Then Jesus made his way round the villages, continuing his teaching. He summoned the twelve, and began to send them out in twos, giving them power over evil spirits...
(Later) The apostles returned to Jesus and reported to him every detail of what they had done and taught. “Now come along to some quiet place by yourselves, and rest for a little while,” said Jesus, for there were people coming and going incessantly so that they had not even time for meals. They went off in the boat to a quiet place by themselves... (Mark 6:7 & 6:30-32)
Those last three verses, along with the sending-and-going verse above them, really give us the whole cycle of face-to-face intimacy, sending, going, ministering, testifying and intimacy that should be the cycle we're never not part of. Think of the disciples' experience of those last few days: being called near to Him, His breath on their face, His hand on their shoulder as He sent them out, two by two; then going out to preach and to cast out evil spirits and to heal many people of their diseases; and then to return, overwhelmed with joy at all they'd seen Him do through them, and to have Him invite them to come and be alone with Him; and to sail off across the waters to an unknown place...
Jesus is showing these men a pattern of life that is THE pattern for life: an ongoing continuum that proceeds from intimacy toward intimacy, traveling over roads that are only passable as we walk in intimacy with Him. Our ability to do anything in the economy of the Kingdom of Heaven is borne from how we're intimate with Him.
Intimacy with Jesus is not part of it.
Let's intimately walk with Him into this New Year of our life!
"Jesus got [His] divine life by depending absolutely upon the Father all His life long, depending upon Him even down into death. Jesus got that life in the full glory of the Spirit to be poured out, by giving Himself up in obedience and surrender to God alone, and leaving God even in the grave to work out His mighty power; and that very Christ will live out His life in you and me. Oh, the mystery! Oh, the glory! And oh, the Divine certainty! Jesus Christ means to live out that life in you and me."
Andrew Murray, The Believer’s Secret of the Master’s Indwelling
* * *
"The writers of the New Testament Epistles never regarded the Christian religion as an ‘ethic,’ still less a performance. To them it was an invasion of their own lives by the living Spirit of God; their response in repentance and faith provided the means by which the divine could penetrate the merely human. They lived lives of super-human quality because they believed quite simply that Christ Himself was alive within them."
J.B. Phillips, Making Men Whole
As we prepare for a national holiday centered around thankfulness, it might be good for us to remember that NO ONE has more grounds for gratitude than ALL followers of Jesus of Nazareth. For, after all, we personally know the One who created and upholds all creation... which is something! And we have had a glimpse of the glories of the Incarnation: His arrival, His life, His words, His sparkling personality. We have been set free - been set free: past tense - by the finished work of the Cross. And we now know that life and death hold nothing daunting for us: we have seen Him walk from the tomb - totally unscathed...
And so, where are we now; who are we now?
The actual, living, flesh-and-blood, personal representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven to this generation of humanity...
...who've been imbued with the selfsame Holy Spirit of God that carried that Man through the 33 years of His human existence...
...and who may always - ALWAYS! - stop on a dime, reorient our attentions, and commune with the Living King who sits upon the throne of Heaven.
I'd say we have some reason to be thankful this week! I hope it's a wonderful one for you!
"For I should like to remind you, my brothers, that our ancestors all had the experience of being guided by the cloud in the desert and of crossing the sea dry-shod. They were all, so to speak, 'baptized' into Moses by these experiences. They all shared the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink (for they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ). Yet in spite of all these wonderful experiences many of them failed to please God, and left their bones in the desert. Now in these events our ancestors stand as examples to us, warning us not to crave after evil things as they did." 1 Corinthians 10:1-6
When we hear of the idea of "failing to please God," it is easy to accidentally fall into an Old Covenant way of thinking. Like: "I hope that I don't fail to please Him..." or, "Uh oh. Am I pleasing?" But, again, that's Old Covenant thinking; that's a walking-around-in-the-wilderness sort of view of our new spiritual scenario...
In the New Covenant, Jesus is the guarantor - the perpetual keeper of His Father's good pleasure - the whole "pleasing" account is rendered through Him. This new arrangement isn't contingent upon your goodness in the Father's sight; the whole thing hangs upon Jesus' perfection, Jesus' relation to the Father. And so it's only when we stand outside of Jesus - whether to do "bad" or, even, sometimes to do our own idea of "good" - that we get ourselves in trouble.
You see, our whole job now is to Abide in Jesus, to disappear into Jesus. For we will always ALWAYS be pleasing to the Father as we hide our lives in His perfect Son: that is the perfect finished work of Jesus for us.
Shall we engage with that wondrous work this workweek?
"Is there any doubt that I am a genuine messenger, any doubt that I am a free man? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Are not you yourselves samples of my work for the Lord? Even if other people should refuse to recognize my divine commission, yet to you at any rate I shall always be a true messenger, for you are a living proof of God’s call to me. This is my real ground of defense to those who cross-examine me." 1 Corinthians 9:1-3
And that last sentence is the key - not only to this opening section, but also to Paul's purpose in the previous chapter - to understanding the real Way of the Spirit of Jesus versus settling for a knowledgeable religiosity about Jesus. So, what are the evidences, the "real ground of defense" Paul offers?
A clear-cut acted-upon Calling.
Personal first-hand Experience of Jesus.
And, just as important as the rest, verifiable Spiritual Fruit in others' lives.
And this is actually important enough that I'm going to take the time to write all that again. The evidences of the real Way of the Spirit of Jesus are:
A clear-cut acted-upon Calling.
Personal first-hand Experience of Jesus.
And, just as important as the rest, verifiable Spiritual Fruit in others' lives.
My friends, it's easy to not be free - almost everyone is doing that; it's also fairly easy to assume there's no higher spiritual calling for our lives. We settle in and we're "members" of something or another: but - I believe - each of us is called to be either an Apostle, a Prophet, an Evangelist, a Shepherd or a Teacher (Eph. 4).
And, sadly, too often we've come to accept not expecting first-hand experience of Jesus as the norm: perhaps we think it's too high and heavenly that He'd radically reveal Himself to each of us. And perhaps there's no greater reason for not seeing fruit in others' lives than the simple reality that we've got nothing to share, nothing to witness to. What I mean is: Why would anyone want to know Jesus if we don't know Jesus; how will they come to Abide in Him if we don't Abide in Him?
Oh, friends, let's be free, let's accept our calling, let's experience Jesus for ourselves, so that all lives might encounter, and be changed, by Him!
"In this matter, then, of eating meat which has been offered to idols, knowledge tells us that no idol has any real existence, and that there is no God but one. For though there are so-called gods both in heaven and earth, gods and lords galore in fact, to us there is only one God, the Father, from whom everything comes, and for who we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom everything exists, and by whom we ourselves are alive." 1 Corinthians 8:4-6
Let's approach these verses from the angle of that ending: "Jesus Christ... by whom we ourselves are alive." Or, rather, let's use that present position-in-Him as a counterpoint to the other items Paul's talking about. Like this:
"In this matter, then, of eating meat which has been offered to idols..." we ourselves are alive!
Or: "knowledge tells us that no idol has any real existence..." but we ourselves are alive!
Or: "though there are so-called gods both in heaven and earth, gods and lords galore in fact..." we ourselves are alive!
You see, it's really our experience of - and, really, it's the degree of our experience of - our aliveness in Jesus that overturns all fearfulness of, argumentation about, and even comparison with the false economies flying all around us in the world. Those Christians who are constantly shaking their fist at the world tend to be Christians having a low-dose experience of the Christ. Close friends of Jesus should be unafraid and ALIVE.
Let's take a measure of our own experience this week, shall we?
Some of you know that I did a long fiction-nonfiction writing project, a few years back, to try to bring the Book of Acts into a more first-hand focus. Below is a little bit of it. First, you'll see the passage where some of the disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene decided to go ahead and start preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch, not just the Jews. Then, from there, you'll see my imaginative write-up of, perhaps, what it was like when one of those men suddenly decided that it was time to do so. I tried to bring into focus the potential presence of Simon of Cyrene (who carried the Cross with/for Jesus) among them. Hope it stirs your heart for this Monday!
Now those who had been dispersed by the persecution which arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, giving the message as they went to Jews only. However, among their number were natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, and these men, on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus… (Acts 11:19,20)
A Man of Cyrene on the Road to Antioch
My blood is quickened within and I walk this road and I think on the ways of the Holy Spirit, and, my brothers, I am tempted to throw all constraint on the winds which blow up from the Sea, and past us. Feel them blowing by us, west to east. Smell that scent of adventure that first carried us from the coasts of Africa to there, on Shavuot, and think of all that has happened unto us since! What is man to stand before the whims of our Jesus! Who were we to think this thing could be contained within the Hebrew race! My brothers, as we approach upon Antioch, I’m of a mind to say goodbye to the past; to walk right into the courtyards and marketplaces and, yes, synagogues; to proclaim the name Jesus to any man, woman or child who’s made of flesh and blood like me; to say that it is only in the name of Jesus that anyone finds rest for their souls and a place of heavenly peace for their minds…
Peter has broken the mold – let’s shatter it now, brothers! Let us enter the town with the roving gaze of Jesus and see all mankind as the quarry, the prey, of the whispering will of the Holy Spirit! Let us conquer the hearts of man and woman, Jew or Gentile; have no fear that wrongdoing comes on the voice of the Spirit that gave Jesus life from the dead!
I see the fear in your eyes, Simon, my brother of Cyrene. What for? Did not you yourself once fall under the gaze of the darkhearted Gentiles and are you not the very man whose shoulders quaked under the cross with our Savior, our Jesus? Brother! Have we not come too far to ever turn back now? Sometimes I place myself within your flesh and mind, using of my imagination to imagine that day, and here’s what I come to – tell me if any of this reprises anything like any of your memories…
I am standing, that day, along the road watching him pass. The smell of the crowd is thick and pungent with sweat and rage. Suddenly, all eyes turn from him to me – to you, I mean! – and I’m thrust from within my hiding into the hot sun of the Jerusalem day. I feel naked under the gaze of the people, the soldier who calls, and, most of all, him – Jesus, the sufferer under the weight of the cross. I slip under the right side of the horizontal crossbeam – Jesus slides over – his fleshless shoulders shearing against the grain – and he turns his eyes to meet my eyes.
That moment, Simon, what was it like? What came upon your mind? Did you not know that this was the Christ, our Savior, our God?
Together, as yokefellows walking, we trudge up the hill with crowds a-lining both sides of the twisting path and I talk to him of my sin, of their sin, of the whole world’s sin – past, present and for all the futures to come. He listens, walking, and I know he hears. When we finally arrive at the top of Skull Hill, I am shoved aside by that same soldier who first called me, and I disappear from the center of the moment I’d shared with Jesus. I look back down the hill and relive each and every step with him. Coming up and up the path we just trod together, Jesus and I, I see the thick drag-mark of the upright of the cross which has furrowed the dirty of the trail so deeply. His side, the right side of that furrow, is a way marked thick with blood. My side, the left side of that furrow, is clean and spotless…
Brother Simon, look ahead! Look at the town of Antioch! This town is filled with men, women and children who know nothing of the Kingdom of Heaven; who are lost as we once ourselves were; and who hunger and thirst for the taste of life – the taste of that blood – the taste of Jesus of Nazareth! Shall we not go and set them free with the Way you once trod with Him? What have we to fear when you’ve seen him dead and then risen again!
All you, fellow Wayfarers, listen unto me! Where’er and from whence you hail, I renounce all ties to the age-old past! I will descend to this city and preach to Jew and Greek alike!
Who follows? Who walks the way I walk?
I know the One who leads it!
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” (Mt. 9:35-38)
The pivot in this section between Jesus’ own doings and His famous words on the plentiful harvest is the “compassion” He feels when He sees the shepherdless crowds.
compassion (noun) : sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it
I think the Church of our day too often meditates upon Jesus having compassion on us because we’re “harassed and helpless,” wearied and cast-off; but remember, that’s the look of sheep “without a shepherd.” That’s no longer us; that’s over now! We stand now shoulder-to-shoulder with the Good Shepherd: our new life’s work is meant to be the “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” And how is their distress to be alleviated? He just told us: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Friends, we must either be reaping today or praying for reapers. The harvest is plentiful; it’s the harvesting that isn’t. In any given week, we spend far more time thinking of our own harassed helplessness when, because we already have a Good Shepherd, we’re supposed to be knee-deep next to Him in the work. Along very similar lines, my favorite of the Stoic philosophers, Epictetus, had this to say in his day:
‘From now on, then, resolve to live as a grown-up who is making progress… And whenever you encounter anything that is difficult or pleasurable or highly or lowly regarded, remember that the contest is now, you are at the Olympic games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day or a single event. This is how Socrates fulfilled himself by attending to nothing except reason in everything he encountered. And you, although you are not yet Socrates, should live as someone who at least wants to be Socrates.’
My friends, although we are not yet totally like Jesus, we should be living as men and women who at least want to be totally like Jesus. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Let's do it!
"We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son. We must write and tell you about it, because the more that fellowship extends the greater the joy it brings to us who are already in it." 1 John 1:1-4
I've probably taught through this section 15 or 20 times, and I don't think it has ever ceased to thrill me as much as it did the very first time I read it in this, the Phillips translation. It's this wonderful combination of "high" and "low" Christologies: knowing Him as He is as the glorious King of Heaven while fully remembering Him as He was, as a Man, as that bearded Teacher-Carpenter out of Nazareth in Galilee: He is "something which has always existed"; He is "the very Word of life himself"; He is "life"; He is "the very life of all ages"... and yet "we ourselves actually saw and heard" Him; we "observed [Him] closely"; we touched Him; He "became visible in person to us mortal men."
Friends, there is nothing more glorious in all John's writings than the idea that his Best Friend - a Man whose scent he can still remember, a Man whose extra cloak he's perhaps kept with him all these years - is Himself the Meaning, the Definition and the Purpose of all life under the sun.
This is GLORY. This is the glory that's YOURS. This is the glory that's yours TODAY.
"You should look upon us as ministers of Christ, as trustees (or stewards) of the secrets of God. And it is a prime requisite in a trustee that he should prove worthy of his trust." 1 Corinthians 4:1,2
It seems to me that Paul is very clearly using particular words here to make a very clear point for his friends. He is - they were - we are - "ministers of Christ," "stewards of the secrets of God," and it is of the highest importance that we "prove worthy of our trust." I think we think of "ministers of Christ" as being ministers toward others; "stewardship of His secrets" as being personal and, ultimately hidden; and the measure of the "trustworthiness" of our stewardship of His secrets as being synonymous with just "keeping the faith."
No, no, and no.
A "minister of Christ" is a minister to Christ: he is an armor-bearer, a helper to Him in His work. A "steward of the secrets" of the Kingdom of Heaven is an explorer, an adventurer, a spelunker: his whole life is lived lost in these treasures for a purpose. And the measure of our "trustworthiness" in all this is the measure to which we make it plain, make it speak, to the world around us.
So, we minister to Jesus by disappearing into His mysteries, so that we might constantly return to the world to hand off more and more of His treasure!
How's that sound to you?
"In this work, we work with God..." 1 Corinthians 3:9a
What an important thought for us to fully grasp: "In this work, we work with God." WE (you and I) work WITH (as in, together with) God. In some translations, it will say "co-workers," "fellow-workers" or "partners working" with God - same difference! - "we work with God." The God of the universe. The God who created everything we see. The God who took on flesh to show us His exact nature. That God: "We work with Him."
I don't know of any other way in which the human experience could be more heightened, more dignified, than by this idea of our lives being really useful to God. And, really, not just useful: needed, necessary. Our working with God totally undercuts any of those statements people make, like, "God doesn't need us, but He can use us" - it is very clear: He wants us and needs us. Just as Jesus perfectly incarnated the Way, the Truth, the Life of God so that humans could finally grasp His glory, it is needful now, necessary now, for His followers to do the same. We work with God as we allow His Spirit and Son to use our lives, possess our lives, and go out and live His life all over again for all to see.
Friends, we are called this week to work WITH God!
"Look up and see the great God upon His throne. He is love – an unceasing and inexpressible desire to communicate His own goodness and blessedness to all His creatures. He longs and delights to bless. He has inconceivably glorious purposes concerning every one of His children, by the power of His Holy Spirit, to reveal in them His love and power. He waits with all the longings of a father’s heart. He waits that He may be gracious unto you. And, each time you come to wait upon Him, or seek to maintain in daily life the holy habit of waiting, you may look up and see Him ready to meet you. He will be waiting so that He may be gracious unto you. Yes, connect every exercise, every breath of the life of waiting, with faith’s vision of your God waiting for you."
Andrew Murray, Waiting on God
"For who could really understand a man’s inmost thoughts except the spirit of the man himself? How much less could anyone understand the thoughts of God except the very Spirit of God? And the marvelous thing is this, that we now receive not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God himself, so that we can actually understand something of God’s generosity towards us... Incredible as it may sound, we who are spiritual have the very mind of Christ!" (1 Cor. 2:11, 12 & 16b)
HAVE the very mind of Christ! "Have": ἔχομεν: Present Indicative Active: we "have, possess, have in keeping, hold, dwell in, may acquire, and enjoy" the very mind of Christ. We HAVE the very mind of Christ - right now. Today. Right this minute.
As it pertains to the human experience - and the human perception of the human experience - what are the three ways that every person on the planet experiences and perceives life? Mind. Body. And spirit. And so, do you you realize that, for every single one of us who calls on the name Jesus, two-thirds of our human experience and perception are instantly raised into the heavenlies? We have the Spirit of God Himself now. We have the very mind of Christ. To the degree that we desire to, we may now - RIGHT NOW - experience the exact thoughts and inner life that Jesus Himself experienced.
How might that change your idea of what this week could hold?
"For look at your own calling as Christians, my brothers. You don’t see among you many of the wise (according to this world’s judgment) nor many of the ruling class, nor many from the noblest families. But God has chosen what the world calls foolish to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world calls weak to shame the strong. He has chosen things of little strength and small repute, yes and even things which have no real existence to explode the pretensions of the things that are—that no man may boast in the presence of God. Yet from this same God you have received your standing in Jesus Christ, and he has become for us the true wisdom, a matter, in practice, of being made righteous and holy, in fact, of being redeemed. And this makes us see the truth of scripture: ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
What I find wonderful about this closing section of 1 Corinthians 1 is how it shows two patterns of approach to life - literally, in this paragraph, top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top - and then contraposes those positions and their ensuing fruit:
So, if you're after the world's wisdom, the world's power and the world's forms of nobility, you will most likely end with shame and pretense. That's Paul's unvarnished top-to-bottom readout. And take a read through the book of Ecclesiastes and tell me King Solomon doesn't come to, essentially, the same conclusion...
BUT, if we "glory in the Lord," if we find ourselves "redeemed," meaning we've been "made righteous and holy," then our "true wisdom" comes naturally from our "standing in Jesus Christ" and our seeming foolish weakness becomes, in Him, strong wisdom. It is as if we become some sort of new, supernatural life-form. Which we, in fact, are!
For you and I are a "new creation" now, totally new already: We are being made to be just like Jesus Himself. That's the bottom-to-top of Paul's concluding thought, here. And, to me, it sounds like life itself.
"Without delay the brothers dispatched Paul and Silas off to Berea that night. On their arrival there they went to the Jewish synagogue. The Jews proved more generous-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they accepted the message most eagerly and studied the scriptures every day to see if what they were now being told were true. Many of them became believers, as did a number of Greek women of social standing and quite a number of men..." (Acts 17:10-12)
In studying through this chapter, in reading and rereading those latter verses, I've come to so admire these Berean believers, in the way they’re described: “generous-minded,” “accepted the message most eagerly,” “studied the scriptures every day to see if what they were no being told were true,” and “many of them became believers.” And, in particular, it’s the ordering of their approach that I love:
Firstly, they are generous- (or noble-) minded: they have a kingly way of thinking as they try to follow the King. Secondly, they accept the message with readiness: not just their minds, but also their hearts, are attuned to the fresh revelation of the Lord. Thirdly, they studied the scriptures purposefully: they weren’t just reading to read; they were aggregating information in order to prove the presence of the promised Messiah. And, lastly, they believed: their noble, accepting, studious nature was submitted to the living presence of Jesus.
My friend, what - for you - is the freshest thing the Lord Jesus is revealing to you right now? Specifically, what has you transfixed with His glory, every time you think of it? What are you enjoying of Him, Berean-style?
“For this salvation came first through the words of the Lord himself: it was confirmed for our hearing by men who had heard him speak, and God moreover has plainly endorsed their witness by signs and miracles, by all kinds of spiritual power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, all working to the divine plan.” (Hebrews 2:3b,4)
Has all this been your personal experience: this progression of events proceeding outward from you salvation?
Firstly, did your personal salvation come to you as if from the lips of Jesus Himself?
Has it been confirmed and extended by others who also hear from Him?
Has it been endorsed by living in an atmosphere where signs and miracles flourish?
Is “spiritual power” a day-by-day norm for you?
Are “gifts of the Holy Spirit” more to you than just a list to read in Paul’s letters?
Is your life an integral working, a fruitful forward-moving part, of the overall “divine plan”?
If - like me - you feel any sense of deficiency between what you just read and your own experience, have no fear! Because the One who makes all of this so, the One who is the centerpiece of all heavenly power and experience, is also the One who wants to take you, personally, deeper into all of it...
In fact, let's see how far we can go with Him in His wondrous Way! This week is our laboratory for experimentation!
"Christ wants us to show Him to the world. Our argument is not our logic and theology, but our Lord Himself: ‘you will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8). This is all He needs, that we shall tell about Him and make Him real to men. This also is the solution of all the sinner’s difficulties. You cannot save him by preaching theology to him, but show him Christ, his crucified, living, welcoming Savior, and all his doubts will flee. This is the solution to all questions about sanctification. We may seek for blessings and experiences, for states and conditions and find that we have to go over it all again and again; but let us only see Jesus ‘who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30) and we are satisfied, and go forth with the joyful cry, ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ (Phil. 4:13). This is the solution to all questions about healing. It is not enough to know the theory and doctrine; we must behold the life and receive it from Him."
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
“...we must not get the impression that the Christian life is one continuous conflict, one unbroken irritating struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. A thousand times no. The heart that learns to die with Christ soon knows the blessed experience of rising with Him, and all the world’s persecutions cannot still the high note of holy joy that springs up in the soul that has become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.”
A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men
"His unchangeableness enters into the faith that feeds upon it, and communicates itself to it; yea, imparts itself to the soul that clings to Him as such. Look not at yourself, your feelings or attainments, but at Him who changeth not..."
Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All
“Now I am giving you a new command — love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.” (John 13:34,35)
The Disciples of this new command, the Body of Believers of this new Way, will be characterized by the selfsame love as Jesus’ love. No difference at all. Exactly the same in every way. Which begs the question, just as certainly as it begged the question on the night of the Last Supper: How did Jesus love? What makes for that difference between people who talk about Jesus’ love and those ones where we can actually see His love flowing from them?
Well, first, let’s talk about what Jesus’ love was not; what it didn’t contain:
It was without self-absorption, self-advancement, self-belief, self-conceit, any overdone self-confidence, self-congratulation, self-consciousness, or self-criticism. It was without any self-deception, self-defense, self-delusion, self-determination, any grounds for self-doubt, no self-excitation, certainly no self-flattery, entirely bereft of self-importance. It was without self-indulgence, self-interest, self-justification, self-love, self-pity, self-pleasure, self-preservation, or self-promotion. It was totally disinterested in any form of self-reliance, self-righteousness, self-satisfaction, self-seeking, self-styling, self-sufficiency, or self-support.
And most importantly: Jesus loved without self-protection. He gave His all that all might know His love.
For us, the Self-life is the final wall that needs to be toppled over in order to enjoy the kind of love that He’s ready now to give us, to pour forth from us. That selfsame love as Jesus’, the love we see play out all across the Church of Acts, actually has no need of the human Self. It only needs Jesus Himself.
"How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead. Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have 'arrived' spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal — my reward the honor of being called by God in Christ." (Philippians 3:9b-14)
As Paul evaluates his life, this translator, J.B. Phillips, frames what has happened within him by choosing to phrase his initial words as “How changed are my ambitions!” Which begs the question of us: What are our ambitions? In which direction are your own efforts in life aimed? After wealth? Success? Power? Title?
Because, to be truthful - and quite blunt - most of the “ambitions” that are held up highest by this world run clean contrary to the Way of Jesus. He didn’t send out His disciples and say, “Get into positions of prominence and, from the top, effect great cultural change in a downward direction with your accrued wealth and prestige.” So, for that reason, as Paul traces the shift in his own personal priorities, he gives us his “do’s and don’ts” in personally drawing ever nearer to Jesus:
1) “I do not consider myself to have ‘arrived’ spiritually”
2) “I do not consider myself to have fully grasped [the purpose for which Christ called me] even now”
1) “I long to know Christ and the power shown by his Resurrection”
2) “I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died”
3) “I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me”
4) “I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal” – “the honor of being called by Christ in God.”
Paul’s “changed ambition” was to glory in the “honor of being called”; in essence, to never get past the fact that Jesus, the Savior of the world, the King of Kings, actually chose to choose a man like him. As he “grew up” in his Belief, Paul made it a point to never grow past his ability to be surprised by the glorious salvation of Jesus.
Then Jesus looked up and saw the rich people dropping their gifts into the treasury, and he noticed a poor widow drop in two coppers, and he commented, “I assure you that this poor widow put in more than all of them, for they have all put in what they can easily spare, but she in her poverty has given away her whole living.” (Luke 21:1-4)
As He said in Matthew 6: "When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward…" Back in those days, the wealthy would literally herald their generous giving through the use of artificial fanfare and pageantry on the way to Herod's Temple...
But now imagine this woman, as she puts on her worn old shawl, heaves a sigh of fearful poverty, and picks up her last two coins to walk there. And, on the other end of her journey to give those coins, stands the Messiah, her God, watching her actions with pure joy. Again, Matthew 6: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
Just one more way that intimacy with Him, living our whole lives before Him, turns every act of our lives into a wondrous glory!
A simple thought for a new week:
When it comes to sharing Jesus with the people around us, it's far more about atmosphere than information; the Spirit than any system.
[Some men from Cyprus and Cyrene], on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. News of these things came to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this working of God’s grace, he was delighted. He urged them all to be resolute in their faithfulness to the Lord, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. So it happened that a considerable number of people became followers of the Lord. (Acts 11:20-24)
We often think about the kind of people we'd like to be; how we're perceived by others; what we'd hope our eventual life's legacy might look like, looking back. Well, how about if it looked a little like Barnabas?
Here's that final description of him, in the almost exact Greek: “having come and having seen the grace of God, he rejoiced, and exhorted all with resolute purpose of heart to abide in the Lord, for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith.”
Barnabas was present. Are we?
Barnabas was open-eyed and observant of the Lord’s visible grace. Are we?
Seeing that grace evidenced, Barnabas rejoiced. Do we?
Barnabas exhorted others to resolutely set their hearts to abide in Jesus. Do we?
Barnabas was a good man. Are we?
Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. Are we?
Barnabas was full of faith. Are we?
Today, let's consider some of these Barnabasian attributes, notice which ones attract our desire, and pray that the Lord would imbue us with more and more of this spirit toward others. Holy Spirit, you are that Spirit! Fill us with more of Yourself!
After this, Jesus moved about in Galilee but decided not to do so in Judea since the people there were planning to take his life. (John 7:1)
Have you ever stopped to consider the almost unbelievable pressure under which Jesus lived and ministered throughout His life? All of His loving, gracious actions and words were given with the complete certainty hanging over His head that this all would end in excruciating death. And, even worse, He had to live carefully throughout, in order to avoid the wrong death!
Let’s let this be an immediate reminder for us, as we open up this new week: There is no circumstance or struggle in your life right now that precludes your faithfully, lovingly ministering in the spirit of Jesus. In fact, take a deep breath right this minute, think of “the thing” (or things) hanging over you, and, in actuality, hand it over to Him. He can certainly handle whatever it is and, of course, you and I need to always be in the habit of handing over our life and its struggles to our Savior.
And thank you, Jesus, that you’re willing to receive them!