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Are You Fully Integrated?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

He who walks in integrity walks securely,

But he who perverts his ways will be found out.”

(Proverbs 10:9)

 

Doctors may disagree on what makes a person ill and the cause of our sickness,  but doctors are united in what makes a person whole and complete. In other words, we might go into the hospital with one leg less but we will never leave with one leg more. Doctors are all united in what a healthy body looks like.

 

Politicians see it the other way around. All politicians agree that the country is sick, but they can’t agree on what a healthy country looks like. What one political party suggests as a solution to the problem of societal sickness is viewed as worse to the other party than the present state of things. But conservative, liberal or moderate, politicians all agree the country needs to be made whole.

 

We may never agree on what makes one physically incomplete or what makes a country politically whole but we can agree on what makes us spiritually incomplete and how we can be spiritually whole again.

 

Jesus is in the business of making people whole again. He once “restored” a man’s hand “to normal, like the other” (Mt. 12:13; cf. 15:31). But the miracles were never supposed to be an end in themselves but rather a means to an end. These miracles teach us valuable lessons about what Jesus can do for us spiritually today. Each miracle of the great Physician is a paradigm, a miniature picture or physical illustration, of how He can restore us to spiritual wholeness. In fact, this is the primary aim of Jesus’ mission, “to restore all things” (Mt. 17:11; cf. Col. 1:20).

 

This concept of wholeness and completeness brings us to an interesting word we find scattered throughout the Bible. “Integrity” defined negatively means uncorrupted, undivided, sinless. Defined positivity, “integrity” means wholeness, completeness, oneness.

 

So a person who has integrity is the same person all the time, he is fully integrated. This is the essence of God’s character revealed in His personal name, “I Am Who I Am” (Ex. 3:14). That is, whatever God is, He is that all the time. His character is changeless and eternally consistent (2 Tim. 2:13). With Him there is “no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas. 1:17). He “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). He doesn’t behave one way with one group of people and behave another way with another group (see “Hypocrites!” Mt. 23). He is the epitome of integrity.

 

Are we fully integrated humans? John is right when he described God as “love” (1 Jn. 4:8) because God loves all the time no matter what. Love is integral to His character. Can that be said of us? Could a person say, “(insert your name here) is love” and be speaking the truth? Is it even possible to be a fully integrated human?

 

I believe the answer is a resounding “No” outside of Jesus but an equally resounding “Yes” in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). The “old self” “corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (Eph. 4:22) is dominated by the desires of the flesh which are “in opposition” to those of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). But Jesus can create a “new self” “in the likeness of God” who is fully integrated “in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24).

 

In the passage we began with (Prov. 10:9) integrity means blameless in conduct. One who lives in a blameless way will live in security. He is certain of the course he is following and doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. He doesn’t fear retribution from man or God because he lives with integrity. For example, when a driver with integrity sees a police cruiser he doesn’t automatically slam on the brakes and break out in a sweat. Why not? Because he knows he has done nothing wrong. He drives with integrity. This is walking (driving?) by faith (Hab. 2:4).

 

By faith, integrity is achievable. David was a man of integrity (1 Kgs. 9:4). He even asked God to vindicate him on the basis of his integrity (Psa. 26:1,11). He called upon God to “search” and “try” his heart to “see if there [was] any hurtful way in” him (Psa. 139:23-24). Job was also a man of integrity. Even when the devil tried to crush him with evil, when his wife railed against him and when his friends accused him of living in some secret sin, Job held fast to his integrity (Job 2:3,9; 4:6; 8:20; 27:5; 31:6, etc.). The apostle Paul spent much of his second letter to the Corinthian church defending his integrity because it had been called into question.

 

Integrity has a direct correlation to trust. It impacts every relationship in life. Friends cease to be friends when they learn that we lied, deceived or acted hypocritically. You lose your integrity, you lose trust. The American public’s trust in their media, in their politicians, and now even in their beloved Hollywood idols (who’d have thunk it!?) has dissolved because of huge moral and ethical failures. Every relationship from friendship to governments is shaped by the question, “Can I trust them?”

 

The corrupt system of world under the power of the evil one is utterly  irredeemable and irreconcilable (Eph. 2:2; 1 Jn. 2:15-17; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). It is reserved for the fires of judgment. However, those in Christ have passed from death into life, out of darkness and into light (Jn. 5:24; Col. 1:13-14) where, by the power of forgiveness, we can grow into maturity, “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ”, the only human who has ever been fully integrated (Eph. 4:13,16).

 

Are you maturing in your integrity? Can others trust you and depend on you? By the power that works within all Christians (Eph. 3:20) we can be people of integrity and, in the resurrection, be fully integrated humans!

The Devil in John’s Writing

Sunday, December 24, 2017

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

(John 8:44)

 

The bible doesn’t answer all the questions we might have concerning the devil, the source of all evil. He just appears on page 3 in the form of a serpent (Rev. 12:9) and we simply have to accept his existence. But John sheds some light on the devil in his writings.

 

First of all, John tells us a bit about the devil’s origin. Looking at Jesus’ statement in John 8:44 we notice that the devil “does not stand in the truth”. This seems to indicate that the devil did at one time stand in the truth but has since fallen from the truth. Now, “there is no truth in him”. This absence of truth is evidence of the devil’s fallen state. Furthermore, the devil has been this way “since the beginning” (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8). Not since the beginning of creation but since the beginning of his fall. In other words, he is the original sinner, the very origin of evil.

 

John also tells us of the devil’s activity. He is evil distilled in spiritual form. From his infiltration of God’s good world the devil’s work has been to lead humanity into doubt and suspicion toward their Creator. He is constantly malicious because he is by nature “the evil one”, a term used by Jesus (Mt. 6:13) and six times by John (Jn. 17:15; 1 Jn. 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18, 19). His evil takes shape in three realms: truth, love and righteousness, the very issues that correspond to John’s tests of spiritual life in 1st John.

 

1.First, the devil is devoid of righteousness. He has “sinned from the beginning” (1 Jn. 3:8) and tempts others to sin (Mt. 6:13). His sinful nature is so certain John can say that all those who make a practice of sinning are “of the devil” or are his offspring.
2.Secondly, the devil is devoid of love. He was “a murderer from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44). So Cain killing his brother gave evidence of his spiritual heritage being “of the evil one” (1 Jn. 3:12). Likewise, the Jews who sought to kill Jesus were of their “father the devil” (Jn. 8:40-41, 44). Being defeated by His resurrection, the “destroyer” (Rev. 9:11; Heb. 2:14) now turns his attention to persecuting the children of God instead, the Church (Rev. 12:4-6, 13-17).
3.Thirdly, the devil is devoid of truth. He is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). Now that “there is no truth in him” he accuses God’s children (Rev. 12:10, Satan means adversary in Hebrew), slanders them (slander comes from Greek word diabolos) and seeks to lead them into error by the teaching of false prophets (1 Jn. 2:21-22; 4:2).
 

John has also written on the devil’s power. Just look around and you can see the effects of his rule. Not only can he insinuate evil thoughts and designs into the minds of people (Jn. 13:2; Lk. 22:3) so as to enter them personally (Jn. 13:27) but “the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4) is the “prince” or ruler of this world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-2; 6:12). He rules from a place of limited authority, a “throne” (Rev. 2:13), and his dominance is so widespread that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). That is why those who have rejected Jesus are not just under the power of the devil but rather are “of the devil” because he is their father (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:10). The devil has real influence over people’s lives so that they are motivated by his evil desires (2 Tim. 2:26). Their will is to do his will.

 

Lastly, John has given us a word concerning the devil’s defeat. His downfall began with the arrival of the Son of God. He just couldn’t get a hold of Jesus like he could with other people (Jn. 14:30; Mt. 4:1ff). Jesus came to face off with evil, to destroy all the devil’s work (1 Jn. 3:8). He accomplished this by His death and resurrection. Now, when believers participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection the bonds of slavery and the grasp of the devil on our lives is broken once and for all. Looking forward to His death and resurrection, Jesus could say, “now” (Jn. 12:31), the “ruler of this world is judged” (Jn. 16:11) and as a result He would draw all people to Himself (Jn. 12:32).

 

Satan’s downfall has begun in earnest. Now, he is bound (Rev. 20:1ff; Mk. 3:27), his power is limited and his time is running out. For now, the devil is merely dethroned but not yet destroyed. His final defeat will take place when Jesus comes back to set all things right (Rev. 20:10).

 

Today, though the devil still has power in this world, through faith and obedience in Jesus the Father can protect us from the evil one’s limited power. This is the substance of Jesus’ high priestly prayer: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (Jn. 17:15). In fact, all those who are born of God are kept safe from the evil one so that the evil one cannot even “touch” them! (1 Jn. 5:18)

 

It is possible to “overcome the evil one” (1 Jn. 2:13) only through the new birth offered through Jesus who has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33). John says, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:4-5) Indeed, the faithful can overcome the devil “because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

 

The devil will be definitively destroyed when our Lord comes back. The serpent’s head, the very source of all the evil in the world, will be crushed once and for all (Gen. 3:15). But you and I have a part in the devil’s downfall. Through righteous living, loving our neighbor and living in the truth, God will crush Satan under our feet (Rom. 16:20). I’m looking forward to that!

Eritheia: The Wrong Kind of Ambition

Sunday, December 17, 2017

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”

(James 3:16)

 

There is such a thing as healthy ambition. For example, one who aspires to the office of an overseer desires a good work (1 Tim. 3:1); we ought, like Paul, to make it our ambition to be pleasing to God (2 Cor. 5:9); we are commanded to make it our ambition to lead a quiet and dignified life working with our hands and minding our own business (1 Thess. 4:11).

 

But there is an evil kind of ambition that is self-centered, self-serving and self-important. The word eritheia is used seven times in the New Testament, each time in connection to the Church’s ruin and division. In Romans 2:8 it is used to describe those whose ambitions are “selfish” resulting in the severe judgment of God. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 it occurs in the middle of a string of sinful behaviors (“disputes” NASB) that are ruining the unity of the Corinthian church.

 

This is not surprising considering eritheia’s presence in Paul’s representative list of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:20 where it is again translated “disputes” (“strife” KJV, “selfish ambitions” NKJV). Paul used it to describe those who preach with the wrong motives (Phil. 1:16) and live with the wrong spirit (2:3). James indicted the divided Christians he wrote to on the same grounds of harboring “selfish ambition” (Jas. 3:14, 16) that characterized wisdom which is not from above but is “earthly, natural and demonic.”

 

Obviously, eritheia is no good and tears up God’s work of uniting humanity in the body of Christ. Discovering the origins and evolution of this word further help us understand its New Testament uses and the dangers of “selfish ambition.”

 

Eritheia was derived from erithos which was a perfectly respectable word in its day, meaning “a day laborer”. The word was specifically connected with spinners and weavers of wool (erion) which is where eritheia finds its derivation. It then came to mean “labor for wages.” What’s so wrong with a person being paid for honest work? (1 Cor. 9:1-14) Here we begin to see the degeneration of a good word into an evil one that parallels the uncanny human capacity to turn a good thing into a bad thing.

 

Eritheia began to take on the meaning of work that is done purely to get a paycheck and nothing else; that kind of work underneath which is no spirit of service but only one question: “What do I get out of all this?” The word then came to describe people who were running for political office, not out of a sense of civil duty and service rendered to the State, but purely for their own selfish profit (honor, wealth, power, etc.). Some things don’t seem to have changed much.

 

Again, eritheia took on two additional nuances of meaning later on. First, it came to be used to describe political party squabbles; the kind of jockeying for a better position of power which has become so common in secular and church politics (see Lk. 22:24). Second, it took on the meaning that the New Testament writers have used, namely that “selfish ambition” which any concept of love, honor or service is absent.

 

Eritheia is the self-centered, ‘me first’ politics that destroy God’s building, ravage God’s vineyard and divide God’s body. Churches that have divided over various things can probably trace the schism back to its source and find eritheia alive and well on one or both ‘sides’ of the issue.

 

Corinth had divided into factions just like our secular politics, red and blue, liberal and conservative. Each side was more concerned with their own position of primacy all the while Jesus, their exalted ‘Lord,’ took a back seat. Paul’s writings to them were to help these squabbling spiritual infants to see their ugly factious behavior through the lens of the cross. Surely they would see eritheia has no place in the body of Christ!

 

Certain preachers, like those Paul encountered in Philippi, preached the gospel not to spread the blessing of salvation in Christ to serve their fellow man but purely for selfish motives (Phil. 1:15-18). They were preaching Jesus as Lord but their heart wasn’t motivated by love to exalt Jesus but rather by eritheia to exalt themselves. Many preachers today fall into the same trap of displaying their own piety and knowledge in preaching. We must discipline ourselves lest we too be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). As one commentary stated, no preacher can show at one and the same time that he is clever and that Christ is wonderful.

 

Selfish ambition is characteristic in Paul’s works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21) and in James’ wisdom from below (Jas. 3:13-18). It is characteristic in us when we measure things by how we can personally benefit. May Christ help us crucify this ugly behavior which is so flagrantly out of step with His gospel of selfless sacrifice!

 

The evolution of this word is a commentary on human nature. It began by describing the work a man does for an honest day’s pay and came to describe the work which is done for pay alone. This word should warn us to be careful how we view our work. Do we go to work not only to provide for ourselves and our family but to also help with the needs of others? Are we laboring for our true Master and the true reward? (Col. 3:22-25). Let us not ask, “What can I get out of this?” and instead ask, “What can I put into this that will bring honor to Jesus?”

Hupomonē: The Word of Spiritual Endurance

Sunday, December 10, 2017

By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

(Luke 21:19)

 

The Greek word hupomonē is normally translated “patience” or “endurance” but there is no single English word that fully captures its rich meaning. In Greek literature it was used to describe the endurance of a man forced into labor against his will but worked on, the endurance of a man who suffered the sting of grief but continued on, the endurance of a soldier who fought a losing battle but battled on. It also was used to describe a plant living in an inhospitable environment against all odds. You’ve probably seen those little shoots, stubbornly lifting their leafy heads to the sun. What you’re seeing is hupomonē, staying power.

 

This word is also used in the New Testament many times to describe the disciple of Jesus. It is mostly translated “patience” or “endurance”. But, as we shall see, it has many nuances of meaning that can inspire us to stronger commitment to our Lord.

 

 

Hupomonē is connected with tribulation. “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance” (Rom. 5:3). Our spiritual commitment is tested when we encounter “afflictions” (2 Cor. 6:4). The Thessalonians were commended for their patience amid persecutions (2 Thess. 1:4). This word is used throughout the book of Revelation to encourage Christians to remain faithful when their life was on the line (Rev. 1:9; 3:10; 13:10).

 

Hupomonē is connected with our faith. When our faith is tested it produces “patience” (Jas. 1:3). This patience perfects and strengthens our faith to endure difficulties in the future.

 

Hupomonē is connected with our hope. When trouble comes and we face it with unwavering trust in God it produces “patience” and patience produces experience which produces “hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Humans are capable of enduring incredible hardship when they possess hope. When hope for a better future remains we can endure outward suffering because we enjoy inward comfort (Rom. 15:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:3).

 

Hupomonē is connected with joy. Beyond just hoping for a better tomorrow, the Christian can suffer trouble and persecution with joy in present. The Christian life is marked by joy and thanksgiving despite difficult circumstances (Col. 1:11-12).

 

How can a person be joyful, possess such hope, endure trials with such faith? Because the most common use of hupomonē in the New Testament is in connection with the  goal of glory. For the Christian, the greatest things are to come after this life (Lk. 21:19; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; 2 Tim. 2:10,12; Jas. 1:12; 5:11; etc.).

 

Hupomonē is not simply the patience which waits passively for the storm to pass. It is the spirit which stares down the storm. It is the spirit which bears difficulty, not with resignation, but with blazing hope because it knows glory is coming. Hupomonē is not the grim patience that waits for the end but the radiant patience that hopes for a new beginning. Hupomonē is the background upon which courage and glory are painted. Hupomonē is what keeps your feet stubbornly, joyfully plodding on against the wind. Hupomonē is what transforms the hardest trials into quests for victory. Hupomonē is that grit and determination within Christians in the first century that enabled them to deny Caesar as Lord and affirm Jesus as Lord.

 

Hupomonē is what enabled Paul and Silas to not just endure being beaten with the absence of murmuring but to explode in joyful songs of praise in the darkness of their jail cell (Acts 16:22-25).

 

Hupomonē is what empowered the apostles after being flogged for speaking in the name of Jesus to rejoice “that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” It’s what motivated them to continue “every day, in the temple and from house to house, [to keep] right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:40-42)

 

Hupomonē can endow parents to stay committed to the love, hard work, patience and discipline that their children need when times of trouble come (Eph. 6:1-4). Hupomonē can keep married couples devoted to one another in faithfulness, purity and self-sacrifice when there seems to be no love left in the marriage (5:22-33). Hupomonē can allow a spirit of joyful obedience to move the employee to serve his employer (6:5-8) and the employer to be fair to his employees (6:9).

 

Hupomonē can keep the ship of faith sailing through storms of doubt and fear. But how is hupomonē developed? As we orient our lives toward the cross, trials will come but through those trials, our faith is being built up. Hope will increase and joy will abound as we look forward to the glory of being with our Lord.

 

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Aggareuein: The Word of Oppression

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”

(Mt. 5:41)

 

The Greek word aggareuein is used three times in the New Testament with the meaning to compel. Jesus commands His disciples to go two miles when they are compelled to go one (Mt. 5:41). It is also the word that both Matthew and Mark use to describe Simon of Cyrene being compelled to carry Jesus’ cross to Calvary (Mt. 27:32; Mk. 15:21).

 

This word is Persian in origin and comes from a noun (aggaros) which means ‘a courier’ or ‘an express messenger’. It later became naturalized into the Greek language. The Persians had a remarkably efficient courier system that made it possible for news to travel quickly through the empire. They lined the roads with men stationed with horses at precise intervals. A rider could travel fastest and most efficiently for one day on average despite the conditions (inclement weather or darkness of night) without breaking down.

 

The first rider would deliver the dispatch to the second and on down the line until the important news reached the ears of the king. The Persians gave this courier system a name: aggareion.

 

It was the law in the ancient world that anyone could be compelled to provide a horse or to act as a guide to keep this service going. Therefore, aggareuein came to mean “to force someone into service” whether they liked it or not. Imagine how it would feel being forcibly conscripted to give up your horse or your day to grease the wheels of communication for an occupying military force, your tax dollars notwithstanding.

 

Anyone could be impressed upon to carry a soldier’s bags or any other service the occupying force laid upon him. This is exactly what happened to Simon of Cyrene (Mt. 27:32; Mk. 15:21).

 

It is quite clear from many other ancient documents including Josephus’ Antiquities (13.2.3), the writings of Epictetus (4.1.79), Xenophon (Cyropaedia 8.6.17), Aeschylus (Agamemnon) and various Egyptian papyri that this practice of forced conscription was both widespread and flagrantly abused during the first century. Military officials requisitioned both things and people, not only for public services and for the army’s purposes, but for their own selfish profit.

 

This aggareia would have been one of the bitterest humiliations that subjects in an occupied country would endure. It’s not hard to imagine how one may get tired of being taken advantage of and choose to rebel against the occupying force (see “zealots” like Simon, Mt. 10:4). Add to that, the long history of the Jewish people being kicked around as slaves and exiles of one kingdom after another for hundreds of years and you have a recipe for rebellion, retaliation and compounded sin where the once enslaved become the very thing they rebelled against (Amos 2:6).

 

Then comes Jesus with His gospel, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” (Mt. 5:41) If someone who is your social superior exacts the most humiliating and distasteful service, if someone conscripts you to do something that invades your rights and that he has no right to ask, if you feel like you are being treated as sub-human, the King says don’t resent it. But His royal command of love goes deep. He doesn’t simply teach His disciples to grit their teeth and bear it. That’s what the Jews had been doing for centuries. No, this brings God no glory either. Instead, Jesus teaches His disciples to do what your oppressors ask of you and even more. In fact, you do it with a good will. Only a heart that has been transformed by love could possess such strength!

 

Friends we need this message now more than ever. Our culture which glorifies victimhood, which brutalizes and devours itself under the pretense of ‘standing up for our rights’, which rewards rebellion against authority, demonizes government, and lacks personal responsibility and accountability needs this message of power, self-control and love.

 

The Jews would have had more reason to complain and rail against their government that we do ours and yet Jesus and His apostles teach us to actively love, pray for and seek the best for those who are in authority regardless of who they are or how they treat you (Rom. 13:1-7; Eph. 6:5-9; 2 Tim. 2:1-4; 1 Pet. 1:13-17).

 

How does our attitude and conduct compare with these teachings? How do you and I talk about our government, our teachers, our husband or wife, our neighbor? The commands to respect, obey, even love those in authority over us stand regardless of the loveliness of those in charge. When we love our oppressor (Mt. 5:43-48; Rom. 12:14ff; 1 Pet. 2, 3, 4) we are dousing the fires of sin with the living water of the gospel.

 

Perhaps, like me, you find this difficult. What else can motivate and energize this gospel teaching within our hearts and lives but Jesus’ loving example? We are called to follow His footsteps in suffering seeing the outcome of His faith and love: He “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Pet. 2:21-24; cf. Heb. 12:1-3)

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