Love = The Beginning? The End? The Essence of The Christian Faith?

Agree/Disagree – Love is the supreme virtue of the Christian faith.

In Galatians 5:22,23 the Apostle Paul notes the contrast between the fruit of the Spirit of God and the activities of our sinful natures.  He writes, ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love….’ A list of nine aspects of the Spirit’s activity and the FIRST is love.

In 2 Peter 1:5-9 the Apostle Peter urges the acquisition of virtues that will ‘…keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’  In this list of eight virtues, the EIGHTH (final) is love.

In John 13:34,35 the first followers of Jesus Christ, who had grown up in a commandment-saturated faith, namely Judaism, are given a NEW commandment, one uniquely commanded and crafted by their Master. Jesus states, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

So, is love the beginning? the end? or the essence of the Christian faith?

In chapter fifteen, á Kempis, pens several sentences on charity, an older word equivalent to love. Here my comments are italicized.

1) Never do evil for anything in the world, or for the love of any man (person).

What motivates the ‘doing of evil?’ What ‘drives’ people of all ages, both genders and all races to think, say and do evil deeds?

2) Without charity, external work is of no value, but anything done in charity, be it ever so small and trivial, is entirely fruitful inasmuch as God weighs the love with which a man acts rather than the deed itself.

Significant observation, isn’t it?1 Corinthians 13 affirms that all spiritual gifts must be combined with love if they are to have any lasting spiritual impact. Even small deeds may be fruitful when motivated with the right purposes. Think of the value of a cup of cold water in the operating manual of the Master.

3) He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.

I marvel at Paul’s observation in Philippians 2:21. Writing of Christians, he notes, ‘For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’ The contrasting conduct of Timothy stood out in stark contrast with the general run-of-the-mill believer. I wonder how ‘different’ we are from others. The real standard of comparison is not the conduct of other ‘Christians’ but the flawless, selfless example of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11)

4) ….he who has true and perfect charity seeks self in nothing, bu searches all things for the glory of God.

I have been thinking, in recent days, of a former member of a congregation I served in Northern Ontario. At his funeral, I shared this hymn –

Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.

Others, Lord, yes, others, Let this my motto be;
Help me to live for others,  That I may live like Thee.

Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true,
And know that all I’d do for You
Must needs be done for others.

Let “Self” be crucified and slain
And buried deep: and all in vain
May efforts be to rise again,
Except to live for others.

So when my work on earth is done,
And my new work in heav’n’s begun,
I’ll praise You for the crown I’ve won,
But praise You more for others.

Let’s live today and every day Sola Deo Gloria – to the glory of God alone! The God who redefined love at the cross calls to us today!



Judge Not – What Did Jesus Mean? Are You Sure?

I have loaned out my useful text by Dr. Harold Burchett, which includes a thought-provoking article on ‘judging.’ Here’s another reflection on Matthew 7:1-5 penned by Bob Utley at – a useful site for more serious Bible study.  

[I have highlighted some of the text in red for emphasis. Read the text again carefully. Answer this question – ‘Who removes the speck from his brother’s eye in verse 7?]

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY – (written by Bob Utley)

 1“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’and behold, the log is in your eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

7:1 “Do not” This is a present imperative with a negative particle meaning to stop an act already in process. Christians have a tendency to be critical of one another. This verse is often quoted to prove that Christians should not judge each other at all. But, Matt. 7:5,6,15, 1 Cor. 5:1-12, and 1 John. 4:1-6 show that Jesus was assuming that believers evaluate one another spiritually. One’s attitude and motives are the keys (cf. Gal. 6:1; Rom. 2:1-11; 14:1-23; James 4:11-12).

▣ “judge” This Greek word is the etymological source for our English word “critic.” Another form of this same root in Matt. 7:5 is translated “hypocrite.” It seems to imply a critical, judgmental, self-righteous spirit which judges others more severely than it does itself. It emphasizes one set of sins over another set of sins. It excuses one’s own faults, but will not excuse the faults of others (cf. 2 Sam. 12:1-9).


7:2 The Greek text of Matt. 7:2 appears in a rhythmical, poetic form. This may have been a well-known proverb. The fact that this statement was used in the other Gospels in different settings backs up this interpretation.

This verse contains a significant truth which was repeated quite often in the NT (cf. Matt. 5:7; 6:14-15; 18:35; Mark 11:25; James 2:13, and 5:9). How believers act toward others is a reflection of how God has acted toward them. This is not meant to destroy the biblical truth of justification by faith. It is meant to emphasize the appropriate attitude and lifestyle of those who have been so freely forgiven.

7:3 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye” “Speck” was used by classical Greek writers for the material that made up a bird’s nest. Therefore, we are talking about bits of plant material and similar insignificant, small items.

▣ “but do not notice the log that is in your own eye” This was an Oriental overstatement. The “log” referred to some large piece of lumber, a building timber or rafter. Jesus often used this literary form of hyperbole to communicate spiritual truths (cf. Matt. 5:29-30; 19:24 and 23:24).

7:5 “You hypocrite” This compound word came from the theatrical world and was used for an actor performing behind a mask. It came from two Greek words, “to judge” and “under.” It described a person acting in one way but being another (Luke 18:9). A good example of this kind of activity can be seen in the life of David (cf. 2 Sam. 12:1-9). Jesus used this term for the self-righteous Pharisees in Matt. 5:20; 6:2,5,16; 15:1,7; 23:13.

This verse implies the appropriateness of believers’ concern for other Christians when it is not done in a condescending, self-righteous manner. Galatians 6:1 is helpful regarding the proper attitude and motive for Christians’exhorting and correcting one another. The Church has always had to spiritually examine and exhort its leadership and membership.

A Spectacle of Specks

I woke up this morning with something irritating my right eye. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it and my eye was producing tears to wash the irritant away. It’s gone now and my eye is ready to function as God created it!

Most of us have spiritual eye infections. We see specks in the eyes of others but somehow miss the planks which are impairing our own vision.

In my last post, I urged you to read and reread Matthew 7:1-5 as we seek to come to a more biblical view of judging.  Here’s a summary of what I have noted thus far, without the assistance of any commentaries or study guides, but surely with the impact of hearing at least a few teachings from the text by some of the preachers I have known.

v.1 Sounds like a prohibition, and it is. But Jesus does not finish his instruction about the topic with one sentence. There is a ‘type’ of judging that is forbidden but the context actually urges the removal of a speck from your brother’s eye.

v.2 Those who express and engage in an exacting judgment of others will discover the same type of judgment applied to them when they are on the receiving end. Be nit-picky, harsh, and fault-finding in your daily assessments of others and you will soon receive similar comments. We are all being influenced by others. The question is, who models for us the type of judgment we should exercise? Only God, the Judge of the whole earth, expresses perfect judgment. All of our judgment has been impaired by our sinful condition.

v.3 Jesus probes into the heart of his kingdom followers (After all, the theme of Matthew 5-7 is the Kingdom of Heaven) with a question. ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’  We have a profound propensity to ignore ourselves and critique others. Our view of the faults/sins of others is 20/20 whereas the view of our own failings requires a spiritual optometrist! How would you answer the question of Jesus? I think I would say, ‘It’s easier to judge others than to judge myself. I’m a sinner living under the influence of impaired judgment.

v.4 How can you say….?   Jesus calls out those who want to be helpful by removing specks in the eyes of others while ignoring their own planks.  Ponder the question.  Ask yourself it again today.

v.5 You hypocrite…  You are simply ‘playing a role’ ‘acting a part’ and you lack the integrity and righteousness demanded of a kingdom citizen. Those who think the Bible doesn’t address hypocrisy haven’t read many verses!

Here’s the order of judgement –

  1. Judge yourself first – Evaluate all of your conduct before God and own up to the faults that He makes abundantly evident. ‘Search ME, O God, and know MY heart.  Try ME and know MY ….’  Do you see how personal this is?

Listen to the admonition of Jesus to Peter who is wondering about what John should do. ‘What is that to you? YouFOLLOW ME!’

2. Judge others with grace. Anyone who has had a lodged object removed from his/her eye will be more sensitive to others. Think of the time and skill it would take to remove the log if this was literally done! Judge with patience. Judge with grace. Judge with the perspective of being yourself under God’s judgment.

In my next blog, I’ll post some of the reflections of Dr. Harold Burchett, author of People Helping People, with who I had the privilege of serving in the 1980’s. As a trained biblical counselor, I think his words are worth reading.

Until then……

Sola Deo Gloria!

A Misunderstood Text

I am persuaded that Matthew 7:1ff is one of the most misquoted, misused texts in all of the New Testament. ‘Judge not that ye be not judged…’ is how the King James Version renders it. 

Thomas á Kempis seems to have fallen into the common trap where the context is not read or properly considered in citing this text. I will start with his quote and then challenge you to take another look at the actual full words Jesus spoke.

á Kempis entitles this chapter, ‘AVOID RASH JUDGMENT.’ Agreed, Thomas, agreed. Rash judgment is dangerous and should be completely avoided. But all judgment is not forbidden by Jesus Christ. In fact, correct judgment is urged!

‘Turn your eyes upon your own self, and beware you judge not the deeds of other men.  (Matt. 7:1, Rom. 15:1) In judging others a man labors in vain, often errs, and easily sins (Eccles. 3:16), but in judging and examining himself, he always labors fruitfully.’

There is mixed wisdom in the above words. We do need to judge ourselves, and Matthew 7:1 sounds like a complete prohibition.  Ecclesiastes 3:16 states ‘And I saw something else under the sun: ‘In the place of judgment–wickedness was there, in the place of justice–wickedness was there.’

I’m not sure why he cited Romans 15:1 ‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.’ Isn’t judgment implied in this text? Don’t I have to assess the failings of others in order to make the choice of acceptance? And in what areas of the Christian life is Paul directing this counsel? The context suggests the eating of vegetables (vegetarianism?) in contrast with those whose menu selection includes all foods!

Let’s head back to Matthew 7.  Today I would like to encourage you to read verses 1-5 several times.  List the observations you make as you read it.  See you next time with my observations and questions to grapple with the meaning!

Recovery Mode?

Those of us who own computers, these electronic weapons that have changed our lives, know something about ‘recovery mode.’ Computers ‘crash,’ operating systems fail and our blood pressure increases! Just recently I had the ‘joy’ of spilling a cup of hot tea over my keyboard and learning firsthand that my computer is not waterproof!

When you enter ‘recovery mode’ you do you cautiously.  You are grateful your unit still boots up, but you begin to wonder what you might have lost, what damage has been done and who might help you get your system back to full operation.

When it comes to dealing with other Christ followers who are trapped in some sinful habit, ponder what the Apostle Paul penned to the churches of Galatia –

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.”  (Galatians 6:1-6 NIV)

A few questions –

1) Have you ever experienced gentle restoration? The subject of church discipline certainly generates lots of ‘horror stories’ where somehow the template commanded in this chapter was seen as optional.

2) How carefully must you restore others? Medical personnel take great precautions lest in treating patients under their care they acquire the transmittable virus.

3) What does it mean to carry each other’s burdens? This is far more than praying over the ‘light requests’ we typically trust others with during prayer times. The ‘heavy lifting’ is done in knowing how others struggle and then standing with them, knowing their vulnerabilities and seeking to see them fully restored to fellowship.

4) Have you ever experienced self-deception? This appears to the the worst kind. The glaring character flaws are evident to all but the one who possesses them–which adds to the list of flaws!

5) What is the proper testing procedure and how should it be administered? Over the past months I have been receiving, using, and testing out various ‘tools’ designed to address issues of character, calling and convictions in the Christian life. Most of these include comparison with others to establish a ‘normative’ pattern. Paul forbids a certain type of comparison if we are to make a proper self-assessment.

Farther along in the twelfth chapter of The Imitation of Christ, á Kempis adds this useful paragraph.

Little by little, in patience and long-suffering you will overcome them, by the help of God rather than by severity and your own rash ways. Often take counsel when tempted; and do not be harsh with others who are tempted, but console them as you yourself would wish to be consoled.

  • Progress is often made in small steps. Failure occurs likewise.
  • Victory will only be achieved with God’s help, though the counsel of others who are wise should be sought.
  • Harshness is a temptation to be avoided during the process of offering counsel. We all have our blindspots and we often ignore the log in our own eyes as we desperately try to extract bits of sawdust from the eyes of others.

Is not the whole tone of the New Testament church an atmosphere of grace? Read and reread the letters to the churches. In every single text, Paul begins and ends with grace. It seems, in my understanding, to be the reflection of a true work of God. No advancement will be made without grace. No service should be offered without grace. No sermon or lesson should be taught without grace. No conversation should be entered into without grace. Truth and grace are inseparable companions if we are to reflect the One who modeled them both perfectly!

I feel like singing…..

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?

And my answer to the question in the above final stanza is ‘Yes, Lord. Yes. Yes. Yes. and Thank You!’


Maybe If I Sing It Louder?

A lie is still a lie no matter how loudly you sing it. False affirmations of the reality of the Christian life remain falsehoods even if accompanied with full orchestration!

I am looking forward to Ministry Leadership Day at Heritage College & Seminary this Thursday. Yikes! That’s tomorrow! The day is entitled ‘Doxology: Theological & Biblical Reflections on Worship.’ I know many of you live at a distance and cannot join us, but may I plead with you for prayer for this training. You may even see a live Facebook feed of the event!  Here’s a link to the day’s schedule.  Following two plenary sessions in the morning, the afternoon’s workshop leaders will engage us in careful reflection on this pivotal subject. Jesus reminded the woman at the well, ‘God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.’ Worship is no optional extra but the very reason for our existence.  The Shorter Catechism reminds us – ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.’

When it comes to singing, we, at times, are invited to assert musically what is not true experientially.  I sang, with great gusto, as a child, the chorus ‘Gone, gone, gone, gone, Yes! my sins are gone.’ But then I couldn’t figure out why I still was tempted towards evil.

In the thirteenth chapter of The Imitation of Christ, Thomas á Kempis tackles the important topic of resisting temptation.

Let me cite a few important quotes…

“…in this world we cannot escape suffering and temptation.  ….Everyone, therefore, must guard against temptation and must watch in prayer lest the devil, who never sleeps, ….find occasion to deceive him.”

If you study the monastic movement, you will know that some of them thought they could escape temptation. The problem with sequestering yourself off from others is that you have still brought yourself with you! 

Guarding against temptation involves planning. How was Jesus able to cite specific scriptures when the devil tempted Him? Had He not learned them in the same way we must memorize God’s word?  Just as the military offers basic training, soldiers in God’s army need preparation. Putting on the whole armour of God is not a once-in-a-lifetime activity!

“…man cannot be altogether free from temptation.”

Amen, Thomas. Amen!  I have never understood the theological assertion of those who believe in sinless perfectionism. I love ‘O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing’ and gladly confess,

‘He breaks (and continues to break) the pow’r of cancelled sin.

He sets the prison’er free.

His blood can make the foulest clean.

His blood availed for me!’

Our debt is cancelled. Then God begins the process of breaking sin’s power in our life by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the weapon of the word of God.

“..temptations, though troublesome and severe, are often useful to a man, for in them he is humbled, purified, and instructed.”

Wouldn’t we all benefit from further humility, purity and instruction? May we this day put on the full armour of God and offer ourselves without reservation to our Commanding Officer, Jesus Christ.  ‘Thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

My Greatest Need is __________

What is your greatest need? Ask ten people and you may well receive eleven different answers. It’s a matter of perception. How well do you know the reality of your situation?

As á Kempis concludes his chapter on The Value of Adversity, he pens this paragraph.

When a man of good will is afflicted, tempted, and tormented by evil thoughts, he realizes clearly that his greatest need is God, without Whom he can do no good. Saddened by his miseries and sufferings, he laments and prays. He wearies of living longer and wishes for death that he might be dissolved and be with Christ. Then he understands fully that perfect security and complete peace cannot be found on earth.

“…afflicted, tempted, and tormented by evil thoughts…” While on the outside, many appear calm, inwardly a war is raging. Historically, Christians were challenged with facing the world, the flesh (sinful nature) and the devil. The world system (1 John 2:15-17) has its pull and frames an entire lifetime of options around evil. Our own sinful nature, which we possess from birth, is bent away from God. We concur with Robert Robinson who wrote, ‘prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love….’ The devil, our spiritual adversary who, compared to a roaring lion, walks about looking for hapless victims, seeks to tempt and then accuse us for yielding to such evil.

If you are drowning, you need rescuing–immediately! Many of us could include the hymnwriter’s confession, ‘I was sinking, deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore…. Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more, But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry, From the waters lifted me, now safe am I….’

Our greatest need is God. Jesus Christ told his earliest followers, ‘Without me, you can do nothing!’ (John 15:5). The last time I checked, even the Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘New World Translation’ included this text.  (I must remember to press that truth the next time they come knocking at my door.)

The burden of our sin causes us to seek The Burden-Bearer. The lostness of our conditions prompts us to plead for Someone to find us. An accurate analysis, even of my heart as a believer, drives me to confess, ‘O wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ (Romans 7:24) Paul answers his own question with an assertion that has brought joy to every believing heart. ‘I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!’

Although I haven’t heard this hymn sung for some time, I’m musing on these words today….

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;  Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their pow’r when Thou art nigh.

I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will;
And Thy rich promises in me fulfill.

I need Thee every hour, most Holy One;
Oh, make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son.


Digging deeper into the depths of Scripture…

%d bloggers like this: