Jesus welcome unrepentant sinners?

I read an article this morning emphasizing a response to the Supreme Court decisions about marriage based on the grace of the gospel.

While I appreciated the tone and many of the reminders, a particular line from it troubled me. The author invited us to reflect on the way that, “Jesus first welcomed and received unrepentant sinners” before saying, “Go and sin no more.”

The word “unrepentant” is what concerns me.

The author rightly suggested that, “The love that is meant to mark us as Christians is meant to receive people in the generous and gracious way Jesus received people.”

This emphasis, however, could be a little misleading when it comes to unrepentant people — even in relation to the courts’ decision.

First, in keeping with the theme of the article, Jesus was often ran with the “wrong people” of society. Why do you think they labeled him “the friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19)? The self-righteous crowd shook their heads in disgust at the people he spent time with and used his associations to renounce him. Even at the end of his life, when he died for us on the cross, Isaiah foretold his final association — “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

Secondly, Jesus also clearly and repeatedly jolted the self-righteous religious establishment with culturally scandalous statements and stories. Imagine their response when he said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). How could he tell a story that placed a tax collector in the temple and sent him home justified before God instead of the Pharisee? Wow! There is no softly and tenderly Jesus is calling in this – just bold truth to cut to the heart of our self-righteous ways!

Yet the unrepentant sinners of Jesus’ day were mostly the religious leaders. And we could hardly say that he warmly welcomed them. Broken sinners, yes; self-righteous, arrogant (“see and do things my way, or else” sinners), no. It’s important not to be confused on this matter so that we don’t melt everything into a non-Christ-like kind of “just accept everyone no matter what” approach.

When His disciples began to mimic the behavior of the religious leaders, asking about greatness in the kingdom, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2). Yes, changes must be made because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5). Without these changes, you will not even enter heaven. It is reserved for the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). 

Now I certainly agree with the author that, “To receive an ‘other’ as they are, without first mandating behavior changes, requires us to tolerate a bit of anxiety or discomfort. It demands that we release, or at least relax, our natural impulse to announce our opinions. To receive another as they are, and not as we wish them to be, is to agree with the apostle Paul’s conviction that it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance.”

But many of those who argue for gay marriage mirror the intolerant religious leaders of Jesus’ day more than the broken and contrite ones to whom the kingdom is open. They are not the “sinners” who seek grace but act more like the self-righteous who condemn and ostracize any one who disagrees.

Many of those promoting gay marriage have become some of the most intolerant people in our country. They operate with a “see things my way, or else” approach. If you hope to show them kindness it will only be accepted if it comes with full endorsement and celebration of what they want. The slightest disagreement with them wins one labels like “hate-monger, bigot, racist, homophobic, etc…

Many don’t realize that anger and bitterness underlies much of the homosexual lifestyle, not because of society but because of personal histories of those who choose to live it. This is one reason that gay relationships are notorious for domestic problems. 

I hope this balanced perspective leads to deeper discussions on our calling as Christ followers — especially in a context of responsible citizenship in a democratic form of government. 

Steve Cornell

Are you discouraged by disunity?

A church leader commented that they had not had conflict in their Church for years. Another responded, “Sure. No movement; no friction.”

We don’t want our churches to be like the married couple who said that they haven’t fought for years and then admitted that they also haven’t talked to each other for years. 

While Christians are supposed to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:34-35), please don’t conclude that  this means they won’t have conflicts.

God’s Spirit within us longs for unity among us, but experiencing such unity will not happen without effort. This is what stands behind the call to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Some Christians become too easily discouraged by disunity because they hold unrealistic (or even utopian) notions of trouble-free fellowship among those who walk with God.

If you are praying for conflict-free fellowship, God might take you to the only place where this is possible – heaven. Conflict is unavoidable on earth, especially where sinners are joining together to advance God’s kingdom. 

There’s a reason why Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples before leaving this world (see: John 17:20-23). Jesus placed our unity in the context of our witness to the world when He prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). 

There are many threats to Christian unity but the key to unity in a Church is not the absence of conflict but a shared commitment to pursue reconciliation when conflict occurs (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-18).

But we also must have the maturity to understand that sometimes division is necessary. On one occasion, the Apostle Paul actually said, 

“….when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (I Corinthians 11:18-19).

Most Christians would be surprised to observe how much of our New Testament is written to address issues of conflict, both potential and actual. 

A close look at the early church reveals points of division common to churches throughout history:

When you combine this list with the repeated emphasis on the need to maintain unity and purity in the church (e.g. Rom. 16:17; I Cor. 1:10; 5:7-13; Eph. 4:3; Phil. 2:3-5; 3:16; I Thess. 5:14-15; II Thess. 3:11-16; Ti. 3:10-11; I Pet. 3:8), it becomes even clearer that churches should expect many threats to unity.

Let’s call our churches to the priority of pursuing reconciliation when conflict occurs by following the two primary New Testament directives for resolving conflicts — Covering in love and Confronting in love  (seeTwo Principles For Resolving Conflicts)

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).  

Other resources for unity in the Church:

Steve Cornell

Responding to unjust treatment (6 truths)

I can tell you from personal experience that it is an amazing experience to be set free from the animosity that leads to revenge. Of course, it can be a painful and prolonged process when you suffer unjustly. Yet it drives you into the sheer delight of a deeper walk with God where you learn to trust in His care when others desire evil against you.

Please take time to read this brief study to strengthen and protect you against the prison of bitterness and revenge. 

Radical Kingdom Living:

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow” (Matthew 5:38-42).

For some people, “eye for an eye” is a way of life. If you cross them, they’ll get you back — one way or another. By nature, we prefer “revenge” or “evening the score.” “I don’t get mad,” the bumper sticker reads, “I just get even.”

But the law of Lex Talionis (“measure for measure”) – was meant for judicial purposes not for personal retaliation. Lex Talionis was intended to make punishment proportional to the crime committed. It remains a primary principle of most legal system. Jesus was confronting the abuse of the law by those looking to justify personal revenge. 

And it’s natural on the personal level to retaliate when others treat us in ways we perceive to be unfair or wrong. This is part of what makes the teaching of Jesus so profoundly unexpected. Jesus repeatedly taught us to live in unnatural, unexpected, and culturally radical ways. His kingdom is definitely “not of this world” (John 18:36).

Think about it

Jesus taught his followers to so completely forbear revenge that they would even allow someone to double an injury (offer the other cheek, give the coat, go two miles). According to the Lord Jesus we must make every effort (even costly and sacrificial ones) to resist the temptation to return evil for evil and to return good for evil (Matthew 5:43-48). Who lives like this? If we lived this way, how would it look in our day to day demeanor and attitude? I think of the call in Titus 3:2 “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”

How do we live this way?

Scripture offers a number of insights related to the kind of life Jesus called His followers to live. Here are 7 points to guide you when you are mistreated and battling a desire for revenge.

1. God is the Judge

The question we need to ask (and that puts things in perspective) is the one Joseph asked his brothers when they thought he would seek revenge against them. Joseph revealed his commitment to God as the rightful judge when he asked them, “Am I in the place of God?” (see: Genesis 50:14-20).

“Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19; cf. Acts 17:31; Rom.2:14).

God does not always operate this world on the principle of immediate justice. We might want Him to work this way when others hurt us, but consider how much we desire mercy from God when we are in the wrong. I like to remind people that raw justice would bring all of us under well-deserved judgment from God. See, Leave your grudge with the Judge..

2. Jesus is our example

Reflect on what we learn about Jesus in I Peter 2:21-24. The Lord Jesus is the most compelling example for us. In verse 23, we observe that, “Jesus (while on the cross) kept entrusting himself to Him who judges justly.”

If the glorious Lord turned his face to the smiters… If he refused to respond on the level of his abusers who am I to demand an even score with those who hurt me? (cf. Isa.50:6-8a; Mt.26:67-68). We must remember that Jesus calls each of his disciples to a visible participation in the cross. When we refuse to revile in return we offer the world a reminder of the Savior.

“Looking unto Jesus…” “For consider him who endured…” (Hebrews 12:1-3).  Read and reflect on the account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Pray for grace to follow in his steps. Meditate on Isaiah 53.

I can tell you from personal experience that it is an amazing experience to be set free from the animosity that leads to revenge. Through such times you will be drawn into deeper levels of Christlikeness. Of course, it can be a painful and prolonged process when you suffer unjustly. Yet it drives you into the sheer delight of intimacy with God where you learn to trust in His care when others desire evil against you (Psalm 62:8; Proverbs 3:5-7). 

3. Refuse to multiply evil

If seeking God’s righteousness is your priority than do not engage in the multiplication of unrighteousness (Matthew 6:33; cf. Romans 12:17-21). “Do not say ‘I shall do to him as he has done to me’” (Proverbs 24:29). Instead, “However you want people to treat you – so treat them” (Matthew 7:12).

4. Return a blessing instead

“‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21, Proverbs 25:21). (see: Burning coals?). See: Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:35.

5. Respect God-ordained authority

An eye for an eye has its place for those in authority. God ordained authority to punish evil doers and commend those who do good (see, Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-14). Those in authority must answer this call to restrain and punish evil. We can correct misguided parts of the philosophy of passivism by making the connection between Romans 12 and 13.

Sometimes we can avoid revenge by appealing to authorities to handle matters. But even on these occasions we must guard our hearts and restrain our attitudes to align with Kingdom living. Answering to the King of kings is most important!

6. Recall God’s forgiveness 

God’s absolutely amazing forgiveness of our sins is the standard for our treatment of others (see, Matthew 18:23-35). We are to forgive as we have been forgiven (Matthew 6:9-11; Ephesians 4:32, cf. Titus 3:1-5). 

 Never lose the wonder of the grace and kindness of God extended to you at salvation and you’ll find the path of grace and kindness toward your offenders. “God demonstrated his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). See, How to move From forgiveness to reconciliation.

The spiritual consequences of withholding forgiveness are significant. In fact, this may be one of the primary reasons why many followers of Christ are not experiencing the joy and fulness of life in Christ. A little root of bitterness is personally troubling and poisonously infectious. When we’ve been hurt we become vulnerable to anger and angry people are vulnerable to bitterness. Anger gains full hold when it turns into bitterness and bitter people are difficult to help. 

God pictured anger as a vicious animal looking to pounce its’ prey (Genesis 4:6-7).  We must deal with our anger before it becomes bitterness (see: Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:26-27). When bitterness is a fully entrenched condition of the heart, it is more difficult to dislodge.  Bitterness for many people has become a form of idolatry that rules their hearts in place of God. To gain freedom, we must see bitterness as a protective mechanism used to guard our cherished resentments and we must confess it as idolatry.

“The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do… Finally, I would put it like this. We are to leave everything–ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future–in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly.” –D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Steve Cornell

 

A closer look at love

Relationships are miserable when love is absent. But is there an objective way to identify true love? 

Love defined

The fourteen qualities of love in First Corinthians thirteen offer the best available description of love known to humans. This text remains one of the most quoted Scriptures in wedding ceremonies.

Reflect deeply and often on this description of love:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV).

This is God’s prescription for great relationships. Love (as defined here) is notably anti-rivalry. It protects relationships from destructive conflict. Playful rivalry is not bad. But when a relationship deteriorates, some form of ugly and divisive rivalry is involved.

  1. Love is patient: It is long-suffering. It restrains anger when provoked. Patience is more than passive waiting. It is active restraint that rests in God.
  2. Love is kind: It reaches out in good will with acts of care and concern for others. Love not only patiently forebears, through kindness, it actively pursues. Loving people are distinguished by their kindness.
  3. Love does not envy: It does not resent the blessings of others. Envious people engage in evil rivalry. The envier gloats over the harm or misfortune of the one envied. She delights in evil.
  4. Love does not boast: Love corrects the immoderate desire to call attention to one-self. A loving person is not a windbag or braggart. He does not parade himself. Love is willing to work anonymously. It needs no limelight or stage, applause or recognition.
  5. Love is not proud: not puffed up; not arrogant; not full of oneself. A loving person does not think more highly of himself than sober judgment dictates (Romans 12:3).
  6. Love is does not dishonor others: It is not rude.It is respectful of others.
  7. Love is not self-seeking: It does not insist on its own way. It is not self-absorbed.
  8. Love is not easily angered: It is not easily agitated nor easily provoked. Loving people are not hot-tempered, short-fused people.
  9. Love keeps no record of wrongs: Love seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. Love is hard to practice when hurt badly (see: Forgiveness).
  10. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: This rules out gossip, slander, and delight in the downfall of others.

And the grand finale: love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. In a staccato of four verbs enriched with repeated emphasis on how love brings everything under its influence, we learn that “there is nothing love cannot face” (NEB). “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT).

Love is tenacious and faithful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.

Love is “the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31). “These three remain:Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). “Over all virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”(Colossians 3:14).

In Scripture, husbands are commanded to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25); Older women are told to train younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4) and communities of Christians are to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:35). 

The personal nature and greatness of love takes on powerful significance when we realize that God is love. His love was put on display when he loved the unlovable—when “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus offered a living example of love. In Jesus, the Creator became a creature; the King became a servant; the Shepherd became a lamb; the Sinless one was made sin for us; the High Priest became the sacrifice (see: Philippians 2:3-10).

A gift for you

I recommend regular evaluation of relationships based on the 14 qualities of love in I Corinthians 13. We have put these qualities of love (along with an eight point communication covenant) on laminated cards for easy use. If you email your mailing address to me, we will send you several copies as our gift.

office@millersvillebiblechurch.org

Steve Cornell
Senior pastor
Millersville Bible Church
58 West Frederick street
Millersville, PA. 17551

Five motivations for protecting unity

1. The teaching of Jesus

Matthew 5:23-24  “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).  (see also: Matthew 18:15-17; Mark 11:25)

2. The prayer of Jesus

John 17:23 - Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

3. The passion of God

Proverbs 6:16,19 - “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: …. a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

4. The Word for the Church

Romans 16:17-18 - “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

Jude 16-  Watch out for those who have secretly slipped in among you.  “These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.”

5. The witness of the Church

John 13:34-35 ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Philippians 2:14-16a - “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…”

Steve Cornell

See also: Two principles for resolving conflict

Living on Mission

Eight Identity Markers and Callings of Christ Followers

“Missions is an authorized activity carried out by the tenants on the instructions of the owner of the property” (by Christopher Wright,).

  • Salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
  • Light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16)
  • Disciple Makers (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • Witnesses (Acts 1:8: I Peter 3:15-16)
  • Ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:17-21)
  • Imitators of God (Luke 6:35-36; Eph. 5:1-2, 25)
  • Displayers of God’s Glory (I Corinthians 10:31)
  • Agents of Grace (Colossians 4:5-6)

It’s easy to lose focus. Life can become a daily grind of duties and demands filled with distractions and discouragements. Have you ever lost sight of the big picture while trying to keep up with the demands of the details of life? Have you ever slipped into attitudes of defeat or despair? Do you tend to minimize your calling? “I am just a ______________.”

If you want to inject God-centered meaning  back into your life and rejoin the adventure of an abundant life, then recommit yourself to the identities and callings above. You were meant by God’s design for this life. 

Ask God to help you to be aware of your circumstances with a missional perspective. Regain a sense of his callings in your sphere of influence and capture new spheres of influence for Christ.

Most of all enlarge your vision of God’s work to include ministries of common grace. Is it possible that we neglect certain parts of divine calling by narrowly focusing on the spiritual dimension of humanity?

Connect the pattern in the following passages and imitate it in your life.

Can we imitate God’s grace in relating to others?

Acts 14:15-17 - The apostle Paul and Barnabas were ministering in Lystra and God performed a miraculous healing of a lame man. The people who saw this began to worship Paul and Barnabas as if they were gods.

“We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 

Acts 17:24-29 – The apostle Paul speaking to philosophers in Athens described the activity of God in the lives of all people. 

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth … He gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Seeking Common Ground

  • The apostle emphasized the universal reach of God’s activity: God ”gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”
  • The apostle encouraged those who are unredeemed to recognize the nearness of God as so significant that, “in him we live and move and have our being.”
  • He exhorted them to view themselves as God’s offspring and to respond to his universal command to repent.
Imitators of God’s common grace:
____
  • As witnesses (Acts 1:8), we encounter people who are not receptive to the gospel.
  • We love them deeply and desire to see them know God but they are not open to hear a verbal witness of the gospel.
  • While we “let them go their way” we don’t have to leave them “without testimony or witness.”
  • We can follow God’s example and show them kindness and bear witness in ways that are meant to invite them to “seek God and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:24-28).

Steve Cornell