“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”
(2 Corinthians 2:4)
Paul’s love for his brethren can be painful to read. His exertion in the Lord’s kingdom remains an inspiration for Christians today (1 Cor. 11:1). Added to his external sufferings, Paul says, was the “daily pressure on [him] of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). The love Paul had for Christ and his brethren moved him to anguish especially when he beheld their failure in living regenerated lives in Christ.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul sent a stinging rebuke at the heart of the congregation for the one whose sin was so twisted it did “not exist even among the Gentiles” (1 Cor. 5:1) but also of the arrogance of the rest of the Christians for tolerating it (1 Cor. 5:2). On several occasions Paul was moved to tears in his work planting and establishing churches. Regarding his unbelieving Jewish countrymen, Paul wished he could be cut off for their sakes (Rom. 9:1-3). We see his tears and hear his anguished prayers as he worked to declare “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).
Paul was never afraid to say what needed to be said even when it hurt the most. The oft spoken line is, “the truth hurts” to which there is some merit (cf. Gal. 4:16) . As God’s children we are also moved to painful sayings.
“I’m sorry,” is one of the most difficult things to say. But admitting we’ve done wrong to God and each other is vital if we ever want to drink from the fountain of blessing again. The language of repentance is bitter to speak but what sweet grace does it bring about! Regarding the many hard sayings in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says in his second epistle that he rejoiced in the effect of the rebukes: godly sorrow which produced in them repentance leading to life (2 Cor. 7:9-11). Even though it’s painful to say, “I am sorry,” repentance is the language of the gospel.
Even the phrase, “I love you,” can be difficult to say sometimes. In fact, the harder it is to say “I love you,” the more pressing is the need to say it. Men who play their cards close and are miserly with words of encouragement and love to their spouses, children or neighbors are sorry servants in the kingdom. Women who, in their coldness, give no words of praise but would rather highlight the negative are without Christ’s badge of discipleship. We are commanded to love as Jesus loved (Jn. 13:34-35). This love (‘agapeo’ in the Greek) can be commanded because it isn’t based on emotion. Rather having this kind of love means being devoted to its object, despite its unloveliness. We need to be willing to show each other that we are devoted to their wellbeing and sometimes that means saying “I love you” when it’s painful, perhaps especially when it’s painful.
“You are the man,” is another saying that brings much anguish but it is vital to the health and purity of the church. Many think expressing any sort of disapproval contradicts love. Love, to most people, is agreeing and supporting someone regardless of their choices. However, Biblical love demands we act in the best interest of our brothers. That means when we see them struggling with temptation we reach out to them and pray with them (Jas. 5:16). That means, if our brother persists in ungodliness, we first remove the beam from our eye in order to remove the speck from his eye (Mt. 7:1-5). Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins, rebuke him” (Lk. 17:3). The true friend who is devoted to his brother will snatch him out of
the fires of temptation, for, Jude says, he hates “even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 23). This loving rebuke, as modeled by Nathan to David (cf. 2 Sam. 12:7), “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).
The last, and perhaps most painful saying of them all is, “I forgive you.” Again it must be stressed the language of forgiveness, like the language of repentance and love, is the language of the gospel. Our very salvation depends upon our humility in forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32). To finish the teaching of the Teacher, “If your brother sins rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). There is no depth of depravity that man could sink to that God would not forgive in Christ. If our Heavenly Father is full of such mercy and grace, then we also must have a heart of forgiveness and a tongue of mercy. How could Jesus say to those who despised Him, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”? How could Steven pray to the Father the same prayer for those hurling stones to mutilate his body? Because they knew God is a God of forgiveness.
All of these sayings may be difficult, but if we want to glorify our King, we will learn the gospel language. When you’ve done wrong, waste no time in your heartfelt apology so that you can be reconciled. Say, “I’m sorry” and work to make things right.
Be liberal with your love language as God is liberal towards you in His words of love. Offering a sincere “I love you” coupled with parallel acts of love may be exactly what your lonely neighbor needs. Wield the Spirit’s sword with tact and compassion to snatch your ailing brother from the fire. Speaking the truth in love necessitates that sometimes we say to our fellow image-bearer, “You are the man.” And lastly, be generous and quick to forgive our debtors (Mt. 6:12) for our fellowship with the Father rests upon it. “I forgive you,” is good news to those who have wronged us.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
One of the difficulties of being witnesses to Jesus is the pushback of culture. Christianity is, by its very nature, counter-cultural. Our culture is no less resistant to the absolute claims of Christ. Post-modern thought has lodged itself in the minds of our neighbors and presents a major obstacle in reaching their hearts and minds with the truth of Jesus.
Many are rejecting any standards of absolute or objective truth in favor of relative truth and relative morality. What is true for you may not be true for someone else. Or what is right and moral may vary depending upon the situation. Spirituality is traded for secularism, the process by which religious ideas, institutions and interpretations lose social significance. Exclusive religious truth-claims have been traded with pluralism, which is a competing number of views as a worldview in which no one worldview is dominant. Islam is just as true as Christianity or any other religion. We’re all working toward the same goal, we’re just going about it in different ways. Privatization is also becoming more popular; this is the act of internalizing those things which society does not feel should be expressed. In other words, you can worship whatever version of God you want just don’t do it in public or evangelize.
If you have any understanding of Christianity you can see the problems with these views. So what do we do when we encounter pushback from a culture that rejects absolute truth-claims and exclusive faith that, by its nature, is public and not private?
What offends people is the binary system which separates humanity into two groups of people: those who have the truth and those who do not. Nobody likes that. You see, if a Christian makes a claim to know THE truth (Jn. 14:6) then the logical conclusion people draw is that they are living in error and ignorance. This is usually followed by accusations toward the offender of being narrow-minded and insulting. Because, in our post-modern world, it is taboo to persuade people to believe something outside of ‘their’ truth because truth is relative. So, again, how do we respond?
Before a dialogue can progress you must point out the logical inconsistency of such thinking.
If someone ever accuses you of being narrow or insensitive about trying to persuade them to believe what you believe they have just committed the crime they are accusing you of. By demonizing you for spreading your version of truth what are they doing but spreading their version of the truth? How is a Christian trying to persuade a person to believe in the gospel so different than an unbeliever proselytizing believers to unbelief?
Post-modern thinking is philosophical quicksand. Christians may be accused of separating the world into some who have truth and others who don’t, of setting up binary system with those who are right on one side and those who are wrong on the other. But our post-modern friends turn around and say, “I’m one of the good people who don’t push my beliefs on others and you’re one of the bad people who do!” This is the height of hypocrisy and irony. There are two kinds of people in this world; people who make exclusive truth-claims and others who make exclusive truth-claims but don’t know they’re doing it!
But the fallacy is not only logical and philosophical. It is also emotional. Imagine you had a child suffering from multiple sclerosis and you found a treatment that helped tremendously. How would you respond? Wouldn’t you want to tell other people and parents with kids suffering with this disease about the cure you found so they don’t have to suffer like you did?
How absurd would it be to accuse such a person of being narrow-minded, insensitive or trying to push ‘their’ truth on others! They want to tell others the good news so that others can benefit from it like they did. It is out of concern, compassion and love that they tell others and so it is with our spreading the truth of the gospel. We who have been rescued from the slavery of sin and death proclaim the good news of freedom and healing in Christ so others can benefit from God’s gift.
So what holds a person back from not telling others about the salvation found only in Christ? I would suggest it is due to either one of two things: a lack of love for our neighbors or a lack of conviction about Jesus.
Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian once said, "I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward.... How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?"
Comments like this should cause every Christian to examine his conscience to see if he truly believes that Jesus is, as he claimed, “the way, the truth, and the life.” We may not come upon a traveler beaten within an inch of his life like the good Samaritan but we see our friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members and acquaintances battered and bloodied spiritually from the ravages of sin. Let’s love our neighbor enough to tell him about the gift of God available to him through Jesus (Lk. 10:30-37).
After God spared Isaac, Abraham's unique son, "...Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son" (Gen. 22:13). It was at this point of climax, immediately after Abraham's knife was stayed from slitting the throat of his son of promise, the LORD did what He always does: He provided what was needed, in this case a sacrifice in the form of a ram. That is why "Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide..." or, in Hebrew, YHWH-jireh (Gen. 22:14).
God is given many names and designations in Scripture and none of them are without significance. The act of providing is one way God has revealed and defined Himself to man. His providential care falls on all men, the just and the unjust (Mt. 5:45). In reference to physical provision there was never a soul who did not owe all to God, "for in Him we live and move and have our being..." (Acts 17:28). But our God who wears this name "YHWH-jireh" has provided much more than food, clothing and shelter to His creatures. He brought salvation to all men by His grace (Titus 2:11).
This hope of eternal life may not be accepted by all men but it is surely offered to all men as Paul says in Romans 10:13, "whoever calls on Him will not be put to shame." All men are given the power (authority) to become "sons of God" (Jn. 1:12). God, the great Provider, has "granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Pet. 1:3). Let us meditate on God's spiritual provisions.
First of all, God has provided the PRICE for our salvation: His own Son, Jesus. In Romans 8:31-32, Paul says, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" Our salvation was purchased with the most valuable substance of all, the very blood of God in human form (1 Pet. 1:18-19). The vast weight of sin that had accumulated for all of human history and even now continues was taken by Jesus to the cross in His body (1 Pet. 2:24). In return there is nothing man can offer but a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Psa. 51:17).
Secondly, God has provided the PROMISE of our salvation: His reward for obedient faith. In His great commission to His apostles, Jesus used plain language in explaining how salvation would come; "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned" ( Mk. 16:15-16). Christ summed up this faith as He concluded His sermon on the mount by saying that everyone who hears and obeys His words would endure the judgment (Mt. 7:24-27). Thankfully, our salvation does not necessitate our perfection. (God has taken care of that too!) God knows our weaknesses and the struggles of this body. That is precisely why He appointed Jesus as High Priest who could sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). Having an Advocate with the Father we are now able to be granted forgiveness of sins (1 Jn. 1:9; 2:1). The Hebrew writer says that in His perfection, Jesus our High Priest became "to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:9).
Finally, God has provided the PLAN of our salvation: His perfect and eternal word to guide our way. James tells us that God's word is "able to save [our] souls" (Jas. 1:21). In His word we have all that we need to be pleasing to Him (2 Pet. 1:3). God used to speak to mankind through direct revelation and through prophets but now He speaks to us "in His Son" (Heb. 1:2). By studying the life of Jesus and seeing how He lived by faith we have our pattern of conduct. It is no wonder Jesus told Thomas that He is "the way" to the Father (Jn. 14:6). He doesn't point us to the way. He doesn't give us a list of directions that lead us to the way. Instead He says, "I am the way." We are on the right (righteous) track when we deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily to follow in the footsteps of Jesus (Lk. 9:23).
God, fulfilling the name ascribed to Him by Abraham, has abundantly provided us with everything we need to be what we were always meant to be. He paid the price, He gave the promise, and He provided the plan for our salvation. And, by working providentially through others and through us as we follow His word and even through circumstances mysterious to us, He is saving mankind.
Just before the heart of his letter (2:14-26), James blends the dual themes of wisdom and working faith in outlining the sin of partiality (2:1-13). James describes what it means to be “partial” in 2:1: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.”
At the outset, he draws the reader’s attention to “our” Lord, a possessive word, meaning Jesus is ours because He has given Himself to us and for us and we have accepted him as our, “glorious Lord.” Describing Jesus as “Lord” (or master) would highlight our need to emulate and obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9) while describing Him as “glorious” would remind us that Jesus defeated death and is reigning as King Most High. How can we “hold” our “faith” in such a “glorious Lord” while treating people with personal favoritism when our “glorious Lord” never did?
Another theme that James revisits several times in his letter is the disparity between the rich and poor and how, generally speaking, the rich hold the poor in contempt (1:9-11; 5:1-6). Here (2:1-13) James puts forth a hypothetical situation (“if” 2:2) wherein the believer has the perfect opportunity to exercise his wisdom and faith. Not only is it against wisdom to play favorites in the brotherhood but this kind of discrimination is also against God’s law, thereby violating faith in Jesus.
There are three ways in which James gives his reproof against the sin of partiality.
Preferring the wealthy over the poor shows a complete disregard for Jesus (2:1-7). James calls those who make such distinctions “judges with evil motives” (2:4). In fact, it was the rich who usually oppressed poor believers (5:1-7), dragging them to court and even blaspheming the name of Jesus (2:6-7). To favor a wealthy man over a poor man for whatever reason not only dishonors “the fair name by which you were called” (2:7) but also dishonors “the poor man” whom God chose to be “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (2:5). Jesus came to make the poor rich (2 Cor. 8:9), not financially but spiritually, and those who wear the name of Jesus ought to have that same attitude of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the less fortunate (2 Cor. 6:10).
Preferring the wealthy over the poor shows a complete disregard for the Law (2:8-11). Who said Christians are not under Law? We certainly are! Part of being citizens in a kingdom necessitates that there be a law. Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, is King making the words that issue from His throne a “royal law” (2:8). If we are to be a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9) then we must abide by our King’s “royal law” which is summed up, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving others unconditionally as God has loved us is a theme repeatedly emphasized by Jesus (Mt. 22:34-40; Jn. 13:34-35) and his disciples after Him (Rom. 13:8-10). Partiality is the polar opposite of our King’s command to love. So people who play favorites in the kingdom violate the very foundation of the law of the Kingdom and, in effect, have “become guilty of all” that the Law teaches (2:10).
Preferring the wealthy over the poor shows a complete disregard for the Judgment (2:12-13). Lastly, James warns his audience to “so speak and so act,” that is, love in word and deed (1 Jn. 3:18), “as those who are judged by the law of liberty” (2:12). The law that Christ delivered was unlike the Mosaic Law in that Christ’s law actually liberates men from their sins instead of enslaving them in their sins (Rom. 8:1-2ff). Yet we need to be careful how we use that freedom. Paul warns the Galatians not to “turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” in the very context of loving one another (Gal. 5:13-14). We need to live by this law of liberty and of love because, in the end, we will be judged by it (2:13; Lk. 6:37-38). Our mercy for one another (2:13), or lack of it, will be returned to us in the judgment (Mt. 5:7; 6:14-15; 25:34-40), which is why God said long ago, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6; Mt. 9:13; 12:7).
Brethren, let us live to honor our “glorious Lord Jesus” (2:1-7), respect His “royal law of love” (2:8-11) and live in view of the eternal judgment (2:12-13). There may be a brother or a sister in the assembly that, for whatever reason, you don’t necessarily get along with. Remember the command to love him or her still stands and your salvation is in the balance. Time and time again, the Scriptures explicitly point out that God does not give special treatment to one individual over another. Peter once stated, “...God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34; cf. Jn. 9:31). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11).
“Atheism” comes from a combination of two Greek words, or rather, one letter and another word. The Greek letter “A” (pronounced alpha) means negative. Combine that with “theos” (theism) for god, a-theism means literally “negative god” or “anti-god” or “there is no god.”
It is important to understand that the atheist is not saying, “I don’t think there is a god” or even “I don’t believe there is a god.” The Atheist is affirming the non-existence of God. He is affirming, what philosophy calls, an “absolute negative.” Anyone who took an introductory course in philosophy will tell you this is an untenable philosophical position. Atheism is a logical contradiction.
Think about it. How can anyone affirm a negative in the absolute? It would be like me saying, “There is not a white stone with black spots anywhere in the galaxies of this universe.” That is affirming an absolute negative. The only way I can affirm that negative is if I had absolute, unlimited knowledge of the entire universe. Yet when a person says “there is no God,” that is exactly what he is claiming.
But atheism is nothing new. David pointed out 3,000 years ago that “the fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”” (Psa. 14:1) Indeed, it is the height of arrogance and folly to claim to know with certainty that there is no God. Many people, recognizing that theism is a self-defeating philosophy, backpedal and ascribe to something called “agnosticism.”
“Agnosticism” comes from the Greek letter “A” (negative) and “gnostos,” which means knowledge. Agnosticism means “negative knowledge” or “anti-knowledge” or “there is no knowledge.” Agnosticism is really easy to defend. All you have to prove is that you don’t know!
But let’s qualify that statement: it is equally foolish to say, “I know that I can’t know” than it is to say “I know everything.” Is this not also self-defeating? If you don’t know, how can you know you don’t know?!
One way to address both beliefs is with a question: what if the atheist or agnostic is wrong? What if a person has lived with the conviction that there is no God or that they couldn’t know if He exists and he comes to death only to find out he was wrong?
Blaise Pascal responded in this way: “Should a man be in error in supposing the Christian religion to be true, he could not be a loser by mistake. But how irreparable is his loss and how inexpressible is his danger who should err in supposing it to be false.”
Pascal isn’t saying he believes there is a chance he could be wrong about God and the Bible. He is simply making the point, from a philosophical perspective, how bad of a deal atheism is. If the atheist is wrong about God, how terrible are the consequences of his disbelief? He would meet God in the judgment with no excuse (Rom. 1:20).
But, hypothetically, if Christianity turns out to be a scam and there is no judgment or reward (which, again, Pascal is not affirming), what exactly has he lost living as a Christian? He has found life to be worth the living. He found the kind of joy, purpose and satisfaction that all philosophy strives to attain. Thankfully, there is a God, He is alive; in Him we live and we survive!