A Biblical Command I Rarely See Obeyed

1 Thessalonians 5:15…

Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.

Wow! Ouch! We rarely heed this biblical command. “Look for the best” when we focus on the worst? “Do your best to bring it out” when we scoff and discourage? Imagine if every Christian on social media this! Imagine if every politician that claimed Christ did this in reference to their opposition!

What are ways we can “bring the best” out of people?

Follow God’s Example

Ephesians 5:1-2 says,

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Imitating God means imitating His Son, and that means doing whatever is required to make our lives a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

This image is from the Old Testament sacrifices where the people brought an offering to God and sacrificed it upon the altar so that its fiery consumption would cause the odor of a sweet sacrifice to God.

This reminds us that the fragrance from an altar does not come without some giving of self (an  offering) and some dying of another (sacrifice).  There is no life of love without a degree of giving and dying.

All who would be like Jesus must offer and sacrifice themselves.  Luther taught that if we are truly to imitate Christ, then we must also in some measure suffer for the sins of others.  The Reformer did not mean that we can atone for others’ sin, but we suffer for their sake as we endure suffering so that we might know Him.

God’s Love Went Beyond Fairness

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

God’s love went beyond fairness.

I sometimes resonate with that sense of unfairness. Until I ask, “Would I really have it any other way?” If I take utterly seriously God’s standards for parenting, for marriage, for loving my neighbor, using my talents, am I a 6am worker or a late afternoon worker?

The whole life of Jesus, His death and resurrection revealed our concerned, loving, compassionate God doing what I desperately need, not what I deserve.

Real Love (part 2)

What love looks like…

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor,serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

  1. Real love is committed. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” We should love one another as if we are related.
  2. Real love is putting others first. “Honor one another above yourselves.” The word “honor” means to treat someone or something as valuable or precious.
  3. Real love is patient. Vs. 11-12 gives us four imperatives that call us to patience. We should use all our resources not to give up on our Christian brothers and sisters.
  4. Real love combines feeling with action. Look at vs. 13 and 15.

Real Love (part 1)

Romans 12:9,

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Why is “true love” so important? Isn’t love just love and you can feel it and sense it without having to define it? This is important because when we love someone it often gets distorted because of our views of good and evil and our penchant to follow the flesh rather than the Spirit.

The distress of your loved one, and their happiness, becomes yours. Therein lies the temptation to give the loved one what creates emotional joy, rather than what is best (but which may create emotional sadness or anger).

Real love is concerned about truth. Any love that is afraid to confront the beloved is not real love, but a selfish desire to be loved! This kind of selfish love is afraid to do what is right (toward God and the beloved) if it risks losing the beloved’s affection. It makes an idol out of the beloved. It says, “I’ll do anything to keep him or her loving me!” This is not loving the person. It is loving the love you get from the person. In other words, it is loving yourself more than the person. So any “love” that cuts corners morally, or fails to confront when necessary, is not really love at all.

How do We Discern Our Spiritual Gifts?

1. Self-examination. Romans 12:3. Paul wants us to “think of yourself with sober judgment.” We ask ourselves what do I enjoy doing? What kind of ministry is satisfying and attractive to me? What problems do I most notice? Am I good at what I enjoy?

2. Experience. Romans 12:6. Paul says if someone has a gift, “Let him use it.” In general, you don’t learn your gifts before you do ministry. You learn them as you minister. You may revise your understanding of your gifts as you do ministry.

3. Study the biblical lists. It is hard to discern your gifts without some categories of spiritual ability through which to assess yourself.

4. “Use it” (vs. 6) and “Do it” (vs. 8). Once we have identified a gifting, we are to use it in service of others. Part of living as a sacrifice to God is to give over our abilities and gifts to Him, to be used in His service.

How to Overcome Spiritual Stagnation

Romans 12:1-2 helps us with this too.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

1. View the mercies of God. If we lack passion or interest in being holy, it comes from a failure to contemplate God’s mercies toward us!

2. Remind ourselves that the only rational response to Christ giving us all of Himself is to give all of ourselves to Him.